Betweeen pain and hope, Sri Lanka is learning to hold on to hope as it painstakingly rebuilds the nation. Rajeev Nair reports from Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka wakes up to another morning with a pang in its bosom, a tear in its eyes and a lump in its throat: Two weeks after the killer tsunami struck the coast of this island nation, the people are learning to cope with the loss, and struggling to live with it.
Colombo, the capital city, wears a picture of normalcy outwardly. But the aftermath of the disaster, and the largesse of international aid agencies and individuals that has followed, is hard to miss.
On Jan. 10, the airport at Katunayake, some 35 kilometres from the city centre, welcomed a group of Swiss volunteers, who have come in to Sri Lanka with medical supplies. They will soon fan out to disaster-struck areas.
The airport also witnessed groups of marines, and the authorities, in a bid to streamline the expatriate Sri Lankans, returning from various countries, particularly the Gulf, and the foreign visitors, have put up assistance personnel to guide relief teams and media units. Their entry procedure is eased. Volunteers can also sign up to join in for relief work at the airport.
If the foreign visitors go about their work with the commitment of volunteers, the expatriate Sri Lankans who have returned home make for telling pictures. It is homecoming for some, many of them returning to their country after long stints in Gulf countries; some are maids, many are workers at textile units. The vacationers, many of them unaffected directly by the tsunami, fall smilingly into the warmth of greeting relatives.
But heart-rending stories await some others. Safeer, 28, an employee with a bank in Abu Dhabi, lost his three-year-old daughter and a little nephew to the killer waves. His wife, Nahoura is recuperating from the trauma and after a week of hospitalisation is under the care of Safeer’s sister, who has been married off a few hundred kilometres from his hometown, near Colombo.
He lost a house, built at a cost of Rs15 lakh, which was completed only recently. He also lost another residential property. Add to that gold worth Rs4 lakh. All these were his earnings from over five years of work in the Gulf. He was to return to Sri Lanka, to stay with his wife and child, and now his dreams lay shattered. He can cope with the loss of property and money, but his daughter’s life âÄ“ that loss chokes him.
He clutches on to a photograph of his daughter sent only a few weeks back. The little girl had also written in clumsy big letters, aided by her mother no doubt, how she wanted colour pencils, pens and a school bag. Safeer was planning to send her to nursery.
Safeer’s tale resounds in the woes of Sajjad, who had been working in Saudi Arabia for many years now. Only recently did he move in to Abu Dhabi; he lost his entire property and whatever savings he managed. Luckily, his nearest of kith and kin escaped.
Residents in Sri Lanka say how the killer waves were in some instances rather erratic in picking up its victims. Karu Naratna, a driver with a destination management company, Walkers Tours, remembers spending the night before at a hotel near Yala National Park. It is a popular picnic spot in the south of Sri Lanka, 20 kilometres from Tissamaharam. He had left early to Colombo, when the waves struck and disrupted road traffic. He took a detour from Hambantota, one of the worst affected regions, and drove inland to reach Colombo. The hotel he had lived in was virtually unaffected by the waves while a closer one was totally devastated.
Incidentally, the animals of Yala National Park survived the ordeal, largely unaffected, while nine staff and three of their family members, of a total of 80 employees, died. The flora of the park too has reported little damage though officials say the ‘coastline has been reshaped.’
Experts say the seismic activity that triggered off the tsunami could also have emitted energy waves of long wavelengths, which the animals could sense and hence scramble for safer spots.
Naratna also cites the ‘mercy’ of the killer waves in sparing Colombo; the city centre faces the sea, which was unusually turbulent on Dec. 26, the day disaster struck.
Sri Lanka has formed a ‘Task Force for Rebuilding the Nation,’ Tafren, which has identified housing, hospitals, schools, roads and bridges, railway, urban township development, water supply and drainage, power, telecommunications, fisheries, tourism and tourist resorts, coast conservation and environment protection, and wildlife and wildlife sanctuaries as areas of priority.
Full story, more reports and pictures on Sri Lanka tsunami relief work at http://tsunamireliefreports.blogspot.com/