Sri Lanka Urged to Cut Red Tape for Sake of Tsunami Victims

Caritas Official Makes Plea to Government

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ROME, FEB. 16, 2005 ( A Caritas Internationalis official called upon the Sri Lankan government to cut the bureaucracy and allow charitable groups to build temporary shelters for tsunami survivors before the rainy season arrives.

Duncan MacLaren, secretary-general of Caritas Internationalis, a confederation of 162 Catholic relief, development and social service organizations, made that plea after returning from a five-day trip to Sri Lanka. He inspected relief efforts in the wake of the Dec. 26 tsunami.

«One and a half months on, most people are still in tents, when we have the resources to provide them with temporary shelters,» MacLaren lamented.

«We are obliged to fight and face legal wrangles about land rights to construct permanent houses,» he said in a statement. «If women with young children, who find it too hot to be in the tents during the day, are caught by the monsoon rains, then infant deaths could rise.

«The Sri Lankan people and others elsewhere hit by the tsunami have suffered enough. It is now time for the Sri Lankan government to lay down the law to local governments to give access to land for the shelters.»

Referring to the war between the rebel Tamil Tigers and the government, the Caritas official pointed out that this is a moment to build a lasting peace.

«The tsunami did not distinguish between Tamil or Singhala, Buddhist, Hindu, Christian, or Muslim,» he stressed. «It would be a fitting memorial for the dead if both sides made the current cease-fire a lasting political solution to bring peace.»

«After all, what is the use in constructing houses, hospitals and schools if the war begins and blows them all to pieces?» he asked.

Caritas Internationalis has collected more than $350 million for those affected by the tsunami in all Asian areas of the Indian Ocean. A $40 million, first-phase program in Sri Lanka is concentrating on temporary shelter, education, livelihood — especially fishing boats and nets — and trauma counseling.

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