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Serving Sri Lanka

This web log is a news and views blog. The primary aim is to provide an avenue for the expression and collection of ideas on sustainable, fair, and just, grassroot level development. Some of the topics that the blog will specifically address are: poverty reduction, rural development, educational issues, social empowerment, post-Tsunami relief and reconstruction, livelihood development, environmental conservation and bio-diversity. 

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Restoring quality of life of the tsunami-affected

Online edition of the Island: by Dr A. K. L Jayawardana
In Sri Lanka, nearly 40,000 people lost their lives and over a one million were displaced as result of the devastation caused by the Tsunami on December 26, 2004. After three months, 545,000 displaced people are still struggling to come back to normalcy, in resuming their normal lives. Over 100,000 people still live in 257 camps and many are still to find a place of their own. People left the camps not because they had a better life outside but because it was impossible to live in an unorganised and ill-equipped camp. The business enterprises and individual livelihoods that were disrupted by the disaster are yet to come back to normalcy. People live in make shift camps, relatives’ houses, school buildings and even in temples without adequate facilities and source of income. Many shift from place to place, from one relative to another with the hope that they will receive a permanent place to live. Their only consolation is that there lives were saved even though they have lost every thing.

What measures can be taken to manage and possibly reduce the negative impacts of disasters? Disasters are not welcome events and usually when they occur, every effort should be made to reduce the impact of such events. Are we making the right effort to rebuild the lives of thousands of people whose lives are in jeopardy? How successful are we in disaster management ?

Disaster management can be viewed in a number of ways. The more traditional approach has been to regard disaster management as a number of phased sequences of action - or a continuum - as shown in the in Figure 1.

In the more traditional model shown in Figure 1, disaster management occurs in stages which follow each other in a sequence. The pre disaster phase comprises prevention , mitigation and preparedness while the post disaster recovery phase focuses on relief/response, recovery and reconstruction/development .

Sri Lanka did not possess a systematic disaster management program. Before the Tsunami struck Sri Lanka had no pre-disaster risk reduction policies, procedures or action plans on prevention, mitigation and preparedness stages of a disaster management cycle even though several disasters of a lesser magnitude have taken place over the years. As the disaster struck, resources were mobilised for relief and response mainly propelled by many non-government organisations and the public. Government machinery at this stage moved through the CNO. At the second stage through TAFREN, the government quickly framed the rehabilitation phase with a view to reconstruct the devastated areas. However, the movement to reconstruction/rehabilitation stage from the relief stage would take at least 18 months to two years.

Postgraduate Institute of Management (PIM) recognised very early in January 2005 that an immediate need after the disaster is to look at the recovery stage. Many have looked at the final reconstruction stage and were projecting several projects under reconstruction overlooking the recovery process. As Prof. Gunapla Nanayakkara, DIM "A brief survey of post- tsunami responses and activities in Sri Lanka to mange relief, recovery and reconstruction efforts of various actors revealed to us that the nation’s ability to undertake this complex and immediate task was poor and unorganised. As a matter of fact, PIM was in search of an effective program elsewhere for us to establish links with and undertake project in a devastated area. We did not find such a program in government or elsewhere. The Faculty decided to launch its own program incorporating a number of new initiatives so that the Institute’s resources and energy are focused on finding and implementing solutions to the burning needs of the people in the affected areas of the country."

Thus PIM focused on the recovery process through three specific stages; improving camp conditions, providing temporary shelter and restoring livelihood. The objective here was to improve the quality of life of people displaced and living in camps. PIM deployed 182 managers and administrators of MBA and MPA degree programs in six disaster hit districts from Colombo to Trincomalee to take charge of 76 camps for management improvement.

Improving camp conditions

In the camps we visited, initial camp conditions were far from satisfactory. There was no proper sanitation facility. In one camp in Galle there was only one toilet for 67 families. In many instances the electricity supply was not available and only a limited water supply was given. People had to live on the ground covered by a 6 foot tent under high temperature and humidity. There were no communication facilities or sometimes not even a decent place to cook their food. There was hardly a focus on camp administration, supplies and storage or health care. Grama Niladharis had to bear the major burden moving from one camp to another and they did not have sufficient resources to meet the needs of thousands of people. Managers and administrators of PIM MBA and MPA groups virtually took over the camp administration in many of camps assigned to them.

As Welithara Sirisumana Thera of Koduwa Gangaramaya said: "If not for the PIM staff that assisted our temple we would not have been able to look after the families in the Goduwa Gangaramya Temple. The inmates had only one toilet. PIM managers provided with more toilets and a proper place to cook food. They gave us a mobile phone so that at least we have contact with the outside world. They worked as it is their own place and looked after the needs of the affected people. We are thankful to Prof. Gunapla Nanayakkkara for helping this temple"

Managing the camps

The teams managed the camps and improved camp conditions by managing the basic needs such as water, sanitation, health care. Teams held discussions with Divisional Secretaries, Grama Niladharis to resolve many issues related camp administration, distribution of food items, allocating lands for temporary houses and providing livelihood to the displaced families. PIM partnered with private sector organisations in providing temporary shelter and communication to camps. For example, PIM in association with Dilaog GSM provided communication facilities to the camps assigned to PIM managers.

Worldwide children constitute more than half of any given displaced community. Children affected by displacement face serious threats to their safety, development and physical and mental well –being. PIM managers paid special attention to the displaced children. They looked into their welfare, continuation of studies and keeping them involved in day-to-day activities. Several children programs were conducted in camps.


Providing Temporary Housing

In a short period of 10 weeks, PIM has contributed significantly to the rehabilitation process. The student groups have put up 143 temporary shelters, in areas such as, Kosgoda, Akurala, Kahawa, Balapitiya, Amablangoda and restored normally in six temples occupied by displaced persons. Temples faced many difficulties in accommodating the displaced persons. They did not possess sufficient resources to manage hundreds of families. Temples were unable to perform its normal functions and obligations to the society as no devotee can come and worship in a place surrounded by hundreds of people. People were not aware that many of our temples drifted away from the Buddhist society and came to be identified virtually as a refuge camp. PIM managers thus focused on getting temporary accommodation for the displaced persons in temples. They were able to provide alternative accommodation to displaced persons at Divigala Aranyasenasanaya, Kosgoda; Brahamanawatte temple, Balapitiya; Kuruppukanda Viharaya, Seengama Kusumaramaya and Sudeeraramaya Temple, Kahawa. These temples are now in a position to serve the needs of the Buddhist people.


Helping families to restore livelihood

One of the key objectives of the Camp Management Program was to restore the livelihood of displaced people. They were keen to restart their livelihood and to earn a living. Majority of them were fishermen and many others had different occupations ranging from motor mechanics, fruit vendors to tailors. Firstly, PIM managers analysed the skills of camp inmates and clustered them to different occupations. Secondly, they prioritized the specific need and identified beneficiaries who are in immediate need to resume their livelihood. Thirdly they sourced donors and funds and helped the people to restart their livelihood.

Launching development projects to restore livelihood

A major component of the government‘s reconstruction program is business development. Two types of development efforts seem essential: restoration of destroyed or damaged business enterprises or units, and new business enterprises. PIM focused on micro business, small and medium scale enterprises and policy and program development. PIM managers initially moved on to restore businesses so that people will benefit immediately by getting back to their normal livelihood. Projects were identified in Manufacturing sector, Fisheries sector, Housing sector, Small Business, Education and Social Reconstruction. PIM initiated the development projects through funds provided by Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA ), Export Development Board (EDB), Japanese Tree of Life and individual contributions from Rev. Alberglicci Ferruccio from Italy.

In the manufacturing sector one of the main projects is restoring the coir industry which has virtually come to a stand still. PIM moved to establish a 300 machine coir manufacturing cooperative society at Kulleegoda, Akurala and at Matara. In addition PIM distributed over 200 machines to displaced persons at Ambalangoda, Balapitiya and Kahawa. Project was funded by EDB.

A major project undertaken by PIM managers at Kahawa was to restore two Ma Dal boats at Kahawa and Hikkaduawa which will benefit over 50 families. The project cost is Rs one million which include the supply of nets. One of the two boats was delivered in early march to the Kahawa Cooperative society.

Adventist Development and Relief Agency ADRA , of the Czech Republic funded another major project in fishing sector at Kalutara for the manufacture and delivery of twenty ,18.5 feet boats complete with engine and nets to displaced families at Ethagama Kalutara.

PIM is initiating the restoration of identified small business and plans to establish Pre- Schools for children affected by the Tsunami at Ambalangoda, Balapitiya and Kahawa. Assisting small business entrepreneurs will include working with selected business persons , developing proposal documents , working with commercial banks and overseeing the setting up of the business from location identification to launch of commercial activity. The Pre-schools will be established based on the international standards and are expected to provide high quality education to the children.

Rehabilitation and political leadership

Interventions are needed after a disaster occurs. In many ways this is the most difficult period for the victims. Disaster management, as shown by the examples, requires effort and commitment by the various role players. The capacity must be built to handle such events, and training programmes are essential. Duplication of efforts should be minimised and financial resources appropriately controlled.

It is important to note that disasters are non-routine events that require non-routine responses. Governments cannot rely on normal procedures to implement appropriate responses - they will need to learn special skills, techniques and attitudes in dealing with disasters. They need to develop a policy based on the action plan rather than having the policy first. We need leaders who can work with people where things happen rather than working through safe remote-control arrangements.

Postgraduate institute of Management spent nearly Rs 30, million in 10 weeks in rehabilitating camps, providing temporary shelter and restoring livelihood of displaced persons from Colombo to the Trincomalee district through 186 managers and administrators .PIM in this short period has shown the country what can be achieved through sheer dedication to purpose , and with innovative ideas to formulate effective solutions and executing them with speed and targets in mind.

The writer is a Senior Consultant in Quality and Productivity Management and is the Director of the Disaster Management Program of PIM .


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