01/27/2005, 00.00
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Government plans penalise fishermen and Church

by Danielle Vella

Colombo (AsiaNews) – The Catholic Church in Sri Lanka has voiced its opposition to a government directive regarding post-Tsunami construction. The authorities want to impose a 100 m, possibly 200 m, limit from the coast on towns and villages affected by the tsunami.

Not only will fishing communities recovering from the devastation wreaked by the seaquake be hardest hit but so will the Church, this according to Fr Sunil de Silva, secretary to the Archbishop of Colombo, Mgr Oswald Gomis.

Speaking to AsiaNews, Fr de Silva said that "the 100 m rule has caused protests because most fishermen are used to living right by the sea. The Church and the Opposition are protesting because such a restriction would make fishermen helpless".

There are also fears that the planned restriction will weaken the position of the Church itself because, as Father de Silva explained, "around one-third of fishermen are Catholics, and we are concerned that Catholic communities will be dispersed if this rule is implemented, and the strength of the Church would be diminished."

Human rights activists have also drawn attention to the fact that survivors have been shut out of the consultation process and their needs have hardly been considered.

For instance, Fr de Silva points out, the authorities want to build four-storey concrete blocks, but "this is not what people want".

"I don't think the government is ignoring survivors' needs and wishes," he said, "but it is time [it] and the people to reach a consensus."

A consensus is still, however, far off. People have more immediate needs; too many are still waiting for a home whilst the rehabilitation, which the government had announced, has not yet started.

"The government has yet to begin reconstruction," Father de Silva said. "People have been waiting and waiting, well aware it will take time to build houses, that it will not happen in three or four days, [but they] have done what they could do; the second stage is up to the government."

The Church is not waiting for the government though. It has embarked on its own rehabilitation projects: houses are being built or repaired, and in some areas, people have been resettled.

Father de Silva stressed that assisting fishermen, housing and schools top the list of priorities.

On Tuesday, the Archbishop of Colombo, Oswald Gomis, called a special meeting to map out the second phase of intervention. Three offices will be set up—one in each affected region—for survivors to come and seek help.

A month after the tragedy, Father de Silva points out, the spirit of solidarity shown by tsunami survivors remains strong—regardless of ethnicity or religion—and the bulk of Church aid is going east where the need is greatest.

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See also
Mullaithivu, the tsunami and the civil war
A “second tsunami” hits Sri Lankan fishermen
Tamil Nadu fishermen ask state government for safe homes not far from the shore
In the diocese of Pondicherry-Cuddalore, 76 boats go back to sea after the tsunami
New boats for fishermen who survived the tsunami


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