Post-Tsunami Aid in Sri Lanka Has a Downside

Relocations Might Disrupt Fishing Communities

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COLOMBO, Sri Lanka, JAN. 31, 2005 ( A government plan for the post-tsunami replacement of houses that were close to the coast might cause serious difficulties for fishing communities and for the local Church, say observers.

Fishermen make up the sector hardest-hit by the Dec. 26 tsunami that struck in Asia and Africa.

In Sri Lanka, the authorities’ decision to remove the houses from the coast «has caused protests because most fishermen are used to living right by the sea,» said Father Sunil de Silva, secretary of Colombo Archbishop Oswald Gomis, according to AsiaNews.

«The Church and the opposition are protesting because such a restriction would make fishermen helpless,» said the priest.

The government’s restriction will weaken the position of the Church itself because, «around one-third of fishermen are Catholics, and we are concerned that Catholic communities will be dispersed if this rule is implemented, and the strength of the Church would be diminished,» explained Father de Silva.

Human rights activists already have criticized the government’s reconstruction plans, saying that the proposals do not take into considerations the needs of the people for whom they are intended.

Father de Silva added that the authorities want to build four-story concrete blocks but that «this is not what people want.»

«I don’t think the government is ignoring survivors’ needs and wishes, but it is time for it and the people to reach a consensus,» he said. However, «the government has yet to begin reconstruction. People have been waiting and waiting, well aware it will take time to build houses.»

The Catholic Church, meanwhile, continues with its rehabilitation projects. Houses are being rebuilt or repaired and, in some areas, people have been resettled. According to the secretary of Colombo’s archbishop, the top priorities are to help fishermen and to rebuild schools.

A month after the tragedy, the spirit of solidarity shown by tsunami survivors remains strong, regardless of their ethnic group or religion, and the bulk of Church aid is going East where the need is greatest, the priest said.

Caritas-Sri Lanka and other institutions of the Church have decided to establish in each diocese of the affected areas a team of experts in charge of coordinating the post-emergency plans.

In a statement to ZENIT last Friday, Caritas explained that this is the way it is responding to the request made to humanitarian organizations of the Church by the president of the country’s episcopal conference, Bishop Joseph Vianney Fernando, during a recent meeting in Colombo.

The meeting was attended by the local Caritas director, Damian Fernando; the apostolic nuncio, Archbishop Mario Zenari; and experts of several agencies of the Caritas international network.

At the meeting it was learned that in Sri Lanka alone, the tsunami killed more than 30,000 people and destroyed 80,000 houses and seriously damaged another 40,000. About 5,500 people are listed as missing.

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