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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. 

Saturday, July 23, 2005

“Aid Promoting Big Business”

Global Policy Forum: 15/07/2005" By Stefania Bianchi

Post-tsunami aid destined for Indonesia and Sri Lanka is not reaching those most in need but is promoting ”big business” in the region instead, social and agricultural groups from the region are warning. Representatives from farming, fishing and anti-corruption groups from the countries hit by the December 2004 disaster say post-tsunami rehabilitation efforts have been marred by ”inequity, top-down policies and a lack of coordination, financial and policy transparency, and community participation” and are urging the European Union (EU), as the largest donor to their countries, to take responsibility for efficient delivery of aid.

Delegates from Sri Lanka and Indonesia visiting Brussels this week warn that more than seven months after the tsunami disaster, which killed at least 200,000 people in 13 countries, hundreds of thousands of affected people are still living in ”desperate” circumstances amidst ”complete uncertainty” about their future. The delegates say aid has still not reached certain ”invisible” sections of affected populations, particularly those not seen to have been directly affected by the tsunami.

”In many cases they have been reduced to the state of passive, subservient receivers, as immediate relief is dumped hurriedly without consideration of their needs and desires or of the problems of poverty and in some cases conflict in which they were living even before the disaster,” Sarath Fernando, secretary general of Sri Lanka's Movement for National Land and Agricultural Reform, a small-scale farmers organisation, told IPS.

Fernando says the reconstruction of his country is being used to implement government plans which have been drawn up ”without consultation with civil society” and which ”do not target the most affected communities” such as people working in the fisheries sector. One of Fernando's biggest concerns is that Sri Lanka's so-called Task Force to Rebuild the Nation (TAFREN) set up shortly after the tsunami is dominated by a group of elite business leaders. ”There are no representatives of the affected people or of any organisations operating in the affected areas, and no academics or scientists or any professionals with experience of rebuilding after disasters,” he said.

Fernando insists that tsunami rehabilitation is now being used to promote ”big business” and tourism in the country, disregarding the needs of those hit by the disaster. Fernando adds that poor communities are being pushed away from Sri Lanka's coastlines to make way for large hotel complexes. Shortly after the tsunami the Sri Lankan government announced that people should not rebuild their houses on the coast, but Fernando says the measures are not aimed at protecting the fishing communities.

”The government is not trying to protect fisher people, but is forcing us to make way for tourism. Promoting high-end tourism seems to be one of the driving forces of the TAFREN plan. This modern society includes high-end tourism, export agriculture and manufacturing and large-scale fisheries. It clearly does not include small-scale fishing, subsistence farming or community-based tourism,” he said.

Joined by Herman Kumara, secretary general of the World Forum of Fisher People in Sri Lanka, Luky Djani, vice coordinator of Indonesia Corruption Watch, Adli Abdullah, secretary general of Panglima Laot (a fishery community organisation in Indonesia) and Arjun Karki, coordinator of the South Asia Alliance for Poverty Eradication, Fernando appealed Thursday to the European Parliament's development committee to ensure that aid reaches those most in need and that civil society groups and representatives of the most affected communities are involved in the tsunami rehabilitation.

People from across the world responded to the Dec. 26 tsunami disaster with tremendous generosity. Approximately 10.7 billion euros (13 billion dollars) was pledged in aid from around the world to rebuild the lives and livelihoods of the survivors. However, the pace of rebuilding has been slow and thousands of people remain homeless. The United Nations says reconstruction work across the whole affected region could take up to five years, and may cost 7.4 billion euros (9 billion dollars).

The civil society groups from Sri Lanka and Indonesia also warn that much of the money that is being used for the rehabilitation process will not solve long-term problems in their countries. In a statement released to coincide with their visit to Brussels the delegates say that although they appreciate the ”sense of urgency” among all people who donated to relief and reconstruction efforts, the ”compulsion to disburse such funds within short-term time targets has lead to the undermining of local structures and organisations.”

The group says serious problems remain in their countries that can only be addressed through a ”people's process that recognises that all resources pledged in the name of affected people genuinely belong to them.” ”This can be achieved by setting up reserve funds, to be managed and administered with representation from affected populations. These funds must be available for long-term use and should be transparent and accountable to local people's organisations,” they said.

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