Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka: Tsunami survivors in north affected by intensified fighting

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COLOMBO, 4 May 2007 (IRIN) - "The resumption of the conflict in the north and east has taken its toll on whatever recovery had taken place, especially in the Jaffna district," observes a report compiled by the government's leading tsunami recovery outfit, Reconstruction and Development Agency (RADA), and the International Labour Organization (ILO). Survivors of the 2004 tsunami in Sri Lanka's northern Jaffna peninsula are continuing to struggle to make a living.

In contrast to victims outside the war zone who have better access to economic opportunities, housing and other recovery initiatives, over 70 percent of tsunami-affected families in Jaffna earn less than Sri Lanka rupees (Rs) 2000 (about US $ 20) a month, the findings of the survey reveal.

Their income puts them well below the national poverty line which stood at Rs 2,240 (about US $ 22) a month for November 2006 when the survey was conducted.

"The expansion of high security zones and the closure of supply routes have affected livelihoods of fishing families, farmers as well as industries and services and are the major deterrents to economic recovery and growth," the report says.

Since December 2005, the separatist battle waged by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) for over three decades has intensified with government troops and the rebels locked in protracted land, sea and aerial combat.

According to the report, a significant percentage of tsunami survivors in the other conflict-hit regions of Mullaitivu, Trincomalee, Batticaloa and Ampara were earning over Rs 5,000 (about US $ 50) a month.

Intensified fighting since November 2006

However, cautions Cynthia Caron, an ILO consultant who worked on the survey,

this data could have changed considerably since November and December 2006, when the information was obtained, as an escalation in fighting has led to the widespread displacement of people in these districts.

"Mullaitivu, for instance, is completely controlled by the LTTE and people there were able to continue fishing without any restrictions," she said. "At the time we were doing the survey, Mullaitivu was not being shelled. Now, obviously, things have changed," she said.

In the eastern districts of Batticaloa and Trincomalee, mortar attacks and artillery shelling from both the warring sides have disrupted farming for several months and restrictions imposed by the security forces have prevented fishermen from plying the waters off the northern and eastern coasts.

Increased incomes

Despite the regional imbalance, however, the data revealed that overall, 90 percent of families which were earning an income before the tsunami had regained their livelihoods. The remaining 10 percent relied on income from sources such as government handouts and remittances from abroad.

On average, tsunami-affected communities have also increased incomes with 54 percent of families saying they earn over Rs 5,000 a month compared with some 29 percent when the previous survey was conducted a year previously.

"Income recovery has been strong in the past year with monthly incomes vastly improving, more women earning incomes and approximately 80 percent of families back in permanent housing," says the report.

The latest data also shows that only eight percent of households were drawing in less than Rs 2,000 a month in contrast to 26 percent the previous year, with most of this group of tsunami survivors still living in transitional shelters.

Inflation

Despite the improvement in income levels, however, people felt that the rupee did not stretch as much as it did before the tsunami as inflation and the rising cost of living have hit them hard.

Notes the report: "Their purchasing power has declined as subsidies were reduced several times for essential items such as fuel as well as foodstuffs such as sugar and rice during 2006."

Among the key recommendations made by RADA and ILO are that permanent solutions must be found for people still living in camps and transitional sites and that employment and job opportunities should be created for the displaced.

cj/bj

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