The poor, who were the most horribly impacted by the Asian tsunami six months back, are being victimized again by the rebuilding, reports Scott Leckie, executive director of the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions.
"Thailand, India and other affected countries have restricted the right to return but Sri Lanka stands out as the tsunami-affected country which has sought most dramatically to re-shape its residential landscape through the reconstruction process," Leckie writes in a piece called The Great Land Theft. Essentially, poor people are being denied the right to return to their ancestral holdings within 100 or 200 meters of the shore (for those up on Sri Lanka's coastline, the buffer zone is 100 meters in Kilinochchi, Mannar Puttalam, Gampaha, Colombo, Kalutara, Galle, Matara and Hambantota and 200 meters in Jaffna, Mullaitivu, Trincomalee, Batticaloa and Ampara), while rich private owners are being allowed to rebuild in the same risky areas.
"The re-building process has been painfully slow with almost no new homes yet constructed in the most severely affected areas," Leckie writes, adding, "In Sri Lanka, hundreds of thousands of tsunami survivors continue to live in temporary shelters or tents some six months after the disaster. Reports indicate that the government has plans to build new housing four or five – in some cases even 14 – kilometres from traditional coastal villages. This will have a serious impact on peoples’ livelihoods, especially fishing families dependent on the sea and immediate access to it. When one visits temporary resettlement sites in Sri Lanka, it is not difficult to get the feeling that tsunami survivors are going to be waiting for many years before all of the housing that is needed is actually in place. "