Ampara, Disaster Management, IDPs and Refugees

A photo story: Five years on, forgotten victims of the tsunami

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou, 4 April 1928

Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai in Saainthamaruthu

Today is the 5th anniversary of a tsunami that devastated our country.Five years on, but how many of us still care for the people who suffered?

The tsunami hit the Indian Ocean, killing nearly hundreds of thousands in eleven countries and inundating coastal communities with waves unto one hundred feet. According to experts, it was one of the deadliest natural disasters in recorded history. Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand and India were the hardest hit.

About thirty thousand people were killed in tsunami, millions injured and many more left homeless in Sri Lanka. The tidal waves hit North, East and South coastal areas.

All rushed to the spots to help the victims on December 26th 2004. People canceled their holidays, and work and took part in the process of recovering dead bodies and clearing debris. I covered the tsunami stories continuously for many months. I have traveled to North, East and South of Sri Lanka to cover untold stories. I kept traveling to the same areas after many years. My memories stand still like statues in my mind. I keep meeting the same people in these areas, where they are still struggling to survive. Most of the survivors are hesitant to recall the memories saying “it brings sadness and they want to pray for their loved ones who were killed to rest in peace”. The memories are sad and unforgettable!

There are 55 families – 205 persons (males-60 persons, females-80 persons, and children-65 persons) still live in tin sheds in Sainthamaruthu (in the Eastern Province), living behind the Jummah Mosque. Their living space is squeezed into few meters. There are only two toilets which are currently functioning, there in only one bathroom for males and females. And only three drinking water taps are in the compound. The place gets flooded immediately when it rains. It is very hot inside during the Sunny days. Snakes are their frequent visitors in the night. Flu and Chicken Pox have been infected by many in the past.

The living space looks congested with few furniture, kitchen utensils and clothes and few of them have pets such as cats and chicken. The residents here are frustrated to continue live under these circumstances. Their houses were under 65 meter buffer zone in Saainthamaruthu. They feel that “they are nobody’s people”. Most them here in Saainthamaruthu think they are not lucky, and curse their fate for being unfortunate. “Will we be getting permanent houses next year?” many ask often, but the question remains unanswered.