|The Wasteland that is Wanni - The Sunday Leader|
pros and cons of the politics involved in the LTTE's decision to abscond
from further talks is an issue marginalised by the excessive levels of
poverty and lack of development inside the 1237.11 square kilometres of
the present peace process has earned rich dividends for the south by way
of foreign investment and economic development, for people in the Wanni,
reaping any rewards from the peace process is still a distant illusion.
Other than the war itself having ceased, there is little or no dividends
for civilians living in the Wanni as they battle against overpowering
odds to make ends meet.
of hectares of fertile farmland is yet fenced off as a result of hidden
mines and explosives making it impossible for this once agriculturally
rich land to be fully productive.
entire civil administration of the Kilinochchi District is at a low key
due to a massive shortage of resources, such as personnel, office
accommodation and inadequate transport facilities. Most government
offices in the Wanni area function out of either semi permanent or
temporary buildings while some official's swelter in the scorching heat
as they valiantly attempt to administer civil work in bullet riddled
buildings devastated by heavy artillery.
acute shortage of staff and support services is self-evident.
For instance, the Poonakary Divisional Secretary office has only
four clerks. The Pachchilaipalli Divisional Secretariat is working with
only nine clerks. As a result, they are unable to carry out routine work
for the Triple 'R' project which was mooted by this government to carry
out rehabilitation work and provide humanitarian assistance for
civilians in the Wanni.
to a situation report issued by the government agent and district
secretary, there are no transport facilities to even deliver drugs to
institutions. There is a shortage of staff in all health categories
while building facilities are not available to run the district hospital
- Kilinochchi and the hospitals at Pachchilaipalli and Poonakary.
main Kilinochchi town does not even have a hospital. The LTTE's
Political Wing Leader, S. P. Tamilchelvan said only the foundation stone
for one has been laid, but nothing has happened beyond that. There is
apparently a dispute about the layout plans and as such, an indefinite
delay in constructing this hospital.
Kilinochchi District Hospital was completely destroyed during the war
and as a result functions 15 miles away at Akkarayankulam, which is a
small hamlet west of Kilinochchi.
offices of the Deputy Provincial Director, Health Services, Kilinochchi
also functions out of temporary shelters consisting of sheds constructed
from aluminium sheets.
MOH office of Kilinochchi is temporarily functioning at Akkarayankulam
while the MOH office at Poonakary is also functioning temporarily at
Jeyapuram. Some 30 primary health centers are functioning out of private
buildings due to government health sector buildings having been almost
completely destroyed and no renovation work being initiated since the
Rehabilitation Ministry had issued five computers for training displaced
children. Training was expected to commence in January this year, but is
yet to get underway as no furniture items have been received.
of students sitting for their Advanced Level examination last week were
doing so under cadjan sheds or bomb battered classrooms, still bearing
the shell shocked scars of a two decade long war.
Central College had 30 students sitting for the Advanced Level exam. The
Grade 11B and 11A classrooms were bullet-riddled and bombed. Old card
boxes that had been opened out served as a window to the outside world.
Blackboards are balanced at odd angles against aluminium walls making it
impossible to determine how a teacher is even able to write on one. The
entire upper floor of the school building has no roof and is completely
St. Theresa's Girls College, Kilinochchi, all the school classrooms
consist of cadjan sheds. Further down the road, Kilinochchi Hindu
College has 720 students, of whom 114 were sitting for their A/L
examination. The College Principal, Devaki Sivadasa explained how a lack
of funds has made it impossible to reconstruct the bombed buildings out
of which her students and some 21 teachers are forced to continue making
an attempt at receiving an education.
present, 84 schools are functioning in the Wanni. Some of them however
are yet to return to their original places from where they were forced
to shift to as a result of the war. Many of them continue to function
out of bombed out buildings as a result of not being able to function
out of a different location. There
are vacancies for 750 teachers for schools in the Wanni.
to Vadamarachchi East, we found a similar situation.
Huge craters in the ground are silent testimony to the area where
once a family lived and called it home. Now filled up with green
contaminated water, these craters lie silent, evidence of a devastating
two decade long war. Very few homes are being rebuilt as the maximum
earnings of a government servant in the Wanni is not more than Rs.
1,500. In fact, according
to the Wanni District Secretariat, only 3, 632 families earn this amount
and are considered to be above the poverty line.
Agent for the Wanni, Thirunavakaran Rasanayagam said this amount is
barely enough for a family to survive for a period of 30 days.
He said that out of a total population of 142,372 persons
"the situation is desperate" as people have no employment
opportunities and as such, are living below the poverty line. He
maintained that more than 24,532 families depend on dry rations issued
via government food stamps. "Over 32,000 families in the Wanni live
below the poverty line," he said.
pointed out that the only development project being implemented in the
Wanni at present is the reconstruction of the A9 road. Costing Rs. 800
million and funded by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), Rasanayagam
however asserted that even in this instance, all workers have been
brought "from outside" and so the project has not created any
employment for civilians residing in the Wanni.
said various UN agencies "come and go" gathering statistics,
"but their promises are yet to materialise." The GA's
observation was validated by the LTTE Chief Theoretician Anton
Balasingham when he addressed an opening ceremony of the LTTE courts in
Kilinochchi last month. There he angrily referred to international non
governmental organisations saying "they patronise our roads in
luxury vehicles, but all they have done is hand out mats and plastics
plates and mugs to our people."
still an illusion
sentiment, the LTTE's Political Wing Leader, Tamilchelvan also
articulated asserting the UN agencies seen in abundance in the Wanni
"are all gathering information to write 'Needs Assessment Reports.'
This is all they have been doing for the last one year and three
months," he said, adding the LTTE has little faith in the sincerity
of these organisations.
Wanni GA also reiterated that there is absolutely no foreign aid coming
into the Wanni other than the A9 highway, which is funded by the ADB.
said farming in the area is at an all time low as 12,000 hectares of
land cannot be cultivated as yet due to it not being cleared of mines
and explosives. Out of a total of 30,000 hectares of farmland,
Rasanayagam asserted that only 18,000 hectares were cultivated last
from the farming community, he said there are 7,000 families in the
Wanni who form the fishing community. He said the fishing community is
also struggling to make ends meet.
Rasanayagam pointed out that government buildings are yet to be
reconstructed and many government servants are forced to work out of
cadjan sheds and bombed out shelters. The department at the district
secretariat to store birth certificates and other documentation is a
case in point, situated as it is under a cadjan roof with mud walls.
rehabilitation organisations are working at odds with each other and
even themselves. A senior officer of the North - East Provincial Council
who requested anonymity said that at official meetings, many of these
representatives do not have a clue on how to coordinate funds and
implement development work.
said there have been no dividends from this peace process for the
civilians in the Wanni. "Nothing has happened over this last year.
Everything is merely a pledge and nothing more," he asserted.
He added that monies provided to the North - East Provincial
Council are diverted to Batticaloa and Ampara. "Not a cent is
allocated for the Wanni region," he said.
mail service is in a similar mess. With no proper facilities, the postal
service in this area functions in an ad hoc manner out of deplorable
working conditions. The building which once housed the sub post office
at Paranthan is just a shell of its former self.
Instead of the post office, 31 employees function out of an eight
by 12 room at the cooperative store in Paranthan.
Kilinochchi post office is hardly any better. Windowless and
bullet-riddled, this once impressive building stands silently dismal,
bearing the scars of a bitter war. This building too is yet to be
reconstructed and rehabilitated.
former Sri Lanka Telecom (SLT) building is in the same devastated
condition with only the SLT board balanced precariously askew evidence
that an arm of SLT even existed in this area.
to voice an opinion on the LTTE's decision to suspend peace talks with
the government, most civilians we spoke to refrained from comment only
saying they are praying for peace.
said some 16,572 internally displaced families have been re-settled in
the Wanni. Another 4,667 families are still to be re-settled.
the homes of some of the IDPs who have returned to the Wanni we found
they have little by which to look forward to a better future. Existing
on government food stamps to the value of Rs. 316 per individual, per
month, these people are hard pressed to find one solid meal a day.
has two children and lives in a shack only four feet tall.
Made out of bullet riddled metal plates, cadjan, aluminium sheets
and pieces of polythene, Maheswari ekes out a living for herself and her
two children. Her husband tries valiantly to get any type of work from
employers who can also hardly afford to make financial payments. The
meal Maheswari was getting ready to cook for the day for her family of
four consisted of a handful of rice, one brinjal and one coconut.
Amma who lives nearby is in the same plight. Living with her daughter
and son-in-law, the latter of whom is a mason, they too primarily live
off government food stamps.
families receive nothing from the LTTE, who apparently claim they have
no funds to feed these people.
shelters of many of these people living in the Wanni can barely be even
referred to as houses. They look more like little play houses or even
dog kennels with the tallest being a little over five feet in height.
the politics involved in excluding the Tigers from the Washington aid
conference, one aspect in this entire issue is crystal clear.
LTTE it appears are fully justified in their complaint to the Prime
Minister that a lack of development aid to the war battered Wanni region
has left the civilian population bereft of substantive dividends which
should have by all accounts by now been derived from the peace process.
most optimistic, but solitary factor that bears well for the peace
process is the fact that guns are silent and children from both the
north and the south are no longer being returned to their parents in
body bags. Apart from this aspect, for the people in the Wanni, peace is
still an illusion.
they struggle to survive in a terrain that is both harsh and arid,
forgotten and cast asunder, these people do not figure in a peace
process that has become bogged down by pledges that hold no real promise
of a better future for the people of the Wanni.