Kajeema Watte Residents Return Home
By Nabiya Vaffoor
After spending nearly 25 days at a community hall without knowing what lies ahead of them, 12 families of a total of 27 who lost their houses in the sudden fire that broke out on 15 March at Kajeema Waththa, Thotalanga returned to wooden houses put up by a few good Samaritans who came together.
The joint partnership also provided relief items to the families who were affected by the fire in Kajeema Watte, Thotalanga on 15 March. The relief packs contained kitchen utensils, family clothing pack, children’s clothing, infant pack, COVID protection kit, hygiene kit, educational kit and a school uniform kit.
This joint venture was carried out under the patronage of the Asia Pacific Alliance for Disaster Management (A-PAD) Sri Lanka, on 9 April at Kajeema Waththa, Thotalanga.
A-PAD organised this event in coordination with the Disaster Management Centre (DMC), Colombo District Secretariat and the military led by Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) and HSBC.
A total of four aligned blocks consisting of 27 houses are being built with timber frames and walls complete with corrugated aluminum sheet roofs.
Each house will have an approximate floor area of 200 square feet when completed. The renovation project is carried out under the supervision of the Directorate of Civil Engineering of the SLAF.
When we visited the location, a couple of residents shared their thoughts with us regarding the refurbished shelters that were being given to them.
“It was nearly 23 days that we had spent in relief camps. It was a difficult experience. Though we managed to escape the accident, we still feel insecure when we recall that memory. Thank god none of us faced any casualty. We have been living here for nearly six years. Everything that we earned in these six years was invested in this space. A small wooden cupboard, table fans, utensils and my children’s books and their certificates turned into cinders in a matter of minutes. We were helpless but we are still thankful that the authorities found a way to help us out by even building this shelter. Though it’s going to be hard now, since we have to start from scratch,” lamented Siththi Inaya and Fayas.
We saw for ourselves the residents lament when we visited the location. The shelters are just 200 square feet and covered with wood and roofing sheets. There shelters are cheek by jowl with no space between each other and the floor was broken. The 200 square foot shelter will be jam-packed when furniture is placed. It will be next to impossible for them to find sleeping room when furniture, kitchen utensils and other things a family with four or more members need.
“However, we are planning to keep valuable documents with relatives. We can’t afford to lose everything repeatedly. Though we are aware of the danger that looms living in such congested accommodation, we have nowhere else to go and have no other choice because of the poor circumstances we are faced with. Though the Gramasevaka spoke on our behalf, other authorities such as the Urban Development Authority refused to give us individual flats. We are thankful that at least some private companies took the initiative to help us in such hard times,” said another resident with two children.
Meanwhile, residents were ever so thankful to those who rose to the occasion in their time of need.
“We were thankful although the Government did not give us any flats or any assistance whatsoever, the authorities did their best to find a solution and help us rebuild our shelters. It’s difficult for 30 t0 40 shelters to manage with a single toilet, since we have no individual toilets in these shelters. It would be great if the Government could actually help us by relocating us in flats so that at least we will have decent toilet facilities inside the house,” Nadeeka and Pradeep added.
Some of the residents were disappointed that the Government had turned a deaf ear to their plight.
Sharmila did not hide her disappointment and said, “They know that we are helpless and can do nothing. They give us an address when we have to pay our utility bills and tell us we could vote as this address was valid but when we request for a better place to live, they refuse saying that these houses are unauthorized constructions. This is not fair at all. At least if they feel sorry for us and help us in the rebuilding process that would be a relief otherwise we would fall into severe debt if we rebuild.”
Clean air to breath, good food to eat, and clean drinking water are basic needs of every human being but in third world countries such as Sri Lanka, some might find it really challenging to afford the above. It is inequitable to find that in a country where a part of society has even separate holiday mansions while the other suffers to eke out an existence finding it difficult to make ends meet and not be affected by another rainy night.
But aren’t the poor who cannot even afford a decent shelter paying the same percentage of taxes as the affluent? Aren’t these taxes meant to develop the country to wipe out poverty? How long will we have to continue seeing shanties burn to the ground? And being rebuilt in the same way in the same location putting these lives in danger once again? For how long more will we be another third world country?
Pix by Kelum Chamara