The Ampara Village For Displaced Emptied By Courts, Now Inhabited By Wild Animals
500 specially constructed homes for those displaced by 2004’s tsunami, have been empty for years. And now the humanitarian-made village is falling apart.
At one time the newly built houses in Norochcholai village in Akkaraipattu were a dream for someone like local woman, S. Rinoza.
Her son was only two months old when the tsunami of December 2004 stormed onto shore near her home.
“When the tsunami came, my elder son was just a baby,” Rinoza recalls. “I was looking out to sea after putting him to bed and I saw that the sea was moving a long way away and that it seemed very dark. I was frightened so I took the children and ran up the road towards Akkaraipattu town. Our lives were saved,” she says.
But they lost all their belongings and their home. The family lived in a camp for the displaced for four months and since then they have been renting accommodation.
“I have two children now and my eldest son is 12,” Rinoza explains. “My husband works at a textile store but we have a lot of problems with money. Once the rent is paid, it’s hard to be able to buy groceries. And we keep moving. So far, we have lived in about ten different houses. Often, once we have cleaned the house up and made it habitable, the owner wants it back,” she complains. “If I had known all the problems we would have because of the tsunami, I might have run towards the sea that day.”
That’s why the village built with funding from Saudi Arabia, where the houses would be given to those whose properties were destroyed in the disaster, is so appealing both to Rinoza and around 308 other families whose homes on the Akkaraipattu coast were destroyed.
The village at Norochcholai has 500 new houses and was funded by Saudi Arabia as part of humanitarian efforts. But thanks to a court injunction the houses, which were handed over to local authorities in 2011, have remained empty for years. Now wild animals live inside them – elephants roam through the village and snakes and other animals infest the interiors. Because of a lack of maintenance, the carefully constructed village is falling apart.
“The village has houses, schools, playgrounds, shops and bus stops,” Rinoza says. “It would be a dream to live there. But these houses are now being destroyed because nobody is living there, thanks to a court order.”
The court order was filed by other locals who said the housing was being distributed unfairly, with the majority being given to Muslim families rather than those from other religions, and that it was just an underhand way to bring more Muslims into the district.
Families like those of Rinoza don’t care about this. They just want to settle somewhere. And they believe that if the houses were given out to different kinds of families from different backgrounds, Norochcholai village could be a model for transitional justice in the island nation.
Several protests have been held. A senior member of the local police, Ajith Rohana, promised the protestors that housing would be provided, Rinoza notes; she was one of those taking part in the demonstrations.
So, the protests disbanded. But then Rothana left the district and nothing more happened in the matter. Rinoza says various politicians have also promised the displaced families to fix the problem. But none of those promises have been fulfilled.
The Catamarans asked Ampara District Secretary, Thusitha P. Wanigasinghe, why the houses were not being distributed.
“It’s a complex issue,” Wanigasinghe explained. “Every attempt that has been made to distribute the houses has failed, for one reason or another. I have asked for clarification from the courts on the distribution of the houses. If I was instructed to distribute the houses on one basis or another, I would do it tomorrow.”