Coastal guidelines welcomed, but do they go far enough?
It has been announced that the government hopes to release guidelines this week on the coastal buffer zone. These will specify the distance from the sea's edge within which construction of new buildings will be prohibited. This move is to be welcomed. At the moment there is massive confusion and disagreement over just what constitutes the “safe area” within which building should be allowed. Unplanned and illegal reconstruction is taking place in what are obviously unsafe areas, and there is an urgent need for restrictions to be clearly defined and enforced. But alone these guidelines on the coastal buffer will not be enough to ensure that the rebuilding process will generate the benefits and welfare improvements we are hoping for.
How to get it right
The policy paper "Rebuilding after the Tsunami: how to get it right", to be released on Wednesday the 19th January by EFL attempts to tackle these concerns. It explains the hazards that are inherent in not addressing land-use, construction design, legal, social and environmental issues adequately, and presents a series of concrete recommendations to strengthen the rebuilding process. The document attempts to establish a number of key principles that must guide the rebuilding process. It suggests that adherence to a principle of minimum land use should direct the development of new housing units. In line with this thinking, it proposes the construction of multi-storey apartment blocks as the most land-efficient and cost-effective method of rebuilding for those who have lost their homes. It also emphasises environmental justice and equity goals as being indispensable to the rebuilding process. It attempts to present a case for adopting eco-friendly construction practices, and for rehabilitating and restoring natural ecosystems such as forests, mangroves and wetlands alongside physical infrastructure and housing. It is only through taking environmental concerns into account that we will be able to safeguard the future security of settlements for all sectors of the coastal population. Although Sri Lanka has a comprehensive legal, policy and institutional framework governing coastal zone management and development, many of the required laws and regulations have not been followed in the past. They are still are not being enforced as the first stages of reconstruction take place. Time and time again, expectations of political and personal gains have skewed the development process. The document argues that there is an urgent need for to build consensus around re-establishing the rule of law and strengthening the institutions that uphold it. In particular, there must be a stated commitment among all stakeholders to respect and enforce the laws governing coastal zone development and conservation.
A call to action
EFL calls upon the government to make an immediate statement of intent which outlines how they propose to deal with the issues that are laid out in the EFL document. There is a need to make sure that a transparent and concrete plan is developed — and adhered to — which will guide the rebuilding process. It is essential that the elements of this plan are known to all stakeholders and donors before reconstruction begins. If we do not get the rebuilding process right there is a real danger that many of the mistakes that were made in the past will be repeated, undermining still further the already-weakened lives and livelihoods of the coastal population. In the light of lessons learned from the impacts of the tsunami, in the wake of the devastation we face, and in the interests of our future prospects for development and growth, this is a risk that we simply cannot afford to bear. Although the need to rebuild after the tsunami has been prompted by the worst possible circumstances, it provides a golden opportunity not just to mend our broken infrastructure but to better it, and to improve the long-term social, economic and environmental status of Sri Lanka’s coastal population. Things should only change for the better if we get the rebuilding process right.
17th January 2005 The policy paper "