INDEPENDENT NEWS

Cablegate: Ambassador's Visit to Tsunami-Hit Atoll in Maldives

Published: Mon 11 Apr 2005 11:29 AM
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 COLOMBO 000697
SIPDIS
SENSITIVE
E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL PTER EAID CE
SUBJECT: AMBASSADOR'S VISIT TO TSUNAMI-HIT ATOLL IN MALDIVES
1. (SBU) SUMMARY: Ambassador visited badly-damaged atoll in
south Maldives. Temporary shelter for those who lost houses
is well-planned, with community involvement. Most residents
of severely-affected islands are willing to relocate to
larger island. Maldives officials insist no one will be
forced to move. Reconstruction plan is thorough and
detailed. We believe US assistance will be well-spent. END
SUMMARY.
2. (U) During early-April visit to Maldives to assess
post-tsunami reconstruction programs, GORM arranged for
Ambassador to visit Laamu Atoll, about one hundred miles
south of Male. Ambassador was escorted on this trip by
Ministry of Planning Director Mr. Imaad and by Laamu Atoll
Chief Moosa. (NOTE: In the immediate aftermath of the
tsunami the U.S. military did extensive relief work in Laamu
SIPDIS
Atoll.)
3. (U) Laamu contains two islands--Mundoo and
Kalhaidhoo--which suffered severe tsunami damage. GORM hopes
to relocate entire population--some 1250 people--of these two
islands to the atoll capital of Gaamu. Tour began with visit
to temporary shelter sites on Gaamu for Mundoo and Kalhaidhoo
inhabitants. Shelters were located in two disused garment
factories and housed 200 persons (Mundoo) and 85 persons
Kalhaidhoo In each building, plywood sheets had been used to
construct private space for each family. Spaces had doors
and locks. Each family unit had a ceiling fan. Space was
allocated by size of family. Bathroom facilities were
located in each building, and also two washing machines.
Residents ate in a communal kitchen. Residents themselves
prepared meals, cleaned sanitary facilities, etc. on a
rotating schedule. Construction and upgrading of shelters
was being carried out, as far as possible, by residents
themselves. Most men were not in camp in mid-morning as they
had obtained work in Gaamu. Children were bussed to school
each day to nearby school. However, they were kept together
at school instead of being scattered throughout school
community.
4. (U) Ambassador was able to interview (through an
interpreter) several camp inhabitants. All were satisfied
with services they had received. Asked whether they wished to
remain in Gaamu in promised new housing or return to their
home islands, they said they preferred to stay in Gaamu where
services were better. Inhabitants had received psycho-social
counseling for two months after the tsunami. (n.b. American
Red Cross has provided training in this area.)
5. (U) Ambassador then visited Kalhaidhoo Island. Island is
situated on east side of atoll and has long sloping beach,
which intensified tsunami damage. During tsunami, island was
covered with up to 6-7 feet of water, and three people died.
Property damage was extensive, with many houses completely
destroyed and large heavy water tanks knocked off their bases
and carried long distances. Salt water had killed almost all
mango, breadfruit and guava trees which residents used for
income. Entire population of island was evacuated to Gaamu
immediately following tsunami. Those whose houses were
relatively intact or who could stay with relatives returned
to await final plans for reconstruction.
6. (U) Ambassador was able to talk extensively with the
island's "Women's Committee," who described their horrific
experiences when tsunami hit. (Most men were off fishing.)
An energetic discussion about relocation to Gaamu revealed
that most if not all wished to relocate if they were given
suitable houses and sufficient plots of land. Several
expressed their anxieties about moving to a new island, but
concluded that, all in all, the promise of a new house and
substantially improved services--education, medical, etc.--on
Gaamu made them willing to move.
7. (U) Imaad and Moosa explained that the decision to
completely relocate inhabitants of these two islands was made
because the islands were low-lying and subject to periodic
flooding, and because of the extensive tsunami damage. On
Kalhaidhoo, for instance, 47 percent of the houses were
completely destroyed. GORM officials repeated several times
that no one would be forced to move; those who wanted to stay
on their home islands could remain. Atoll Chief Moosa
speculated that "20 to 25 people" might want to stay on each
island. Officials showed detailed reconstruction plans for
Gaamu (copies being sent to SA/INS), which included housing,
repair of roads, harbors and jetties, schools, power, water
and sanitation, etc. Housing has already been pledged by Red
Cross. Entire island will have an "Environmental Protection
Zone" of 30-40 meters depth from ocean.
8. (SBU) COMMENT: The trip provided a micro view at the
atoll/island level of tsunami relief and reconstruction
efforts in Maldives. Put simply, it was extremely
impressive. Relief effort has provided what is needed in an
effective fashion, and involvement of affected persons was
particularly noticeable. Maldivians we interviewed spoke
freely and openly to us, and it is apparent that most had
decided that relocation was their best choice. GORM
officials were adamant that no one would be forced to
relocate. Reconstruction plan is thorough and detailed.
Septels will provide macro level reconstruction discussions
and recommendations on how to move forward on US assistance.
From this micro snapshot, however, we conclude that US
assistance through the national fund or some combination of
mechanisms will be well-used.
LUNSTEAD
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