industry awaits flood relief
It is now three weeks since the worst floods since independence
ravaged parts of the southern province and caused much damage to
infrastructure and business, particularly the crucial low grown
tea sector, which now produces more than half the island's crop.
of flood victims received much coverage in both the print and electronic
media as did the politicians who are quick to turn up at such disasters
to be filmed and photographed distributing other people's largesse
and to promise relief for those affected.
have long receded and along with it the TV crews and packs of reporters
but some of the promises of speedy assistance to revive the vital
tea industry are yet to be fulfilled.
As one private
tea factory owner in Galle has put it, interviewed by a team from
this newspaper and quoted elsewhere in this section, the floods
came in a flash and in a flash destroyed what had been built up
over several years. The government, he said, should provide relief
To be sure,
some assistance has already arrived, as we were able to witness
during a visit to the affected areas last week. Teams of engineers
and technicians from those companies that have long serviced the
tea industry are already doing the rounds, going from factory to
factory, to repair damaged machinery. The government also moved
fast in clearing the roads and repairing the power and telephone
lines damaged by the floods.
But the smallholders
and tea factory owners, who grow the tea for which Arab and Russian
buyers are prepared to pay a good price and who today are the mainstay
of the Ceylon tea industry, are upset that the most urgent part
of the promised relief, the cash, has still not been forthcoming.
Most of them have had their homes and workplaces submerged and suffered
considerable material damage, apart from the mental trauma that
such disasters bring.
of the floods has been unprecedented, and unexpected, and no government
could have been expected to have prepared for a disaster of this
it is not too much to expect government machinery to have moved
somewhat faster, especially to help revive an industry as vital
as tea, particularly from a government that is the darling of the
private sector and which boasts of having in its ranks technocrats
and whiz kids from the corporate world.
It is this same
lethargy and lack of political will that seems to be behind the
impasse in the peace process. The LTTE may have its own hidden reasons
for not going to the Tokyo aid conference.
But the excuse
it has given for pulling out of the peace talks - that the government
has not done enough to alleviate the sufferings of ordinary people
- is certainly valid, how ever much the LTTE itself is guilty of
exploiting and terrorising its own people. Although the truce and
the easing of restrictions have made life somewhat easier for the
people, the main beneficiaries of this whole peace process are the
LTTE and the government.
The lot of ordinary
folk has not improved significantly. The focus has been on the big
projects that are likely to become juicy contracts for the private
sector. It is indeed ironic that a government that launched the
peace process by insisting on getting the day-to-day issues facing
the Tamil people out of the way should now be confronted with such
an impasse at such a crucial moment merely because of the lack of
progress in improving the lives of ordinary people in the north