The main task of the assessment team was to analyse the capacity of the national transport fleet to cater for the three phases of recovery and the normal national transport requirements. The initial concept was to utilise the top down approach in the collection of data in order to produce a comprehensive assessment of the transport capabilities in Sri Lanka.
Initially the Terms of Reference seemed reasonable and attainable within the time frame envisaged. With the benefit of hindsight it is now clear that the terms of reference did not consider the limitations and complexity of the government structures in Sri Lanka. In view of this, consideration should be given to including a UN member with local knowledge or Sri Lankan national on the assessment team. No consideration was given to the political or military situation in the country. The LTTE problem will also have a major influence on the future of this country.
Three critical factors will determine the requirement for transport in the rebuilding of Sri Lanka. They are timescale, materials and labour. In order to conduct a statistical assessment it is essential to know the tonnage to be moved and the timescale for repair and reconstruction. These two crucial factors are still not available. It is now generally accepted that the relief and reconstruction will take place over a minimum of three years.
The Centre for National Operations (CNO) was established on the 29th of December 2004 and was disbanded on 4 Feb 05. TAFREN, the Task Force for Rebuilding the Nation, is one of the two task forces set up by the President. A meeting was held on Thurs 17 Feb with The Government Task Force to Rebuild the Nation (TAFREN). This was the first and only meeting held between UNJLC and TAFREN and was held in TAFREN offices in Colombo. It was admitted that TAFREN had NOT considered any of the transport issues when drafting the National Rebuilding Action Plan. The Government Plan has not been received as of 8 Mar 05. The Government has announced that it will present its final reconstruction plan on March 15.
Individuals or very small companies with less than five trucks own the vast majority of the cargo transport fleet in this country. Without centralised records it is almost impossible to quantify the national transport fleet. The present cost of transport is acceptable, however it is anticipated that prices will rise as demand for transport increases.
The total vehicle population figures received from the Dept of Transport are deemed to be unreliable. A government spokesman confirmed this fact.
The damage to the road network caused by the recent tsunami was concentrated on the East, South and Northern coasts. Much of this damage has been repaired to allow traffic to flow again. Many of the repairs are of a temporary nature and require upgrading on a permanent basis.
The general rail infrastructure is in serious need of rehabilitation. The problems faced by Sri Lanka Rail are many, including an insufficient number and poor performance of the rolling stock, decaying and weak rail track, an out-dated centralised traffic control and communications system and poor worker productivity.
It is essential that maximum use be made of regional ports for the importation of building materials to cater for phases two and three of the National Rebuilding Plan. The concentration of all these goods into Colombo would possibly create a critical situation for the road and rail network due to the limited capacity of both networks. Road congestion and pollution are already at a critical level in Colombo.
There is also no major problem with storage capacity. In the coastal regions where warehouses were not available Rubb Halls and WiikHalls have or are being erected.
The present road conditions and especially the temporary bridges in particular restrict the use of heavy lift vehicles. Serious consideration should be given to upgrading the roads and bridges prior to utilising heavy vehicles during the reconstruction phase.
Detailed analysis and planning is required by a Government Task Force to ensure adequate transport is available to support their rebuilding Plan. Any shortfall of transport assets must be identified in time. The extended use of sea and rail to distribute cargo must also be considered.
The age, mechanical condition and configuration of the national commercial transport fleet are matters for concern. The condition of these vehicles would not be acceptable in most European countries. However these vehicles are still operational. Direct donations of vehicles to the government should be considered to increase and modernise the transport fleet. Soft loans, tax incentives and other mechanisms could be introduced to encourage the private transport sector to update their vehicles and increase their fleet size.
This assessment did not consider in detail the political situation in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka recently celebrated the 3rd anniversary of the cease-fire, however the recent war has left many problems in this country particularly in the North and East.
Generally, no shortage of transport was noted in the country. Approximately 50% of the cargo transport fleet was fully utilised prior to the tsunami. Since then the usage has only increased by a small percentage and there is still excess capacity. In conclusion the slow response from Government and the absence of urgency to deal with the Tsunami damage may result in a prolonged recovery phase. It is generally accepted that the current transport fleet, with minor adjustments and natural replacements will be capable of supporting the National Rebuilding Plan.
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