Sri Lanka: United Socialist Party’s daunting task of relief

"The grotesque picture of devastation is slowly emerging and haunting us. The real brunt of the tsunami was taken by the eastern part of the island. The principal town, Pottuvil, has seen the worst disaster in its living memory".


These words which began the last article we wrote from Sri Lanka are an all too accurate description. As we arrived again in the eastern part of Sri Lanka, a graveyard silence greeted us – scores of eyes tired of crying for their kith and kin who were taken by the killer Tsunami.

There are "families" who have lost everybody except one male member who had gone to the town or who was safely fishing in the deep sea. There is not a single household which has not been devastated by death and destruction in the world famous Arugambay surfing village. Now streets of debris are all that is left to see of what was once a booming tourist spot as well as busy fishing community.

The relief team of the United Socialist Party (USP, CWI in Sri Lanka) visited the Pottuvil area again on the week-end 22 to 24 January and visited all the villages and hamlets where the USP already has a base. Apart from the Pottuvil town, the villages such as Ullai, Sinnaullai and Komari have seen the dancing of death in their own eyes. The team could see the fear of the sea still instilled in the helpless eyes of the villagers of Pottuvil district.

Government lies

Though a lot of claims are being made by the government agencies and the sycophantic electronic media, that fast relief is being meted out to the victims of the tsunami and most of them are rehabilitated, the USP team could see for itself that it was a big white lie concocted to show to the western world and the donor countries.

On the hot sands of Arugambay, there once stood a lively town mostly of Tamil-speaking Muslims. But today the only reminder of that scene is the debris and some concrete floors which had little houses on them with lots of children. The claims of the government that they have set up pukka relief camps is a travesty of justice to these poor people, who have had to build their own thatched shelter with whatever was salvaged from the disaster.

The government is treating the victims of tsunami as some sort of beggars by giving just a weekly ration of rice, lentils, sugar, flour etc. and wash their hands of responsibility for anything else. The paltry sum of five thousand rupees for the funeral of the victims is the only cash that the affected have seen and received from the government.

To rub salt on the wounds of the surviving disaster victims, the government expects them to queue up to register in order to receive the promised five thousand rupees as a start up grant. You cannot imagine the scores of bruised, sick, fearful and dejected people queuing up for this so-called help from the government. Even the distribution of relief material such as temporary shelters and household goods smacks of partiality along ruling coalition lines.

Class Bias

The tsunami has washed away many things such as houses, boats, catamarans, fishing nets and other livelihood articles, but the devil of Class Bias stands firmly rooted in society.

The government has suddenly woken up to the fact that there is a rule that nobody should build anything within 100 metres of the sea. While it wants to apply this rule stringently now, the most adversely affected would be the poor fishermen folk. Some of the rich and foreigners are already flouting the law and building dwellings and businesses

within the stipulated areas.

The communal Janata Vimukthi Perumuna (JVP) is taking advantage of the post-tsunami situation and has set its own agenda. In the Pottuvil area for example it has tried to communalise the whole town by making false claims on a piece of land in a predominantly Muslim area to put up a Buddhist statue.

Socialist crisis management center

The USP district centre at Pottuvil town has become a sort of socialist crisis management centre for the tsunami affected people; it has become an ongoing meeting spot for them to discuss everything that is worrying them. The USP has tried to meet the challenge of organizing its own relief operation to help some of the disaster affected people who are directly linked to the party in one way or the other.

It has distributed some essential items such as cement, bricks, cycles, household utensils and kerosene stoves to some of the comrades who were affected. But doing relief work here is like a cat saying that it would drink all the water in the ocean; it was a daunting task for all the comrades to decide how to manage on the resources available.

The fantastic work done by the comrades in Pottuvil must be saluted. It has stretched the comrades physically to the maximum, but this sacrifice has its own rewards. Most of the adult population have turned up at the meetings when the USP team was there, and most of them said that they are going to join the USP – the only party which came there to help at the hour (if not the minute!) of need.

Further work of USP

This week-end (29 and 30 January) the USP team is going to the south of the country to carry on the party sponsored relief for the comrades and supporters of the USP. A special broadsheet is being planned with the name ‘Tsunami Janahanda’ (Voice of the Tsunami Victims) to expose the government and to put forward a socialist programme for the fight-back. Later, in the month of February, a mass poster campaign is planned.

Fishermen on the beach of Arugambay and their homes on the shore line December 1999.

Pictures: Clare Doyle, cwi

Updated on 1 February 2005: Pictures added

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January 2005