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January 3, 2005

Dr Ariyaratne’s Open Letter to the World



_An Open Appeal to H.E. the President, The Leader of the Opposition, The Leader of the LTTE, Leaders of All Political Parties, The International Community, Public Officials, The Business Leaders, The Clergy, The Professionals, The Media, Civil Society Leaders and all Citizens of Sri Lanka_

*A Single Minded National Vision and United Action by All the Only Way Forward For Sri Lanka*

I have dedicated 50 years of my life to see Sri Lanka and its most precious resource – its people – attain economic, social, political and spiritual empowerment. The Sarvodaya Movement, to which many colleages and I dedicated a majority of our lives, was established with the intent of creating an equitable society based upon the Gandhian values of truth, non-violence, and self-sacrifice rooted in indigenous cultural and religious traditions and governed by the ideals of participatory democracy.

It is over 50 years since Sri Lanka gained independence. Unfortunately, the lack of statesmanship and a binding single-minded vision and commitment to a united and effective action programme by all, sans race, religious, language, caste, and other differences have resulted in Sri Lanka’s failure to achieve the true potential of its people and resources. Over this period, the nation and its people appear to have regressed economically, socially, and spiritually relative to its neighbors and its endowed capability. All leaders of Sri Lankan society must bear responsibility for this self-inflicted slow process of degeneration. The recent catastrophe appears to have dealt a fatal blow to the dreams of steady growth. The unexpected earthquake, more powerful than many atomic bombs bursting at the same time, and the economic and social consequences of the unexpected tsunami could even push the nation and its people to a level of bare survival in the future.

Last week, using the basic resources available to me, my two feet and the four wheels of a vehicle, I traveled deep into the south of the island. Similarly I have had (on 31st and 1st Jan. 2005) the opportunity to travel to all parts of the affected North and East. What I have witnessed has saddened me beyond my worst fears. I am left wondering whether this calamity is not only the scientifically established consequence of an earthquake, but also carries some retribution for leadership and civil action of all Sri Lankans over the past 50 years, devoid of an united nationalistic binding value system that is aligned to the teachings of our venerated religious teachers.

The road sides were yet littered with rotting bodies along with many more in hospitals and centers. What I witnessed was that officials, common people, and resources were ineffectively deployed with no organized leadership action outside a few stretched officials and NGOs doing their best. The food distribution was ineffective (in many places donated food, clothing, and other items remaining in piles). Most importantly, the traumatized victims remined ignored and uncared for. There were signs of lawlessness with criminal and unruly elements wielding power in the absence of proper law enforcement. Above all, there appeared to be many curious and uncaring bystanders permitted to be engaged in sightseeing in the midst of death and misery. Priority and effectiveness in dealing with humane issues, alleviating the impact on victims, and disaster management in general were far below acceptable levels.

Sarvodaya’s own assessment of the total number of dead and missing taken across the island may even come closer to 50,000 and homeless persons well in excess of one million. This is a disaster of a magnitude never experienced before in Sri Lanka and easily exceeds the commonly quoted disasters of Kobe and California when taken in the context of comparative resource/population ratios. The next wave of likely disaster consequences on the health of the people, shortage of drinking water, effects of improper sanitation conditions and the adverse environmental issues can be explosive and of unmanageable proportions. The likely economic consequences in the next few months directly on the victims as well as indirectly on the people in general will require not only resources beyond the presently stretched budgetary provisions, but equally importantly a planned national disaster management and rehibilitation capability as well.

Have we even come to terms with enormity of the present relief management challenge, the trauma management capability requirements, the challenge of managing the emerging health and sanitation issues, economic and social needs in the next three months of the direct and indirect disaster victims, and above all the huge rehabilitation initiative that needs to follow?

Do we as Sri Lankans just wait and watch while continuing to play divisive politics in the same vein as done before, looking for quick profit opportunities, seeking personal and political power gains, preaching but not practicing and allowing our ego and past events to colour our judgment and govern future action? In the alternative, should not the whole of civil society single-mindedly resolve that we as resilient and courageous people become determined to rise from the ashes by taking lessons frm history and rebuild our nation and its people engaging all Sri Lankans and our friends across the globe in the process? Should we not approach this challenge as people of one nation bound together only by a single-minded vision and leadership action forgetting all differences, petty past issues and personal interests and place the interest of the nation and its people in the forefront of all common action?

Dear leaders, we need to mobilize all segments of Sri Lankan society, our international friends and the Diaspora. Whilst handling the immediate and short-term tasks we need to prepare a master plan under a national vision and support it with an agreed united action plan that will surely realize the dream and bring economic, social, and spiritual empowerment for all Sri Lankans. There is no time for rhetoric or vacillation as the time for action is now. We need united action by children, teenagers, adults, the disabled, and the aged, all engaged with commitment, collectively as one people single-mindedly supporting the tasks ahead.

_The Only Way Forward for Sri Lanka is a Single-Minded National Vision and United Action by All Segments of Society Under Statesmanship-Oriented Leadership Action by All Leaders. Signaling the beginning of this way forward, could the leaders agree to work together for a specified period, harnessing expertise and networks of each other, and having the national interest in focus?_

Dr. A.T. Ariyaratne
Founder – President
Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement

Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement for the People in Need.