Thursday, January 20, 2005

Hambantota District

Hambantota District

Zeenas, Janaki, Manjula and I went to the Hambantota district in the Southern Coast with the driver Weerasinghe - to get there we started at 5 am from Kandy and the journey was South-Easterly - we got there in 6 hours via Badulla, Wellawaya and Tissamaharama – this is the district in the Southern Province that was badly affected and is also most impoverished. I have made my contacts with some of the folks there – and I did see first hand the needs – the President had been in town the same day as us, the Prime Minister is from this area, the government agents office were full of UN and other agency vehicles – the government officials were there in large force. Clearly this area is likely to get its due attention in the way that governments give.

The question is whether those in the most dire need will get taken care of. It was hard to see families just set up in tents over the uncleared rubble. The situation is particularly bad in the townships of Kirinde, Hambantota and Tangalle – towns and urban areas it seemed were set up in a disaster prone way. If one talks to people in detail – there is need everywhere – from writing letters to the government, getting letters from the post when you do not have an address, translating, getting it type written, dealing with out documents such as birth certificates, ID cards, death certificates, bank statements, deeds and so on all of it essential to deal with the government is a huge problem for those worst affected.

In Hambantota, the medical needs are being met – the needs according to several relief workers are for temporary housing, clean up of contaminated water sources for support of institutions such as places of worship (in most places they were the first responders to disasters, counseling and “moral support”. The death toll has been heavy and large sections of the townships particularly the poor and the fishers had been just destroyed. The harbour still showed boats strewn around.

We crossed with the contact that I had and did not meet him – between Ambalantota and Hambantota and then we decided that the meeting may not work well. I am going to be in touch by phone and shall pass on my contacts to Iqbal – with some money that he can use there – Iqbal and I are in sync regarding the need to respond and also to leverage the resources that others have for maximum impact, to work at the brasstacks always looking to empower the field workers – Iqbal's wife is from Hambantota – she has lost relatives – so he may be better situated to make contacts and try to help in establishing an office there and thereafter sustaining it.