Shehari stepping into the ocean in Matara. The ocean is beautiful, the sand is white and the water is blue. There is a refugee camp up the hill, and we were distributing goods 100 meters away. View the Matara Gallery
I just wrote a post bitching out ‘Disaster Tourists’. That now includes me. Being the bitched out party naturally changes ones perspective, so here is rewrite. We need Disaster Tourists to get the word out. Their logistical costs are far outweighed by the awareness and donations they can raise by telling this story to the outside world. I actually figured this out in the course or 1) Bitching to Deshan about needing people to update the site and 2) Bitching to Deshan about needing people to update the website. Put 1 and 2 together and the people I was angry at turn out to be the very people I need.
Jeevan has been driving me and Shehari and sometimes Humeira and Kamal around. Jeevan’s day job is a pilot for Sri Lankan Airlines, Shehari is a neighbor and stewardess, Humeira works for Sarvodaya, and Kamal is volunteering.
I don’t like travelling (away from Internet) but it does help to see what’s ‘actually’ happening, and it’s good for the website to get updates besides people handing over checks. What breaks my heart is what’s actually happening. Nothing.
The villages we visit are within 100 meters of the coast. That’s where the Tsunami hit and that’s where the affected people are. The government has banned reconstruction on all land within 100 meters. It is, in effect, finishing the Tsunami’s job. The Tsunami knocked these people off their land. The Sri Lankan government is keeping them off. The government is the permanent disaster.
What breaks my heart is seeing these people living, literally, on nothing but the foundation of their ruined houses. Everyday they wake up on their land, but they can’t do anything. They can’t lay a single brick. They just wait for dry rations and handouts. The government has made rebuilding illegal.
Why? Well, basically these people are poor eyesores. The ones I met have no visible means of support. Some men were fisherman, but their boats are shattered and beached on the shore. Some boys in the army and domestics in the Middle East send money home. I really don’t know how everyone lives. Most of their houses were shacks erected on some of the most beautiful coastline in Sri Lanka. The government has been trying to get them off for years. Now the Tsunami did it for them. Once the Government takes control of the land they will be able to make a fortune parcelling it out to hotels and wealthy people. The people with connections will be allowed to rebuild. Just not the poor.
In the end this might actually make economic sense. You can’t farm on the coast, so maybe these people should be moved inland. I actually don’t care about economic sense at this moment. I cannot look at these people living in rained out tents in the skeletons of houses and say that they can’t rebuild. It is just fills me with impotent rage that we can’t lay a single brick. I am pretty sure that it violates International Law to prevent a Displaced Person from returning home. As much as this law is ignored, in this case its violation is so flagrant and disgusting that it has to be stopped. I think this is important to understand. The Sri Lankan Government has stopped the Relief Effort. The Government has made Reconstruction illegal.
I believe in Sri Lanka and I want to rebuild. I believe that there is hope here. The government just needs to get out of the way.