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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, December 24, 2005

Tsunami after one year- economic and social impact

Sunday Times: 18/12/2005" By Sunil Karunanayake

Our regular columnist on corporate and macro-economic issues argues that the first anniversary of the tsunami is a good opportunity to reflect on the collective trauma the country has gone through and on ways to rebuild the country.

The impact assessments of the December 26, 2004, tsunami revealed vast damage to the coastal infrastructure affecting public and private properties. On the economic front fishing and tourism, which provided livelihood support to many in the coastline took a severe beating. Total damage was estimated around US$1 billion (accounting for 4.9 percent of the GDP) and the reconstruction was estimated around US$ 1.8 billion.

Economic growth for 2005 was revised downwards from 6 percent to 5.5 percent, but the recent statements by the Treasury Secretary indicates that we are very much likely to be closer to the original estimate. Impact of tourism and fisheries was relatively less significant on the growth. After the initial shocks the Sri Lankan economy did well to grow sufficiently and reduce the inflation. Most remarkable was the rapid inflow of foreign funds that strengthened the rupee while aid commitments from donors increased and debt relief was granted. These developments enabled a healthy balance of payment while the tsunami reconstruction was getting off the ground.

The rebuilding task was mammoth and even before the government machinery started moving Sri Lankans true to their time honoured traditions and cultures went out of the way to help those who were displaced, injured and subject to many other traumatic conditions. Suffering was somewhat mitigated with simple village folks accommodating friends and relations.

By end October the Central Bank Tsunami Development Relief (TDR) had received Rs 22 billion. The Suhasana loan scheme of the Central Bank has disbursed 7984 loans valued at Rs 3.6 billion to end September. Further US$ 1 million has been granted by the UNDP to the Central Bank to be disbursed to the micro entrepreneurs.

The World Bank who is playing an active role in rebuilding provides a grant of US$ 50 each to approximately 220,000 affected families to enable them to get them back on their feet. In total there were 90,000 houses destroyed resulting in 400,000 people to be rehoused. The World Bank also financed house construction as well as repairs. Though the planning, identification of land, communication with communities and matching beneficiary needs were difficult the World Bank is optimistic of the rebuilding effort and anticipates positive results in 2006.

Budgetary estimates for 2006 provides for Rs 50 billion for tsunami related expenditure of which around 60 percent is expected from foreign grants.
Sarvodaya in a research study, notes that reconstruction programmes must take into account the socio cultural aspects, which increases when communities move through different phases of resettlement. More seriously they state that lesser understanding of socio cultural aspects by the providers further resulted in changes in the value system of the community.

These have given rise to serious repercussions in these communities who were used to a dignified life. Today the question uppermost in the minds is have we done enough? Have we done our share of good to our fellow citizens who faced one of world’s deadliest natural disasters? Admittedly during the initial period sympathy and care was evident with tamashas in cities being scaled down. Though the debris is cleared and some new housing has come up a lot remains to be done. There are many devastated families; children without parents and parents without children and the list could be very long. Though physical needs are being met livelihood and social issues remain.

The year-end and Christmas no doubt brings a certain amount of festivity in to the air. At the same time thought should be spared for affected citizens who are still trying to get on to their own feet to restore their dignity.

While the good cheer must prevail, in this first anniversary of the tsunami we as Sri Lankans must resolve to share our fortunes with those who were unfortunately affected. A little saving from the year-end extravaganza will go a long way to brighten up many smiles along the coastline irrespective of ethnic, religious or any other labels. Whether it is unitary or united that is the Sri Lanka we must rebuild. (The writer could be reached at - suvink@eureka.lk)

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