Rebuilding Kathiraveli
By Danesh Jayatilka

Kathiraveli, Batticaloa, SRILANKA

People of this small coastal village in Batticaloa in the Eastern Province of Sri Lanka know what it means to be caught between the devil and the deep sea. The 2004 Asian Tsunami devastated the village. Then their village became a flashpoint of Sri Lankan civil war that erupted once again in 2006 after a period of relative calm. For the 676 families here, mostly Tamil-speaking Hindus, a good part of the past nine years meant rebuilding lives and livelihoods destroyed by the disaster and then again by the conflict and forced migration. The accompanying photo feature is a snapshot of their story.

During the 2004 tsunami 56 people were killed and 225 families affected in Kathiraveli and nearby Puchchakerny. Most of the houses 300 to 400 meters from the sea were either damaged or destroyed by the wave, which the local people described as ‘a gigantic snake that came from the sea and went into the land, along the entire coast’. Around 136 families moved inland, especially to the newly formed Pudur village, while others were scattered inside Kathiraveli. In 2006 the conflict flared up and security forces started targeting the LTTE camps within the village. The village and the surrounding areas became a violent air, sea, and land battleground and the government requested the civilians to move into welfare camps situated in state-controlled areas.

When the LTTE was was defeated in the East in 2007 many people wanted to go back to their homes, and the government supported their return to the area. Witnessing the devastation of the village and their property was difficult for the returnees. Many of the houses were completely or partially destroyed. The government and donors then launched large reconstruction programmes to assist housing and livelihoods recovery in the area. These efforts took a number of years but were relatively successful as there was enough funding.

Five years on, houses have been rebuilt, and much of the livelihoods have been restored. The inhabitants went back to their occupations and/or found new ones. Many of the people got compensation for the losses suffered from the conflict as well as the tsunami - though there are some who did not get any. The challenge that people face now have nothing much to do with the war or the disaster, but it is all about improving livelihoods and giving a bright future for their children. Developmental and environmental woes have troubled the village ever since they came back. Life goes on peacefully here though ghosts of the past sometimes haunt the village.

(Danesh Jayatilaka is about to finish his PhD from the Department of Economics of the University of Colombo, Sri Lanka and the School of Global Studies at Sussex University, UK. His thesis looks at the resettlement of IDPs in the east of Sri Lanka. He is a researcher and co-founder of the Centre for Migration Research and Development [] in Colombo. )
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