FACTBOX: Problems dog tsunami effort

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Fri, 26 Aug 2005 00:00 GMT
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The Indian Ocean tsunami triggered the world&${esc.hash}39;s biggest aid operation after smashing into a dozen countries. Click on the following to read about some of the controversies that have arisen during the relief and reconstruction effort. Indonesia

Buffer zone The government&${esc.hash}39;s plan for a buffer zone between the sea and populated areas is a key point of contention as it would push out many coastal residents and prevent others from returning to rebuild their homes. In the Meulaboh region, residents complain that plans for a tsunami memorial park will mean destroying businesses and houses that have sprung up since the disaster and force survivors to move as far as 70 km (40 miles) inland.

Housing With the tsunami leaving more than 500,000 homeless, there has been a drumbeat of criticism over the pace of rebuilding. Shelters in refugee camps vary from jerry-built huts and flimsy tents to barrack-style housing. The government&${esc.hash}39;s reconstruction chief Kuntoro Mangkusubroto says massive projects by foreign contractors will begin in one or two months, with a peace deal between the government and Aceh rebels accelerating the ${esc.dollar}5 billion rebuilding process. But he says some people will have to live in tents for two years.

Land The government faces a huge task in determining land ownership as many people never had any written titles or lost them in the disaster. Many records were washed away when the waves destroyed government buildings.

Logging Aid agencies and some foreign donors are concerned that the need for huge quantities of timber will further devastate Indonesia&${esc.hash}39;s tropical forests, many of which have already disappeared due to illegal logging and agricultural expansion. Former U.S. President Bill Clinton, the U.N.&${esc.hash}39;s envoy for tsunami relief, made this a major point on his visit to Aceh in May. Environmental activists fear measures to ensure only legally felled wood is used are too weak, but some aid workers worry that clamping down too hard could slow recovery.

Sri Lanka

Aid-sharing pact The government agreed in June to share ${esc.dollar}3 billion worth of tsunami aid with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) after months of political wrangling and protests from hardline Buddhist monks and Marxists. The ruling coalition split in two and was reduced to a hamstrung minority in parliament when the Marxist JVP party broke ranks in protest. Donors hoped the aid pact could help jump-start stalled talks to end the two-decade war. But the deal is on hold after the Supreme Court objected to parts of it. A final ruling is due in September.

Coastal buffer Hoteliers and fishermen are angry at government plans to impose a 100 metre coastal buffer zone. Many guesthouses and hotels have already defied the plan and rebuilt on the shoreline, while fishermen have put up small huts to keep their work materials near the sea. Clinton has urged the government to take into account the objections of families who owned land by the sea. The government has promised to consult those affected.

Hambantota Hundreds of fishing families are angry at the government&${esc.hash}39;s decision to move the area of Hambantota around 10 km inland, saying they have been forced to abandon land they own by the coast, which is to be turned into a conservation area. The town&${esc.hash}39;s original market trading hub is already functioning again. However, many non-fishing families have been happy to move away from the coast.

Fraud claim against PM The main opposition United National Party has accused Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa of trying to siphon off nearly ${esc.dollar}827,000 of tsunami aid after his secretary transferred that amount to a relief fund set up to help rebuild Rajapaksa&${esc.hash}39;s Hambantota constituency. Investigators say they have found no evidence of wrongdoing, but the attorney general has not yet said if there will be an inquiry.

Housing Many survivors complain temporary houses that aid groups have built using concrete and metal sheeting are stiflingly hot and cramped. It will be months before permanent homes are built.

India

Emergency aid There were initially big disparities in the distribution of aid and a lack of coordination. Some villages received an excess of food, clothes and medicines which went to waste while others got little or none. Piles of unwanted clothes were left by roads. Some aid groups brought blankets and woollens which were useless in the tropical climate. Charities from northern India cooked wheat bread which was refused by the tsunami survivors who eat rice. These problems were gradually resolved as government agencies helped prioritise and channel aid.

Dalits In some tsunami areas, the fishing community discriminated against Dalits or so-called "untouchables", who are at the bottom of the Hindu caste system. They refused to share emergency shelters with Dalits and denied them access to communal taps and toilets. Minorities and lower castes in the tsunami region normally live in segregated areas. All survivors are now living alongside one another in temporary shelters and seem to be co-existing peacefully, although the different communities have their own sections within the camps.

Housing Survivors in southern India have regularly complained about the quality of temporary shelters. Most have tin roofs which made them too hot during the March to June summer when temperatures exceeded 40 degrees centigrade (104F). Thatched roofs have now been built over the tin ones to reduce the heat.

Fishing boats Owners of big mechanised fishing boats were furious at a regional government decision only to partially reimburse them for their lost or damaged vessels which were worth upwards of a million rupees (about ${esc.dollar}23,000). They demanded the government foot the entire bill just as it had for smaller fishermen whose catamarans cost about ${esc.dollar}800. The large-scale fishermen initially preventing the new small boats from going to sea, but the government said it simply could not afford to pay for the big vessels and their owners have now relented. They will be offered cheap loans to cover their outstanding costs.

Andaman and Nicobar Islands

Relief India moved swiftly to help victims on its eastern shores and sent its navy to affected neighbours, but was slow to help people on its own Andaman and Nicobar Islands which lie 1,200 km off the coast. Relief materials piled up at the airport as distribution systems failed. Aid agencies were left stuck in the capital, denied permission to visit the southern islands.

Temporary housing Some 10,000 temporary shelters have been built from metal sheeting, but the tropical heat turns them into ovens during the day. Islanders say they should have been given tools instead so that they could use trees to build traditional houses appropriate to the climate.

Permanent housing Aid groups opposed Delhi&${esc.hash}39;s plans to build thousands of new concrete floored homes, saying they would not last in the salty, humid air and would be hard to maintain. They also feared vast amounts of soil would need to be removed to level the hilly terrain and that this would get washed out into the coral reefs and damage the fisheries. A local architect has now come up with a design for stilted houses made from wood and bamboo.

Sea barrier Mud barriers have been built along parts of the coast to keep the sea out at high tide. But environmentalists say loose soil from the wall is damaging the nearby coral reefs which are some of the most pristine in the world. They also say the barrier is preventing water running off the land, increasing the risk of malaria because mosquitoes are breeding in water that can&${esc.hash}39;t drain away. "We&${esc.hash}39;ve really invited a disaster," said Samir Acharya of the Society for Andaman and Nicobar Ecology.

Settlers Thousands of mainlanders who have settled on the islands over the decades have been sidelined in the relief effort. Many have not got compensation because their shops were registered in the names of indigenous partners as required by law. Settlers from Nicobar have been evacuated, many to the mainland, and the Nicobarese do not want them back.

Thailand

Land Reports abound of politicians and businessmen ganging up to push fishermen and villagers off lucrative plots of land in anticipation of a tourism rebound. The U.N. resident coordinator&${esc.hash}39;s Aug. 18 report said land title disputes were slowing recovery in Phang Nga and other provinces and there had been reports of intimidation. Some landlords have filed lawsuits against squatters who moved onto forgotten plots of land years ago and eventually became legal owners under Thai law.

Tourism Hotel and business operators in the tourist provinces of Phuket, Krabi and Phang Nga say too many agencies are overseeing reconstruction without proper coordination. They say tourism sites and infrastructure are unlikely to be ready by the start of the high season in November. "One minister should be assigned to take care of the rehabilitation programme, working with local governors," Tourism Council chairman Vichit Na Ranong told the Bangkok Post.

Myanmar migrants Tens of thousands of refugees from Myanmar live in southern Thailand, having fled the military junta in their homeland. Many worked in construction, fishing and tourism before the tsunami but have now lost their jobs. After the tsunami they were the last in the queue to receive aid. Some said they were thrown out of relief lines by Thais. Others had their ID and work permits washed out to sea and dared not ask for help in case they were deported. The government has ordered unemployed migrants to leave by the end of September.

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