Inadvertent or Intentional Misdirection?

by Michael Donnelly, January 21, 2005

To whom it may concern,

This email is in response to two major news items:

The Sri Lankan President -

I am attaching a Power Point presentation of seventeen slides that I believe provide some insight to the handling of the Tsunami disaster in Sri Lanka, the worst affected nation after Indonesia. This is not a set of pictures of Tsunami victims or of property devastation, but rather, I believe, an objective compilation of statistical and other evidence available from public sources.

Some background may be in order, especially the international pressure on the Sri Lankan President in the weeks prior to the Tsunami is of critical interest. The Presidentís party formed a coalition with a Sinhala extremist socialist party, the JVP (Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna), only a year go, a decision that disrupted the previous Government's effort to bring an end to the four-decade war between the two largest ethnic groups in Sri Lanka, namely the Sinhalese (the majority in the South/South West and Central Sri Lanka) and Tamils (the majority in North and North East). Some form of necessary devolution of regional administration was to be worked out as an interim measure, with plans for a more permanent solution to be postponed till later. The Interim Administration was to meet the urgent basic needs for the population in the Tamil regions caught up in two-decades of continuous war.

Cognizant of the Presidentís inability and/or unwillingness to play fair by the Tamils, the donors who had pledged substantial development funds, made disbursement conditional on resuming peace talks with the Tamils and refused to provide the country with any funding even though the countryís economy had slid down rapidly to very critical stages in the last few months. The President was more-or-less in her eleventh hour on this need to get back to formal talks when the Tsunami struck. The post-Tsunami flow of funds have certainly taken the pressure off the President, and there is no doubt that it could also serve to "buy" regional political capital to perhaps even re-strategize her political agenda. In the past several months the President had made known her desire to change the constitution that would allow her to continue her reign beyond 2005 when her current non-renewable term comes to an end.

Many reports coming from the island suggest that political maneuvering has become the focus, and consequently have lead to distorted damage assessments, partiality in relief efforts and grossly inequitable rehabilitation initiatives. As a result, the four-decade long ethnic divide has only worsened in the last three weeks; the proverbial last straw may be the Governmentís refusal to allow the UN secretary to visit the NorthEast, undoubtedly the worst-affected part of the country.From day-on Galle, a Southwestern city, has been practically the single focus for most foreign journalists and international leaders. It is no secret news coverage was limited almost entirely to Galle and neighboring cities such as Matra, Beruwela, Hikkaduwa and even Mt. Lavinia in the first two weeks after the Tsunami, totally ignoring the cities in the NorthEast. Could this have been by design by the Government? Reportedly, the full fleet of seven helicopters of the Sri Lankan air force were allocated solely to the South. A government official in the East was quoted saying that since the Tsunami stuck on Sunday, a holiday for the public officials, no action could be expected till Monday!

No doubt Galle received unprecedented damage Ė but that damage only serves as a barometer to assess the horrid devastation in the NorthEast, areas that truly faced the direct hits of the 20 to 40 foot waves; this impact on the East was possibly five to ten fold that of the Southwest.

International observers, journalists, leaders and donors have an unenviable responsibility in ensuring fair, need-based and equitable treatment in Sri Lanka, if the nation is to recover from not only the recent Tsunami, but also from the horrendous ethnic strife that had engulfed the nation in chaos for so long. The recent Tsunami and the consequent flow of funds should not serve to delay this recovery process.

The author can be reached at

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Posted January 27, 2005