Resumption of Warfare Imperils Tsunami Recovery Efforts

Eric Schwartz, the United Nations’ Deputy Special Envoy for Tsunami Recovery, expressed alarm at reports of rising numbers of killings and displacements in fresh fighting between Government forces and Tamil rebels in Sri Lanka. Schwartz lamented the fact that “In parts of the north and east, the tsunami recovery process has ground to a halt, and significant investments in reconstruction, so generously supported by donors around the world, are now imperiled.” He urged the protagonists to ease restrictions on access to the affected civilian population and to end hostilities and resume negotiations.

Workers for local and international groups dealing with the humanitarian impacts of both the conflict and the 2004 tsunami feel that their maneuvering space is steadily shrinking. Access to areas affected by the conflict is difficult, if not impossible, and hardliners on both sides have used intimidation tactics to make aid groups quit. The government now requires expatriate staff to apply for work permits.

Just slightly more than one third of the houses that need to be rebuilt have been finished in the Tamil north and east. But virtually all construction has ground to a halt. Since fighting intensified in August, no shipments of construction material and fuel have been allowed to cross into rebel territory. The cost of matrials has skyrocketed. Because the fighting has affected reconstruction sites, contractors refuse to work there.

The government and the Tigers keep insisting that they are still honoring the 2002 truce. But Nordic monitors accuse both sides of carrying out gross violations of the ceasefire and hampering human rights abuses.