Amid the bloodshed and devastation in Sri Lanka's troubled north and east, renewed fighting on this Indian Ocean island has claimed another unintended casualty.
The ecumenical Action by Churches Together (ACT) group has extended significant funds to build hundreds of houses for those left homeless by the tsunami two years ago. But tsunami reconstruction has completely stopped in the army-controlled Jaffna peninsula, the rebel-controlled Vanni region, and the restive east.
"There is no way churches can go ahead with tsunami reconstruction," Milton Solomon, a senior pastor of the Jaffna diocese of the Church of South India, told CT in February.
The government has banned transport of construction material, such as cement and iron bars, to areas controlled by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The group has waged a bloody campaign since 1983 for autonomy for ethnic Tamil areas in the north and east.
Norway brokered a 2002 ceasefire, which halted the death toll near 65,000. But the fragile truce collapsed after Mahinda Rajapakse won the 2005 presidential election with the support of Sinhala nationalist parties. Re-newed fighting has claimed more than 4,000 lives.
The crucial A9 highway that runs through the LTTE-controlled Vanni region, the only land route to the Jaffna peninsula, has been closed by the government since August 2006. Practically banned by the government from entering rebel areas, charity workers have halted their reconstruction work.
"In Jaffna, forget about construction material. Even the prices of essential food items have shot up by ten times" since the highway closed, Solomon said.
Churches have "now forgotten the tsunami reconstruction targets and are trying to help" the half-million people on the Jaffna peninsula survive the fighting, Solomon said. But providing shelter for war refugees has incited the Sri Lankan army to raid churches, according to Compass Direct.
World Vision has built more than 95 percent of the planned 2,000 houses in the trouble-free south, inhabited by the Sinhala-speaking Buddhist majority. But only one-third of the 1,400 houses planned in the north and east have been completed. Some frustrated charities have diverted resources toward reconstruction in Indonesia.
"We have not given up and hope things will improve," said Marianne Albina, communications manager for World Vision's Sri Lanka tsunami response team.
Funds donated by Caritas International lie untouched in the bank, because the Roman Catholic diocese of Jaffna halted its housing program after completing only 20 percent of 1,460 permanent houses for tsunami victims. Bombing has destroyed some reconstructed homes in LTTE-controlled areas.
The fighting is a "second tsunami," according to Kingsley Pereira, chairman of the National Christian Council of Sri Lanka, which represents eight major Protestant churches.
"Normally, money is the biggest hurdle to help the victims of calamities," Pereira said. "Here we have plenty of money but cannot help the people."
The 2004 tsunami killed more than 31,000 people in Sri Lanka and displaced more than a half-million, according to government estimates. Indonesia counted at least 200,000 casualties.
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Other Christianity Today articles on Sri Lanka include:
Soaking in BloodAgain | Sri Lankan violence costs 1,000 lives. Relief efforts set back. (September 27, 2006)
Tsunami Survivors Desperate for Aid | Christian groups worldwide mobilize massive relief effort to South Asia. (December 1, 2004)
Disaster Prompts 'Neighborly Love' | The director of Youth for Christ in Sri Lanka meets Christian survivors straining to deliver aid to victims despite their own losses. (December 1, 2004)
Temptations in Disaster | A ministry leader in Sri Lanka advises his colleagues on spiritual disciplines during a crisis. (December 1, 2004)
Our full coverage of the 2004 tsunami is available on our site.
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