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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. 

Friday, June 03, 2005

Resettle with care

Daily News: 01/06/2005" BY THARUKA Dissanaike

THERE is no doubt that the reconstruction of tsunami destroyed homes should commence fast. As fast as possible. Especially now that so much is committed to the country's reconstruction effort.

But in this haste to make sure that people have a roof over their heads, it is easy to ignore various concerns, especially environmental ones, that could have long term adverse impacts on the resettled communities and the country as a whole.

For example, why is the buffer area of Lahugala National Park being cleared to resettle displaced people from areas of the Eastern coast. In the Ampara district, where land surely is more plentiful than in most tsunami affected areas, there has to be better suited land than a buffer zone of a National Park which is famous for elephants.

This area is one that has relatively little human-elephant conflict at present due to the low density of human population. But if hundreds of people begin living in the boundaries of the park, conflict would be inevitable.

Villagers have observed that the cleared area is frequented by herds already and certain sections of the displaced population have refused to move into homes built here.

A tsunami may come once in a hundred years, but to have to live with the daily threat of elephants is another matter altogether, one woman had complained to a social worker in the area.

Similar problems beset many of the chosen relocation sites. Although some resettlement areas are over 300 acres, there is no time to do detailed environmental assessments of all the sites spread in 13 districts.

Environmentalists and activist NGOs too do not wish to make a loud hue and cry over the non-compliance of normal procedure since the situation is quite out-of-the ordinary. No one wants to look like they are standing in the path of smooth relocation.

Hence it was good to learn that the CEA, even belatedly, issued guidelines for housing projects with special attention to the large scale resettlement projects that will commence soon.

The first guideline is to avoid critically sensitive areas (environmentally) which are protected or at least identified as important including marshes, flood plains, steep areas or those with poorly drained saline soils. The guidelines also specify areas that could be contaminated with liquid or solid waste. Filled lands (past dump sites) etc.

The CEA issues specific guidelines on drainage and storm water management, soil erosion control and stabilization. An interesting and relevant guideline that has been stipulated is to ensure that top soil removed in construction areas is stripped and stored for future use and not illegally removed from the site.

Specifications for waste water disposal and solid waste disposal look at treating waste water and construction waste, and especially deal with discharging wastes to water bodies and marginal lands. Good practices like composting barrels in every new house and waste streamlining by sorting are recommended for sites.

'The guidelines also look at house/ building design and sourcing construction material. House designs should look at maximizing material use and minimising environmentally unfriendly materials like sand and indigenous wood. Adapt layouts to suit natural patterns the guidelines advocate - and avoid rigid, grid-like housing layout designs.

Also, the CEA encourages organisations involved in rebuilding to study traditions and customs involved in house building and incorporate them into the design and the process - so that the project is more acceptable socially.

While the guidelines are timely and very appropriate for general use of all those planning and implementing housing projects in tsunami-affected areas, there needs to be some kind of legal spine, upholding these recommendations and ensuring that they are adhered to at every given possibility.

It would be useful if TAFRENs new environmental unit takes upon itself to disseminate these guidelines to all actors in the reconstruction process as well as all donors, local authorities and such and institute a monitoring mechanism to avoid any obvious flouting of the law.

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