The Tsunami in Sri Lanka - One Year On
PERALIYA, Sri Lanka - Sri Lanka will pay emotional tribute on Monday to an estimated 31,000 people killed by the Asian tsunami exactly a year ago with a two-minute silence and coast-to-coast candlelight vigils.
As officials launch a new initiative to speed up slow-moving reconstruction work, President Mahinda Rajapakse will lead commemorative ceremonies with an address in the southern village of Peraliya.
More than 1,000 passengers perished here when their train was smashed by the giant waves.
"We hope everyone will observe the silence to remember those who died in the tsunami," said media minister Anura Priyadharshana Yapa.
"We will launch the 'Jaya Lanka' project to coordinate all tsunami-related work and ensure faster reconstruction of homes as well as livelihoods," he added.
The official Ceylon Tourist Board is launching a candlelight vigil along the island nation's coast.
In the eastern coastal town of Arugam Bay, one of the worst affected areas, residents said they planned to offer free lunch to people still without homes after the tsunami.
The planned ceremonies have been marred by fears of Tamil rebel attacks and organisers said security has been stepped up for the president's visit here, some 95 kilometres (60 miles) south of the capital Colombo.
At least 64 people have been killed this month alone in violence linked to the long-running Tamil separatist conflict.
The tsunami initially raised hopes of a peace deal but the government and Tamil Tiger rebels squabbled over sharing billions of dollars in foreign aid.
Reconstruction efforts have been moving slowly, with the government on Saturday admitting that only one fifth of homes damaged -- 20,000 of 98,525 -- have been rebuilt.
"There have been several constraints. The local capacity constraint. The construction industry capacity... and the lack of labour and materials," said Finance Secretary P.B. Jayasundera.
However, he said he expected the reconstruction efforts to accelerate next year under the Jaya Lanka ('Victory Lanka') initiative.
The project aims to gather all state tsunami-relief organisations under one umbrella to improve coordination.
With more than 350 private charities and more than a dozen state organisations involved in rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts, there had been wasteful overlapping of work, an independent think-tank said recently.
Sri Lanka marks the first anniversary of the tsunami with officials still unable to reconcile death tolls from different state agencies. The numbers vary from 17,500 to 41,000 deaths.
The loss of infrastructure was estimated at 900 million dollars and the country's total reconstruction and rehabilitation needs were placed at 2.2 billion dollars.
The government has said it received 3.2 billion dollars in aid pledges from international donors. - AFP/ir