by Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou, 4 April 1928
Today is the 5th anniversary of a tsunami that devastated our country. Five years on, but how many of us still care for the people who suffered?
They are waiting for many years to rebuild their lives
The tsunami hit the Indian Ocean, killing nearly hundreds of thousands in eleven countries and inundating coastal communities with waves unto one hundred feet. According to experts, it was one of the deadliest natural disasters in recorded history. Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand and India were the hardest hit.
About thirty thousand people were killed in tsunami, millions injured and many more left homeless in Sri Lanka. The tidal waves hit North, East and South coastal areas.
All rushed to the spots to help the victims on December 26th 2004. People canceled their holidays, and work and took part in the process of recovering dead bodies and clearing debris. I covered the tsunami stories continuously for many months. I have traveled to North, East and South of Sri Lanka to cover untold stories. I kept traveling to the same areas after many years. My memories stand still like statues in my mind. I keep meeting the same people in these areas, where they are still struggling to survive. Most of the survivors are hesitant to recall the memories saying “it brings sadness and they want to pray for their loved ones who were killed to rest in peace”. The memories are sad and unforgettable!
There are 55 families – 205 persons (males-60 persons, females-80 persons, and children-65 persons) still live in tin sheds in Sainthamaruthu (in the Eastern Province), living behind the Jummah Mosque. Their living space is squeezed into few meters. There are only two toilets which are currently functioning, there in only one bathroom for males and females. And only three drinking water taps are in the compound. The place gets flooded immediately when it rains. It is very hot inside during the Sunny days. Snakes are their frequent visitors in the night. Flu and Chicken Pox have been infected by many in the past.
The living space looks congested with few furniture, kitchen utensils and clothes and few of them have pets such as cats and chicken. The residents here are frustrated to continue live under these circumstances. Their houses were under 65 meter buffer zone in Saainthamaruthu. They feel that “they are nobody’s people”. Most them here in Saainthamaruthu think they are not lucky, and curse their fate for being unfortunate. “Will we be getting permanent houses next year?” many ask often, but the question remains unanswered.
Tents are in a row
There is no privacy
“We are still suffering.Politicians visit us,when they want our votes” says Abdul Kaathar (50) who is a fisherman
Posters at the temporary shelters read as “Politicians who come and ask for our votes!Don’t you know we struggle to survive?”
Dirty water passes nearby where the people live
Salma Ammen (40) lives in this small tin shed with o other family members
Many live within a limited space
“We are unwanted. We are still suffering” says Mahmud Kaasim Raseena Umma (57)
It gets flooded during rain
“I am a fisherman, and I need to live closer to the sea” says M.C.M.Haniffa (58)
No recreational place for the children
“Almighty Allah saved me from Tsunami,and I am confined to a small place now” says Mohamed Ismail Muhlood Umma (62)
Nobody visits them now
Toilets in a row, but only two are functional
“How long can I live like this?” queries Fathima Ayesha Umma (62)
Paddy is kept for drying in the Sun
“There had been few electrical short circuits. We have to be extra careful with the children” says M.C.M.Jamaaldeen (55)
There is a new housing scheme,but houses are not yet handed over to the people
“I am a Mason, and I have to find a better income to look after my family.I do not have a permanent house yet” laments Meera Mohideen Sinnarasa (42)
According to officials, in Saainthamauthu and Kamunai at least 1,300 families still await permanent housing.
“I have unmarried young daughters,I cannot continue to live like this,but on the other hand I am not rich to go out of this temporary shelter and buy a new house” laments Mohideen Baba Saaliya Umma (44)
Most residents remain confused about the process
Children are growing and more space is needed
Daily residents are learning to share the space
They are looking forward to a new beginning
Tsunami warning tower is established in the coastal line all over Sri Lanka