It never rains but it
pours! Floods have displaced thousands of people and destroyed
hundreds of houses. Some bridges have given way and many roads
are still under water. The flood level continues to rise in some
areas aggravating the suffering of the victims. Eight districts
have been badly hit. Wrath of weather gods seems to know no
bounds. In the North, the military and the LTTE are girding up
their loins for what is considered an imminent showdown.
Skirmishes have already begun. People in the other parts of the
country are living in fear of deadly bomb attacks. There seems
to be no end in sight to the natural and man-made disasters!
It is against this backdrop that Christmas is celebrated today.
Joy and sorrow, as is the way with life, exist cheek by jowl.
After today’s celebrations comes tomorrow’s commemoration of
those who perished in the Boxing Day tsunami, the worst ever
natural disaster this country has experienced.
The much advertised tsunami recovery process has failed to
achieve its lofty goal. The government claims more houses than
needed have been built. But, strangely, many of the
tsunami-displaced continue to languish in temporary shelters.
Who has got those newly built houses? Most of the tsunami
affected people in the Eastern Province are without houses.
Statistics and political claims are hardly any substitutes for
real houses for the displaced people whose lives are still far
from rebuilt. The incidence of corruption involving the tsunami
reconstruction is believed to be very high. Some do-gooders who
undertook to build houses and got funds for that have
disappeared. Unfortunately, some of them are from the very
countries that were kind enough to rush relief here in the
aftermath of the tsunami disaster.
Now, more houses will have to be built for the flood-affected
people. Vast extents of agricultural land have been inundated
and it will be months before the poor fully recover from the
havoc wreaked by floods. That means more funds for
rehabilitation and reconstruction, which will constitute a drain
on the public purse.
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference in Sri Lanka deserves
plaudits for its inspiring Christmas message. It has said, "This
year, we cannot celebrate Christmas with external pageantry and
festivities as there are so many men, women and children who are
suffering in the strife-stricken areas."
But, the good Bishops’ appeal has evidently fallen on stony
deaf ears, if what is going on around us is any indication.
There is a mad rush for shopping as if all the shops were going
to be closed down after Dec. 31. Car parks at Colombo shopping
malls are chock a block and sales brisk. Hives of dipsomaniacs
could be seen clinging on to wayside squalid liquor outlets to
replenish their stocks of spirit for the season, to hell with
the basic needs of their families struggling to make ends meet.
This kind of stupidity is not something surprising in a country
notorious for ‘enjoying champagne on a toddy income’ as one of
our readers has pointed out in a letter.
The main tsunami commemoration ceremony is being held in the
southern township of Matara, one of the worst affected places.
The newly widened bridge across the River Nilwala is scheduled
to be declared open tomorrow with pomp and ceremony. It is, no
doubt, of immense benefit to the people but should a grand show
be made of some improvement effected to an existing bridge? It
is like, as a local saying goes, a girl having her kotahalu
magula after her wedding ceremony! The traffic police could
have opened the new addition to the bridge for public use with a
simple religious ceremony without funds being wasted and
inconvenience caused to the people due to the usual security
purdah associated with VVIP visits. Why waste funds borrowed
at exorbitant interest rates? The cost of the Mahaweli project,
it is being argued, could have been drastically reduced and some
more development projects implemented, if the then government
had desisted from incurring massive expenditure on propaganda to
gain political mileage and stealing public funds allocated for
The good Bishops’ message is of relevance not only to
Christians but also each and every Sri Lankan and its meaning
will not be lost even after Christmas.
This is the time for austerity and not profligacy. Tsunami,
floods and the conflict have rendered many of our fellow
citizens homeless and thousands go to bed on empty stomachs
"The Lord Jesus," the Bishops have said," by opting to come
among us in the humble existence of his human birth directs our
attention to those who are suffering, especially the children in
refugee camps without even the security of a home and basic
needs. If we forego all unnecessary expenditure for external
celebrations, we can channel the fruit of such sacrifices for
the well-being of children…"
These words of wisdom need to be heeded!