Abandoned buildings

Posted Thursday March 05, 2015 by Hazel Durbridge

One of the many settlements abandoned post tsunami

On Sunday night I experienced my first storm here. I woke about 4am to the sound of raging wind and rain and shutters and windows banging. The electricity had gone off so I had to grope around in the dark to find a candle then to the kitchen to use the gas to light it. Very few of the windows and shutters were secured so the candle kept blowing out while I was trying to tie them shut. Most are warped with the damp so don’t close properly, but I especially worried about the ones with glass breaking. It was quite scary although not much lightening and I had trouble going off to sleep.

In the morning it was torrential rain still and I hung about hoping it would stop so I could bike to work, but it didn’t and eventually I had to start walking until I got a trishaw. The trishaw guy I thought I had secured for regular lifts who had sought asylum in England for 5 years so speaks quite good English couldn’t remember where I lived just when I needed him. This afternoon I went out on my own with the council driver who speaks zero English. He lives here as a government driver. Batticaloa is a small place. It took 3 attempts to find the right co-op, via a guest house and an insurance agency. On Saturday I had to get my map of Colombo out and direct the taxi driver to a big tourist destination. He couldn’t read the map.

Sad and frustrating stuff at work today. The GA sent this guy to me who had done a report on 3 out of the 11 or so divisional areas in Batticaloa on abandoned buildings. There were over 42. These were all put up post tsunami/war with international aid and included a rice mill which is preposterous and they are looking at that, community centres, a hospital, surgeries, children’s centres, undercover markets, small factory outlets etc – poorly researched, wrong places, poor handovers, local people incapable of sustaining them. It’s not totally unknown in England – community centres and village halls are extremely difficult things to break even on let alone run at a profit, but just such waste. She wants me to come up with ideas about what we do with them.

If it was legal I would say housing BUT the second real eye opener is government benefits to displaced people. Post the war, people who were displaced are entitled to lots of help – houses, fishing permits etc. BUT if they are not what they want or where they want they just abandon the houses or flog the fishing permits to unsuitables which then causes all sorts of unsavoury goings on in the fishing industry. So you have empty houses and then people who weren’t displaced desperate for somewhere to live. It’s all best intentions that end up being bonkers.

I got my first lift on a motorbike, learnt about Maldives fish which is some weird, 4 day process derivative from tuna, 2 types of fishing net that is affecting fish sustainability and that the entire staff team of 75 in co-operative development need replacing as according to their boss, who has been in the business for 26 years (I did not state the obvious out of politeness) they are uneducated, de-motivated, lazy, useless oiks.

AND Oxfam have told me the deadline for printing the plan is 26th July to get their money. It was actually quite a fun day in spite of the rain.

P.S I got a late text from the trishaw driver apologising for not turning up (my landlady already told me he turned up after I left and made her promise she would tell me he did) saying he now knew where I lived if I needed him in future. Great customer service. Of course I will use him in future. I do feel a bit sorry for people who land me as a minority non-rich foreigner though! My landlady also altered my clothes and put a new cover on my ironing board and refused to take money. She said it was a small thing, so I gave her an embroidered cloth my mum did that she admired. My mother would have liked the justice in that as she did all my sewing and this woman obviously appreciated her handiwork.


There are a number of abandoned community buildings in these areas that could be given over to housing. One issue is that Sri Lankans have a housing expectation of a detached property, rather than a shared building with a number of private entrances, so for example, an abandoned surgery or hospital building may be unsuitable for conversion.

However, there is a possibility that some of these buildings could be used to match rural housing need for teachers.

Families in these areas very often do not have the income to support part loans or to pay for things like water and electricity. This has an impact on how housing areas develop and are maintained. This can only be addressed by improving livelihoods. The state of the roads is also a problem.

Other priorities identified by the Planning Department


Construction of affordable permanent houses because 27,841 families are living in temporary houses.

Batticaloa District Development Plan DRAFT 2013

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