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 Post subject: Much maligned NGOs fill a gap in tsunami-hit Lanka
 Post Posted: Mon Apr 25, 2005 2:05 am 
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Much maligned NGOs fill a gap in tsunami-hit Lanka

@ HT COLOMBO DIARY | PK Balachandran

Colombo, April 11, 2005|00:46 IST

NGO-bashing is currently a favourite pastime in Colombo, the capital city of tsunami-hit Sri Lanka. The International NGOs, or INGOs as they are called, come in for special flak. They are dubbed as huge hoaxes, money milking machines, Christian proselytisers, and worst of all, a threat to the sovereignty of the country.

But in the tsunami-hit areas of the island, the victims have a somewhat different view of these organisations. Admittedly, the refugees are not too happy with the temporary shelters built for them by these NGOs, but they are glad that they have some sort of a roof over their heads, and thank these organizations for that.

The government, on the other hand, comes in sharp criticism for utter inaction.

"If any reconstruction work is being done at all, it is done by the NGOs, especially the INGOs," is a refrain one constantly heard in Sri Lanka's North East, the worst affected part of the island country, during a recent tour.

One of the most telling quotes this writer got was from Udumanachchi, a Muslim woman in Sainthamaruthu, a devastated fishing village in South Eastern Sri Lanka, who had lost two of her children in the Boxing Day disaster.

"But for these Vellakaarar (Whites), we too would have perished," Udumanachchi said standing beside a gleaming, tin-roofed, one- room, wooden house built by one of the many international NGOs working in North Eastern Sri Lanka.

"The government does nothing other than giving us food coupons worth Rs 375/- per person per week. Even water supply and debris clearance are done by private organisations, mostly from abroad," said Iftikar, another refugee.

It seems that the people do not know that the government has, by policy, left the construction of temporary shelters to the NGOs. The government is going to concentrate on the construction of permanent houses. But this needs big money, and that is yet to come. The NGOs are thus filling a gap.

However, there may be substance in the other criticism that government is not providing some other essential services, like the supply of water and the provision of health facilities.

"In the immediate aftermath of tsunami, doctors used to visit the camps, but now they do not," said an inmate in a camp in Thirukkovil in Amparai district.

The rations given by the government are also not of good quality, always. "The stomach gets upset," complained KLM Farooq of Poonochimunai, a Muslim camp in Batticaloa district.

Attack on NGOs

However, despite the admitted incapability of the government to handle all the tasks by itself, and its conscious policy of co-opting NGOs and INGOs in the work, stinging criticism of the NGOs and INGOs is in full swing in Colombo. What is surprising (and disturbing as well) is that the worst critics are part and parcel of the government!

The attack on the NGOs comes from the Sinhala-nationalist forces, particularly, the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), which is part of the ruling United Peoples' Freedom Alliance (UPFA).

Speaking at a meeting in Maharagama, just outside Colombo last week, the JVP MP, Wimal Weerawansa, said that the NGOs had "sold" the sorrows and tears of affected Sri Lankans to collect large sums of money, only to lead "luxurious lives" in Colombo.

"Over 70 per cent of the money collected goes into the salaries and allowances of foreigners and these moneys go back to their countries," Weerawansa charged.

Describing them as "crows who come in search of dollars," the MP said: " Go and see the clubs, casinos and cafes in Colombo. Most of them are patronised by the INGO people."

Weerawansa charged that the Western nations were trying to weaken the Sri Lankan government by saying that it was not competent to handle international funds for post-tsunami reconstruction, and were giving these funds to the INGOs instead.

He said that "NGO people" had crept into government ministries. "This is a dangerous situation for the country," he warned.

The JVP's views are important because the support of their 39 MPs are critical for the survival of the UPFA government led by President Chandrika Kumaratunga.

An ardent campaigner against Western influence on Sri Lanka, Nalin de Silva, told the meeting that the NGOs and INGOs were supported by Christian churches. "They want to make the world full of Christians," he declared.

The tirade against the NGOs and INGOs is not without significance because there are as many as 6,000 of these in post-tsunami Sri Lanka. Much of the foreign money for post-tsunami work has come to the NGOs and INGOs.

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