Ajmal wants life to be normal. The wholesale fish-salesman
from Karathivu in Kalmunai last week decided to reopen for
business at his damaged house at the beachfront that was
devastated by the December......
of a crumbling state
small child lends a helping hand to the reconstruction effort
in Malaikadu, Kalmunai
Ajmal wants life to be normal. The wholesale fish-salesman
from Karathivu in Kalmunai last week decided to reopen for
business at his damaged house at the beachfront that was
devastated by the December 26 tsunami.This despite the area
looking as if a small nuclear device had exploded close by.
wants the image of normalcy to be perfect so he found another
enterprising businessman to run the tea shop adjoining his
house. "Otherwise people will think things are not
normal, now we have the fish stall, the tea shop and there are
people here," Ajmal said standing in front of 200 kilos
of fish being loaded to be taken to Badulla.
things are not normal, not by any stretch of the imagination.
His is the only shop that is operating on the beachfront that
was only two months ago a busy thoroughfare of fish-stalls,
lorries and screaming people, - the second largest fish centre
in the country, as Ajmal has it.
giant boat stands motionless next to Ajmal's shop, besides
what is left of a house - a mound of rubble. Five people in
that house died in the tsunami. And Ajamal's business is not
even breaking even. His usual daily stock of fish to Colombo
and Badulla before the tsunami was between 2000 to 3000 kilos.
Now instead of sending fish, he gets fish from Badulla to be
distributed in Kalmunai and sends stocks back only
if he can get any. Since no boats are going out to sea
from Kalmunai, he goes to Oluvil, 15 km away for his catch.
Wednesday, was a good day with the 200 kilos. There were half
dozen workers at the shop loading the fish stock. Twenty four
hours later, it was the exact opposite. There was no one at
the shop except the tea boy who was lazily drawing sketches
ona note pad. The fish stall was deserted.
Dust clouds swirled around, while a few tsunami
tourists in air conditioned vehicles toured the devastation.
is how far normalcy has been regained in Kalmunai, Karathivu,
Sainthamaruthu and Marudumanai, the four coastal areas in the
east decimated by the waves, leaving more than 5000 dead.
Ajmal's own efforts he is not sure whether he can continue the
business at his shop. It lies within the confusing 100 metre
buffer zone to be implemented by the government.
will not go anywhere from here, this is where my life is. I
did not come back here, to be thrown out," Ajmal who lost
two sons aged six and four months said.
is very likely to be joined by thousands of others along the
coast protesting just like him. Like Anura Ananda who owns
National Drapery Stores next to the beach in Galle town.
will only move from here if I am given a similar place for
business, paid compensation and guaranteed business," he
said. He has reopened his shop that suffered damages estimated
to be around Rs. 15 million. Ananda is not very satisfied with
the reconstruction effort. He charges that despite headlines
of US $ 4 billion being made available for the effort, he sees
nothing in Galle that is helping individuals get back to life.
went to a private bank to apply for a loan, they wanted my
house worth Rs. 6 million as collateral for a Rs 200,000 loan
- that is after the tsunami," he said. Ahamed Faizal who
operates the electrical equipment shop in front too is adamant
not to budge, 100 metres or otherwise. "We suffered and
we have come back on our own, no one has helped us."
as it may sound in the midst of posters and banners thanking
the goodwill of those who helped, his sentiments are not far
off mark from what is really taking place along the coast from
Galle to Kalmunai.
left destitute by the tsunami are in the hands of a few
politicians, NGOs and themselves. The government reaction to
the massive rebuilding effort has been haphazard.
Telwatte Kahawa where three carriages of the train wreck stand
like ghosts, Minister Jeyaraj Fernandopulle has initiated a
project to rebuild houses. But that is a private initiative.
His government has limited itself to relaying the rail track,
so far without a functioning signalling system, and repairing
the roads. And of course to having highly publicised
functions, like when the first train left for the south from
to the carriages banners flutter in the wind, one thanking
Fernandopulle and the other Minister Felix Perera for getting
the trains back on track only 57 days after the tsunami. They
look and feel ironic in the still slightly nauseating smell
that emanates from the carriages and a sign that says "do
not enter the carriages."
the main the reconstruction effort is being handled by NGOs
like Canada based GOAL and USAID which have inducted thousands
of local volunteers to clear the rubble and set up tents.
like Ajmal would not mind the government's lack of focus if
not for the confusion created by the 100 metre zone.
is massive confusion over here," said Chris Daley, with
Medicines Sans Frontieres working in Kalmunai referring to the
buffer zone. Even the government has been left confused.
Secretary, Dr. P B Jayasundera says that while the initial
decision was 100 metres and 200 metres for low lying areas in
the north and east, the government would announce the final
ruling inthe coming week. Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse is
of the view that the government's rule would allow all intact
structures to remain within the zone. Is the government
confused? Jayasundara says no way.
leaves the likes of Siripala Shanthikumar and Vellupillai
Kanapathipullai of Karathivu in a state of total nothingness.
They stare at a pole with a white flag stuck in the stand near
their destroyed houses indicating 100 metres and scratch their
house is just a foundation now, the backhoe machines had
removed everything else while Kanapathipullai can boast of one
standing wall. But both have returned from welfare centres to
what is remaining and spend most of the day scraping cement
off building blocks so that they could be reused. They have no
idea who determines which house is intact and which is not.
need someone to help us with our houses," said the casual
labourers." Since December 26, there is no income, no
work and we are left like this." They are reluctant to
start any work on the houses because of stories that alternate
housing would be provided and far worse, because ofthe ghostly
Hambantota, individuals have taken the decision to interpret
the buffer zone in their own, most creative way. The zone they
say, begins not where the waves hit the beach, but where the
waves start to break.
other than the government initiated confusion, there does not
seem to be any big project aimed at providing houses.
the meantime, the entire devastated coastline has been turned
into tent cities. They dot the cleared coastal belt like giant
cocoons. Some are extremely hot like the ones Pradeep Thilan
and his wife Champika Jeevani are left with near Tangalle. In
the hot sun they sweat profusely inside and the children
appear zombie like with red eyes. "This is what we
have," they said from inside the tent wiping their brows,
"we can't stay in schools or temples because they are
needed for the normal functions, we can't go home because we
don't have homes, and now we have this."
calculation is that they might be left living in the pressure
cooker tent for the next six months, including the monsoon
season. "Providing housing is the biggest issue
now," said Silvia Moriana, MSF head for Ampara.
has designed a new tent that is more suited to the local
climate, and is admittedly very much cooler inside. It manages
several camps in Amapara including the one at Thirukkovil with
tent house that MSF says could survive for a year costs only
US $ 250 each and can be put up within half an hour, according
to the NGO. So far MSF has constructed 550 such tents and
plans to set up at least 2000.
problem is not in setting up the tents, but in the local
government officials' reactions.
are still five welfare camps remaining in Kalmunai. For the
inmates to be moved out land has to be allocated and that is
not happening fast enough. Payments have to be made to the
government to gain water supply to the new tent cities where
the refugees are to be relocated. Even the garbage collectors
have to be bribed. Though workers are loathe to admit it,
bribing local officials is the only way to get the bureaucracy
to work fast enough.
sevakas hardly visit the tent cities. The refugees are left
with the Rs. 5000 that was paid by the government last month
and a food stamp worth Rs. 375 for each person. "We have
food, that's ok, but what about our houses," asks a
bewildered Jegan Lechchamie in Kalmunai now living in a tent
city. She lost a three bedroom house at Pandiruppu.
housing situation that is at least temporarily managed by the
NGOs can go out of control when they leave, which would be not
that far away. MSF estimates that it would be operational in
Sri Lanka till end-March and at the latest mid-April.
Thereafter the massive camps would have to be run by either
local NGOs or far worse, local government officials.If the
local government has provided the land for the temporary camps
like the one Lechchamie is housed at, then they will hold
ultimate control over them. This leaves many who live in them
in fear of favouritism and corruption.
nothing else they would be faced with pure inefficiency. In
Kalmunai a government decision to allow new water supplies on
payment of Rs. 2500 down from the usual Rs. 15,000 has made it
easier for houses outside the 100 metre zone to get the
supply. "But they weren't the ones that were really hit.
Those are in the 100 metres, and the Water Board says they
can't do anything about it," said school teacher I.A.
confusion reigns within the devastated belt, in Kalmunai the
government has decided to fill the marshes to resettle people.
Though environmentalists have criticised the move as an open
invitation for floods, some of the homeless are willing to
move to the marshes but not beyond. "The marshes are
close by, but I don't think people will move any further. A
lot of Muslims came here in 1996 to escape the war and they
don't want move very far interior. What is important here is
safety and occupation," Aziz said.
safety nor occupation are guaranteed - not in Kalmunai or
anywhere else where the waves crashed in. The fisheries
industry which hit rock bottom immediately after the tsunami
is yet to recover. "No boats are going out to sea, we
have no jobs," Tilhan and Shanthikumar, a young fishermen
living hundreds of kilometres apart said.
boats are being renovated mostly under the patronage of
private or international funders. In Hambantota near a
boar repair tent, the sign says "Thanks to our Norwegian
friends." M. Chandral tends to the boats at a daily
payment of Rs. 500. So far he has repaired 15 boats.
if the boats are made sea worthy, most fishermen have lost
nets and engines. "The smaller boats are neglected,
because we don't have big associations to lobby," said
Mohamed Mohideen of Sainthamaruthu. Last Thursday, a group of
fishermen picketed on the streets of Kalmunai seeking more
help and transparency in the reconstruction effort.
one other than enterprising businessmen like Ajmal have made
the effort at attempting to revive the village economy clogged
by sea water. "He is a great man, he is doing all this on
his own," Aziz who recovered the body of Ajmal's
four-month old son said.
village businessmen alone would not be enough to help the more
than 250,000 left homeless and incomeless nationwide. The only
businesses that seem to be thriving are the car rentals and
the guest houses which have reaped a bumper crop since the
tsunami with the NGOs clamouring for rooms and vehicles.
Teva Sekeram, yet another unemployed casual boat-hand, life
has totally changed since December 26. His wife and child live
in a welfare camp and what is left of his house is a small
brick table. The family stays at the camp in order to get the
sleeps out in the open air with Shanthikumar and
Kanapathipullai and says that he is not afraid of the ghosts
that are rumoured to haunt Karathivu late in the night.
"We are tired and after a drink, there are no ghosts here
the morning, a sober Sekeram sweeps what was once his living
room and points at the rice that is strewn all over -
"can't use, all sea water," he says and throws it
meticulously cleans the damaged picture of Lord Ganesh and
places it on the highest point in his house - the cement
table. "Only the gods know why this happened," he
the state of the kovil nearby where a tower adorned with the
gods has been tossed up and thrown about by the waves, maybe
the gods themselves are not really sure why.
minds need tending
Lanka would have to deal with a large section of the
population psychologically traumatised by the tsunami in
the coming months, according those dealing closely with
35% of the homeless living in camps show signs of
depression like sleep deprivation, anxiety and loss of
appetite, according to Unit Manager, Basic Needs, Upual
Wasantha. Basic Needs has been authorised by the
southern provincial director of health services to carry
out an assessment of the mental health in camps from
Weligama to Kirinda.
50 to 75% are under enormous stress, we can see
that," Wasantha said. Theirconsultative work in the
camps has also shown that around 5% of those in them
show signs of being suicidal. "It's mainly those
who have lost children, family members and
Kalmunai tension and fear come out in to the open on
Sundays, according to I. A. Aziz, a school teacher.
"Around 9 a.m. people are very tense and there have
been occasions of false tsunami fears, people just run
away from the sea then," he said.
the adjoining Tamil village in Karathivu, those who have
returned said that the majority of the 100 families that
lived in the village were still too afraid to return.
said that though school sessions have recommenced, most
of the time teachers spend time talking about the
tsunami and trying to soothe the battered mental health
of the students.
to Logistics Specialist, Medicins Sans Frontiers, Chris
Daley, it is usually after about six to 12 months after
the incident that the emotional effects really manifest.
"We have to look at people's immediate needs,
without immediate needs nothing can be done," he
said. MSF however has a psychologist in Ampara assessing
has also brought in Clowns Without Borders to carry out
programmes in camps as well as schools. "It is like
a diversionary tactic," Daley said.
Mental Health Unit of the Kalmunai Base Hospital too has
been dealing with trauma cases according to Nursing
Officer A. Sathiamurthi. The incidence of cases have
decreased since immediately after the tsunami, but
Sathiamurthi said that children were still manifesting
fear and anxiety. "We have been working with them
using medicine as well as counselling."
appear to be worst attected by the tsunami. In Telwatte,
Kahawa near the train wreck, S.
Chandrasiri said that his five-year old daughter
was not willing to go to school due to fear.
are all living in fear," said Kanthi who watched in
horror the train being dragged away by the waves from
her two-storied house next to the track. "In the
night, the sea now seems louder and closer, we keep
far there has not been any large scale programme aimed
at dealing with the mental health situation. According
to Wasantha, it would take around three years for the
situation to be brought back to pre-tsunami days.
is very difficult to do this in camps, they feel
alienated anyway. Whatever is to be done can only take
place after the housing and the employment issues are
taken care of," he said.
of a crumbling state
was with a shudder that I beheld the likes of Wimal Wee,
Tilvin and that Nandana chap at the press chitchat last week.
M'dear it violates my aristocratic sensibilities to observe
these blokes gadding about pretending to be leaders. The
interim authority may have prompted Wee Wee to lean forward
towards the mike with a passionate gaze accompanied as always
by a rich smell of camphor - (the chap likes to keep his pink
shirts well bathed in kapuru balls) - and cleanse his bosom of
a good deal of that perilous stuff that weighs upon the heart,
but if there was ever a moment for the reds to reflect in a
quiet manner rather than lash out with their tongues like a
lizard in a bee hive, then that moment was this moment.
it has been many weeks now since you have, in a fit of
bravado, ordered the reds to up and go.
you told them in no uncertain terms and for the umpteenth time
accused them of doing away with your dearly beloved. My
suspicion is that like a shy and retiring village curate
pining for the visiting Bishop's daughter, Wimal too is what
Paradisians might say 'aasai bayai.' They would love to leave
but the red heart goes pitter-patter every time it thinks of
losing out on the good things in life. Surely they didn't
climb over a thousand dead bodies to give up the Pajero and
the Montero so easily.
for Dhanapala to come out and agree with the very thing you
based your whole election platform on, when ranting venomously
at the greens, is nothing new. I bow down to your superior
knack of making the masses, whom we have now established are
assess, believe your concocted pishtosh. Ichabod m'girl, only
a few moons ago you pretended the interim authority was as
distasteful to you as a visit by King Herod to an Israeli
mother's union tea party. Only I, astute as I always am, knew,
that to a wench who had already offered the cyanide-toting
chaps an interim administration for 10 years, offering an
interim authority for reconstruction and development was as
easy as Cher offering up her body to the next available
reason that you and I might see red when dealing with these
red blokes dear is that as my old ayah so articulately put it,
'yanna kiwwata yanneth ne, athule idang kaaranawa.' The thing
is darling, they feel that you should go. And there's the rub.
Whether 39 mustachioed members of the brotherhood can run
Paradise is another matter, but this is always the way with
leaders from the lower classes. They think anything is
darling in all this hullabaloo with the reds talking tough and
the tea-pluckers calling your bluff, one salient feature
stands out like a bally sore thumb. Mangy does not know
whether he is coming or going. As the media minister he claims
to be ignorant of this interim authority statement issued by
the Information Department. While inclined to agree that Mangy
is ignorant of many a thing, one is compelled to fault him for
his lack of knowledge in this matter. And this mind you from a
man who co-edits the kept press along with you. Tch! Tch!
Waggle a forefinger at him next time you see him dear. Tell
him he should know things rather than not know things.
old Kadi knows anything these days is in serious doubt. If
ever there was a chap who had passed his use-by-date then this
chap is that chap if you get my drift. All he does is smack
his lips and blink twice. Certainly, if Dhanapala knows
something he is going to keep it closer to his bosom than a
lost and found kitten. Especially, if Kadi is loping around
the corner. I say dear even your general secretary claims that
he was generally unaware.
in your usual good style I expect, will deny everything. The
day I see a tinge of shame on your jowl of modesty dear, that
day I will eat that worm that romps around in my bally bubbly
I tell you.
is not often that the thought of you makes me smile darling,
but when Ravi Kay demanded that the educational qualifications
of parliamentarians be tabled I couldn't hide a slight smirk.
If as he says there are chappies in the House who have not
passed their Ordinary Level I can only say to him, these are
extraordinary blokes why should they pass ordinary exams? Come
to think of it why should they even have certificates in proof
of anything when one can become the president of Paradise on a
resume drawn up by hyperbolic elves.
Thonda is angry that some other chap has stolen his thunder.
With his spade and bucket the chap had been building
playgrounds in the hills only to have Chandrasekeran come
along like a thief in the night and open the bally thing
without his knowledge. I mean to say the thing soared into the
very empyrean of the unspeakable.
acutely affected was Thonda by this trying spectacle that he
muttered 'building playgrounds is one thing, getting played is
quite another,' and sauntered off in a huff, or so I should
imagine. Little wonder then that Thonda and the other estate
types are now sulking in the green corner for
UPFA never learns. Even after the big blunder by the state
owned SLBC which reported a few days after the tsunami that
Tiger Supremo Velupillai Pirapaharan was dead and the fracas
that ensued involving the military top brass, JVP firebrand
MP, K. D. Lalkantha refused to take a cue. In an interview
with a Gulf-based newspaper during a visit to the Middle East
last week Lalkantha went on record reiterating that the Tiger
Chief had been washed away by the tsunami. And this despite
Norwegian peace envoys and ministers having met Pirapaharan
for post-tsunami talks last month!
there is no concrete evidence, all available information
points to the fact that Prabhakaran's hideout was ravaged by
tsunami waves. It is highly improbable that he survived the
K. D. Lalkantha, Small and Rural Industries Minister, in an
interview with Khaleej Times in Abu Dhabi on February 21.
the good Minister's sources are one thing is for certain - a
certain striped kind up north will have one big guffaw on