BANGKOK (dpa) – The houses are not yet 10 years old but already walls and roofs are collapsing on a housing estate in Sirikandurawatte in Sri Lanka.
Ajith Priyantha, 35, was one of the several hundred relocated to the newly built project after the tsunami of December 26, 2004 left more than 30,000 dead and tens of thousands displaced in Sri Lanka alone.
“Instead of using iron rods to reinforce walls they have used a wire mesh,” he said. “The concrete blocks have holes in and the walls are not strong enough to bear the weight of the roof.”
The 146 houses in the complex are barely habitable, and no one seems to know where the foreign money that was to fund them ended up. His story resonates across South and Southeast Asia, where the outpouring of aid and assistance in the wake of the tsunami has not always had the intended result.
In the south of Thailand, where more than 5,000 people died, mostly in coastal communities, one village received 400 fishing boats to replace 100 lost ones. The area was quickly overfished, The Nation newspaper reported in 2005.
In India’s Nagapattinam, an oversupply of replacement boats prevented fishing altogether, according to a development consultancy report.
“Each boat needs a crew of three or four,” one would-be fisherman was quoted as saying in 2005. “Now everyone has a boat, and nobody wants to be crew on someone else’s boat. So we fight. What else can we do?”
In Galle in southern Sri Lanka, Lionel Bandarage hawks accessories and costume jewellery by the roadside.
Before the tsunami, he had a prosperous clothing business, says Bandarage, now 58. “I escaped by holding on to a lamppost,” but his warehouse was swept away.”
He received almost no compensation for the 10 million rupees (78,000 dollars) he says his stock was worth, and now lives off the proceeds from his roadside stall.
He also spends most of his free time helping other street vendors pick their way through the process of obtaining aid and loans.
“Some of those affected did not get aid” in the wake of the tidal wave, he says. “Instead, organised groups took away most of the foreign aid.”
“Many people had lost family members and were struggling to cope,” he said. “By the time families came to terms with their losses the aid was gone.”
Even when the aid did reach the right people, it did not always help. In the Indonesian province of Aceh, where at least 130,000 perished, one farm received donated geese and sheep to repopulate the stock.
“After the tsunami the land was contaminated, so many of the geese and sheep became sick and died,” said Roosa Sibarani, country coordinator for Terre des Hommes Germany, which participated in several projects in the area.
“Some people say reconstruction efforts in Aceh left monuments of failure,” said Nanang Dirja, a project manager with Oxfam UK.
“They built sea docks but they were neglected. They built markets but they’re empty. They built water reservoirs but they are not working.”
Not enough attention was paid to the capacity of local officials and people to manage and use the new infrastructure, he said, stressing that the reconstruction efforts were in the main successful.
Also in Aceh, payments to incentivise a clean-up operation have undermined civic responsibility.
“People got accustomed to being paid to do any work,” said Illiza Sa-aduddin Djamal, mayor of local capital Banda Aceh. “So the old tradition of working together to volunteer in communities disappeared and people ask for money to do work for their neighbourhood.”