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6 Months on... the tsunami is ever present in people's minds


20/06/2005 - Six months after the tsunami disaster in Asia, the traumatic experiences of those affected are still to be felt. SOS Children have been carrying out large-scale relief measures since 26 December 2004 in India, Sri Lanka and Indonesia. After initially ensuring that basic needs could be met, the focus has now turned to rebuilding towns, houses, and livelihoods. This is an interim report and an overview of what is planned for the following months.

The first house for Komari

Like many others, Raju prefers not to talk about this fateful day, when his mother-in-law died and his house was washed away. Raju's losses are among those of thousands of people living in the coastal regions of the Indian Ocean. A lot was reported on the devastation and tragedy which befell these people as a result of the sea surge. But what became of Raju and the many others?

Raju is from Komari, a region on the east coast of Sri Lanka. It is ridden with difficulties, as the former civil war area has not yet been entirely pacified. Raju is in his late 60s and is a retired postmaster from Komari. Instead of enjoying his retirement in peace and being able to give his house to his daughter Rajini as dowry, he was faced with ruin on 26 December. Practically the whole of Komari was levelled to the ground. After protracted negotiations, SOS Children was given official permission to rebuild the entire town.

Until now, temporary day-care centres have been set up, monies for the first phase of rebuilding have been distributed, and self-help groups have been given support for the buying of fishing boats and equipment. However, the largest project to be carried out in Komari is the building of 750 family houses, two community centres and the restoration of roads, sewerage, and electrical and sanitary facilities. On 6 June, the first houses, which are simple, functional, and adapted to the needs of families and the conditions in the area, were built and handed over. Raju is the happy owner of one of these new model houses. He will also be giving this house to his daughter Rajini, but will be able to continue living in it. When the first house was finished, many families from Komari were there, and one after the other, they inspected a prototype of what would soon be their new home. All were satisfied with the results.

The tsunami-affected regions were those which were already disadvantaged and had weak infrastructure, and the majority of those affected struggled with difficult conditions. The tsunami affected those hardest whose lives were already troubled. Komari is one of the areas in Sri Lanka in which SOS Children's Villages is making a great effort as regards reconstruction, family support, start-up of livelihoods, and securing futures. Target areas include those that are difficult to access on the east and south coast of the island state.

A total of 1,014 family houses are to be built in Sri Lanka, as well as three community centres, seven SOS Social Centres and an SOS Children's Village. A destroyed school will also be rebuilt. SOS Social Centres are planned to be built in Peraliya, Gandhara, Koddai Kallar, Panama, Kalmunai, Arugambey and Batticaloa. These will offer day-care and kindergarten facilities, medical assistance, adult training and family support all under one roof. Three large community centres, two in Komari and one in Kayankerni, should also provide various social services and also shelter in the case of flooding. Kayankerni, on the east coast, is also being re-constructed by SOS Children's Villages, and 264 family houses are being built there. Iraalodai, which lies north of Batticaloa, had also been assigned to SOS Children, and 130 affected families were being helped, but representatives of LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) assigned the town to another relief organisation. In Batticaloa, an SOS Social Centre has already been in operation for a couple of years and negotiations are taking place over a location for an SOS Children's Village, which the organisation hopes to build for the children who were orphaned by the tsunami. In Kalmunaikudy, the Al Bahriya High school was heavily damaged by the tsunami. Even though 26 December was a Sunday, 1,620 students were attending courses there on that day, and 100 of them perished. Responsibility for the reconstruction of the school on a safe piece of land is being taken over by SOS Children.

Long-term Project: "Re-construction"

The SOS Children co-workers confront a number of challenges as regards the reconstruction work, especially in Sri Lanka and Indonesia. The regions are difficult to access, there are few usable roads for transport, new laws are being put in place, official permission procedures are tedious, prices rise, there are language barriers, competences overlap and problematic political conditions often lead to delays or changes in the plans. In addition, time is a stress factor, since people living in temporary housing have to be accommodated as well as possible before the monsoon season starts by which time at least some of the new houses should be finished. In the Indonesian province of Aceh, where destruction and loss were most severe, the aid organisations and governmental authorities have an especially large task ahead of them.

From the moment of the catastrophe to May 2005, various emergency relief projects have been carried out for more than 2,250 families in Banda Aceh and in the massively devastated city of Meulaboh (which can still only be reached on desolate, muddy paths). The first steps were to distribute foodstuffs, to give children psychological counselling in trauma centres and to put them in play and activity programmes. In the meantime, concrete preparations for the building of three SOS Children's Villages, over 400 family houses, and five SOS Social Centres are underway.

Estimates as to how many children were orphaned in Indonesia as a result of the tsunami still vary greatly. Many unaccompanied children are being cared for by relatives or acquaintances, in provisional camps or in large children's homes. 420 of these children will be placed in a family-like environment in SOS Children's Villages planned to be built in Banda Aceh, Meulaboh and Medan, and annexed social centres will offer help and support programmes to the neighbouring communities. In five villages, multi-purpose buildings will be built to house a primary school, a day-care centre, a pharmacy and a small mosque. More than 400 houses will be built additionally in these villages.

Always ready to run
"The people are very afraid of a new tsunami, a term which had been unknown to them before 26 December. Every large wave frightens them and they observe the sea with suspicion", said Shubha Murthi, SOS Children's representative for the region, when asked to describe the feelings of the people. "Fear keeps them moving; they are always ready to run. This makes our work much more difficult."

In the southern and eastern coastal areas of India, SOS Children's Villages was immediately present after the catastrophe. Numerous emergency relief projects were carried out, focusing mainly on the psychological counselling of children and their families. The target in all three affected countries is to have families and communities in a position to once more provide for themselves and to make provisions for the future. With this purpose in mind, in India, for instance, fishermen were provided with boats and fishing equipment. A total of 200 boats (half of which have already been given to the fishermen) are each to be shared by five families. As in Sri Lanka and Indonesia, SOS Children's Villages is especially committed to helping socially disadvantaged families (mainly single mothers), intensively and over the coming years, by offering them support with educational, training and income matters. Eight multi-purpose centres will ensure that these programmes are carried out, by offering day-care, tutoring, counselling, and training courses for youths and adults, as well as medical services.

The authorities assigned the re-construction of seven villages to SOS Children's Villages, and more than 1,020 new family houses are to be built there. In addition to the multi-purpose facilities, six community centres are to be built, in addition to the four day-care centres with playgrounds that are already in operation. In the Andaman Islands, a vocational training centre is also in the planning.

In Pondicherry, 19 orphans between the ages of two and nine are being cared for by SOS Children's Villages. They, and some 100 other tsunami orphans, will be given a home in the planned SOS Children's Village in Pondicherry City.

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