Poverty and Fear Still Rankle, Ten Years After the Tsunami

A woman wails near the location of a mass grave in the village of Peraliya in southern Sri Lanka. Thousands continue to struggle with trauma and depression, ten years after the disaster. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A woman wails near the location of a mass grave in the village of Peraliya in southern Sri Lanka. Thousands continue to struggle with trauma and depression, ten years after the disaster. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
COLOMBO, Dec 26 2014 (IPS)

It took just 30 minutes for the killer waves to leave 350,000 dead and half a million displaced. Less than one hour for 100,000 houses to be destroyed and 200,000 people to be stripped of their livelihoods.

For many thousands of people in South Asia, the Christmas holidays will always double as a memorial for those who suffered tragic losses during the 2004 tsunami, which rushed ashore on Dec. 26 leaving a trail of tears in its wake.

The island nation of Sri Lanka was one of the worst hit, with three percent of its population affected and five percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) lost in damages.

A ship tilts precariously at the mouth of the Colombo harbour as tsunami waves hit the southwestern coast of Sri Lanka on Dec. 26, 2004. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A ship tilts precariously at the mouth of the Colombo harbour as tsunami waves hit the southwestern coast of Sri Lanka on Dec. 26, 2004. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The first waves reached the interior of Sri Lanka along the Hamilton Canal located just south of the capital, Colombo, in the early hours of the morning. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The first waves reached the interior of Sri Lanka along the Hamilton Canal located just south of the capital, Colombo, in the early hours of the morning. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A Buddhist monk stands with a military officer in front of a train that was washed away by the waves in the southern village of Peraliya, killing over 1,000 people. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A Buddhist monk stands with a military officer in front of a train that was washed away by the waves in the southern village of Peraliya, killing over 1,000 people. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A woman wails near the location of a mass grave in the village of Peraliya in southern Sri Lanka. Thousands continue to struggle with trauma and depression, ten years after the disaster. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A woman wails near the location of a mass grave in the village of Peraliya in southern Sri Lanka. Thousands continue to struggle with trauma and depression, ten years after the disaster. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Residents of this emergency relocation centre in the Panichchankerni village of the eastern Batticaloa District also bore the brunt of Sri Lanka’s civil war, which finally ended in May 2009. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Residents of this emergency relocation centre in the Panichchankerni village of the eastern Batticaloa District also bore the brunt of Sri Lanka’s civil war, which finally ended in May 2009. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

According to the Disaster Management Centre (DMC), over a million people, mainly poor families from the coastal areas, had to be evacuated.

The Northern and Eastern provinces – already struggling in the grip of the protracted civil conflict that at the time was showing no signs of abating – bore the lion’s share of the destruction.

Weary from years of war, the population caught up in the fighting between government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) were battered further by the waves: according to government data, 60 percent of the tsunami’s impact was concentrated on the northern and eastern coasts.

A man covers his nose and mouth with a handkerchief to shield himself from the smell emanating from the train, as dead bodies decompose in the sun. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A man covers his nose and mouth with a handkerchief to shield himself from the smell emanating from the train, as dead bodies decompose in the sun. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A woman carries a tin sheet in Kalmunai, a city in the Ampara District in Sri Lanka’s Eastern Province. Some 3,500 people living in three villagers on the eastern coast lost their lives – comprising a tenth of the national death toll. They were mostly poor fishermen living in humble homes next to the sea. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A woman carries a tin sheet in Kalmunai, a city in the Ampara District in Sri Lanka’s Eastern Province. Some 3,500 people living in three villagers on the eastern coast lost their lives – comprising a tenth of the national death toll. They were mostly poor fishermen living in humble homes next to the sea. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The village of Sainathimaruthu in eastern Sri Lanka was completely destroyed by the tsunami. Fisher families living along the coast faced another hurdle when the then Sri Lankan government initiated an ill-advised move to erect a 100-metre no-build buffer zone along the coast. The plan was later scrapped. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The village of Sainathimaruthu in eastern Sri Lanka was completely destroyed by the tsunami. Fisher families living along the coast faced another hurdle when the then Sri Lankan government initiated an ill-advised move to erect a 100-metre no-build buffer zone along the coast. The plan was later scrapped. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A photographer captures the burnt remains of a tsunami victim on the beach in the village of Pannichhankerni in the eastern Batticaloa District. Located within areas that were then controlled by the separatist Tamil Tigers, victims here found relief supplies slow to arrive, and then fell prey to squabbling between the Tigers and the government over aid distribution. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A photographer captures the burnt remains of a tsunami victim on the beach in the village of Pannichhankerni in the eastern Batticaloa District. Located within areas that were then controlled by the separatist Tamil Tigers, victims here found relief supplies slow to arrive, and then fell prey to squabbling between the Tigers and the government over aid distribution. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

 Men walk past destroyed buildings in the Hambantota town in southern Sri Lanka. Reconstruction in this town subsequently moved at a rapid pace. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Men walk past destroyed buildings in the Hambantota town in southern Sri Lanka. Reconstruction in this town subsequently moved at a rapid pace. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Ten years later, there are no large national monuments erected in memory of those who suffered in the aftermath of the disaster. There is not even a national archive of those who lost their lives. Small memorials dot the coast, but most are in serious need of a good paint job.

In the decade since the tsunami, Sri Lanka has undergone massive change. The nearly 30-year-old war is over; the displaced have returned to new or repaired homes; and for the majority of the island, the crashing waves have been relegated to the realm of a bad, fading nightmare.

But for the tens of thousands who lived through the catastrophe in 2004, the terror of that day will never be forgotten. And while development picks up around the island, with shining new roads leading the way to luxury tourist destinations, many are yet to come to terms with the loss, trauma and poverty that the tsunami brought into their lives.

A small child stands amidst the destruction in the town of Hambantota, located in southern Sri Lanka. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A small child stands amidst the destruction in the town of Hambantota, located in southern Sri Lanka. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Five years after the tsunami, several hundred people were still living in temporary shelters meant to last for just one year in the eastern city of Kalmunai, where a lack of access to land proved a major hurdle to rehabilitation of victims. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Five years after the tsunami, several hundred people were still living in temporary shelters meant to last for just one year in the eastern city of Kalmunai, where a lack of access to land proved a major hurdle to rehabilitation of victims. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A man rides his bike by houses destroyed by the tsunami in the Karathivu area in Kalmunai. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A man rides his bike by houses destroyed by the tsunami in the Karathivu area in Kalmunai. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

 

 These half-built houses, part of a rehabilitation village in Kalmunai, were built using private funds. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

These half-built houses, part of a rehabilitation village in Kalmunai, were built using private funds. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Residents from the coastal areas of Ratmalana, a Colombo suburb, wait by the roadside after being evacuated from their homes following a tsunami warning on April 11, 2012. Poor families, living in coastal areas, are most vulnerable to natural disasters. Credit: Indika Sriyan/IPS

Residents from the coastal areas of Ratmalana, a Colombo suburb, wait by the roadside after being evacuated from their homes following a tsunami warning on April 11, 2012. Poor families, living in coastal areas, are most vulnerable to natural disasters. Credit: Indika Sriyan/IPS

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

 

Small Grants for Big Solutions in Northeast Argentina

Soledad Olivera holds her young son in front of her new bathroom, whose toilet and running water replaced an improvised latrine next to her house in a settlement in Bonpland, in the northern Argentine province of Misiones. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Soledad Olivera holds her young son in front of her new bathroom, whose toilet and running water replaced an improvised latrine next to her house in a settlement in Bonpland, in the northern Argentine province of Misiones. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BONPLAND, Argentina , Dec 26 2014 (IPS)

Summers in northeast Argentina are hot and humid. At siesta time, the people of this rural municipality like to drink “tereré” (cold yerba mate), which until now they had problems preparing because of lack of clean water or electricity. But sometimes small donations can make a big dent in inequality.

Andrés Ortigoza, who lives in one of the villages in Bonpland, proudly shows off his simple new solar panel, which heats up an electric shower. In wintertime, tereré is replaced by hot yerba mate – a caffeinated herbal brew popular in Argentina and neighbouring countries – and taking a cold shower is not easy even for toughened gauchos (the cowboys of the Southern Cone countries) like him.

“We used to wash up with cold water, it was tough in winter….or we’d heat the water with firewood,” he told IPS.

Picada Norte, where Ortigoza lives, was not connected to the power grid until 2010. But service is still patchy and is expensive for local families.

The installation of solar water heaters is one of the projects financed in Bonpland by the Global Environment Facility’s (GEF) Small Grants Programme (SGP).

With its non-repayable grants of up to 50,000 dollars, the SGP has shown how small community initiatives have a positive impact on global environmental problems.

The expansion of forestry activity – mainly aimed at providing raw material for the pulp and paper industry – and the use of firewood as a source of energy are driving deforestation in the jungle in the province of Misiones, which accounts for fully half of Argentina’s biodiversity.

The area forms part of the eco-region of the Parana basin tropical moist forest, which takes a different name in each country that shares it: Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina.

“At an international level, talking about these three countries, there were 80 million hectares around 1950, of which only four million hectares of forest are still standing today, and of them, 1.5 million are in Misiones,” Juan Manuel Díaz, the provincial sub-secretary of ecology, told IPS.

“Our province covers three million hectares and practically half of that is Parana jungle,” he said.

According to Ricardo Hunghanns, president of the Tabá Isiriri-Pueblos del Arroyo Association, 45 percent of productive land in Misiones is currently used by the forestry industry, which since the 1990s has changed the traditional distribution of land and modified the provincial economy.

“This has radically transformed the structure of agriculture in the province, where the paper industry rather than agriculture now represents 80 percent of GDP,” the head of the organisation, which is involved in two SGP projects, told IPS.

The main aim of his association, he said, “is to strengthen the social economy, from the perspective of the inclusion and productive development of our communities.”

For Hunghanns “it is essential to develop projects that diversify agricultural activity, above all to make it possible for those who have been expelled from their own land because their farms are too small, to return, as part of associations.”

In Bonpland, the association is trying to do that through the projects financed by the SGP. But it first has to work out basic questions of subsistence.

Sara Keller suffered from not having water for 45 years. Every day she went to the nearest stream, one km from her village, to haul back 20-litre buckets of water, whether she was pregnant or carrying one of her six children. Calculating the total, she walked over 20,000 km in her life, to fetch water.

But now the 52-year-old married mother of six and grandmother of five, who lives in the village of Campiñas, has running water in her home, thanks to a simple five-km pipe financed by another SGP initiative.

“I really suffered not having water, carrying it from far away in the dry season,” Keller, who now has free time to care for her vegetable garden, sew and even rest, told IPS.

One of the goals of all SGP projects is to include a gender perspective.

Women are often reluctant to take part in meetings because, due to cultural questions, they don’t like to express opinions in front of their husbands, said Hunghanns. But, he pointed out, it is women who establish the priorities for the projects.

That was the case of the project that replaced latrines with toilets. Soledad Olivera, 18, whose husband is a rural worker employed in the extraction of sap or resin, and who has a two-year-old son and is expecting her second child, is happy with the new bathroom in her house in Picada Norte, which replaced a “dirty, smelly latrine”.

“It’s so nice,” she says with a big smile on her face as she looks at the bathroom, complete with a toilet, electric shower, and, especially, running water.

The SGP, implemented by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), is financing 20 projects in Misiones, which also include the care of water sources, sustainable agricultural development, ecotourism activities with Guaraní indigenous communities, waste management and the production of medicinal herbs.

“The term ‘small donations’ [the translation of small grants in Spanish] isn’t the best. Because it’s a commitment between two sides. We contribute something, and so do the community and the grassroots organisations,” said René Mauricio Valdés, the UNDP representative in Argentina.

In return for the aid, the recipients – whether individuals or institutions – provide labour power, training or machinery (in the case of municipal governments).

In Argentina, the SGP is involved in 52 projects in the provinces of Misiones, Corrientes, Entre Ríos, Formosa, Santa Fe and Chaco, for a total of 1.8 million dollars in grants.

Diana Vega, a representative of Argentina’s Secretariat of the Environment and Sustainable Development, explained to IPS that the SGP was not hurt by the global drop in development aid.

“We staked our bets on this programme because change at a local level is essential for generating real change,” she said.

“We realised that national policies often fail to reach the grassroots or community level. On the other hand, initiatives applied at a more local level, closer to the community, are the ones that can be replicated tomorrow at a provincial or national level.”

Silvia Chalukian, the chair of the SGP’s national committee of directors, said “One of the things I like the most about the SGP is that it is structured in such a way that all of the money reaches the ground level. It isn’t lost in office expenses or administration.”

Furthermore, because it involves small amounts of financing, “there is less red tape and fewer communications problems for the people managing it…people gradually learn to handle the financing during the nearly two years of the project.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Valerie Dee

Ruble’s Rout Breeds Uncertainty for Central Asian Migrants

Migrant workers ride in a bus through northern Kazakhstan in May 2014 on their way to find employment in Russia. As the value of the Russian ruble continues to fall, labour migrants from Central Asia say they are less inclined to work in Russia. Credit: Konstantin Salomatin

Migrant workers ride in a bus through northern Kazakhstan in May 2014 on their way to find employment in Russia. As the value of the Russian ruble continues to fall, labour migrants from Central Asia say they are less inclined to work in Russia. Credit: Konstantin Salomatin

By EurasiaNet Correspondents
TASHKENT, Dec 26 2014 (EurasiaNet)

Sardor Abdullayev, a construction worker from eastern Uzbekistan, had planned to go to Russia next spring to join relatives working construction sites in the Volga River city of Samara. But now, he says, “I am better off staying at home and driving a taxi.”

As the value of the Russian ruble plummets and Russia’s economy tumbles into recession, millions of Central Asian migrants have seen their real wages dwindle. On top of that, Russian authorities are introducing new, expensive regulations for foreigners who wish to work legally in the country.The return of tens of thousands of labour migrants and the prospect of them joining the vast pool of the already unemployed is making some officials nervous.

Some Uzbek migrants in Russia now say they are contemplating a return home. Such an influx of returnees could have uncertain ramifications for their impoverished country.

According to Russia’s ambassador to Uzbekistan, there are about three million Uzbek labour migrants in Russia, the most from any Central Asian country. Others estimate the number of Uzbeks could be twice that.

Unofficial estimates put their remittances in 2013 at the value of roughly a quarter of Uzbekistan’s GDP. Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are even more dependent on labour migrants, with remittances contributing the equivalent of 30 percent and roughly 50 percent to their economies, respectively.

Data from Russia’s Central Bank shows that the funds Uzbeks send home dipped nine percent year-on-year during the third quarter of 2014. Analysts predict the fall will continue. The Russian business daily Kommersant estimates that remittances fell 35 percent month-on-month in October alone.

That was before the ruble, which has steadily fallen since Russian troops seized Crimea in February, nosedived earlier in December. Thanks to Western sanctions, the low price of oil, and systemic weaknesses in Vladimir Putin’s style of crony capitalism, the currency has lost roughly 50 percent against the dollar this year. Most migrants convert their rubles into dollars to send home.

“My salary was 18,000 rubles a month, which several months ago would be equivalent to 500 dollars. Now, it is less than 300 dollars,” Sherzod, a 29-year-old from the Ferghana Valley who was working at a shop in Samara, told EurasiaNet.org.

Sherzod returned home in November and he is not planning to go back to Russia. “The salary is too low.”

It is not only falling wages that labour migrants must consider. Starting on Jan. 1, Russia will require labour migrants to pass tests on Russian language, history and legislation basics, as well as undergo a medical examination and buy health insurance (the entire package will cost migrants up to 30,000 rubles (currently about 500 dollars), by some accounts).

The Moscow city government is also more than tripling the fee for work permits, from 1,200 rubles monthly to 4,000 rubles (currently 64 dollars).

Citizens of countries that are members of the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), which will come into force on Jan. 1, will not be affected by the new regulations. That adds an incentive – some might say pressure – for migrant-feeder countries like Tajikistan and Uzbekistan to join. (Kyrgyzstan is hoping to join in early 2015).

Sherzod, the Uzbek labourer, says that faced with falling real incomes, many Uzbeks working in Russia find themselves in a quandary. Thousands are eager to return home. But many simply do not have funds to buy a return ticket. Others worry about being seen in their native villages as failures.

Russian media outlets have quoted a migrant community leader who projected new requirements for guest workers, along with the falling ruble, will prompt up to 25 percent of migrants to leave Russia in the coming months.

With fewer dollars entering Uzbekistan, the Uzbek sum has fallen 15 percent against the greenback on the black market, according to several Ferghana-based shop owners interviewed by EurasiaNet.org. (The tightly managed official exchange rate has declined about 11 percent against the dollar this year. To help support it, from Jan. 1 fruit and vegetable exporters will be required to sell 25 percent of their hard currency earnings to the state at the official rate, Interfax news agency reported Dec. 18).

Despite the economic fallout from Russia, Uzbek leaders remain open to doing business with the Kremlin. During a visit to Tashkent on Dec. 10, Putin wrote off most of Uzbekistan’s 890-million-dollar debt. That deal paved the way for new loans from Moscow. It is unclear what Uzbek leader Islam Karimov promised in return.

Uzbek authorities and well-connected businessmen claim they are prepared to manage the economic fallout, and the large number of returning migrants.

“We have numerous [state-sponsored] urban regeneration construction projects across the country. One can say that the whole of Uzbekistan is a massive construction site. So if migrants return, many of them will find work,” Nazirjan, a former government official who how heads a private construction company in the Ferghana Valley, told EurasiaNet.org on condition his surname not appear in print.

On Dec. 15, President Karimov signed a decree that increased state employees’ salaries by 10 percent. Still, the return of tens of thousands of labour migrants and the prospect of them joining the vast pool of the already unemployed is making some officials nervous.

“The SNB [former KGB] has instructed local authorities and mahalla [neighbourhood] committees to create lists of labour migrants who are returning from Russia. The arrival of migrants usually increases the crime rate, and local authorities have also been instructed to be more vigilant,” a secondary school teacher in the Ferghana Valley told EurasiaNet.org.

This story originally appeared on EurasiaNet.org.

Edited by Kitty Stapp