These World Bank-supported cash grants, designed to help people get back on their feet and circulate money in small local economies, have so far disbursed US$33 million.
When the last installment reaches families later this year, the total will be US$40 million.
The Bank’s Country Director for Sri Lanka, Peter Harrold, says the payments are just part of the Bank’s response to help Sri Lanka rebuild after the tsunami.
Harrold says while the reconstruction process in Sri Lanka is an enormous task and has had its difficulties, there’s clear evidence now of progress on the ground.
“It’s an enormously challenging task and some proved to be very difficult indeed, but overall we’re pretty happy with the way things are going,” he says.
“Resources are getting to people and people’s lives are being put back together and the physical aspects of the country are slowly being restored. But every day you are reminded of the enormity of the challenge that the country is facing.”
“This is a country of 19 million people of whom close to a million were initially displaced. That’s as many people as were displaced in New Orleans.
There isn’t a family that wasn’t touched by it.”
The World Bank has committed up to US$150 million to help Sri Lanka.
“The country has already received US$50 million and it looks like by the end of the calendar year we will have committed most of that US$150 million and by the end of next year, most of that money will have been disbursed,” he says.
The money’s being channeled into housing reconstruction, as well as rebuilding of heath facilities, road reconstruction and logistical support.
Aside from the cash grants to the 220,000 families, the World Bank has also been handing out cash grants for housing – worth about US$2500– to allow families to repair or rebuild their homes.
Harrold says the task of rebuilding housing for affected families is immense.
“We’re talking about rebuilding between ten and twenty times as many houses that are normally built in the country in an entire year.
“The planning process, the identification of land, the consultation with communities and the matching of a beneficiary with the house they are going to occupy – this is all difficult time consuming tasks.”
Nonetheless Harrold is optimistic about the housing reconstruction effort.
“There were about 90,000 houses destroyed which left over 400,000 people needing to be rehoused.
“There are now just a few hundred families left in tents. A total of more than 50,000 temporary houses have been completed and families have moved into those. There are a similar number of families staying with friends or relatives.”
Harrold says there are 60,000 houses currently under construction or under repair. There’s another 20,000 houses which are being assigned to people, with the process of land allocation now underway.
“And literally at the end of the year everybody will know where their house is going to be. They’ll be able to see it. In many cases, they’ll be helping to build their house.
“Every family will know this is where my future home is going to be and I can see it’s just a few months away from being built.
“Housing was the biggest physical causality. If everybody knows where their house is going to be and if they can see it coming up, I think the psychological boost will be fantastic.
One issue in the reconstruction process has been the Government of Sri Lanka’s declaration of a buffer zone – a no go area rebuilding. The government declared the zone off –limits to any new structures, saying the move would protect citizens from future disasters and also would protect the coastal zone.
About 56,000 houses remain inside the buffer zone. But families who were living inside the zone had been told they’d be resettled.
Harrold – who has previously advocated a flexible approach to the buffer zone rule – says the issue had been a difficulty – but not for everyone.
“In many parts of the country resettlement is proceeding quite rapidly. For many families who’ve been through such a trauma, it’s a good solution. They don’t want to be by the sea.
“But for others, it’s different. One is that they do want to go back to where they were before. But secondly, Sri Lanka is a physically small country which is very densely populated. Twenty six percent of the population lives within a mile of the coast.
“The challenge of finding new land – close enough to where they lived before – has proved nigh on impossible in certain parts of the country.”
For that reason, he says there was the idea of modifying the buffer zone in certain areas – those which are very densely populated where land is in short supply.
The Government of Sri Lanka has now modified the buffer zone – reducing it in many areas, according to the Coastal Conservation Department’s earlier risk assessment.
Harrold says about half the families who were earlier scheduled for resettlement will now have the option of rebuilding their homes in situ, instead of moving.
He says now comes the challenge of designing appropriate programs to support those families to go back and help them build houses to higher construction standards.