Northern Sri Lanka reawakening after 30 years' war

08:40, February 01, 2010      

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by Sudara Jothimuni

As the 30-year-long civil war between Sri Lanka's government troops and Tamil tiger rebels ended in May 2009, the war affected northern Jaffna peninsula, the economic and cultural capital for the island's minority Tamils is reawakening after the endless suffering.

According to Jaffna District Secretary and Government Agent K. Ganesh, there are hundreds of development projects launched by the government to enhance the livelihood in the district, about 390 km north of the capital Colombo

Agriculture is the major livelihood of the 550,000 people living in the peninsula with paddy, vegetables, fruit as its main crops.

Ganesh said about 60 percent of Jaffna's population depends on agriculture and the cultivated lands are rich with red-yellow soil is unique in Sri Lanka.

The resources of Jaffna have not been put to effective use for the past few decades due to the restrictions imposed on the peninsula during the war, said Ganesh.

"We have been able to resettle about 26,000 families who were displaced by the recently concluded civil war and staying at welfare camps in the peninsula," Ganesh said.

The government provided them with basic facilities while water and sanitation projects are being built with the aid of foreign funds, he said.

The district secretary said pure drinking water is still a problem and the government has started a drinking and irrigation water project under the financial assistance of the World Bank.

Ganesh said there were electricity restrictions in the peninsula before eliminating the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), but now Jaffna people could enjoy 24 hour electricity without any interruption.

However, only 80 percent of people have access to electricity and the government plans to reach 100 percent capacity by 2011.

Jaffna's fisheries industry, which had been under severe restrictions in the last 30 years, now had a new chance to develop as the fishing community can go fishing all 24 hours.

K. K. Dharmalingam, assistant director of Fisheries Department for the Jaffna district said 9,000 fishing craft are being operated there by 6,000 fishermen, but all of craft are one-day ones, not suitable for deep sea fishing.

He said that 50 percent of the fishing harvest in Jaffna is used for the consumption within the peninsula and the balance is sent to Colombo and other areas.

"Now, the daily collection is being increased and the lack of harbor facilities and modern fishing vessels are the main problems of the fisheries industry," Dharmalingam said.

Ganesh said the government has identified the problems and as a first step to increase the harvest, the government will set up a 20-million-rupee (about 174,000 U.S. dollars) worth ice plant in Jaffna.

However, S. Thavalingam, a fisherman displaced by the war and stayed in a welfare camp in Jaffna, said the government should provide multi-day craft to the fishermen.

Mary Victor, displaced by the civil war and now settled near Jaffna town, said the government is looking after them, but the drinking water and toilet problems still persist.

She said the government provides them with dry rations and a daily allowance of 25 rupees (about 0.22 dollars).

The government has opened A9 highway which is the road connecting the north and the majority Sinhalese dominated south after defeating the LTTE in May 2009.

Now, the transportation through the A9 road is increasing and tens of thousand people are going to Jaffna through the highway to see the area which had not been touched by southerners for 30 years.

Southern Buddhists have also started pilgrims to Jaffna. About 30,000 people from the south came in the weekend to worship the peninsula's famous Buddhist temple called Nagadeepa.

Chief monk of the temple Nawandagala Paduma Kiththi Tissa said the number of visitors has increased heavily with the conclusion of the war and the opening of the A9 road.

A pilgrim, H. Sumith from Panadura, a town close to the capital Colombo, said worshipping Nagadeepa temple had been a dream for him for years but they could not afford the air fare to fly Jaffna but now it has come true.

"We came with 28 people by a bus along the A9 road and came to the island by a boat. There is a boat service and they charge just 30 rupees (about 0.26 dollar) for up and down trip," Sumith said.

W. P. G. N. Wasantha, Officer in Charge of the Naval Base of Nainativu island near the temple, said they have ensured the security of the pilgrims who visit Nagadeepa temple by deploying over 100 naval personnel.

K. P. Satyapalan, a trader in Jaffna town said the prices of essential goods in Jaffna had been very high, but now they are decreasing as transportation of goods to the peninsula by road was started several months ago.

He said that racism has ruined the livelihood of the peninsula and now it is finally ended.

"We can live in peace with the Sinhalese and Muslims here as our childhood days," Satyapalan said.

Assistant Superintendant of Police in Jafffna Nihal Mendis said thousands of people are coming from the south not only to Buddhist temples but also to Hindu Kovils (shrines).

A. Ketheswaran, Regional Director of Health Services in Jaffna said there are 38 government hospitals in his area including one teaching hospital in Jaffna town.

"Lack of human resources in the heath sector is the main problem. We have only 28 medical officers for 30 hospitals," Ketheswaran said.

He said some hospitals were destroyed by clashes years ago and yet to be reconstructed.

Drugs for the hospitals are provided by the Ministry of Health, he said, adding that there is a need for the rehabilitation of the damaged or destroyed hospitals.

Ketheswaran said they have started an emergency ambulance service but they have only 18 ambulances. "We need five more", he said.

Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama promised to provide five ambulances and he directed Foreign Secretary Romesh Jayasinghe to do so.

Bogollagama said he will take these health issues to international aid agencies and promised to negotiate with Sri Lankan expatriate abroad to invest in private hospitals in Jaffna too.

The foreign minister, usually appears in the public with coat and tie, followed the style of his Tamil folks to be naked to the waist when he participated in a Tamil religious ceremony in a Hindu kovil during his short visit to Jaffna on Saturday.

Jaffna was a city of intellectuals in early 1970s, but the education was later blocked by terrorism for three decades, Bogollagama said, adding that he will negotiate with the international community to get back the education to the past track.

"After defeating the LTTE, we have a very good opportunity to enhance the tourism industry in the peninsula. There are lots of historical, religious sites as well as beautiful beach in the peninsula," Bogollagama said.

The foreign minister invited tourists from all around the world to come to the peninsula and enjoy the untouched Sri Lankan northern beauty.

He explained the need of enhancing the hospitality industry in Jaffna, including the establishment of a hotel school there and improve facilities in Palaly Airport in Jaffna.

Bogollagama said the Foreign Ministry has decided to expand its consular services to Jaffna because thousands of Jaffna people live abroad and it is difficult for them to reach Colombo.

Noticing the peninsula's fishing production has decreased from 4,000 metric tons per month in 1981 to the current level of 1,700 metric tons because of the war, the ministry vows to take all possible efforts to increase the production.

Source: Xinhua
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