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Tsunami disaster – countries in crisis

Two disparate tales of post-tsunami reconstruction in Sri Lanka

© UNICEF/HQ06-1612/Noorani
Riaz, 16, plays football with neighbourhood children in the village of Kirinda in Southern Province, Sri Lanka. Riaz lost both his parents, as well as an older sister, in the tsunami.

By Katey Grusovin

KIRINDA and TRINCOMALEE, Sri Lanka, December 2006 –  In 2004, the fishing village of Kirinda was devastated by the tsunami. Some 78 people were killed, including the parents and older sister of 16-year-old Farouk Mohammad Riaz.

Riaz now lives with his elder brothers Nawaz and Niyaz in the house of his only surviving sister. In the aftermath of the tsunami, UNICEF advocated with the government to allow extended family members to become official guardians to children who had lost both parents. Riaz was one of 770 children who benefited from this.

Two years ago, nearly 90 per cent of fishermen in Kirinda lost their livelihoods in a matter of seconds. But the rebuilding efforts have transformed the once impoverished fishing village into a thriving community. Like many other villagers, Riaz and his brothers have recently been given a brand new house.

“We have a new house, a new school is being built and my brother has a new boat – there are lots of opportunities in the air,” said Riaz.

Opportunities for education

Education is another area that has benefited during the tsunami recovery process.

© UNICEF/HQ06-1612/Noorani
A.C. Nihardeen holds his infant daughter in front of their half-finished new house in the Trincomalee District of Sri Lanka’s North-Eastern Province. Escalating conflict in the region has stalled reconstruction.

UNICEF and UNOPS are currently supporting the construction and repair of 35 permanent schools for an estimated 25,000 children.

“When the school is completed, it will have spacious classrooms, more play areas and new sanitation facilities,” says UNICEF Sri Lanka’s Head of Education, Ita Sheehy. “The new staff quarters will help attract more quality teaching staff who otherwise would never entertained the prospect of coming here in the past.”

For Riaz, the new opportunities bring hope for the future. “I am looking forward to my new life,” he says. “I want to study hard and pursue higher education. It seems possible now.”

Conflict stalls reconstruction

In contrast to the boom where Riaz lives, reconstruction in the Thamraikulam Camp in Sri Lanka’s troubled North-East has come to a standstill. Because of its proximity to a nearby rebel base, the camp has to endure the terror of constant shelling.

 “That is where our new permanent houses are being built,” says camp leader A.C. Nihardeen, motioning towards a large settlement in the distance. “They were meant to be finished by October but they are only 50 per cent complete.

“All the work stopped because of the lack of security,” Mr. Nihardeen adds. “We have not been able to fish since July. There is nothing for us to do.”

Hope for the future

The incomplete settlement is one of five ‘friendship villages’ being built with the support from the Japanese Government as a way of fostering peace and harmony between Sri Lanka’s different ethnic groups. When it is complete, there will be 246 permanent houses on this settlement alone: 136 for Tamil families and 110 for Muslim families.

Despite the grim situation, Mr. Nihardeen still remains hopeful. He is extremely proud of the new house where his family will live one day.

“It is better than anything we ever had before,” he says.



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