Sri Lanka's Schools and Factories Start to Hum Once Again ; Monday, Many Businesses and Undamaged Schools Reopen Their Doors as International Officials Start to Assess Roads, Services

By Robert Marquand writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, January 1, 2005 | Go to article overview

Sri Lanka's Schools and Factories Start to Hum Once Again ; Monday, Many Businesses and Undamaged Schools Reopen Their Doors as International Officials Start to Assess Roads, Services


Robert Marquand writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


Before his damaged garment factory reopened Monday, plant manager Anura Kelaniyangoda held an imaginary Buddha relic over his head and led 400 workers from a temple to the workplace. Behind him strode 10 robed monks; pipers and drummers paced in front. Prayers were offered for family lost in the tsunami, and for success in business. A quiet celebration lunch of melon and curry followed at noon.

The solemn event was a first for Tri-star garments. Young women more accustomed to stitching collars spent 14 hours a day preparing to open Jan. 10. But the tsunami was also a first, says Mr. Kelaniyangoda: "We needed to give the workplace new life," he says of a complete repainting. "We changed everything, including the colors."

Sri Lanka formally marks a new post-flood phase Monday: Many coastal firms are reopening, as are all undamaged schools. The first systematic assessment of roads, services, and the economy, done by a joint Japanese and World Bank team, also gets under way. Signs show that the battered nation is slowly waking from a tsunami nightmare that hit 700 miles of coast.

Two weeks on, many coastal residents report feeling a need to "start work and earn something," as a TV repairman in Marissa puts it. "It is even more important than rebuilding my home."

Yet despite overflowing aid promises and visits by dignitaries like Colin Powell, and Kofi Annan, there is still almost no rebuilding along the coastline. An industrious cleanup of brick and debris at a school was under way this weekend in tiny coastal Kosgoda; but it was a team of volunteers from Colombo sent by a Japanese corporation. Residents did not participate. Many affected Sri Lankans say they feel like they are waiting - and waiting - for clarity about their future. Many Buddhist monks, whose labor and temple space have provided a support structure say they are increasingly tired, and that temples are becoming dirtier.

Particularly common is talk by local officials of a problem period of six to 12 months - when jobs and homes have not yet been found by the 1.5 million affected, when savings run out, and before serious rebuilding begins. So far, no tents or temporary structures have been forthcoming by the government to house the displaced.

Across from the TriStar factory in Kosgoda is a camp of 20 families who sleep under plastic sheeting by the side of the main road. The ocean is about two city blocks away, and most houses were knocked down. Nearby is a turtle farm for tourists, where a diligent ecologist keeps hatching sea turtles from around the globe, albeit now with no building and no tourists.

"No one from the government has visited us," says a young man who owned a tea shop. "We don't get water on a regular basis. None of us wants to go to a refugee camp. We want to live here. We don't know where money and food are coming from."

The biggest problem in the next year, says Wick Ramaratne, governor of the southern province of Sri Lanka, "will be moving large numbers of people from the coastal areas to the inland areas, because they will not want to move."

One diplomat involved in discussions on rebuilding says Sri Lanka has been a bit slow on certain fundamentals: "There could be a quicker laying out of a thought process on next steps.... There's been no discussion of temporary shelters, and no discussion of how to deal with corruption, once the money starts flowing. …

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