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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, July 25, 2005

Recalling battered, Northern lives to life

Daily News: 22/07/2005" BY CHANDANI Jayatilleke in Jaffna

THE fishermen in Cheddipulam, a village in Kayts, are looking forward to rebuilding their lives which were shattered by the prolonged conflict in the country.

Having returned to their native village after the truce, all that they want now is some support for housing and fishing.

Three hundred families who had returned to the village of Cheddipulam. Prior to the conflict there were 500 families. Most of the families in this village were displaced in the 1990s following the fighting and lived in various places such as Mannar.

However, following the truce, the villagers gradually returned after they were convinced it was safe to do so.

On the way to this village recently we noticed, some of the houses which were damaged had already been repaired. Every now and then roofs with new tiles and a new coat of paint appeared.

Although they had begun fishing on a small scale, the villagers say that business is not as good as earlier. Their catch is basically purchased by traders from Jaffna who visit the village.

In another village - Theriaddy in the Tellipalai AG division, we met a farming community who lamented that their houses and livelihoods are badly affected and they need support for housing and developing agricultural lands.

Many returnees are of the view that they have been given step motherly treatment by the authorities including several foreign donor/support agencies and NGOs based in Jaffna.

"Various representatives, both local and foreign visit our village and collect information, promising to help rebuild our lives, but none has done something fruitful so far," said one villager when we visited this village.

The whole village gathered at the tiny community centre - the only facility in the village - for a discussion with the officials of the European Commission, UNDP and the media.

During this session, the villagers brought out various problems that they have been facing over the last two decades at the height of the conflict.

They have not got any support from the LTTE either, the villagers said.

They were agitated that the focus now is on the tsunami victims and they have been promised houses and all other facilities within a short time. "We have lived in camps and suffered much due to the war for over 20 years. Bur yet, our issues have not been addressed," they said.

Another issue they brought out was the anomaly in housing allowance for the war victims and the tsunami victims. While the persons who lost their houses during the war would get only Rs.250,000, the tsunami victims would receive up to Rs. one million. "This is very unfair," the villagers said.

For farming, though it is limited to a few areas, the villagers said they had not received the fertiliser subsidy.

"The fertiliser is quite expensive and we cannot bear the cost. When we ask the authorities they say it may be due to high taxes charged by the LTTE when the stocks are being transported to Jaffna," a villager said.

These villagers were displaced in 1992 and they returned only after the A9 was opened, following the truce.

Landmines litter the borders of the village and around the wells. Halo Trust has started clearing landmines, yet the work gets hampered as there is a shortage of labour. And it is dangerous and difficult to remove landmines, the villagers said.

Some villagers have opted to clear the mines on their own, despite the risks involved. They are not trained in unearthing and defusing mines, leaving them vulnerable to accidents. "But, we have no other option," one villager said.

There are 72 families living in this village, at present. They lack even the most basic facilities for a humble living, such as water for drinking and bathing and lavatories. There is a school and a montessori in the village. However, the facilities at the school are virtually non-existent.

A group of villagers have set up a society to support other villagers in the rebuilding process. Now they lament that although there is a society, and its representatives continue to meet various organisations that have pledged to assist them, they had not been able to do anything for the benefit of the villagers so far.

"In fact the fellow villagers are of the view that we gain everything for ourselves and had not passed down the benefits to them as we continue to meet different officials, with no use. But that is not the truth. Simply we have not been able to help the villagers or ourselves," they said. The Farmer Society has not been able to win the confidence of the villagers.

Their main farming crops include rice, vegetables and onions. However, they do not have a proper system to sell their produce. During elections, like in the South, many politicians visit their village. But none has done any good for them so far. "They are all broken promises," said another villager.

Assistance for farming is urgently needed before the rainy season, according to several villagers we interviewed. Kandiah Sinniah Rasamma, an elderly woman, wants a house to replace the one destroyed in 1990 due to the war. She now lives in a cadjan hut.

Thavamani is another helpless mother with a mentally retarded son to look after. She has no house and no income. "I want someone to help me to look after my son," she says.

Many people in these parts have lost much of their property due to the conflict but they haven't got anything back and now survive with great difficulty.

Rajani is a mother of five children. Her husband is not in a position to work for a living as he has lost a limb during the war. "I work as a labourer and earn about Rs. 100 to 150 a day," she says. With that she looks after a family of five children and a disabled husband.

Her children go to the village school but she finds it extremely difficult to continue to send them to school as they do not have a proper source of income.

Despite all their problems, the villagers are happy to experience the peace that has been sustained following the truce. "We need peace," they say in unison.

The European Commission and UNDP Jaffna branch have come forward to assist these villagers through a project called, Integrated Recovery and Resettlement Program (IRRP) at a cost of Euro 4,000,000.

The UNDP Jaffna will be in charge of the implementation process and has already chosen several villages and identified their specific and urgent requirements.

Gnana Sivapathasundaram, Senior Program Officer, UNDP Jaffna said that they plan to address similar issues in the villages of Jaffna, Killinochchi, Vavuniya, Mullaithivu and Mannar.

The project will support a community orientated, integrated area-based approach to undertake a package of inter-related activities. These focus on support to the sustainable reintegration of refugees, IDPs and vulnerable local communities who lack opportunities.

Among the four areas for development are community based housing reconstruction, support to fisheries sector recovery, integrated agricultural sector recovery and support to community rehabilitation and reintegration.

UNDP will build the capacity of local structures, community based organisations, NGOs, governmental and non-governmental organisations.

The support to these communities to monitor and supervise construction and rehabilitation works will have a long term impact in terms of their ability to undertake relevant maintenance works which will be required by all communities.

The institutional sustainability of IRRP activities at the target group level is ensured through the network of strong community based organisations (CBOs) at village level, through which most of the project activities will be implemented.

IRRP will support the development of the regional fisheries industry through training and capacity building of concerned institutions, including the Department of Fisheries, the Fisheries Union and individual fisheries societies.

Through this, IRRP will promote the expansion of the industry, increasing market profits and enhancing the livelihoods of fishermen.

The IRRP will seek to introduce only those technologies that people can use and manage independently and which are not alien to the traditions and lifestyles of the people.

Apart from economic improvement, certain attitudinal and behavioural changes among the target group are intended. Sivapathasundaram said that under the IRRP, people in the fishing village would get houses and a community trade stall.

The villagers in Theriaddy would get houses, a fertiliser storage facility, agro wells and several other facilities.

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