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Tsunami Victims Still Suffer Tourism Concern
he tsunami has been and gone but Tourism Concern has not forgotten. Says Guyonne James. ince the tsunami struck, we have consistently covered the plight of the people in the affected countries, the displacements from their coastal homes due to tourism and their continued suffering. Despite ?400 million of UK aid money, thousands of victims are still languishing in camps in atrocious conditions.

TsumaniFollowing reports that they were being prevented from returning to their coastal homes to make way for tourism developments, Tourism Concern is working with grass roots organisations in India and Sri Lanka to explore why and to support them in standing up for their rights.

They recently visited a camp in Sri Lanka and found horrific conditions. In one such camp, south of Colombo, live people whose lives were devastated by the tsunami washing away their homes that lay between the road and the beach. The camp comprised 31 families living in one-room huts, made of bits of wood with corrugated iron roofs. The huts were supposed to last for only six months but have now been up for nearly three years. The electricity stopped last year and of the 20 toilets that were built, only two work. The families still in the camps have, for a variety of reasons, been unable to make claims for rehousing or have fallen foul of the local government officials. With nowhere else to go, none of the adults have permanent jobs. They work as labourers or cleaners, or they beg.

Surandi and her second husband had a house together but she was in the Middle East working as a maid when the tsunami hit. Because of this, the fact that they are not legally married and were not on the electoral roll, they were refused a grant for rehousing. Surandi is nine months pregnant and has no bed to sleep on. Her husband works as a casual labourer. She has saved enough to pay for the ambulance to take her to hospital but she has no money to buy clothes for the baby.

Debt is a frequent problem. Land prices are rising and available grants are inadequate to pay for a reasonable plot of land. Lily Margaret is an elderly lady, who before the tsunami, was living with her disabled son, Thilak Premarathne, who had lost a leg. She was unable to find a plot of land big enough for a house for only 250,000 rupees so she borrowed some against the later installments. The plot had a very deep well which needed a pump to draw water, which she borrowed money to buy. When she was unable to keep up the repayments, the pump was removed and she was forced to return to the camp with her son.

As the camp was near Colombo, few of the tsunami victims were working directly in tourism. Nevertheless, they resented and feared tourism as it was making their situation worse. There a perception that hotels are being built on land where people are not allowed to rebuild their homes. Tourism developments in tsunami-hit areas, strongly promoted by governments, are causing speculation.

Over the next few months, Tourism Concern will be accelerating its tsunami work to find out much more about the situation in Sri Lanka and India. Already teams of researchers are talking to grass roots networks so that they can make sure that those people who suffered so much in the tragedy are not forgotten.

Valere Tjolle

 
 

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