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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. 

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Inappropriate tsunami aid risks creating chronic dependency

ReliefWeb - Document Preview: Source: Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), Date: 15 Feb 2005
This article was published in the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter, 26 January 2005.
Special Sida communication to the Government today: Long-term reconstruction - A Swedish priority. Prolonged humanitarian aid can have devastating consequences for poor people hit by the tsunami in south-east Asia. Swedish assistance can contribute to making their need chronic by continuing to send emergency aid. Sida has issued this warning in a special communication to the Government today, in which the Agency also stresses the importance of Swedish assistance being instead aimed at reconstruction, being long-term and well planned. Coordinating assistance, fighting corruption, helping the poor to support themselves and creating sustainable societies should be some of Sweden's priorities.
[15 Feb 2005]
The tsunami disaster in south-east Asia has provided us with a dramatic reminder of just how vulnerable our world is. Solidarity with poor people has suddenly and very tangibly regained its genuine and original sense of reciprocity. This is reflected by the record amounts of money donated to help the millions of victims.
But misdirected assistance and prolonged humanitarian efforts can have devastating consequences.
Several generations risk being wiped out and becoming dependent on foreign aid. Their acute need risks becoming chronic. Better planned and more long-term reconstruction efforts must therefore be set in motion with minimum delay. Reconstruction efforts must not only look at lost infrastructure. The affected population need to get support enabling them to also earn their own living early in the reconstruction process.
Sida has today submitted a special communication to the Government, proposing a number of priorities that should form the framework of Swedish assistance for reconstruction.
As a starting-point, the Government has set aside SEK 500 million (EUR 55 million) to help the affected areas. Sida then decides how to distribute this money among organisations etc., who can take rapid action on the ground. So far, Sida has approved payments of over SEK 200 million (EUR 22 million).
Entire communities have been washed away in the worst affected areas in Indonesia. Although on a smaller scale, the situation on Sri Lanka is just as bad. In addition to the enormous loss of human life, another serious effect is that over a million people can no longer support themselves.
The humanitarian needs are enormous. Sida and other donors are ready to decide on new aid, but we feel that sufficient resources have now been mobilised to deal with the most acute phase of the disaster.
We must now ensure that all the humanitarian aid reaches its destination and that reconstruction work starts as soon as possible. The needs extend over all sectors of society. While the destruction of infrastructure and natural resources provides the most palpable evidence, the disaster has also devastated social sectors and institutional structures. In some areas, the very basis of poor people's ability to support themselves in the long term, particularly in the fishing industry and agriculture, has been snatched away from them.
Reconstruction work must therefore be long-term and multifaceted. Sweden must be prepared to support measures over several years in these ravaged areas.
The psychological effects of what has happened give the reconstruction work a special dimension, not least as it is a question of building up economies and recreating the conditions in which poor people can support themselves.
To contribute to this and to make the assistance as effective and secure as possible, our own work must keep to certain priorities: Harmonisation, fighting corruption, disaster prevention, the poor people's perspective, a long-term approach, environmental concern and conflict prevention management. Such gigantic aid efforts also entail considerable risks.
1) Harmonisation. Coordination and strong leadership of the countries themselves are crucial if the money is to be used both efficiently and effectively. This issue should receive the highest priority for Sweden. If the assistance is poorly coordinated, if the different actors work in isolation, we risk chaos, wastefulness and prolonged human suffering.
2) Combating corruption. Another palpable risk is for the assistance to fall victim to corruption, partly as a result of the sheer scope of the action to be taken, and partly due to the sheer numbers of actors involved and the fact that they are working to a very pressing timetable in difficult environments.
The desperate situation of those hit by the disaster demands efficient use of the available resources. During the reconstruction phase, the greatest possible efforts must be made to combat such phenomena.
In its communication to the Government, Sida proposes the combating of corruption as one of Sweden's priorities in reconstruction programmes, both in the planning stage as well as during reconstruction work itself.
3) Disaster prevention. It is also important for us to disseminate what we have learnt to others. We need to build up warning systems and take other disaster-prevention measures. The devastating effects of the tsunami can at least in part be put down to the fact that it hit already vulnerable communities. Sweden must therefore take vigorous steps to ensure the reconstruction work is designed so that the people and communities in the affected areas are much less exposed when, and not if, disaster strikes again.
The emerging image of devastation clearly indicates that it is the poor who have been the worst affected. This is always what happens when disasters occur. It is a direct consequence of a lack of preventive actions and of the vulnerability of the poor.
4) The poor people's perspective. Three-quarters of the fishing fleet in Sri Lanka, which in essence consisted of small family-owned boats, has been wiped out. The entire local economy in Aceh on Northern Sumatra is in tatters. The vital tourist industry in southern Thailand also lies in ruins.
Not being able to support themselves, those affected are forced to sell off the few assets they have and put themselves into debt simply to obtain food. The fact that they were already finding things difficult beforehand may mean they are now forced to take their children out of school because they need the extra manpower just to be able to afford food for the day.
Millions of people in the worst-hit areas have lost their homes, possessions and ability to support themselves. They have suddenly fallen into even deeper poverty. In contrast to us, they have no insurance to claim on and no economic and social safety net to fall into. Social security systems in the affected countries are often very weak.
Instead they tend to rely on informal local networks in keeping with tradition. Relatives, friends, neighbours and sometimes entire villages stand by those in acute need. These networks only work, however, when individuals or single households are affected. When entire communities are wiped out, as is the case here, these networks are also destroyed and there is no longer anything to prevent those affected from falling into extreme poverty. Our help and solidarity then become an absolute necessity for them and their communities to regain their feet.
The acute, though still temporary, need they are currently experiencing risks becoming chronic and being passed on to future generations.
5) A long-term approach. The donated funds represent a unique opportunity to combat this nightmare scenario. If assistance efforts are managed correctly, that which has been almost totally destroyed can paradoxically provide a window of opportunity for creating communities with better and more equitable development potential, including a more sustainable system of self-support.
To realise this, however, donors, agencies and governments must immediately adopt "the poor people's perspective". Both in its own efforts and in dialogue with the governments of the worst-hit countries and other donors, Sweden should work strenuously to ensure that support for long-term sustainable social change is integrated into the reconstruction work.
A considerable part of Swedish aid should be aimed directly at helping poor groups to improve their situation for the long term.
6) Conflict prevention. An acute problem just now is how to reach all those affected in practical terms. The conflict-ridden regions of Indonesia and Sri Lanka are the most difficult to reach. In these areas, it is crucial that reconstruction efforts take into account ongoing armed conflicts, whilst we must also ensure that resources are not used to further the combatants own interests.
One key question we must ask ourselves is whether the disaster might help to solve ongoing, long-term conflicts in Aceh and on Sri Lanka or whether these will just make effective reconstruction impossible.
7) Environmental concern. The ensuing environmental problems represent another threat to the region's development which we must consider. Large parts of the affected areas were already having to contend with serious environmental damage.
Unsustainable use of land and water, overfishing, destruction of the coral reef and coastal vegetation, along with poor sanitation and insufficient water supply are just some examples. In many respects, the situation has taken a turn for the worse.
Swedish involvement in reconstruction must therefore also aim to create more ecologically sustainable societies and economies. This will benefit both the ecosystems and the people who live in and visit the areas.
Johan Brisman, Sida's coordinator of post-tsunami reconstruction efforts and Johan Bjerninger, Director of Department for Asia at Sida.

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