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Rediff.com  » News » Tsunami relief: UN report slams India

Tsunami relief: UN report slams India

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February 15, 2006 20:14 IST
A special report released here last week said the governments of South and Southeast Asian countries, including India, are violating the human rights of their own citizens as tsunami survivors endure discrimination, inadequate housing and assaults one year after the tragedy devastated the region.

Miloon Kothari, an expert who serves as Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights on adequate housing, and serves in an independent personal capacity, said that the report shows government officials squandered the opportunity to protect women, children and other vulnerable citizens as relief and recovery operations took hold.

Tsunami: Waves of destruction

'Ninety percent of the people are still living in sub-standard housing,' said Kothari during a press conference, referring to the 1.8 million to 2.5 million people displaced by the December 26, 2004 disaster.

He said many people still do not have access to basic services such as water and sanitation. Women, especially widows and single women, have been left out of the recovery process and their physical safety has been compromised as incidents of domestic violence increase, he added.

Kothari wrote a foreword to the 64-page report, titled 'Tsunami Response: A Human Rights Assessment,' that was to be sent to former United States president Bill Clinton, who is now Secretary-General Kofi Annan's Special Envoy for Tsunami-affected Countries.

The report was prepared by three international aid groups: ActionAid International, Johannesburg; PDHRE, People's Movement for Human Rights Learning, New York City; and Habitat International Coalition, New Delhi.

The report found that governments in some areas have created so-called buffer zones to stop people from rebuilding along the coast on the pretext of safety. This action jeopardized the livelihoods of people who relied on the sea for their livelihood even as commercial groups, such as a tourist resort in Andhra Pradesh in India, were given access to the land, the report said.

Among its 10 recommendations, the report calls for the UN system to play a larger role in monitoring human rights compliance and for the international community, including global institutions providing financing to the devastated areas, to integrate human rights into their humanitarian donor policies.

India to develop tsunami warning system

Speaking at the press conference to launch the report Kothari said the report demonstrated clearly that, in the face of such an overwhelming tragedy, governments had failed to uphold the human rights to food, health, housing and livelihood of their most vulnerable citizens. Large numbers of survivors were forced to live in conditions that failed to meet criteria stipulated by international human rights standards which all the affected countries had signed and ratified, he added.

Shockingly, Kothari pointed out, said, a majority of those people were still living in temporary shelters while many others remained mired in unacceptably rudimentary conditions that were similar to the emergency relief shelters set up in the tsunami's immediate aftermath. Still others were forced to live in damaged homes due to the lack of available or suitable alternatives.

Kothari said that the living conditions in most areas were poor, and many people still lacked access to such basic services as water, sanitation and health care and reconstruction efforts were plagued by serious delays and had not been given the priority they so urgently warranted.

Karisiddamma Edward, a representative of a tsunami-affected community in Tamil Nadu who also addressed the press conference, said that in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami, members of her community had been excluded from disaster relief merely for being from a lower caste. They had been left with no food, water or shelter.

She said that the 'Dalits' and 'tribal' communities suffered severe discrimination, including prohibitions barring them from education, as well as from temples and water sources used by members of higher castes. In one village, survivors had not been allowed to stay in the local tsunami relief center and the government had refused to give them assistance because nobody from that village had died.

Judy De Vadawason, representative of a tsunami-affected community in Trincomalee, Sri Lanka, the war-affected eastern part of the island nation where people had been neglected for 15 years, said the tsunami had displaced some people several times, especially women and children, who were the most marginalized. While households headed by single women were entitled to about $150 in compensation for a child killed by the tsunami, each such mother had to bring in the dead child's father, even if he had left his wife to raise the child on her own. The compensation money was then given to the former husband.

Also attending the press conference was Ramesh Singh, Executive Director of Action Aid International, who said the report showed that there had been a breach of the trust offered by those who had emptied their pockets and expressed their solidarity to the tsunami survivors and the governments which had grossly failed to uphold the human rights of the vulnerable and marginalized people whose lives the tsunami had devastated even more.

The international development community, particularly financing institutions that were pouring in money, should make sure that their plans and programs embraced human rights standards as well as economic growth indicators, he said.

Minar Pimple, Executive Director of People's Movement for Human Rights Learning, moderated the press conference and also introduced a short film, Human Rights after the Tsunami, showing the disaster's impact on communities in India, the Maldives and Sri Lanka.

'We loved the sea, now we hate it'

Asked about coastal communities being forced off their land to make way for commercial and tourism development, Edward said removals were nothing new and had been going on for some 20 years. But the tsunami had made it easier for the government to use the pretext that the removals were for community protection.

In response to a question De Vadawason said that the Tamil minority in the eastern and northern parts of Sri Lanka was marginalized. Marginalized groups in other countries included Muslims in southern Thailand, Cambodians, Burmese and other undocumented aliens in India as well as members of settlements on India's Andaman and Nicobar islands.

Suma Guha Mozumder at the United Nations
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