Accessibility links

Breaking News

Town of Hambantota, Sri Lanka Regains Some Normalcy After Tsunami a Year Ago


Nearly a year after the Indian Ocean tsunami swept across the shores of 12 countries, many communities are still struggling to recover. In Sri Lanka, Patricia Nunan revisited the town of Hambantota, where she tracked down some people she met just after the disaster, to gauge how recovery is going there.

Sri Lanka's southern coast, where thousands of fisherman have returned to the sea in the months since the tsunami. They rely on the sea to support their families. Many, like the men in the town of Hambantota, know no other way of life. On December 26th, 2004, that way of life was torn apart.

Of Sri Lanka's thousands of coastal towns and villages, those in Hambantota district were the worst hit by the tsunami waters. Roughly 5,000 were killed, among the more than 30,000 lives lost nationwide. Now, the damaged boats are fewer, and signs of recovery in Hambantota abound.

Despite the outpouring of international assistance in the tsunami's wake, it wasn't enough to ease the fears of many, who were unsure the town or its people would ever truly recover.

Weeks after the deadly waves, Mohammed Darooq, a fish wholesaler, said at times he was afraid to even look at the ocean. But he was encouraged by the global response to the crisis, which eventually exceeded the $2 billion promised to Sri Lanka alone.

"I think it will recover in a positive way - with all these foreign countries giving money to the government. Because of that money, I'm hopeful,” he said.

Still, Darooq has grown cynical. Before the tsunami, as a fish wholesaler, he earned a comfortable $300 a month. Now, he just works at the local market. He'd like to expand his business to what it once was, but can't afford to take out a loan.

"Working here, I earn just enough to cover my cost of living. I'd use up my daily earnings to pay back a loan."

There's no doubt the international response has helped.

The Sri Lankan government has launched several rehabilitation programs, including the provision of thousands of new boats to help fishermen return to work. It's also launched an ambitious housing project to help those who were left homeless by the tsunami's wrath.

For M.W. Sahardeen, the losses were far more personal. "Wife, three children-- all destroyed,” he said.

A school teacher, Mr. Sahardeen lost his wife, two daughters and an infant son to the tsunami when it swept onto the spot where his home once stood.

Although he and his surviving daughter were eligible for a new home provided by the government, it would be a few kilometers away from the sea for safety -- in the event of another tsunami. But Mr. Sahardeen was reluctant to leave the place where his family perished.

Now, Mr. Sahardeen is back at work. After months of living in a temporary shelter, he decided to take the government's offer of a new house on the outskirts of town, in part to move on from the tragedy.

He says he's pleased at how far Hambantota has come since the tsunami. Still, memories of what happened are never far from his mind.

"When you look from the outside at the tsunami's effects, it appears as if we've just lost our houses and possessions - things you can see,” he told us. “But it's much more than that. I lost my family to the tsunami. They're dead. So when they come to mind, it's very hard to escape feelings of grief. We're just people."

Mostly he says, for the sake of his surviving daughter, he has no other choice but to just keep going.