Tuesday, January 11, 2005

From Batticaloa to Kalmunai

The road from Batticaloa to Kalmunai would have run south along the coast line - we wanted to go to Kalmunai as well - but we kept conflicting reports as to the state of repair of the causeway that bridges across a lagoon at Padirippu. Yoga our every courteous rest house keeper had been down that road - but could not get to Padirippu to see his wife's brother's family who had suffered losses in the family - indeed, the relief operations were all handicapped by then 14 days into the disaster by the lack of attention by the government in Colombo (and it does see like that from the East when one considers that during wartime, the army only took one day to erect a temporary bridge in the vicinity) - Yoga had perched his wife side-saddle on a scooter and gone via a circuitious badly maintained interior road so that they could console the bereaved and he returned early the next morning so that he could take care of the guest house that also was used as a site for relief supplies, as a base for teams of relief workers and as a refuge for professors from Eastern University whose homes had been damaged.

By the 10th the bridge was still broken and we too like Yoga diverted our 15 seater from Kalawanchukuddi past the army check point and few hundred meters away to an ltte check point and went via Mandur. The roads in the LTTE areas are badly run down - the government does not do maintenance. Groups of people, mostly women, stay patiently for buses that arrive with no regularity if at all. The roads were only suitable for four wheel drive vehicles. But Naushad perserved on - in pouring rain. This was an area that had been flooded by the 15th of December and the continuing rain was leaving the rice crop in poor shape in the middle of the main cultivation season.

The tigers had monumments at roundabouts to those who had committed suicide on behalf of the cause. The monument would have large framed color photographs of the bust of the deceased grim-faced men in their youth but it would not have any religious
signs - indeed, if anything, the one that I found fascinating had four youthful water maidens arching out below these grim photos.

This is all INGO country - they have all planted signs of territory here - it does not cost them much to put up their signs. The government has abandoned these areas. The infrastructure is in ruins even by standards in rural Sri Lanka. They all manage here precariouly. The buffalo is as much at home here as the herd.

There are no telephones here - I think that those who advocate sophisticated early warning systems should visit forgotten ignored places such as Mandur. What one learns is that war kills - silently - lack of transport kills - lack of proper hospitals kills - lack of telecommunications kills - and all this is far more improtant than some super sophisticated early warning system. Here the people who were facing disasters aftermath were trying to do the best they could without even the most basic infrastructure - the simple things such as draining water out - gulley bowsers to evacuate septic tanks - preventive measures for anti-malaria.

We eventually got to Maruthamunai now back on the coastal road which had take the heaviest hit. Even 12 days afterwards, it was the local efforts that had led the relief, the burials, the recovery.