09/18/2007, 00.00
INDIA
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Church against state government over missing tsunami funds

by Nirmala Carvalho
Three years since the devastating tsunami, a priest in Kerala slams the state government for not handing out the money allocated for the victims. The state’s co-operation minister acknowledges that the money has not yet been distributed but rejects claims that the authorities are favouring certain ethnic or religious groups over others.

Alappuzha (AsiaNews) – Almost three years since a tsunami devastated southern India, the government of the state of Kerala “has not yet distributed the funds for reconstruction that should have gone to the victims rather than the ruling groups irrespective or race or religion,” this according to Fr Thomas Kocherry, founder of the  National Fishworkers' Forum. Speaking to AsiaNews the clergyman said that his group “wanted the government to show the audit for the 2004 tsunami funds. These [funds] should go to the real victims irrespective of social class or religion.”

Kerala’s Co-operation Minister G. Sudhakaran rejected the claims, saying that “there has been no discrimination of any kind. This is political manipulation by the United Democratic Front which is trying to pit the Church against the government. In reality, funds have not been distributed because there are so many claims each of which must be carefully examined.”

But this is what makes matters worse for Father Kocherry and many humanitarian workers because it is taking too long to rehabilitate tsunami-affected areas.

“Distributing money can’t wait any longer. Coastal communities are living in terrible conditions and we must do something to help them,” he said.

According to Fr Anthony Thota, who coordinates the tsunami campaign for the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME), the delay in distributing funds is caused by “politicians’ corruption but also because holding money will be useful in upcoming election campaigns.”

In addition, he noted that “India turned down international aid money after the tragedy.”

The December 26, 2004, tsunami affected most of the coastline around the Indian Ocean. About 226,000 people are known to have died, but tens of thousands of people remain unaccounted for. Some 3 to 5 million people are still displaced. In India the tsunami killed about 15,000 people.

 

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