Professionals engaged in the Tsunami Housing Construction Program face challenges concerning housing. It is due to the populations determined by the number of houses at each location demanding services that could sustain the new settlements in the long term.
In spite of all these, the impacts on environment arising out of houses and housing in the new settlements, are hardly spoken about, a statement issued by the Tsunami Housing Reconstructions Unit (THRU) Environment and Project Planning Division said.
It is true that the priority in the agenda is moving the affected families into permanent houses as soon as possible.
Similar experiences in the world over show that people always reacted to quality of environment in the new settlements, after settling in the new houses.
It has to be understood because the agony of living in temporary or transit shelter is felt by the displaced people and not by the planners, designers and contractors.
However, it would be a lost opportunity if the available expertise is not put into use for parallel programming. It is better late than never. All donors are unanimous that environment concerns are addressed simultaneously with houses and housing, the release said.
Environment concerns of tsunami housing projects are addressed under three stages.
Planning teams of the Urban Development Authority (UDA) operating at district level, evaluate the suitability of available sites for housing with the help of a planning checklist and this checklist includes criteria for screening the sites for environment concerns.
Locations are checked for accessibility to environment infrastructure services and also from avoiding, flood plains, marshes or low-lying land, steep slopes, archaeological, forest and wildlife reserves, the release added.
Upon establishment of suitability, the donors are given the green light to develop the designs for the new settlements and they are required to obtain planning clearance from the UDA for the layout and the building design. During this stage the donors are also advised to discuss with the NWS & DB, the proposals for water supply and waste water disposal.
Although it is often cited as a red tape, compliance with the National Environment Law is prime requirement at this stage. The environment law requires that all development projects that exceed the prescribed limits in scope or located within or close to listed sensitive sites should be screened for environment impacts in order to mitigate negative impacts.
Environment impact studies are time consuming. Screening over 300-sites spread across 12-districts is another problem. This is where THRU has stepped in.
A facilitation approach has been decided through preparation of environment profiles of all sites. Universities in the coastal regions have agreed to undertake the assignment on regional basis. This 30-day program will result in a comprehensive data base of environment profiles of all housing sites.
The Central Environment Authority (CEA), which is responsible for ensuring compliance with environment laws, will then decide on the need for extending the program for further environment impact (EI) studies. All major donors have expressed willingness to undertake EI Studies if their projects are found to be falling into that category, statement said.