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Webhamuva: Giving a Voice to the Tsunami Affected
Supported by the World Bank:

LIRNEasia and Sarvodaya initiated the Webhamuva program with assistance from the World Bank’s Small Grants Program to give voice to the people whose opinions go unheard in the post-tsunami reconstruction work.

The final report is available here (PDF):

WEBHAMUVA: Report on People’s Consultations on Post Tsunami Relief, Reconstruction and Rehabilitation in Sri Lanka

The findings from the report indicate that people are dissatisfied with the pace of reconstruction and rehabilitation. Most of the tsunami-affected spoken to have yet to recover their normal lives in terms of livelihood, permanent housing and their sense of safety and security. The feeling of helplessness and despair is quite prevalent especially when people do not have the capital or means to engage in sustainable livelihoods. Needs assessment from the donors has not been very effective because there seems to be a large discrepancy between what people need and what is supplied to them. Starting from housing issues to lesser significant things like utensils and victuals, what is supplied is often not what people want or need.

The tsunami seems to have had an impact that goes beyond economics and has reconfigured the social and cultural lives of those affected. The forced sharing of space in camps and flat-type housing has brought together people from different social backgrounds which have generated some apprehension and friction. The program was activated in a number of Sarvodaya Service villages located in the Tsunami-affected districts. Trained staff from Sarvodaya visited villages in those districts and asked inhabitants about the effect of the tsunami on their lives, their views on the reconstruction and rehabilitation in their area, and about their current problems and needs. The answers were recorded in the local language and was later transcribed and translated into English. The reports from the villages were then published on, which can be accessed by anyone from around the world.

Twenty four reports in English from six Tsunami affected districts (Colombo, Kalutara, Matara, Hambantota, Ampara and Trincomalee) were produced. Sinhala versions from three districts were also made available on the website as PDF downloads.

Below are excerpts, organized thematically, to highlight what the tsunami-affected think on key issues like livelihoods, housing, education and social-cultural impact.

People’s voices on land, resettlement and housing

“flat” or apartment style housing that doesn’t suit their way of life

  • Athagama (Kalutara): There are about five to seven houses in a row. They are in Parangiwatta. Oh, we can’t stay in flats, no. What’s the point of housing like that? They’re giving for free, that’s true. But they’re useless for us.
  • Because they’re apparently making flats about seven connected to each other. The two floors are for two families. So there’ll be fighting about everything. We are losing all our independence because of this. We don’t know what kind of people we’ll fall next to. Also, we’ll be unable to leave a girl child in house by herself even in an emergency. We feel that we’ll fall into a great difficulty.
  • Weligama (Matara): The people did not like the government houses because those houses will be flats.

Houses relocated far from livelihood

  • Wadduwa (Kalutara): We’re getting houses from Weragama. Next month, the people in the two front houses are going. We’ll have to go to Weragama. But even then, we’re going to have to come back here. We raise pigs and chicken. We make jardi. So we have to come back here to do the fishing work. Otherwise, what are we to stay home and do? If we don’t earn something to buy that day’s food, how are we to live?
  • Thalpitiya (Kalutara): We’re getting houses permanently from Weragama. However we can’t tell when we’ll be given them. It is very far from here to there. We have to go by bus to the area they call the Weragama Housing Scheme. There is only one bus on that road, that also only at some times. Weragama is on a side road off the Galle Road. So we have to go by three-wheeler. Even for the bus, a lot of money goes. We do fishing work. There they are building houses on ten perches for each. That’s good for us. I’m thinking of doing a self-employment activity when I go there. It’ll be too much trouble to come here for the fishing work.

Housing Issues

  • Issues surrounding land, resettlement and housing appear to be the most pressing issues.
  • Resettlement in permanent housing has been slow and people are frustrated.
  • Many people have suggested that they be given land and they will build their own houses
  • Some housing schemes with 80+ houses have only 5 toilets, creating unsanitary and unsafe condition especially for women.

People’s voices on livelihoods

  • Moratuwella (Colombo dist): All assistance we have received consists of victuals and clothing. We not wish to get any more of these. What we yearn for is assistance to strengthen our capacities to re-start a normal life.
  • Payagala (Kalutara dist): I asked for a three-wheeler that I could drive easily. However, I’m not getting one. It is difficult for me to do a job with outsiders. What we really need is a way to earn.
  • Gandara (Matara dist): We don’t need any aid. Now at least give us a loan at an easy interest rate. We shall show the ocean that beat us down how we can get up by raising an income from that ocean itself. Now we want only that.
  • Weligama (Matara dist): If you are going to help us now, give us a loan at a concessionary rate. We would like to once again live without being a burden to anyone.

People’s voices on education

  • Moratuwela: It is hard to comprehend how the school children residing at the camp can attend to their studies. They said that they are not mentally or physically relaxed to concentrate on their studies, and that they do not have enough space to play.
  • Wadduwa: I have a younger brother too. Now neither of us goes to school. We stay with an aunt. My brother goes to pull in the fishing nets. We have nothing else.
  • Wadduwa: We can’t send our children to school. They say that school children were given bank savings books with Rs. 250, Rs. 500 in them. But our children didn’t get this. At election time, they make a lot of promises to us. But after that they forget us.
  • Kalamulla: It’s been only two or three days since these people came to stay in these houses,” she said. “Since the day they came, they play cassettes very loudly. There was a party even yesterday. We can’t sleep at night because there is so much noise. I guess they can’t let go of their old habits. But we have a child who is to sit for the exam. He can’t study. How can one concentrate and study when there is this much noise? We’re scared about what’ll happen in the future.
  • Thalpitiya: A group consisting of American university students have come here for a program in their final year of study. A similar group had come and stayed at the Thalpitiya school before and that one of the gentlemen in the group had taught English to the students.

People’s voices on social and cultural impacts

  • Athagama: We’re Buddhist. Most of the people in this area are Christian. This Tsunami did one good thing. It brought together Christians and Buddhists. When the Christian father took the service on January 1st apparently he told everyone to go and worship the priest at the temple and come first. At the same time when the houses are distributed, the priest is sent for and the keys are distributed through him. Now the Christians are thinking a lot about how well the priest treated everyone at the time of the Tsunami. When the father is opening the houses, he always specially thanks the priest. This is a big thing.
  • Thalpitya: Before the Tsunami every person did some kind of job; however when things were handed out free of charge after the Tsunami, people adapted too easily to this new lifestyle. Even when a society gives out loans, the recipients castigate them by saying they’re loaning out money that was given as Tsunami aid. They do not understand anything correctly.
  • Wadduwa: We do everything with the constant fear that the Tsunami will come. Our things, clothes are still stocked together. There is no way to keep a house beautifully, neatly. I can’t think when we will be freed from these problems.
  • Modarawila: The people who lived here might have stayed in small homes, but they were not used to living like shanty-dwellers. They were people who lived well. Now it has become a mud hole there. These are people who lived very peacefully with us in the village. They say that they are not used to this kind of living. There are even people who use drugs. They are scared to leave their girl children by themselves. They are living a very hard life now.
  • Thalpitiya: There is no difference between night and day, outsiders are constantly coming here to buy drugs. They are helped by the police andpolitically. We live in great fear. Also, a brothel is run in the same house…We have brothers, children. We need to keep them safe. We need to solve this problem and stop it from destroying our village.


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