[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Saturday, 25 June 2005, 23:09 GMT 00:09 UK
Sri Lanka's slow tsunami response

By Dumeetha Luthra
BBC News, southern Sri Lanka

Child at relief camp
Survivors are living in tents and shacks
Sri Lanka's government has been accused of incompetence and overwhelming bureaucracy in dealing with the post-tsunami reconstruction effort.

Despite receiving pledges of more than $3bn, charities complain of a lack of co-ordination and no clear plan.

More than 30,000 people died in the tsunami and half a million were made homeless in Sri Lanka.

The overwhelming need is for shelter, but so far across the country only around half of the temporary homes are up and only a few thousand of the 90,000 permanent homes needed have even begun construction.

'Huge delays'

Six months ago, the only way to walk along the coastline in the southern town of Galle was to walk on the rubble of people's fallen homes.

They [the government] are very slow and I guess a little incompetent
Malindi Langasinghe
Aid information centre, Hikkaduwa

Now that's been removed. The debris has been cleared away and in its place has sprung up a chaotic mixture of wooden shacks and tents.

Slowly the tents are going, but a lot of the transitional shelters that are replacing them are nothing more than huts.

"Six months on people definitely should have been moved out of tents. There is no reason why they should be living in tents," says Malindi Langasinghe from the aid information centre in Hikkaduwa.

He says the ban on rebuilding within 100 metres of the sea is causing huge delays.

It was instigated to provide a buffer zone, but the government now has the task to find suitable alternative land for new homes.

"It's just that government has not been able to identify the land. They say that they have problems, that there isn't any land. But I don't think that's the reason, I think that they're very slow and I guess a little incompetent."

'Chicken farm'

In the Patharajagama camp, the transitional shelters are an example of how a knee-jerk and unplanned response to relief has left more than 300 people living in dire conditions.

I tell you it's very hot inside
Buddheka de Silva

It's overcrowded, with too many huts in too small a space. No 72 Patharajagama Camp is Buddheka de Silva's home.

It's a sweltering tin box. The walls and the roof of its one room, the size of a garden shed, are made from corrugated metal sheets.

Mr de Silva, who lives here with his wife and two young children, thinks he'll be here for at least another year.

There's no electricity. It's hot, airless and cramped.

"I tell you it's very hot inside," he says. "It's like living in a chicken farm."

Some charities can't understand how this camp was allowed to be built - they refer to the shacks despairingly as the microwaves.

That's the irony of the relief effort.

There's plenty of cash, the projects have been found, but government bureaucracy has left many charities still waiting for approval and the money unspent.

Red tape

People are tired of waiting and are accepting help, even if the result is sub-standard.

Jagath Chandra's brother has just had a house built with help from a private organisation.

Things are improving here - it is taking time
Jake Zarins
Project Galle 2005

The family concede the house isn't legal, but say they don't have many alternatives.

As well as the more traditional charities, the rebuilding process here has been characterised by small independent organisations such as Project Galle 2005.

They've just finished some permanent homes in the village of Katagoda.

The advantage is they can sidestep the red tape that has paralysed the larger agencies.

Jake Zarins, one of the co-ordinators, says: "Things are improving here.

Survivors at relief camp
Families face years before they have proper homes

"It is taking time and there are a variety of factors causing that - some of them governmental, some of them just the lack of co-ordination between the groups, because there are a lot of groups working here.

"Many are doing similar things. The fact of the matter is, that as a charitable trust, we don't have the same constraints as the NGOs [non-governmental organisations].

"We can actually just identify a problem and go on to solve it."

'Small consolation'

Galle's district co-ordinator for the post-tsunami reconstruction agency, the Task Force for Rebuilding the Nation, is Ananda Amaratunga.

He told me construction has started for about 200 houses, although he admitted, 6,000 are needed.

He defends the government's progress.

"This is the initial stages. When you take the initial stages, it takes time - then only it gathers momentum."

It's small consolation for the families facing another rainy night without a proper home.

There's no doubt Sri Lanka faces a huge task - but it has the money to do it.

If it doesn't speed up the process, charities say Sri Lanka's coastline could become a coastal slum.

And Sri Lanka's survivors will remain victims.

Watch Dumeetha Luthra's report from Sri Lanka


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific