| One month after the tragic events of 26th December 2004, there is a palpable sense of hopelessness. Lest we forget, the continued puerile rhetoric bandied by politicians not only mocks the deaths of over 40,000, but also toys with the continued trauma of those who have lost everything–their families, parents, children, livelihoods, income, community and support structures. Many have lost the one thing that makes us human–hope.
While it is true that the tsunami did not discriminate along ethnic, religious or caste lines, it is also the case that in Sri Lanka and in many other regions severely affected by it, the weakest segments of society, the most impoverished and economically disadvantaged communities suffered the brunt of its force. To face the full horror of the tsunami requires sensitivity to the psychosocial aspects of its destruction, and not just observing the physical devastation. In communities where life was inextricably entwined with the ebb and flow of the sea, to have so much taken away by their life-giver in an instant is beyond comprehension.
The tsunami has dismembered lives in a country which did not need more trauma. It might, as some argue, be a fortuitous event, for in its wake the tsunami has engineered a more reconciliatory tone from the key stakeholders in the peace process. Yet sporadic murmurings of cooperation and collaboration aside, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the government do not seem to be able to agree on a mutually acceptable framework to disburse aid and more importantly, embark on activities that address the needs of the ravaged communities in the northeast.
Wire reports on the situation in Sri Lanka paint a schizophrenic attitude of key actors towards the immediate, medium and long-term needs. It is almost as if the generosity of the world (in the form of aid free from any donor conditionality) has galvanized, not restrained zero-sum politics. One the one hand, there is the seeming inability of the incumbent government to create inclusive, participatory and accountable structures to address the long-term needs of relief and the longer-term needs of reconstruction. Reports that documents for requesting and channelling aid were dispatched to the north in Sinhala point to both a severe lack of capacity and a callous insensitivity to fragile ethnic relations within the structures that have been set up to spearhead the long-term relief efforts by the central government. One cannot seriously expect a traumatized population to fill in documentation in a language they cannot comprehend in order to get the relief they deserve as citizens of Sri Lanka. It is unforgivable that we continue to trivialize the rights of entire peoples in this fashion, even after such a catastrophic disaster.
On the other hand, the LTTE while rightfully demanding donor aid and human resources to rapidly address the suffering of those affected by the tsunamis in the northeast, must realize that the same principles of accountability and transparency apply to their operations. Relief organizations in foreign countries which had been identified as fronts for the collection of funds to arm the LTTE cannot be forgotten in an instant under the guise of providing channels for aid to those affected on the ground. The continuing concerns of child recruitment (which some reports alarmingly state has continued unabated even after the tsunami) must not be ignored or brushed aside in efforts to mainstream the participation of the LTTE in the long-term relief efforts. Violations of human rights cannot be countenanced in any circumstance. Pressure must be placed on both the government and the LTTE to ensure that aid is disbursed to those who need it, for the purposes which the aid was intended for, in a manner that is accountable to both the donors and more importantly, the people themselves who were affected by the tragedy.
We must also recognize the moral duty that the acceptance of donor aid binds us to. It is unfortunate, as some analysts have already pointed out, that grandiose projects to ostensibly address the destruction of the tsunami have taken a life of their own. While communities on the ground in certain parts of the country still await concrete measures to restore a semblance of normalcy, the reconstruction agenda overflows with hurriedly assembled blueprints for building cities, highways and electric railways. As mentioned earlier, we seem to think that unconditional donor aid flows are a golden opportunity to kick-start developmental processes that lay dormant with the stasis in the peace process. The suffering of communities must not be the currency with which we negotiate funding to build Sri Lanka’s infrastructure. It is morally reprehensible to hold those who have lost everything ransom to processes that are aimed at reversing a historic incapacity to engender sustainable development in Sri Lanka. Such parasitic behaviour, which feeds on the plaintive voices of those on the ground, will inevitably result in a cataclysmic failure to create sustainable developmental processes and may further entrench ethnic distrust and sow the seeds of future violence.
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Sanjana Hattotuwa is a Rotary World Peace Scholar presently pursuing a Masters in International Studies from the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia. The views expressed here are his own. He can be contacted at [email protected]
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