The Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, Asma Jahangir, is on a ten-day mission to Sri Lanka from 02 to 12 May. Her fact-finding mission focuses on religious concerns, including attacks on minorities and proposed laws regarding religious conversion. Her overall mandate consists of examining incidents and governmental actions in all parts of the world that might be inconsistent with the provisions of the UN Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief.
She has been invited by the Government of Sri Lanka to analyze the situation of freedom of religion or belief in Sri Lanka and will submit a report to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. During her visit, she will hold meetings in Colombo with governmental officials, representatives of religious communities, political parties and members of the civil society. She will also travel to Kandy and the north and east of Sri Lanka. The Special Rapporteur is an independent expert appointed by the Commission on Human Rights for a limited duration and is acting in her individual capacity.
The number of tsunami-affected IDPs has remained relatively constant over the last few weeks. As of 27 April, the number of IDPs reportedly living in camps and hosted with friends and relatives stood at 515,365. The largest numbers of IDPs are recorded in Galle (121,934), Ampara (103,949) and Trincomalee (72,986).
The construction of transitional shelters is on-going in tsunami-affected districts. According to UNHCR, the total number of shelters constructed as of 21 April stands at 12,365. Another 7,145 are currently under construction.
Overview of Activities
The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has begun deliveries of US$ 1.74 million worth of seeds and fertiliser to tsunami-hit farmers in the South in time for Yala planting season. This has been made possible by a donation of funds from the Government of Greece through OCHA. FAO is currently distributing 66.72 tonnes of paddy seed in the districts of Galle, Matara and Hambantotoa. This will be followed by deliveries of 83 tonnes of basal fertiliser and 167 tonnes of urea. This is enough for a total of 1,668 beneficiaries in the south each with one acre of rice paddy.The total damage to the agricultural sector by the tsunami is estimated by the Sri Lankan government to be US$ 4.8 million.
UNICEF, in collaboration with the Health Promotion Working Group including the Alcohol and Drugs Information Centre (ADIC), is conducting a rapid assessment of problems related to increased alcohol and drug abuse in camps.
WFP has completed its preparation for the Mother and Child Nutrition (MCN) Programmes, aimed at pregnant and nursing mothers, and children under five, which is due to begin in the three districts of Galle, Matara, and Hambantota. The targeting of the beneficiaries and the packaging of coy soya blends is complete. The Programme will be implemented through the MoH. The distribution will be a one-month ration at one time. Leaflets explaining the preparation of the coy soya blend will also be distributed.
The Taskforce to Rebuild the Nation (TAFREN) has developed a framework to manage the programme of assistance towards re-establishing livelihoods for the tsunami-affected population. Called the Rapid Income Recovery Programme (RIRP), it is receiving technical assistance from the International Labour Organisation (ILO). RIRP is comprised of three components: cash transfers to beneficiaries; cash-for-work projects to provide short-term employment; and economic development programmes focusing on providing access to training, counselling, credits and business grants.
On 26 April, tsunami-affected people demonstrated in Vaharai, Batticaloa district complaining about the lack of progress in the construction of transitional shelters. A Shelter Task Force of government representatives and UN agencies and NGOs, meeting on 27 April, confirmed that little progress had in fact been made in the division so far. Only 180 out of a required 2,000 such transitional shelters have been constructed to date. Shelter agencies active in Vaharai have explained that this was mainly due to logistical obstacles and planning issues. Some of the specific difficulties mentioned were the slow arrival of construction material, poor road conditions, the low-height of the bridge at Kavenkerni making transport difficult and slow travel related to checkpoints and authorization procedures in the division.
Save the Children Sri Lanka has been training military personnel in Jaffna on child rights and protection issues. Two workshops were recently held for soldiers and officers by the Child Protection Protocol Officer. The training has been well received and military officials have requested that additional military staff receive such training. This is an important and ground breaking initiative to sensitize the military on child rights and protection.
In an update of UNICEF-supported WES activities as of April 2005, it reports that 1,150 toilets have been constructed; 352 water-points installed; 225 bathing facilities built, 9 gully bowsers provided; and 17 water bowsers. Over the coming months, UNICEF plans to construct an additional 4,088 temporary and permanent toilets, install another 5,906 water points, and build a further 1,587 bathing facilities.
The Transitional Accommodation Project (TAP) in Galle District reports as of 25 April that 2,665 shelters have been completed with 1,892 in progress (a total of 4,557) and a further 1,168 committed. The required need in total is 5,403. These figures include the provision for affected population with damaged homes within 100m and beyond 100m.
According to TAP statistics, out of a total of 11,725 required transitional shelters in Batticaloa district, 3,494 have been constructed so far. Some 80 per cent of the completed shelters are already occupied now. Families still need to be allocated to the remaining 20 per cent.
Main Challenges and Responses
UNDP has announced it is willing to support projects budgeted up to US$30,000 in all tsunami-affected districts in Sri Lanka that focus on these activities: restoration of minor and critical infrastructure, the recycling and removal of debris, water and sanitation facilities or waste management. All such projects need to have a cash-for-work component of at least 20 per cent of total cost, and UNDP will contract only with registered (legal entities) Not For Profit organizations and not with commercial organizations or international NGOs/Organizations.
UNICEF and World Vision have reported that people from Kattankudy and Kaluwanchikudy, Batticaloa district are returning from welfare centers to their places of origin. Consequently, the number of families in welfare centres continues to decrease. At the same time, Oxfam reports people moving out of official welfare centres in Vaharai and setting up their own camps in new locations in smaller groups of families, making it difficult for agencies to track them and address their needs.
Master plans have now been completed for 14 out of 25 schools UNICEF is constructing with 11 of the plans already approved by school principals, Zonal Directors of Education and Provincial Directors of Education. In a number of cases, delays have occurred in the allocation of appropriate lands or construction and also with the legal demarcation of sites by government surveyors which is required prior to construction. UNICEF is working with government counterparts at the central and district levels to ensure that these problems are resolved.
Some 1,000 people have received grants by now to start the reconstruction of their homes., according to the joint shelter, infrastructure and watsan taskforce in Batticaloa. Relief agencies are concerned that many recipients may not be able to fulfill the requirements to receive the second installment of their grant to complete construction, mainly because there are indications that some of them are using the grant for other purposes than home construction. There is also concern that reconstruction of homes will take longer than anticipated due to the shortage of skilled laborers. For example, while some 1,000 people have received a grant so far to build homes, there are only an estimated 600 skilled masons in Batticaloa district. "
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