Sri Lanka has secured most of the $1.8 billion worth of aid it reckons it needs to rebuild towns and villages razed along its tsunami-ravaged coastline, what it needs now is land to build them on, Reuters reported yesterday.
The government has imposed a coastal buffer of at least 100metres (330 feet) along its southern, eastern and northernshores, where around 40,000 perished in December’s tsunami,and land for reconstruction beyond it is proving hard to comeby.
"There are land acquisition problems," said Suren Batagoda,head of the state Urban Development Authority’s tsunami housing unit tasked with finding and acquiring land to build on.
Some families are refusing to sell land the state would like to acquire, and in some cases geography is getting in theway. The east, which was hardest hit by the tsunami, is peppered with vast lagoons.
"Our policy is to give land closest to the original location where (those displaced) lived. But options are limited," Batagoda added. "In some areas...we don’t have land to build houses because of the sea and lagoons. When we pass the lagoons, it is too far inland."
The Urban Development Authority has secured land to build around half of the 60,000 permanent houses the government’s tsunami reconstruction plan initially envisages.
But with 500,000 people displaced by Sri Lanka’s worst natural disaster in memory, it is a race against time. Around 100,000 survivors are living in wooden shacks, tents or temporary shelters, with the balance living with family and friends.
Standing beside her field tent near the ruined remains of her seaside home near the historic southern town of Galle,Noeline Welandaratne and thousands of tsunami survivors like her have nowhere else to go and are hostage to the government’s progress.
"My home is destroyed, finished," the 49-year-old said."They have a big plan and have to build many houses, so we will have to wait. We have to believe they will, no?"
Donors say some plots the government has identified in the south are so far inland that fishermen would be cut off from the sea, and hoteliers are defying the buffer zone and rebuidling next to the beach as fast as they can.
Sri Lanka’s biggest donor, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, which has raised $400million for Sri Lanka, has so far secured land for 9,000 of the15,000 houses it has pledged.
"The Muslim areas (in the east) are very crowded...so it’s very difficult to find land to build houses," said MarcalIzard, spokesman for the International Committee of the RedCross in Sri Lanka.
"We’re still in the phase of finding suitable land plots", he added, though officials said it was important that the government and donors take time to properly plan future settlements and ensure that title deeds and land ownership are clear.
In the LTTE-controlled areas in the north and the east of the island, the rebels and the government, who have still to reach a deal on sharing tsunami aid, have yet to agree on where to rebuild hundreds of homes.
Some donors who asked not to be identified said they were set to start construction projects, but were still waiting for the government to give the final go-ahead.
Rather than centralising aid, the Sri Lankan government is effectively outsourcing the bulk of its reconstruction projects to relief agencies, leaving the lion’s share of the $1.5billion worth of firmly committed aid in donor hands. (Reuters)