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Poverty adds to chaos in Aceh and Sri Lanka
ONE MONTH after the tsunami disaster struck the coasts of the Indian Ocean the costs are still being counted. The death toll has gone way over 250,000 with the figure for Aceh, northern Sumatra now a massive 228,000. The jobs of half a million more in that country were also destroyed.
Clare Doyle, International Secretariat, Committee for a Workers' International
But how many tens of thousands of lives could have been saved by an adequate warning system? The total cost of the death and destruction wreaked on 26 December is in the billions of dollars; yet the cost of installing an early warning system is between $20 million-$30 million.
And now, how many of the millions of homeless are still to die because of the bungling, mishandling and undoubtedly widespread corruption surrounding the distribution of aid and essential medical supplies?
A report released by the World Health Organisation last weekend talks of the 'chaos' wrought by the Indonesian military and civilian agencies in Aceh, only making a bad situation in the camps even more unbearable.
In Sri Lanka, too, there has been huge discontent expressed by those made homeless - both about their immediate squalid conditions but also about the plans for their future homes.
A plan to build 60 new towns three miles or so inland to replace villages destroyed on the Sri Lankan coast, has been hastily drawn up with no consultation with the displaced people themselves or consideration for cultural differences in the population.
"Not once have we been asked how or where we want to live", said a fisherman living in a tent near the beach. "Everything about it (Siribopura, the new town) is wrong. It's going to turn into a slum within a year".
Cancel the poor people's debts!
PRESIDENT CHANDRIKA Kuma-rasinghe has also insisted that people wanting to rebuild their own houses and restart their lives should take out loans through private banks. The United Socialist Party (CWI, Sri Lanka) has said no way! No more crippling debt!
If some of the country's debt to the world's banks and governments is being cancelled, says the USP, those resources should be used to cancel all the debts of the poverty-stricken small farmers and fishermen of Sri Lanka. Full compensation to all those who have lost their homes and livelihoods. Interest-free loans for re-starting any small endeavours of the tsunami-stricken people. Nationalisation of the banks to make this possible.
Rebuilding the infrastructure in Sri Lanka, including railways and roads, where they existed and improving on them is a tall order and will require billions of dollars. The money should be switched, says the USP, from military expenditure into a massive programme of public works.
In Sri Lanka, in Aceh and throughout the region, all relief and rebuilding should be under the control of elected representatives of workers, of displaced people in the camps and other poor people.
Poverty and war in Aceh
TALK OF rebuilding the infrastructure of Aceh is almost farcical, since hardly any existed. Though the Indonesian military forces have been helping firms like ExxonMobil extract the mineral wealth of the province, and making themselves rich in the process, the majority of Aceh's population lived on the brink of total destitution. Faith in life is fading.
Indonesia's president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, is now trying to convince donors and world imperialism he is intent on bringing the 30-year long war between Aceh liberation fighters (mainly organised by Gam) and the Indonesian Army (the TNA) to an end.
There are due to be talks between his government and the Aceh separatists in Helsinki this week. But it is clear that the TNA has no intention of relinquishing their iron grip on Aceh.
Hopes of peace
IN SRI Lanka, there have been some moves towards re-starting the peace talks between the separatist Tamil Tigers (LTTE) of the north and the Sri Lankan government.
As explained in previous articles in the socialist, the Sri Lankan people united in the face of adversity. Tamil and Sinhala pulled together. But the chauvinists lost no time in trying to sabotage any attempts to help Tamil-speaking people. The prime minister and some MPs from the JVP (Sinhala communalists) visited one of the many camps in the north.
However, they did not even get a chance to speak. They were howled at and chased out by women with brooms in hand, the worst insult to any 'guest'!
By contrast, representatives of the USP visiting the very next day got a warm response. Their demand for the US and Indian troops to be withdrawn and no militarisation of aid went down well.
The political struggle against the Chandrika government is only just beginning. Last week, during her visit to lay the first brick of Siribopura (and studiously avoiding visiting the camps of the homeless around Hambantota itself), the president made clear how she would use the crisis to strengthen her powers.
There would be no elections for five years, she declared. There will be a referendum to get the approval of the people! The privatisation of the phosphate industry (long resisted by workers' action) will go ahead now and so will the rest of the programme of the World Bank.
"We need the money!" the president blurted out. She continued: "Some people will be opposed. We will not put them in prison, but in a hotel, feed them and stop them talking!"
Siritunga Jayasuriya, secretary of the USP, commented: "People will react, there will be a boomerang effect - A big tsunami against the government."
'Voice of the Tsunami people'
WITH THE help of the thousands of donations that have been made in the last four weeks to the Campaign Sri Lanka, our comrades have picked themselves up and started out on the campaigning road once more.
Many visits have been made from Colombo to the stricken areas of Galle, Matara, Hambantota, Pottuvil and the North to assist the homeless comrades and comfort the families who have lost loved ones. All the journeys cost money in hiring vehicles and buying petrol and that is supplied by the funds collected.
This week the USP is bringing out the first 2005 issue of their bilingual paper - Red Star. Also a special broadsheet will go to the camps - Voice of the Tsunami People. It will take up the immediate problems of the victims of the crisis and put forward aspects of the USP's socialist programme, including real workers' and poor people's control over the emergency programmes through directly elected representatives at all levels.
The demand for a convention of workers, the displaced and poor people to discuss the emergency and prepare a fight against the government is being taken up and circulated throughout the trade union movement by the Government Press Union. The comrades are hoping for press and TV coverage for the launch of this idea.
The party is also preparing posters and leaflets to demand action from the government to get people back on their feet and no return to war.
AT COLOMBO airport, much aid has been blocked and requisitioned by the government. (This includes supplies sent from the CWI.) Under the guise of appearing even-handed, they are ensuring their own supporters get looked after first! CWI members are not going to rest until these goods are released.
Money and other forms of aid have been pouring into the Socialist Party office and the CWI headquarters in London. The cargo dispatched by ship to Colombo over a week ago will arrive shortly. However, it will cost between $150 and $200 dollars for each journey made to deliver the goods where they are needed.
The USP has also received donations collected by their CWI comrades in India amounting to a very large sum for them of about $400. The comrades of the Parti Socialis Malaysia also made collections and sent $300. Comrades in Pakistan and Kashmir have also been showing their solidarity.
In Sweden and Australia CWI members have raised excellent sums. In Israel, members of Maavak Socialisti have collected $200, which again is a large sum for them. And from the USA this week we received $1,370.
In The Socialist 29 January 2005: