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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. 

Monday, May 23, 2005

Aid windfall tsunami silver lining for Sri Lanka

Reuters: 20/05/2005" By Bill Tarrant

COLOMBO, May 20 (Reuters) - Unexpected and unabated waves of aid should allow Sri Lanka to use some of that money to tackle poverty and rehabilitate war-ravaged parts of the island, the chairman of the tsunami reconstruction agency said on Friday.

Sri Lanka's traditional donors, who this week raised their aid pledges to nearly $3 billion -- twice the amount needed -- have agreed to spend some of that money on non-tsunami projects if more aid money continues to roll in, said Mano Tittawella, chairman of the Task Force for Rebuilding the Nation.

"If out of this terrible tragedy that you would never dream of being inflicted on anyone, anything good will come out, it will be that you can build back better for everybody, not just the tsunami-affected," Tittawella said in an interview.

Former U.S. president Bill Clinton suggested the idea during a tsunami summit in Washington because private charities, non-govermental organisations, individuals and corporations continue to raise money for tsunami-hit Indian Ocean nations.

At least $9 billion in private and official aid has been raised for countries battered by the unprecedented Dec. 26 tsunami in one of the biggest charitable fund-raising efforts in history.

"He (Clinton) said multilateral agencies have funded this, so what you guys can do, if you have money, you can go in there and allow the multilaterals to release their money to do other work -- non-tsunami-affected infrastructure, particularly as there are issues of equity we're worried about."

The tsunami killed nearly 40,000 people in Sri Lanka, displaced about one million and took a heavy toll on infrastructure along much of the island's coastline. The World Food Programme continues to feed 910,000 tsunami survivors.

REMOVING DISPARITIES

The tsunami hit hardest along the country's poverty belt in the south, as well as in the north and east where Tamil rebels have waged a 22-year rebellion.

Villages demolished by the tsunami will be rebuilt near others that were untouched by the disaster but remain impoverished, or in the case of the north and east, in shambles from the civil war.

"Traditional donors would like to shift their money so long as that gap in the tsunami funding is filled up ... and they have totally agreed to this principle that (rebuilding) should be based on equity and removing disparities."

Tittawella said transparency with the aid should be assured because the government is not handling the aid money.

"None of the tsunami reconstruction money will be spent by government. It will be donors that spend it. We are not building houses. We are giving the land and the donor is building the house."


CAMP LIFE ENDING


About 40,000 tsunami survivors remain in tent camps, down from about a half-million just after the disaster. "We are hoping in a few weeks we can close all the camps down," he said.

A donor-driven campaign to build temporary and permanent homes has also picked up steam. Some 25,000 temporary homes have already been built. "We have broken the back of that, although we still need to build another 10,000 to 15,000 more houses."

The plan is eventually to build 90,000 permanent homes for those whose houses were partly damaged or destroyed. Donors plan to build 55,000 houses for people who lived within 100-200 metres of the sea -- which Sri Lanka has now declared a buffer zone where no rebuilding will be allowed.

The government has allocated public lands for 35,000 of those residents, and is in the process of acquiring land from private owners for another 10,000. "For 5,000 to 6,000 houses we still have a shortage of land," Tittawella said

Tittawella said he expected to have most people in permanent homes within six to nine months.

About 300 tsunami aid groups are working in the country -- from traditional donor groups such as the Red Cross, World Vision and Oxfam to small Buddhist charities and people who just showed up wanting to help.

While the number of religious charities operating in the tsunami regions had drawn concern in some political circles about conversions, only a very small number were proselytising.

"I'm sorely hoping that these initiatives won't be used as a witchhunt for the vast number of NGOs who are doing a very decent job of work. All we can do is appeal to people to be careful because a small fringe can upset the whole apple cart." (Editing by Simon Gardner; Colombo Newsroom (94-11) 243-1187, Fax (94-11) 233-8301; email: william.tarrant.gardner@reuters.com))


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