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. Graft, fighting hinders Sri Lanka's tsunami recovery

by Staff Writers
Galle, Sri Lanka (AFP) Dec 25, 2007
Graft and renewed fighting has blocked relief to Sri Lanka's tsunami survivors with less than a fifth of money pledged properly accounted for three years later, according to watchdogs.

Sri Lanka's government claims success in rebuilding homes destroyed by the disaster, but international agencies say big problems remain. Huge amounts of foreign cash that poured in did not reach its intended destination.

While the authorities claim they built more houses than required, many people still live in makeshift dwellings for reasons ranging from poor building standards to fighting in areas where the new homes are located.

"I don't know where the aid money was spent, but we are still living in this wooden house," said Nalini de Soysa, 53, while standing outside her single room house in Galle 112 kilometres (72 miles) south of Colombo.

Some 31,000 people died and one million were left homeless after the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami. Sri Lanka said it got 3.2 billion dollars in foreign aid pledges to rebuild the devastated coastlines.

But out of the promised money only 1.2 billion dollars was actually received, the government says.

From that only 634 million dollars -- less than 20 percent of the original amount pledged -- was spent by the end of November, according to Transparency International, an international watchdog on corruption.

"It has been virtually impossible to find out what happened to the cash," said Rukshana Nanayakkara, Sri Lanka's deputy executive director of the anti-graft organisation.

An initial government audit in the first year of reconstruction found that less than 13 percent of the aid had been spent, but there has been no formal examination of accounts since.

More than 350 tsunami survivors have complained to the graft-buster this year, with allegations made against local and international aid agencies.

"There has been no proper accounts kept on the money and we believe only a fraction of aid trickled down to the real victims," said Nanayakkara.

While 8,865 people still remain in temporary shelters, official figures show that 119,092 houses had been built. In theory, that number is 20,000 more houses than needed.

While there is an excess of supply in the island's Sinhalese-majority south, people in the conflict-hit north and east, dominated by minority Tamils and Muslims, remain in makeshift shelters.

Fighting between government troops and Tamil Tigers escalated in December 2005 making tsunami reconstruction even more difficult.

"Progress has been slow in the north and east and reconstruction activities have been stalled in some areas of the north due to the escalated conflict," said the World Bank's Toshiaki Keicho.

The International Labour Organisation, meanwhile, said Sri Lanka's tsunami housing programme "cannot be considered to be completed", as many of the new settlements lack access to roads, water, electricity and basic health services.

The government, however, claims success.

"Sri Lanka has performed a tremendous job in its relief, rehabilitation and re-settlement process, with an overall 80 percent success," media minister Anura Priyadarshana Yapa said.

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