Conflict compromising tsunami reconstruction

Resurgent clashes between Sri Lankan government forces and the Tamil Tigers have hampered tsunami reconstruction in the north and east and affected the livelihoods of 2.5 million people, according to an assessment by the UN Economic and Social Council.

“The most significant challenge to the recovery process in Sri Lanka is ongoing civil conflict. Escalating violence over the past few years has set back reconstruction efforts in the north and east of the country, though it continues largely apace in the south,” stated the report of the Secretary-General, Strengthening emergency relief, rehabilitation, reconstruction, recovery and prevention in the aftermath of the Indian Ocean tsunami disaster. 

The assessment identified serious obstacles to reconstruction: “Security concerns have posed operational hurdles across a range of sectors, making it difficult or impossible for international aid partners to move or deliver assistance and supplies. Restrictions on transportation of certain construction materials, such as cement and steel, as well as difficulties in accessing certain areas have hampered recovery.”

The tsunami that struck Sri Lanka on 26 December 2004 left 35,000 dead and a damages bill of US$2.15 billion, the report stated. Donors had committed $3.17 billion for reconstruction and by the first quarter of 2008, $1.81 billion had been disbursed to implementing agencies and $1.39 billion spent.

According to a 2005 assessment, 64 percent of the reconstruction needs were in the north and eastern provinces, with the latter provinces accounting for 45 percent.

More security fears

“Security has remained a problem, sometimes even after completion of projects and people have returned to their normal jobs,” Thomingo George, assistant director for fisheries for the eastern Batticaloa District, told IRIN. The fisheries industry has faced serious challenges trying to recover from the tsunami given the security situation.

He said that in Batticaloa District 4,000 boats of varying sizes had been distributed among fishermen after the tsunami and most of the 22,000 fishermen affected had returned to work. But now they faced problems distributing their catch to other parts of the country due to security restrictions.

Photo: FAO
Fishermen complain that insecurity and the distance they have to travel to reach the coast are undermining their ability to make a living

“There is a big checkpoint at Manampitiya [about 80 km northeast of Batticaloa City] where everything is thoroughly checked, even fish lorries,” George told IRIN. “Some of the fishermen complain that when the checking takes too long or when their loads are unloaded and kept in the open too long the fish are spoiled and not sellable by the time they reach their destinations.”

He said that until security restrictions were relaxed, there was very little even government authorities could do to ease transport bottlenecks.

Too far and too scared

Some of the fishermen who relocated inland after the tsunami following the government imposition of a no-build buffer zone along the coast told IRIN the distance to the coast and security fears prevented them from fishing as often as they wanted, cutting their incomes significantly.

“When there are incidents on the road, we are afraid to travel on them very early in the morning or late at night,” Sinnathamby Arulananthan, a fishermen who relocated to the Thiraymadhu tsunami housing project in Batticaloa District, about 5km from the shore, told IRIN. “There is no transport on the road to the beach so we cycle or take a motorbike.”

George told IRIN the donors and authorities were trying to provide solutions to the twin problems of distance and security fears. “In some areas we are trying to build better roads, provide transport facilities or buildings on the shore where fishermen can stay.”