Sunday Observer
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Sunday, 9 January 2005  
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Mihintalava - The Birthplace of Sri Lankan Buddhist Civilization

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Unity in adversity

On December 31, 2004 we saw the Government and the Opposition united in resolve to rebuild the disaster stricken country. On Tuesday January 4, 2005 we witnessed unprecedented unity in parliament where even the usually aggressive TNA voiced sentiments of reconciliation.

Outside parliament the LTTE agreed to cooperate with the government in the relief effort. At the ground level cooperation between the LTTE and the security forces in relief activities is reported though with certain hiccups. The latter is understandable given the animosity between the two combatants for two decades.

Though not spelt out or articulated strongly there is an underlying recognition that Sri Lanka cannot rise from the present calamity without closing its ranks and leaving acrimony to history.

We strongly urge politicians, statesmen and stateswomen as well as the general public to consolidate the momentary unity achieved in adversity so as to convert the latter into an opportunity to forge ahead.

The destruction and loss of life is so immense that even the most rabid warmonger would find war unimaginable. Thus, there is no alternative to peace and no better opportunity than the present moment to pursue it in earnest.

Joint relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction would itself prove to be an immense confidence building measure, a necessary pre-requisite to carry forward the stalled peace process.

The massive international aid flow is a blessing. If disbursed equitably without bias or favour it would also consolidate the existing fragile unity between the ethnic communities and political adversaries. Our international friends have been generous enough that aid pledged, if delivered and utilised prudently would be sufficient for Sri Lanka not only to overcome the present crisis but also to surpass the existing growth rate. It would be necessary to prevent waste, duplication of work and energy in the threefold tasks of relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction.

This is where a sound disaster management strategy and operation becomes an urgent need. There is duplication and triplication of relief efforts largely due to the enormous spontaneous response from the public as well as the international community. Once the most urgent humanitarian needs are met there should be better coordination of reconstruction work.

It is also necessary to involve the Provincial Councils in the task of rehabilitation and reconstruction. It is sad to note that the latter has been almost docile and regional leaders were expecting everything from the central government without mobilising locally available resources, both human and physical. If this apathy continues in the Provincial Council system the public would be correct to consider them as white elephants instituted not to strengthen democracy or devolve power but to enhance the electoral prospects of governing parties.

Another matter of equal concern is the indifference and lukewarm attitude of certain bureaucrats who have failed to take up the challenges posed by the calamity. They still continue their daily 8-hour or less routine supervising the relief efforts from a distance lest their clean suits, neckties and all would get soiled from contact with the dusty ground. They neither feel the urgency of the moment nor have commitment to serve the people. It is reported that many relief workers who volunteered to help were turned back or were forced to turn back due to non-cooperation from the bureaucracy in many affected areas.

Fortunately this complacency and this indifference was lacking in the North East. This once gain proves what damage political patronage in the South has done to the once efficient public service of the country.

We would like to underline that the momentary unity is fragile. Hence utmost restraint and patience has to be exercised especially by the politicians and the media. That is why it is wrong to highlight minor negative incidents and conduct vituperative campaigns. There is much that could be sorted out by open confrontation at friendly meetings than by issuing press releases or competing to prove one's superiority over the others.

It is also necessary to review the role the media plays at the present moment. The urgent task now is to get over grief and trauma and assist speedy return to normalcy. In this sense we ask whether it is advisable for the media to display and recall the destruction and tales of woe? Wouldn't it be better to give priority to the rehabilitation and reconstruction effort and instill hope in those affected by the tragedy?

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