Rebuilding a Nation from Civil War and Natural Disaster
Sri Lanka is a nation plagued by civil war and natural disaster. A small island south of India, it has recently been under a ceasefire between the Tamil Tigers and the Sri Lankan national government after over twenty years of civil war. The Tamil population, a group highly discriminated against in Sri Lanka, was pushing for the separation from the nation. They wanted total control over their lands on the northern and eastern coasts of the country. Since the tsunami disaster of December 26, 2004 hit Sri Lanka hard. It wiped out many coastal communities, and hit the eastern coast the hardest. Much of the economy was in tourism and fishing, which were also all on the coasts. Now the nation is dealing with two disasters that it must recover from. Keeping the peace between the Tamil and Sinhalese population in Sri Lanka and rebuilding communities and the economy from the tsunami will be a difficult balancing act for the leaders of the nation. Both groups need to continue with peace negotiations and resolve their issues to overcome these disasters.
Sri Lanka has survived many conflicts and changes throughout it’s history. Disputes between the Sinhalese and Tamil population within Sri Lanka have been ongoing for centuries. “Indo-Aryan emigration from India in the 5th century B.C. came to form the largest ethnic group on Sri Lanka today, the Sinhalese. Tamils, the second-largest ethnic group on the island, were originally from the Tamil region of India, and emigrated between the 3rd century B.C. and A.D. 1200.”1 The proximity of Sri Lanka to Southern India resulted in many Tamil invasions centuries ago. Due to this, the Tamil region of current Sri Lanka is the northern and north eastern sections of the island. “In the early 11th century, the Chola of Southern India conquered Anuradhapura and made Pollonarrua their capital. The Sinhalese soon regained power, but in the 12th cent. a Tamil kingdom arose in the north, and the Sinhalese were driven to the southwest.”2 This regional division of the island, in their current situation, creates differences in the effects of the December 26, 2004 Tsunami that devastated many areas of Southeast Asia.
Sri Lanka’s original name was Ceylon. On May 22, 1972, the name was changed to Sri Lanka, which means “resplendent island.”3 The Portuguese had control of Ceylon from 1505 until the Dutch India Company took over in 1658. In 1796 the British took control and Ceylon became an official English Crown colony by 1802. In 1815, for the first time, the island was finally brought under one rule when the central area was conquered. While Ceylon was under control of the British, colonials developed tea, coffee, and rubber plantations, as well as schools and a university.4
During World War I a movement for an independent Ceylon developed. “The constitution of 1931 granted universal adult suffrage to the inhabitants; but demands for independence continued, and in 1946 a more liberal constitution was enacted.”5 After pressure from Ceylonese nationalist leaders, which in itself briefly united the Tamil and Sinhalese, on February 4, 1948, Ceylon became a self-governing dominion of the Commonwealth of Nations.6 From here, the United National Party remained in power for ten years. The UNP was comprised of Ceylon National Congress, the Sinhala Maha Sabha, and the Muslim League, among other nationalist groups.7 Once established, three pieces of legislation all but disenfranchised the Tamil minority group: the Ceylon Citizenship Act of 1948, the Indian and Pakistani Residents Act No. 3 of 1948, and the Ceylon Parliamentary Elections Amendment Act No. 48 of 1949.8 At this time in Sri Lankan-Tamil history, the minority was still in contact with their ancestral Indian Tamils.
The Ceylon Indian Congress vigorously but unsuccessfully opposed the legislation. The acrimonious debate over the laws of 1948 and 1949 revealed serious fissures in the body politic. There was a cleavage along ethnic lines between the Sinhalese and the Tamils, and also a widening rift between Sri Lankan Tamils and Indian Tamils. 9
“In 1949 a faction of the Ceylon Tamil Congress broke away to form the Tamil Federal Party. The creation of the Federal Party was a momentous post-independence development because it set the agenda for Tamil exclusivity in Sri Lankan politics.”10
Once an independent Ceylon government was established, conflict between the Tamils and the Sinhalese for power began. In 1956, S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike became prime minister. A strong proponent of Sinhalese nationalism, he made Sinhala the national language and Buddhism the officially supported religion. This further narrowed the Tamil minority’s position in the nation.11 “Riots in 1958 between Sinhalese and the Tamil minority over demands by the Tamils for official recognition of their language and the establishment of a separate Tamil state under a federal system resulted in severe loss of life.”12 Further turmoil arose with the assassination of Prime Minister Bandaranaike in September of 1959. The following year, his widow, Sirimavo Bandaranaike, became the first female prime minister ever in the entire world. Following more disturbances and violence from Tamil rebel conflict, the Federal Party of Tamils was outlawed in 1961.13
For the majority of the next two decades, Sri Lanka reverted back and forth between party control. Displeased with how Prime Minister Mrs. Bandaranaike was handling international economic affairs for large corporations, the United National Party took control in the 1965 election. Over the next five years, the country’s population and economic inflation soared. “In 1970, Mrs. Bandaranaike and her three-party anti-capitalist coalition won a landslide victory, following considerable pre-election violence. She launched social welfare programs, including rice subsidies and free hospitalization.”14 In 1971, The Marxist People's Liberation Front attempted to overthrow the government in an armed rebellion. After heavy fighting and help from the Soviet Union, Britain, and India, the rebellion was put down. In 1972 the country adopted a new constitution and declared itself a republic.15
Continued internal conflict remained an issue for Sri Lanka with the Tamil population pushing for a separate state. In 1977, the election of a new United National Party leader did nothing to quell the Tamil rebel violence. “In the 1980s the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam initiated a full-scale guerrilla war against the army in the north and east; at the same time, radical Sinhalese students assassinated government officials whom they believed were too soft on the Tamils.”16 The government had few options when dealing with both political extremes. The Tamil Tigers (the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) are the rebel group fighting for the 18% Tamil minority for an independent nation against the 74% Sinhalese population.17 In 1987, the Sri Lankan government requested that India send troops to the Northeastern region of the island to help control the rebellion. An attempted peace negotiation granted the Tamil minority limited autonomy and the Indian troops withdrew in 1989 only for the Tamil war to start up again in 1990.
While the early nineties consisted of constant trading of power. In 1995 the government negotiated a cease-fire with the Tamil Tigers, but it only lasted for three months before violence resumed.18 Later that year, “the government…captured the Tamil stronghold of Jaffna;…while terrorist bombs caused civilian deaths in Colombo.”19 The 1990’s consisted of attacks on rebel bases, terrorist assassinations of Sinhalese politicians, and suicide bombings. By the turn of the century, the war had tallied over 60,000 deaths, mostly civilian.
Prime Minister Wickremesinghe signed a formal cease-fire with the Tamil rebels in February of 2002. Later that year, the Sri Lankan government and Tamil rebels came to even greater understandings. The government agreed to lift its ban on the Tigers and the Tamils, in return, dropped their demand for an independent state. The Tamils and the government agreed to a power-sharing deal that gave the rebels regional autonomy.20 Through all of these negotiations and changes in 2003, unfortunately little was accomplished. Due to intense political rivalry between the Sinhalese politicians, the peace process was threatened.
“In Nov. 2003, President Kumaratunga, convinced that Prime Minister Wickremesinghe was too soft in his negotiations with the Tigers, wrested away some of his powers. In Feb. 2004, the president dissolved parliament and called for elections in the hope of further eroding the power of the prime minister. The gamble paid off for Kumaratunga—her United People's Freedom Alliance won April's parliamentary elections, and Wickremesinghe was replaced by a new prime minister, Mahinda Rajapakse, a high-ranking member of Kumaratunga's party.”
Peace had been maintained throughout this political turmoil until July of 2004 when a “suicide bomber killed herself and four policemen in the capital, Colombo.”21 As unstable as Sri Lanka’s situation was, the last thing this country needed was for a natural disaster to strike.
Luck, however, was not in the cards for Sri Lanka. On December 26th, 2004, an earthquake in the Indian Ocean with the magnitude of 9.0 created one of the most destructive natural disasters in history. “The earthquake originated in the Indian Ocean just north of Simeulue island, off the western coast of northern Sumatra, Indonesia.”22 Sending out a tsunami to the surrounding coastal nations with waves up to 30m (100 feet) high, this combination disaster killed more than 300,000 people in all of southeast Asia. Millions of people were left homeless.
Twelve different Asian countries were directly affected by the tsunami. “It caused serious damage and deaths as far as the east coast of Africa, with the furthest recorded death due to the tsunami occuring at Port Elizabeth in South Africa, 8 000km (5 000 miles) away from the epicentre.” 23 While many countries were affected by this tragedy, Sri Lanka was one of the hardest hit nations in southeast Asia, second in damage only to Indonesia.
Sri Lanka is an island located just south of India and is only about half the size of Alabama. The country is broken up into nine different provinces. The Eastern Province was hit directly by the Tsunami, but affects were felt by the Northern and Southern Provinces as well. “Witnesses in the eastern Sri Lankan port city Trincomalee reported 14 meter (40-foot) waves hitting inland as far as a kilometer (0.6 miles).”24 To date, 31,000 people are dead, 6,000 are still missing, and hundreds of thousands of people are homeless in Sri Lanka. The main areas affected by the tsunami were the fishing ports and tourist beaches and resorts along the northern and eastern coasts. “A wide stretch of the eastern coastline –from Jaffna in the north to the popular tourist beaches in the south – has been devastated.”25 Due to the large area that the disaster affected, the economic costs are very high. “The commercial centers in the western part of the country were largely unaffected, but the fisheries and tourism sectors sustained severe damages.”26 Statistics taken from the World Bank for recovery aid purposes show that… “Of those killed, 27,000 belonged to fishing families. Around 65 percent of the country's fishing fleet - 29,700, boats - has been completely destroyed or damaged.”27 CBC’s Adrienne Arsenault reported, nine days after the disaster, that the fishing industry has taken severe hits –from the tsunami and grisly rumors. Most of the fishing boats were destroyed and fishermen killed. Fishing and tourism were 80% of the Sri Lankan economy, approximately half of each. Unfortunately, working against the rebuilding and recovery of the nation, rumors began to circulate that the fish were eating the dead bodies of people killed by the tsunami and that you would get cholera if you ate the fish that were coming to market after the disaster. Thus, no fish were selling in the Sri Lankan market for quite some time after the tsunami.28 A lack of internal communication with Sri Lankan citizens can lead to rumors such as these in times of panic and thus escalating the problems at hand. The 40% of the economy based in tourism was hit hard as well. Many resort owners and other tourist businesses are attempting to rebuild on their own. While aid has been promised to Sri Lanka from foreign nations, little has been seen on the small business level.
Assessments show that Sri Lanka will need approximately US$1.5 billion for all recovery and reconstruction expenses. This is based on preliminary damages and needs released by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC), and the World Bank on February 2, 2005.29 The chart below displays the financial needs of Sri Lanka:
Table 1: Preliminary Estimates of Losses and Financing Needs ($ Millions)
*Includes estimates from livelihoods damage assessment of fishermen, small farmers,
and small businesses in tourism totaling $140 million.
**Targeted assistance to vulnerable groups.
*** Includes items mentioned at the end of paragraph 4 and is estimated at about 10% of
****Refers to 2005 and 2006. Source: Government of Sri Lanka and staff estimates.30
The Sri Lankan Government worked in close cooperation with these banks to create the assessment and clear guidelines for reconstruction. Within the agreed constraints, a strong emphasis on including the affected communities in the planning process and rebuilding was implemented. In their estimates, the overall damage had a large concentration in housing, tourism, fisheries, and transportation. US$1 billion is allotted to these areas. “Total losses are estimated to equal 4.4 percent of GDP with about US$500 million in external financing required in the short term for 2005.”31
The banks’ assessment and report for financial assistance pushed for the need of monitoring, transparency and accountability of funds. Millions of dollars are streaming into Sri Lanka. These banks want to make sure that the money is going to their intended sources and are distributed and used efficiently. “The three Country Directors emphasized that nothing is more demoralizing for the people in need, and those trying to help them, than to hear that funds are being siphoned off or wasted.”32 It was extremely important that the Government, the international community, civil society and the LTTE, agree upon the system of distribution and reconstruction efforts to ensure the proper use of funds to avoid these demoralizing feelings.
The assessment identified the guiding principles for the recovery and reconstruction strategy as:
1. The allocation of resources both domestic and international should be strictly guided by the identified needs and local priorities, without discrimination on the basis of political, religious, ethnic or gender considerations.
2. Reconstruction activities are carried out by the appropriate level of government, with an emphasis on decentralization where feasible;
3. Communities are empowered to make their own decisions during recovery;
4. Communication and transparency are present in decision-making and implementation;
5. Reconstruction avoids rebuilding existing vulnerability to natural hazards; and
6. A coordinated approach is used to prevent duplication in activities.33
“To translate the principles into reality, the assessment team recommended a vigorous process of public consultation, a communications program, and the development of district-based reconstruction plans for the affected areas.”34
For purposes of conducting this initial needs assessment, the ADB focused on the transport sector (roads and railways), livelihood restoration, and the simplification of procurement procedures; JBIC evaluated the power, water and sanitation sectors; the International Labor Organization and the Food and Agriculture Organization provided inputs on the fisheries sector and other livelihoods; and the World Bank, with inputs of the World Health Organization and German GTZ, considered impacts to health, education, agriculture and livestock, tourism, private housing stock, social and environmental systems, and the overall economic impact.35 In addition to these assessments, public services, such as schools, hospitals, utilities, and transportation also are in need of rebuilding.
The tsunami caused US$21 million in losses to the education system, damaging 168 public schools, 4 universities and 18 vocational centers. Around 92 local clinics, hospitals and drug stores were either destroyed or damaged, causing disruptions to delivery of health services and patient care. Significant losses were also sustained in power, transportation (roads and railways), water supply and sanitation.36
In addition to the private homes and businesses, these public services are also in desperate need of rebuilding and recovery aid. While some schools were completely ruined, some of the delay in re-opening actually has to do with the lack of housing for families. Many public spaces, such as school, are still inhabited by people who were left homeless by the tsunami.
Also, there are several key principles to improving Sri Lanka’s risk management approach. Warning systems and better recovery systems for disasters are crucial to the future safety of Sri Lanka. These principles include: implementing development programs which are guided by multi-hazard risk considerations; improved institutional capacities for emergency response; development of an advanced early warning system in the region; and methods to mitigate the financial impacts of disasters on the economy.37
“The human impact has been even more staggering than the damage to infrastructure,"38 said Alessandro Pio, Country Director of the ADB.
In some coastal communities, entire families, livelihoods and social networks have simply disappeared. Reconstruction efforts must be very sensitive to this human dimension, and do everything possible to help restore communities, mitigate the psychological, emotional and economic loss and restore hope, while working to rebuild shelter and physical infrastructure.39
While the infrastructure is very important, some focus must be paid to the emotional damage of the communities. The increased number of psychiatric problems due to the disaster is significant. The number of men coming to clinics with post traumatic stress syndrome is staggering.40 While most men were off at work when the tsunami hit, the women and children in coastal communities were largely the fatalities. Many men lost their entire families and without a job to return to due to damages, they are struggling emotionally.
Due to years of civil war and conflict in Sri Lanka, much of the Tamil population and hardest hit coastal regions were in poverty. One of the concerns of rebuilding after the tsunami is dealing with the Tamil/Sinhalese conflict socially and politically. Peter Harrold, Sri Lanka Country Director for the World Bank said: "The tsunami had an impact on a large number of poor people and it is vital now that we do not rebuild that poverty. The recovery and reconstruction strategy is further challenged to be sensitive to the conflict that has plagued this country. As we rebuild we must all find ways to strengthen the peace process and bridge differences between communities."41 Twenty six percent of the population was directly affected by this disaster, most of them living below the poverty line. "We feel a strong commitment to ensure a rapid and effective reconstruction process," said Shinya Ejima, Chief Representative of JBIC. "It is important that assistance be delivered to Sri Lanka in a balanced manner, driven by the needs that have been identified through consultations."42 Professions of equal distribution of funds and recovery have been prominent throughout these times of rebuilding. Improving the poverty levels and donating recovery equally to Tamil areas is a strong concern.
The government has said it will offer help to tsunami victims “without discrimination,” but there are reports that trucks headed to Tamil-held areas were forced to turn back.43 The Tamil Rehabilitation Group made allegations of the Sri Lankan government blocking all aid and redirecting it to Buddhist temples directly after the disaster. Since then, many small business owners feel that aid has been distributed unequally to those people that the local officials ‘prefer’ or have closer relations with over Tamils. The government denies all of these claims, although said that there may have been isolated incidents of blocked aid or discrimination. At this point, very little discrimination is still taking place, and if at all, on very small scale distribution. Discrimination of funds against Tamil communities over Sinhalese will be a large hurdle for the rebuilding of the nation to overcome.
February 22nd marked the third anniversary of the official ceasefire between Tamil rebels and the Sri Lankan government. In a letter, the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) head stated:
I would like to use this opportunity to commend the Sri Lanka Government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam's pure willingness to act with restraint in situations that could have escalated. SLMM can confirm, as a matter of fact, that there have been no clashes between the Parties' military forces after the signing of the CFA (Cease Fire Agreement).44 Both parties are feeling extra pressure due to the affects of the Tsunami and the rebuilding of the nation, especially since the majority of the affected areas were in Tamil regions. “It is therefore more imperative than ever that the Cease Fire holds so that people can restore their lives and return to normalcy...” Said the head of SMLL, “Lack of peace talks is putting a serious strain on the Cease Fire and creating dangerous uncertainty.45
Due to the unstable state of the ceasefire between Tamil Tiger rebels and the government of Sri Lanka, any disturbances or issues erupting between these groups could cause a major development in the peace of the nation. With the tsunami recovery, and possible corruption in the allocation of funds, there have been small eruptions in the ceasefire that are threatening the peace of the nation. Recently, a Tamil school girl was hit by a military vehicle and killed. Since this accident, several civilian murders have been reported, possibly and most likely done by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. For example, six civilians were murdered on March 6, 2005. The LTTE are suspected in these murders as people ran from the scene just before shooting erupted yelling, “tigers are coming, tigers are coming, run!”46 These infractions of the ceasefire will not go unnoticed. While it is not the direct clash between the military forces of the Tamils and the Sinhales, it is only a matter of time before things escalate to that level.
Before the ceasefire is entirely broken and Sri Lanka relapses into civil war, the Tamil Tigers and Sri Lankan government must return to peace talks. If negotiations are not reinstated, tensions will further and the country will have a very difficult time recovering from the tsunami. With the increase of small outbursts of violence in Sri Lanka, the government will be required to focus their energies on quelling these problems. In doing this, the government will be taking away from time and resources to rebuild the nation from the disaster of December 26, 2004. Peace negotiations would allow both the government and the Tamils to work together to rebuild the nation and end this dispute once and for all. Until the Tamils and the Sinhalese can come to a true arrangement for the nation as a whole, violence will continue to threaten the nation. Until then, the two parties need to remain calm. The country needs to be rebuilt from both the tsunami and from poverty stricken areas run down by years of civil war. Equality and respect are some of the key issues that need to be covered between the Tamils and the Sinhalese populations and leaders. Tensions are high and both sides need to stay calm and work together so that Sri Lanka can rise from the ashes of destruction together as one united and peaceful nation.
Works Cited/ Bibliography
http://www.theacademic.org/ The Lanka Adacemic. LAcNet
http://brcslproject.gn.apc.org/slmonitor/February02/road.html. The Road to Recovery.
Map of Damage: Sri Lanka. Adrienne Arsenault.
http://www.factmonster.com/ce6/world/A0861291.html Sri Lanka: Early History and Colonialism. Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia.
http://www.imf.org/external/np/sec/pr/2005/pr0552.htm. IMF Executive Board Approves US$157.5 million in Emergency Assistance for Sri Lanka. http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0107992.html Sri Lanka.
http://www.lib.utexas.edu/maps/sri_lanka.html. Sri Lanka Map
http://www.tamilnation.org/diaspora/tsunami/torontostar.htm. “Tsunami Disaster & the People of Tamil Eelam: Tamils fighting for fair share of disaster aid.” Martin Regg Cohn.
http://www.peaceinsrilanka.org/. Peace in Progress.
http://www.postcolonialweb.org/southasia/srilanka/history/palamkunnel1.html The History of Tamil/Sinhalese Conflict. Leena Palamkunnel.
Sri Lanka 2005 post-tsunami recovery program - Preliminary damage and needs assessment. The World Bank Group
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2004_Indian_Ocean_earthquake2004 Indian Ocean earthquake
http://www.worldbank.lk/WBSITE/EXTERNAL/COUNTRIES/SOUTHASIAEXT/SRILANKAEXTN/0,,contentMDK:20338891~menuPK:232812~pagePK:141137~piPK:141127~theSitePK:233047,00.html. Sri Lanka Needs US$1.5 billion for Tsunami Recovery and Reconstruction. The World Bank Group.