Onderstaand artikel is gepubliceerd door: Pioneer, 29?-5-2005      

Tsunami revisited

Five months after the tsunami tragedy, the problem of putting people at the centre of reconstruction and rehabilitation is far from addressed. India is not unique in this-other countries in a vast belt from the Pacific atoll to the coast of Africa are similarly bogged down.

Against this backdrop, the report of the "People's Tribunal" on the performance of tsunami relief and rehabilitation operations in the southern states of India affected by the catastrophic disasters should serve as a wake up call. Its head, former Kerala High Court Judge H Suresh, has commented on the lack of a comprehensive policy which is leading to all kinds of bureaucratic problems in the execution of rehabilitation schemes for those displaced by the disaster.
But then, only last week, former US President Bill Clinton visited Nagapattinam district in Tamil Nadu and expressed satisfaction at the rate of progress in the implementation of many schemes that he, as UN Special Envoy for Tsunami Recovery, was supposed to inspect. Does this imply that officialdom is back to its old game of cooking books and dressing up windows to beguile visiting dignitaries? The true picture may lie somewhere in between.
The tribunal, which comprises people of credibility like former chairperson of the National Commission for Women, Ms Mohini Giri, and Mr S Parashuraman, director of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, has recommended that grievance cells should be established in each of the villages. It is surprising that such a mechanism, which already exists under Panchayati Raj (in the form of beneficiary committees), was not thought of at the very outset. The lack of a people-centric approach is leading to the manifestation of the same symptoms which typically bedevil top-down efforts at reconstruction. On the other hand, Mr Clinton is optimistic that the flow of relief dollars will not be a problem in the near future. There is, therefore, urgent need to strike the right synergy between Government, non-government and individual efforts so that typical problems that creep into long-term disaster relief are avoided this time round.
The expectations of the tsunami survivors, which was raised after pledges of generous support from the big powers, is, by now, transforming into apprehension that their traditional way of life may not be returned to them by the aid bureaucracy. Justice Suresh has not pointed to an isolated instance when he talks of Government's unreasonable insistence that fisher folk should move 200 to 500 metres inland from the sites of their former homes on the high-tide marks on the coastline.
This is the experience everywhere because the tsunami's worst victims were communities who made a living off the sea's harvest. A solidarity movement launched by these affected groups has already documented nascent attempts by powerful multilateral organisations to convert the tsunami disaster into a business opportunity. Moving fishing families to the interior by offering environment as an excuse just does not wash because plans are afoot for turning the vacated spots into hotels.
Sri Lanka, a country which was deep in the red on the eve of the disaster, is now reportedly awash with funds. One hopes the World Bank and the IMF will not use a human tragedy as "opportunity" for pushing toll-roads and hotels all over the island nation. The ruins of the tsunami in Asia must not be allowed to be the theatre of US-EU rivalry over investment and control, for it has the potential to snowball into competition for trade and aid-centred colonialism. The countries affected by the tragedy ought to start networking among them so that the rebuilding of societies is carried out with the least amount of Western intervention.




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Landelijke India Werkgroep - 28 juni 2005