Sunday, December 27, 2009

Sri Lanka tsunami aid misappropriated: watchdog

Nearly half a billion dollars in tsunami aid for Sri Lanka is unaccounted for and over 600 million dollars has been spent on projects unrelated to the disaster, an anti-corruption watchdog said Saturday.

Berlin-based Transparency International demanded an audit of the money received by the Sri Lankan government to help victims of the Asian tsunami which hit the island on December 26, 2004, killing 31,000 people.

The group's Sri Lankan chapter said the public have a right to know how the aid money was spent as the tropical nation marked the fifth anniversary of the tsunami.

The group alleged that out of 2.2 billion dollars received for relief, 603.4 million dollars was spent on projects unrelated to the disaster.

Another half a billion dollars was missing, the group said.

"There is no precise evidence to explain the missing sum of 471.9 million dollars," the Transparency International statement issued in Colombo added.

An "audit should be done by the government to explain the utilisation of the money received and the challenges faced," the group said.

An government official declined comment Saturday on the allegations but Colombo has consistently rejected such accusations in the past.

An initial government audit in 2005 found that less than 13 percent of the aid had been spent, but there has been no formal examination since, Transparency International said.


Related Links:
Lessons to be learnt from Tsunami Reconstruction - Transparency International
Lost and found: Recovering from Sri Lanka's tsunami - BBC

Read More

Bookmark and Share

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Sri Lankans want to know where tsunami aid has gone

Feizal Samath - Five years after the tsunami swept over the shores of Sri Lanka destroying everything in its path, victims are continuing to rebuild their lives. But their efforts have been plagued by nagging questions over widespread corruption in programmes expected to provide thousands of houses worth billions of rupees.

More than 35,000 people in Sri Lanka were killed and more than a half million displaced when an earthquake off the Indonesian coast on December 26, 2004 triggered a series of tsunamis along coastlines in the Indian Ocean. Nearly 100,000 houses in Sri Lanka were destroyed by the deadly waves.

A drive down to Galle or Matara in the south and Batticaloa or Ampara in the east reveals numerous tsunami victims who have yet to receive promised houses or compensation, while the houses built for many others were constructed so shoddily that they need to be replaced.

Elsy Priyadharshi, a tsunami survivor from Wattala, a coastal town about 10km north of Colombo, was quoted in a statement issued on Tuesday by the International Organisation of Migration (IOM) as saying that soon after the tsunami struck, she and her family found refuge in a nearby church and then moved to a camp for the displaced and thereafter to transitional shelters.

“After five years we are finally moving to permanent houses, which are 100,000 times better than the camp where we stayed before and this has helped us get our lives back to normality,” Ms Priyadharshi, who has been a leading advocate for permanent housing, said in the statement.

Her new home is part of the IOM tsunami recovery programme that has built about 8,570 emergency transitional shelters and permanent homes for tsunami-affected communities along the southern and eastern coasts of the island nation. Takuya Ono, the head of IOM Sri Lanka’s engineering services, said in the statement that without a permanent home, it is difficult for people to rebuild their lives and livelihoods.

Ms Priyadharshi and others are now asking why it took so long for them to get a home to call their own.

Transparency International Sri Lanka in March 2007 found that funds pledged by donors for post-tsunami work totalled 241.5 billion rupees (Dh18.9bn), of which 122 billion rupees were disbursed to various implementing agencies. Out of this, only 68.5 billion rupees were spent on projects.

“There is no precise evidence to explain the missing sum of 53.5 billion rupees [of money disbursed],” TI said at the time. Rukshana Nanayakkara, TI Sri Lanka’s deputy executive director, said no proper audit of funds used in post-tsunami work has been done. “An audit was done by the government’s auditor general in 2005 [soon after the money came in from donors] but nothing after that,” he said in a recent interview.

“There were serious issues about how the money was being spent and by whom,” said Firzan Hashim, the deputy executive director of the Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies, which acts as a co-ordinating body for many non-governmental organisation’s relief efforts, including Save the Children and Oxfam.

Mr Hashim pointed out that after numerous NGOs swarmed into the country after the tsunami hit, local authorities struggled to keep track of their movements. Citing one example of the attempts to misuse donor funds, Mr Hashim explained how one foreign couple wanted pictures of tsunami housing projects to send abroad to a donor and claim it was done by them. “We chased them away,” he said.

Jayaweerabaduge Nimal, a 43-year-old fisherman from Ussangoda village near the southern town of Hambantota, said he’s lucky to be alive after the tsunami almost swept him away. While his house was not destroyed, as it was some distance from the sea, he said several new houses meant for the victims went to others who were unaffected.

“If you were friendly with a local politician or prepared to pay a small bribe to a local official, you could get a house on false pretences,” he said.

Mr Nimal’s sister and four other relatives died in the tragedy. His parents, whose house was near the beach at Ussangoda, survived the tragedy but their house was washed away.

Mr Nimal does recall one short-term benefit left in the tsunami’s wake. While many fishermen didn’t return to the sea for nearly three months, he took his catamaran out to sea in early January 2005 and was blessed with a large catch. “There was an overflow of fish as no fishing had taken place for several days and we had plenty to eat and sell,” he recalled.

Mohamed Rushdi, also from Hambantota, has no such positive memories of the effects of the tsunami. “We were on the second floor of our house and heard this loud noise. With my father and mother, I rushed downstairs and then saw the place flooded. We then rushed upstairs only to be washed away as the waters swelled and rose,” he said.

Moments later Mr Rushdi found himself 500 metres away from his home with a broken leg and debris all over. The bodies of his parents were never recovered. Mr Rushdi now lives in Canada. He recently returned to Sri Lanka for his sister’s wedding. “That was a traumatic experience,” he said, recalling the tsunami and its aftermath.

But the wave of sympathy for the affected, irrespective of race or religion, in those early days, lifted some hopes that the majority Sinhalese would patch up their differences with minority Tamils who were complaining of discrimination in state education and jobs.

“Unfortunately that didn’t happen. We lost a great opportunity for unity after the tsunami. We have another chance now that the conflict is over,” said Renton de Alwis, the former head of Sri Lanka’s state agency responsible for tourism, who is now a social activist.

Today the government says it is better prepared should another tsunami hit. Gamini Hettiarachchi, the director general of the Disaster Management Centre, said 55 tsunami warning towers have been placed across the island with sirens and speaker systems that are operated at the press of a button from the Colombo-based centre.

“We get global alerts on earthquakes and did an evacuation on a tsunami warning in July 2007,” he said, adding that creating awareness on disasters such as the tsunami and setting up district committees on early warning, search and rescue, and camp management have been going on in the past few years.

The Disaster Management Centre was organising a tsunami-alert rehearsal at 3pm on Saturday in 11 districts in which 400 to 500 families will be evacuated to safer ground after warnings are sounded.

“We need to maintain a state of preparedness,” Mr Hettiarachchi said.

© The National

Read More

Bookmark and Share

Sunday, December 27, 2009

In Sri Lanka, Tsunami Anniversary Inspires Mixed Reactions

By Amantha Perera - They were the iconic images of the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami from Sri Lanka — the twisted hulks of eight carriages and a locomotive swept aside and tossed around like matchboxes by the killer waves. The train was packed with passengers and others who had sought refuge in them when the first wave hit Sri Lanka's southern shore. When the larger and deadlier swell struck them on the tracks, villagers estimate that as many as 1500 died inside.

The drowned train in Peraliya, about 60 miles (95 km) south of Colombo, soon became the most sought after camera opportunity for visiting media that followed the catastrophic tsunami five years ago this week. Hundreds came each day to look at the empty carriages, three of which were left standing on the side of the track for months while parts of the train were salvaged.

Today, the village of Peraliya is serene. The carriages are gone, and the few visitors who stop by come to see a large Buddha statue, or the memorial for those who died, located close to the wreckage site. The carriages themselves, once tagged to be the showcase of a national tsunami memorial, are now rusting at a yard in Colombo, and will likely be sold for scrap metal unless they decay before that. The dents where the waves hit are more pronounced now, and rusting has left gaping holes caving in the roofs and walls. The carriages' guts are a mess of ripped seats, metal poles, dirt and clothing, diaries and shoes. No one at the yard is sure who they belong to. Some could be from curious visitors who got into the carriages; others could of those doomed inside them. "After the initial rush to see them, they were soon forgotten," says Lalith Gamhewa, the station master at Hikkaduwa, where the three carriages remained from December 2005 until mid-2008 before they were moved to Colombo."Like the tsunami."

The approaching five year anniversary of tsunami in Sri Lanka inspired mixed reactions among the survivors along the southern coast. The waves left over 35,000 dead here, displaced over a million people, destroyed 100,0000 houses and left 150,000 without jobs. The reconstruction bill was $3.5 billion. But for many who faced the waves directly, it seems the country has moved on and all but forgotten the details. "I am not sure whether many know of the five year commemorations. It seems like it is something from the past and gone," says Ajantha Smarawickrema, a television cameraman who shot images of four women being dragged by the waves in Galle, a town three miles (5 km) from the train wreck.

But the waves still dictate the daily life of 22-year-old Aniseya Sulthan, a young Muslim woman living in a temporary shelter for the tsunami displaced on the east coast. Over 1300 families in the town of Kalmunai continue to wait for houses five years after their homes were swept away. Now, with no house to put up as a dowry, Aniseya's parents are having difficulty finding a suitable groom for her. "I built a nice house near the coast for her. Nothing was left of it after the tsunami," Nafrath Sulthan, her father, tells TIME. He sits in front of one of dozens of dimly lit, tin-sheet roofed shelters, with clothes, suitcases, extra furniture, garbage and even domestic chickens littered out front. Thick electrical wires coil near the top of the doors of some of the structures; their occupants fear that power outages could end up engulfing their homes. It's happened before.

Aniseya hides behind the front door, peeping out occasionally as her father speaks, her face covered with a head scarf. "Our tradition is that girls have to get married when they are 21, 22. Time is running out for her," the nervous father said.

Lack of housing is a problem for young Muslim women like Anesiya still living in the shelters, admits Ismail Thawfiek, the top government official in the area. He says the delay in construction has been forced by the 213-foot (65m) no-build buffer zone implemented along the coast in Kalmunai after the tsunami. Authorities have been forced to reclaim land formerly used for paddy cultivation to build the new homes to replace those that fell in the buffer zone. "Land is a big issue here, but we have located them. We think we can give all these people the houses by early next year," says Thawfiek.

In Hambantota, another town on the south coast, the houses have been built too fast, some say. In Siribopura, a massive tsunami rehousing scheme spanning over nearly 600 acres (240 hectares). Over 1500 houses have sprung up in an area where elephants used to walk. Businessmen complain that the development's new market and business complex is too far out from the former city center, and some residents working in the fishing industry who found it too difficult to commute between between the new housing in Siribopura and the beach have already sublet their new units to move closer to the shore. Another lot of houses rapidly constructed through public donations from Hungary started losing rafters, beams and windows even before the first tenants arrived. "Some of the houses were so bad, that no one could live in them," says Charles Rathnayake, a resident who moved in after extensive repairs. Around him many of the houses at Hungama, or 'Hungarian Village,' were being overtaken by shrub.

Not everyone, however, is complaining. The very first class of students from Siribopura's new school will take the main government exam in December. "We are very happy. We have a new school, new friends, and the sea is far away," says one beaming student, Thilini Sara. (The school still runs a special counseling program for its students to get over the trauma caused by the waves.) Ajith Priyantha, a fishing boat operator tending his nets on the Hambantota fishing harbor, is also grateful for the help. "We got boats and nets. It was easy for us to get back to fishing," he says.

But for all who fell victim to the deadly waves, the memories of December 26, 2004 are not as easy to shrug off. There are still houses and buildings left untouched after the waves receded, standing like skeletal ghosts with long shadows amidst the newly constructed buildings. Small blue signs dot the coast, indicating where to run in case of a tsunami warning. Sri Lankan authorities recently tested a multi-million dollar early warning system along the beaches. In Sainathimaruthu, where villagers say at least 3500 died, a large red tower stands on the beach equipped with a public address system — a constant reminder that, despite the rhythms of life having returned to some kind of normalcy, it could happen again.


Read More

Bookmark and Share
© 2009 - 2014 Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka

  © Blogger template 'Fly Away' by 2008

Back to TOP