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Political struggle hinders aid in Sri Lanka after tsunami

AID is reaching tsunami victims in Sri Lanka, but the political situation is making it very difficult in some areas of the country, said Christian Aid this week. Speaking on Tuesday, Ivan Kent, who has been working for the organisation in Sri Lanka for most of the time since the disaster on Boxing Day, said that the international community needed to take a serious look at what was happening.

He said that British people should not feel that the money they had donated was not being used, but admitted that there were some problem areas in the north and the east of the country. "This is where the Tamil Tigers have been in battle with the government, and there is still a level of uncertainty about who is in charge of the rehabilitation and restoration work," he said.

Last week's visit to the island by the former US President, Bill Clinton, had raised the issue, which could only be a good thing, Mr Kent believed. Mr Clinton, who is the UN envoy for tsunami relief, held a meeting with the Sri Lankan President, Chandrika Kumaratunga. Although he did not travel to areas controlled by Tamil Tigers, he announced that he planned to return to the country and meet Tamils on neutral territory.

An estimated 400 miles of Sri Lanka's coastline was badly hit by the tsunami, which left 35,000 dead and about 500,000 people homeless on the island. Ivan Kent, who is now visiting the UK, reported that 15 Christian Aid partner organisations are now working in the country, and covering a great deal of ground.

"It is easy for people to say that bureaucracy or the government is not letting the aid through, but one of the issues is the problem with the lack of clarity over the allocation of land. People moved into all kinds of community buildings, including churches and temples, when they were first made homeless. They were then moved to transitional shelters to free up these buildings, but it is the final move to permanent shelters that is causing the problem in some areas."

He mentioned that, in the north and east of the country, land has been a highly contentious issue for 20 years because of the civil conflict; so it is not a new problem. "The government is hugely under-resourced in these areas, and there are often no deeds to any land. Yet it is a vital part of the recovery process for people to know where they are going to be living, so they can start working again."

He warned that the longer the situation of uncertainty continued in these areas, the longer there would be a culture of dependency. "Restarting work is a major part of the psychological healing after such a disaster."

He reported, however, that Christian Aid's partner organisations were already completing work on 1000 permanent shelters in one part of the country, as well as running comprehensive social and counselling programmes for women and children. These groups had been particularly badly affected by the tsunami, because, after the disaster, they were treated as bystanders, and had few means of self-help.


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