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‘Tsunami-ready house’ could help Sri Lankans reclaim lives

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (BP)–One hundred meters doesn’t seem that far — but it’s a chasm preventing many Sri Lankans from returning to the lives they knew before the Dec. 26 tsunami changed everything.

The government of this South Asian island nation now prohibits most Sri Lankans from building within 100 meters of the Indian Ocean’s edge. The only exceptions: businesses that cater to tourists such as hotels.

In some areas of Sri Lanka, survivors say, tsunami waters rushed as far as 1,000 meters inland. Half a year later, scores of blue tents still blanketed a lot on one stretch of coastline. The families living in the tents — like so many other Sri Lankans — once had houses within 100 meters of the ocean. Many of them had lived there for years, some for generations. They enjoyed life on the beach and, until the tsunami, they had never experienced any significant problems living there.

“They would like to rebuild their houses if they can, but the government does not allow,” said Kumuduni Liyanage, a local resident who spoke for the families. “They think [living by the sea] is better than a tent.”

The tsunami destroyed — or damaged beyond use — more than 77,000 houses in Sri Lanka, according to official estimates. The government has promised to provide about $2,500 to each family that lost a home and $1,000 each to families with partially damaged houses. In Sri Lanka, $2,500 is enough to build a house. But because of the 100-meter restriction, many families have nowhere to rebuild. Government officials say houses or land elsewhere will be provided for displaced families, but when that will happen remains unclear.

“The people are already hopeless,” Liyanage said.

One possible solution: Teaming up with a local contractor, Southern Baptist workers have designed a two-story house they think would be better prepared to withstand a tsunami. The house would have a closed-in kitchen on the first floor and a large, open-air room that could serve as a dining or sitting room. Four additional rooms would be upstairs. The first model is scheduled for completion by the end of September.

“It will be a demonstration house,” said Riley Delk*, who has overseen the construction of several permanent houses provided for tsunami survivors by the International Mission Board. “We are inviting government officials to come see the house to consider whether it would be tsunami-ready for within 100 meters.”

The local contractor said the demonstration house under construction already has played a major role in obtaining approval to build 110 similar units on land near a creek where many houses were destroyed by the tsunami.

Many people don’t want to rebuild anywhere near the coast; they fear another tsunami may come. Some, however, make their living by the sea and need to live nearby to feed their families.

The Southern Baptist demonstration house just might be the answer to their dilemma.
*Names changed for security reasons. Goldie Frances is an IMB missionary and writer serving in south Asia.

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