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Sri Lanka's New "100 Meter Rule" Causing Concern Among Locals

In the aftermath of the December 26 tsunamis that hit southeast Asia, the Sri Lankan government has banned constructing or repairing buildings within 100 meters (about 328 feet) of the shoreline, sparking complaints from civic organizations and citizens.

The government promises that the estimated 750,000 displaced citizens of the tsunami will be given temporary homes within six months. Sri Lankan President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga announced a plan on January 19 to build 15 new townships located several miles away from beaches across the island, though details have not been released.

But many community members are unwary.

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“Many leaders are opposed to the 100 meter restriction. Protests campaigns are planned,” said Kumar Rupesinghe, the chairman of the Foundation for Co-existence, at a press conference to discuss the rebuilding process on January 20. The non-profit organization promotes transparency and conflict resolution in Sri Lanka.

The new government policy also requires those still residing within 100 meters of the coast to move. Police have been ordered to remove citizens who do not comply. But with enforcement lax and tents and relief camps still in short supply, many coastline residents have ignored the policy and continue to occupy houses and temporary shelters within 100 meters of the beach.

“The government says to stay 100 meters away from the water, but they have not told us where else to go,” says Imthiyas Careem, a resident of Hambantota, a district in southern Sri Lanka where more than 4,000 people died. Careem, along with hundreds of others, continue to stay at a relief camp that has been set up near a few pillars of a mosque that remains standing.

The ban has also caused confusion because some beachside hotels, popular with foreign tourists, have apparently been exempted from the ban and new tourism developments will be decided on a case-by-case basis, according to Sri Lanka’s Financial Times.

One government spokesperson has expressed skepticism over the plan to house displaced residents. “We will try our hardest but I personally don’t believe it is possible,” says Niranjan de Soysa, the spokesperson for Sri Lanka’s National Center of Operations, which is in charge of government post-tsunami efforts. “There’s just not enough time.”

Jen Lin-Liu

 

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