One year after
year has almost passed since last December’s devastating Boxing
Day tsunami which caused much death and destruction in the island
and it is time to reflect on how the nation coped with the tragedy
and the recovery effort.
At a time when much of the nation, and particularly its corporate
sector, would be engaged in merry-making, there is a need to spare
a thought for tsunami survivors. Overall, the results of our efforts
to cope with the tragedy and help those who were affected appear
to be rather disappointing.
outpouring of aid that followed the tsunami has not been used with
optimum effectiveness. Apart from sheer inefficiency there have
even been reports, from time to time, of corruption in the disbursement
and use of aid meant for tsunami survivors. Furthermore, the ham-handed
manner in which some of the relief and reconstruction efforts were
done appear to have resulted in serious social complications, apart
from delaying relief to the most needy.
gravity of the tragedy and its effects can be gauged from remarks
made by President Mahinda Rajapakse in his budget speech where he
said that about half-a-million people are still living in temporary
shelters due to natural and manmade disasters. These include tsunami
survivors as well as those displaced by the ethnic war.
president announced the creation of a new entity to handle tsunami-related
reconstruction work. This, no doubt, was in response to reports
that the reconstruction work was not proceeding as effectively as
it should be and that there were a multitude of organizations, government
and private, competing with each other to help tsunami survivors.
the aftermath of the tsunami a plethora of new government outfits
as well as non-governmental organizations mushroomed almost overnight.
While many of them have done much good work, there have also been
reports of incredible inefficiency and over-lapping of work and
aid that would be comic if their repercussions were not so tragic.
example, competition among NGOs to help survivors have created social
complications in coastal villages, created all kinds of distortions
in the labour market as well as the market for construction materials,
and led to soaring costs.
the absence of overall guidelines on homes for tsunami survivors,
various NGOs have stepped in with different types of housing, creating
tensions in village communities owing to disparities in social status
Some of these NGOs have become big employers.
can be gauged from the fact that many of the jobs advertised in
recent times came from NGOs. This has created a huge shortage of
technical skills, led to poaching, distorted wage scales and disrupted
the work of existing NGOs. Some reports say the number of NGOs operating
in the country have tripled since the tsunami.
corporate sector along with sympathetic individuals and organizations
abroad gave lavish donations to NGOs doing tsunami work. Private
donations were higher than funds that came from foreign governments.
But much of it does not appear to have been well spent.
some of these exercises in philanthropy and charity appear to be
largely self-serving – a vehicle for companies and businessmen
to show off their generosity and to gain publicity for themselves,
either for personal or commercial reasons.
is where the media is partly to blame. While the media focused with
much gusto on highlighting the inefficiencies of government organizations
handling tsunami recovery work and the misdeeds of bureaucrats,
it did not pay enough attention to the manner in which NGOs were
raising and spending money. What is required is more accountability
from NGOs as much as the government.