chance to rebuild, reunite
The effects of an earthquake powerful enough to make the earth wobble
and shift tectonic plates by 15 metres is likely to leave deep scars
on the economy and psyche of a nation as small as ours, long after
the initial recovery and reconstruction effort. Some analysts have
described the damage wrought by the freak tsunami as the worst blow
the economy has suffered.
images of the destruction along large swathes of the island's coastline
are reminiscent of the bombed out settlements and desolation left
by 20 years of fighting in the north and east. While the hardest
hit sectors have been tourism and fisheries, the tidal wave damage
will surely have ripple effects across the entire economy.
is inevitable that economic growth, that was already slowing down
owing to the political uncertainty earlier in the year and then
the oil price shock, would slow down even further. The government
and the private sector would face higher expenditure on account
of the re-building effort and lost business opportunities. Apart
from the physical damage, the loss of human capital is also great.
a country that has suffered so much from ethnic strife and natural
disasters, this latest blow to the economy appears almost too much
to bear. But the experience of the past 20 years shows that ours
is a remarkably resilient economy which has repeatedly bounced back
from one set back after another. Already, there are calls to turn
this disaster in an opportunity to re-build and re-unite the nation.
massive reconstruction effort along the lines of that planned for
the north-east would be required to get the economy back on its
feet. President Chandrika Kumaratunga has put the cost of rebuilding
in the 15 districts that were affected at some Rs 100 billion. The
public, government and business community have galvanised themselves
into action to help the bereaved and homeless, and assistance from
abroad is pouring in. But much of the long-term cost of the re-construction
effort would have to be borne by the international community as
this country simply cannot afford to do it on its own given the
poor shape of its economy after 20 years of war.
government would do well to closely involve the private sector in
the relief and rehabilitation effort given the business community's
flexibility, agility and availability of skills. The business community
has already reacted with much alacrity and its skills would surely
help ensure better co-ordination in the relief effort and that aid
reaches those who really need it.
is also in a good position to provide volunteers for the relief
effort. Many events planned by the private sector and celebrations
have been called off in the wake of the tragedy. The government
has the checklist of requirements and these could be fulfilled by
the private sector if the two co-ordinate their efforts. There are
reports of confusion, lack of co-ordination and duplication in the
relief effort. While this is inevitable given the scale of the disaster,
speedy action is required to remove bottlenecks and ensure relief
measures are effective. Complaints have been made, most notably
by the Tamil Tigers, that the government is giving preference to
the south in the relief effort and neglecting the north and east.
While this is most probably the LTTE's usual disinformation it is
important not to let such an impression gain ground.
massive rebuilding campaign must now surely follow the initial relief
effort to repair the homes, commercial buildings, roads, rail tracks
and power and telephone lines that were washed away. This might
provide the impetus the economy required for a sustained period
of growth which the much-touted peace dividend failed to provide.