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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, December 23, 2005

Sri Lanka: Rebuilding in paradise – One year after the tsunami

ReliefWeb: 13/12/2005"

Just under one year ago, a giant tidal wave swept over the coasts of South-East Asia, claiming the lives of over 200,000 people. But the disastrous destruction caused by the tsunami set something else in motion: an unprecedented willingness across the globe to donate. According to UN figures, EUR 5.8 billion was donated within a matter of weeks, more than EUR 600 million of which came from Germany alone.

Today, attention is focused on the question of what has been achieved so far and what else can be done. How do things look on the ground? What are the prospects for tsunami victims? How are donated funds being used? And what form does sustainable reconstruction take? The television station ARTE is devoting a theme evening with three separate items and entitled 'Reconstruction in Paradise – One Year After the Tsunami' to answering these questions (to be broadcast on 13 December 2005). On 28 November, a preview of the evening in excerpt form was presented at the GTZ-Haus, Berlin. Following the presentation, the author and the editor joined representatives from politics and Development Cooperation in a panel discussion.

"We did not want to deliver quick-fire judgements on international tsunami relief," is how the television journalist Klaus Frings assesses his film about reconstruction in Sri Lanka, 'Competing to Provide Charity'. "Actually our aim is to make a contribution to a debate that is difficult, but exciting and necessary too." Reconstruction cannot be achieved overnight, especially if it is to be on a sustainable basis – this is the film's central tenet.

Against the background of a national annual budget of only USD 3 billion, the scale of international donations represents a massive intervention in Sri Lanka's social and economic structure. "The surge in the building industry in the devastated coastal areas means, for example, that rice farmers from the interior are moving to the coast as building workers. By next year at the latest, the fact that the rice fields have been neglected will make itself felt," reports Klaus Frings. "These are processes which nobody actively wants to encourage, but which arise when a large amount of money arrives all at once. Perhaps it is a good thing that substantial funds are still being held on bank accounts and can be spent on aid over a longer period of time."

In this respect, all the relief organisations which had been active in the affected countries for many years and were familiar with local circumstances were at a considerable advantage. One of these is GTZ, which is working on sustainable reconstruction in the region on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and other relief organisations. "Our longstanding presence in the area was the prerequisite for our ability to provide help," says Christoph Feyen. "Our development-oriented emergency aid was integrated into existing programmes for the promotion of economic reform and conflict prevention." Following this principle, GTZ ordered boats from local craftsmen and offered training courses in boat-mending skills, for example.

An essential part of this approach is consultation with local decision-makers and other organisations or companies involved in the reconstruction process. Marion Aberle of Deutsche Welthungerhilfe (German Agro Action) confirms this: "At the start, the willingness of people in the region to help was overlooked. Yet it was their involvement which made it possible to coordinate relief swiftly."

Good communications and local knowledge are also the best defence against potential political instrumentalisation. "We took this risk into consideration right from the start, for example in conflict prevention," says Adolf Kloke-Lesch, Head of Directorate at the BMZ. In his view, aid must be directed to where it is most urgently needed, and that, he says, is in the worst hit regions where the Tamil minority lives. Anyone wishing to help there needs to confer not only with the government in Colombo but also with the militant Tamil Tiger rebels. "Our basic principles naturally form part of the negotiating process – and for us that means principles of sustainability."

Source: Deutsche Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit

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