Haran Returns Home from Sri Lanka

By Michael F. Byrne, February 17, 2005

Township resident Sri Haran returned on Monday, Feb. 14 from his trip to Sri Lanka where he witnessed first-hand the destruction of the tsunami that struck his homeland on Dec. 26, 2004.

Haran is a native Tamil, and after the devastation struck his homeland, he pledged to raise $750,000 in Chester to buy tents for many left homeless by the tsunami. His fundraising is ongoing.

Haran sent camping tents from America to help the Tamils in the north, but found out the tents were not well suited for use in the tropical climate of the island.

"Most houses are constructed so that fresh air flows through the house, cooling it off," he said.

The tents have no holes for air because they are designed to keep insects out, Haran said.

It will be hard for the people to live in these tents for a long time. The weather is changing from monsoon rain to hotter and sunny weather," he said.

The International Red Cross is also distributing tents in the area, Haran said.

The Tamil organization, TRO, is constructing temporary concrete structures with palm leaves for roofs. The structures will help house the homeless, and cost about $250 apiece, Haran said.

Victims Helped

He met with an official from the Tamil Rehabilitation Organization (TRO), which he said is "doing a good job there" of helping the victims of the natural disaster that killed 30,000 in Sri Lanka.

Most of the devastation to the island nation is in the north and east, said Haran, who arrived there on Feb. 1.

After staying in the capital, Colombo, for several days, he traveled 190 miles to the north section of the island.

It was a trip that took nine hours because he had to pass through two checkpoints, he said.

One was operated by the government of Sri Lanka, and the second one is manned by the Tamil rebels, called the LTTE, who control the northern part of the island, he said.

"It is like crossing the borders of two countries," Haran said.

The Sinhalese majority and the Tamil minority on the island have been engaged in a civil war for more than 20 years, according to the U.S. State Department website.

The Tamil rebels are considered to be terrorists by the U.S. state department.

Haran is not a member of the rebels, but to help his people in the north, he must get along with them.

The Sri Lankan government is "struggling with corruption and inefficiency" in providing relief to the tsunami victims, Haran said.

One news account reported that 70 percent of tsunami survivors in government-controlled areas have not received any relief assistance despite an outpouring of international aid, Haran said.

This is different than what is taking place in the north and east sections, which are controlled by the LTTE, he said.

In those areas, "the displaced people are being served freshly cooked meals three times a day," Haran said. "They are also being served two teas a day, one in the morning and one in the evening."

Haran said that the news account quoted Tilak Ranavirajah, the Commissioner General of Essential Services of Sri Lanka, as saying he "could not rule out corruption."

It has been estimated to cost 10.3 billion rupees to compensate the surviving families and provide food rations for the next six months, the government official said.

"We are dealing with 10 billion rupees and naturally all people will not be honest. There will be a certain amount of corruption and I am not trying to whitewash anyone," Ranavirajah said.

Observer-Tribune, Chester, New Jersey

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Posted February 21, 2005