|The tsunami and lost
Of all the lost opportunities in our
nation’s post independence history, the tsunami would
undoubtedly rank somewhere at the very top. The tragedy which
took over 40,000 lives and devastated the coastal region of the
country, also granted a golden opportunity for Sri Lanka to make
a quantum leap forward in many spheres.
The massive financial aid that flooded into the country, from
ordinary citizens, to affluent governments from all corners of
the world, could have been the foundation for a brighter and
better future for millions of Sri Lankans, if utilised in a more
efficient and honest manner.
Immediately after the tragedy, the people of this land witnessed
a rare glimpse of unity in the political spectrum, if harnessed
intelligently, could have ushered in a new political culture.
Even the ethnic divide, that had been elusively impossible to
bridge, seemed to have narrowed in the face of the shared misery
of all communities. Yet, even before the memory of that natural
disaster, which did not discriminate between ethnicities had
faded, the country was witnessing another bout of violence, more
brutal than any before.
Most other countries that suffered the same fate as Sri Lanka on
December 26, 2004, have since resurrected themselves and moved
forward. Thailand has regained its status as the Mecca of
tourism in the region, while the Ache rebels and the Indonesian
government have since made peace and are now utilising the
billions of dollars in aid granted by the international
community, for the reconstruction of the war devastated
province, hardest hit by the tsunami. These achievements by
other tsunami affected countries make our situation even more
Even though nearly three years have lapsed, Sri Lanka has been
unable to provide permanent housing for all those who needed
shelter. According to the latest reports 22,000 houses remain to
be built even though several billion rupees have been allegedly
spent for the cause. A damning report by the Auditor General in
2005 stated that over Rs. 11 billion was collected as emergency
The question begging an answer is what happened to all these
monies? Have the victims of the tragedy truly benefited from the
unprecedented worldwide outpouring of sympathy which translated
to billions of rupees. The international donor community pledged
over US $ 3.6 billion in Kandy in order to assist the tsunami
reconstruction. There is little tangible to show, if at all any,
that the money was used in anything productive.
Even the Post Tsunami Operational Management Structure, the much
hyped PTOMS, which was seen as a stepping stone to a more
permanent peace between the LTTE and the government was thrown
to the dustbin of history, while the country was plunged back
again into its usual vicious cycle of violence.
The tsunami was arguably Mahinda Rajapaksa’s finest hour. While
his President, Chandrika Kumaratunga was as usual out of the
country during a time of national crisis, just as she was when
the Sri Lanka Army faced its worst defeat at Elephant Pass, she
also took quite a number of days to get back from her vacation.
It was thus left for her Prime Minister Rajapaksa, to lead the
government’s relief efforts, or at least be the face of that
process. Such a show of leadership from the man has not been
seen before or since. Just like the 9/11 attacks were the
defining moment in the Bush Presidency, it was the tsunami which
transformed the man from Hambantota into the national figure he
desperately needed to be, in order to launch his campaign to
become the Executive President of Sri Lanka. Yet since becoming
President, he and his administration have failed to deliver on
the promise that many Sri Lankans hoped for—a better future
after the tsunami.
This failure stands as a testament to the greater tragedy that
has befallen our land. The tsunami exposed the absolute
bankruptcy of national leadership in all tiers, and especially
at the very top. Expecting extraordinary feats from ordinary men
can be considered unwise; yet expecting those who claim to
represent us, to care an iota for the victims of the tsunami,
who are still suffering three years since the tragedy, is not
asking for too much- even from Sri Lankan leaders.