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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, April 30, 2005

Human activity management in coastal zones

Human activity management in coastal zone of Sri Lanka: by L.W. Seneviratne,
P. O. Box 1138, Irrigation Department, Colombo 7, Sri Lanka
Tel: , Fax: , Email: dd_spp@irrigation.slt.lk
Abstract

Sri Lanka is an island with a long coastal belt. The wet zone has 2600 mm annual rainfall and it extends from Chillaw to Matara. Coconut cultivation is predominant in highlands. Salinity is the natural problem in the coastal zone. Drinking water is tapped from the drainage sources. In February and August months salinity enters the water supply inlets due to its low water levels. Also salinity enters paddy fields destroying the cultivation.

Human activity is now imposing a high threat in controlling salinity. Sand mining in rivers is the major reason for coastal zone structural damage. Increasing level of building construction and hence making bricks out of sand has caused heavy extraction of sand from all available locations. The natural phenomenon of making and maintaining sandy beaches has now disturbed. Sufficient sand is not reaching the river sea confluence to maintain sandy beaches. Erosion in beaches has caused extensive damage to the railway line and houses. The beauty of the beach is lost when revetments are formed to protect the eroded coastal line. Mining limestone in the SW zone has again caused the loss of coral reef and death of valuable and beautiful variety of corals.

Village level teaching programs for the protection of environment is planned. But the human activity is increasing with tourist industry in this area. Chemicals also had caused death of corals. Effluent released from hotels, dwellers and factories have caused chemical damage and eutrofication in lagoons.

Coastal zone management is assigned to Coast Conservation Department. The traditional irrigation and drainage of water is assigned to Irrigation Department. There is a necessity to control bank erosion of rivers. People do not seriously feel the gravity of coastal zone management. Investors think about the profit only and not on the long-term effects of the construction work. Mangrove trees are now reduced. This amounts to rise in sea level in coastal zone. Prawn farmers converted lagoons into busy areas but the addition of biomass has affected bio diversity. In Northern and Eastern coastal areas erosion is low but many locations are affected by erosion of lime. A national program combining all investors are necessary to develop a strategy to preserve sandy beaches and water quality in line with economic development Fisheries, tourism, industries, agriculture, ports development and water quality have combined effect on management.

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Long term sustenance of the agribusiness sector in Sri Lanka

Daily Mirror: "29/04/2005 By D.M.Nihal Devagiri : Business Analyst, National Agribusiness Council

"History is repeating, "One lady has committed suicide", reported by "Lankadeepa" on April 18th Monday 2005. Thanks to the agricultural setup in Sri Lanka and farmer communities engage in it, and the "sacred", politicians; let them be mixed socialists or mixed capitalists, capable of exploiting the consensus of communities effectively, even though they may be ineffective in getting into the core of the rural problems and finding suitable solutions. Politicians give thousands of false promises exploiting the consensus of the poor, attending the programs aimed in improving the welfare of the people. The burning question is whether these programs have been able to reach to the target audience. It is not, that is why some poor farmers commit suicide and continuing to live in misery.

Following table illustrates the ground reality. The magnitude of the poverty is much higher in rural areas when compare with the urban areas. It is about four times higher in rural areas than in urban. Majority of these people in rural areas are still dependent on subsistence farming and share of the paddy dominant less dynamic agricultural economy.

Table 1 Poverty Head Count Ratio National and by Sector (%)

Sector Survey Period
Sector 1990-91(%) 1995-96 (%) 2002 (%)
National 26.1 28.8 22.7
Urban 16.3 14.0 7.9
Rural 29.4 30.9 24.7
Estate 20.5 38.4 30.0
Source: Dept. of Census & Statistics

The burning question is, are we allowing the fate of those affected to be decided by the subsistence agriculture alone or else what should be our long term plan to address the grievances and uplift the standard of living of rural farmers.

Agriculture engages nearly 80% of the population and is a principle contributor to Sri Lanka's economic growth, with an output of Rs 131 billion in 2000, accounting for nearly 20% of GDP (at constant prices basis 1980-2000). The sector is vast in its coverage, consisting of food grains/ cereals, fruits, vegetables and several commercial crops like Tea, Rubber, Coconut, foliage & flowers, spices, sugar cane, and tobacco. However, a large share of the production comes from small and marginal holdings, and goes for direct consumption. For example domestic consumption of spices, fruit has been estimated at 70, 90 percent from the total production, respectively. As a result, there is not a high commercial surplus from several segments of agriculture. However, with the introduction of private enterprises in food processing and with increased international trade opportunities, this situation is changing.

Agri-business Sector: Present Status and Future Prospects

Agribusiness sector include all activities in the production, manufacturing, distribution, wholesale and retail sales of agriculture commodities. If we properly utilized the country's potential in production and processing of the agro-based products we can develop an internationally competitive agribusiness sector here in Sri Lanka but unfortunately agricultural trade has rarely been considered to be an engine for economic development and it has usually been regarded as an unprofitable sector. Hence there is a low intervention and facilitation by the government to develop this sector. But this notion is changing since opportunities in the international arena are widely unfolding.

Agribusiness sector plays an important role in Sri Lanka as Its capacity to generate employment and equitable income growth throughout the economy is significant since agriculture still stands as the main employer in the country (Chart 1). Diversification into suitable agribusiness ventures and developing food processing industry would boost rural income.

Sri Lanka had maintained an 8% (FAO, 2002) annual growth rate in agricultural exports for all agricultural products, which is higher than that India where the same has been estimated at 6.8 percent for the period considered 1992-2001. Sri Lanka is net exporter in Agricultural goods because Average Annual Growth rate in agriculture imports for the same period has been estimated at 5.4 % for the agriculture products, is slightly lower than that of exports.

Even though the potential for rural development, utilizing the benefits created through value addition and sector focused investments are well understood, country is not well geared to get the full benefits despite of the fact that the sector's potential in bringing positive impact on rural development, creating employment opportunities and increased income.

For instance production of fruits are growing at compound annual rate of 3 % over the past decade and amazingly only 1 % of the production is commercially processed, in contrast to 83% in Malaysia, 78 % in Philippine and 30 % in Thailand. Wastage is estimated to be high as 40%, is the highest among the South Asian countries.

Value addition is constrained by the long value chain with too many intermediaries. Scale efficiency is minimized. Agriculture could be diversified and the food processing industry developed, which would give strong boost to rural incomes and have major multiplier effects on employment and equitable income growth through the economy. Value addition in this sector is constrained due to many factors. Such as inadequate infrastructure, inappropriate technology, lack of quality products, low level of support from the Research & Development and coordination among the governmental and private sector organizations. These factors discourage the level of investments and also are key areas that has been affecting to the level of value added in this sector. For example during the year 1992, 2001 Sri Lanka had shown -1.6 % and -2.9 % negative growth in the agriculture industry value addition, only in 2002 this sector has shown around 1 % growth (FAO).

Problems & Opportunities in the Agribusiness sector

While Sri Lanka is producing several agricultural commodities, productivity in almost all crops is far behind the world averages, despite decades of concerted and regulated agricultural reforms. Average Annual Growth rate of GDP in agriculture has been below 1.9 % (at constant 1996 prices, Central Bank), barely coping with the population growth.

Table 02: Productivity of the Major crops in the Asia Pacific Region

AGRICULTURE PRODUCTIVITY (MT/HECTARE)
Country Rice Maize Potato Onion Sugarcane Chilies (dry) & pepp.
Sri Lanka 3.8 1.1 13.6 7.8 57.1 2.8
India 2.9 1.7 17 12.5 68 9.2
Thiland 2.6 3.7 12 14.1 73.4 14
Malysia 3 3 0 0 75.1 0
Vietnam 4.6 2.9 11.8 2.9 53 0
China 6.3 5.1 14.8 20.3 66.3 19.1
Philipines 3.3 1.8 12.4 8.2 66.2 3.5
World 3.6 4.3 16.1 17.5 65.8 13.8
(Source: FAO-2002)

Sri Lanka still depends heavily on rain-fed agriculture: only 33 % of agriculture lands, concentrated in a few districts, are irrigated. The dependence on monsoons has caused wide fluctuations in the agriculture growth in past years. Post-harvest losses leading to enormous wastage of agricultural produce is another major constraint in Sri Lanka: primary wastage is estimated to be more than 40% of the output of fruit and vegetables, and more than 20% in other sectors due to the absence of an adequate post harvest management programme, and cold chains on a national scale.

Fluctuations in the Production system - Effect of Seasonality

Agriculture has shown severe fluctuations in growth in the past few years, a result of excessive dependence on monsoons given that nearly 70% of the agriculture acreages are not irrigated; 2002-03 saw the worst monsoons in over hundred years, leading to a 3.1% decline in agriculture output.

Table 03: Growth Rates; National and Agriculture

1998-99 1990-00 2001 2002 2003

Sector growth 6.6% 5.1% 1.5% -- 1.5%

GDP Growth 4.3% 6.0% -1.4% 3.0% 5.9%

The future growth trend of agriculture output is likely to see similar fluctuations, even as the sector's share of GDP is reducing, from % in 5.1 to less than 1.5% in 1990-2003.

But this trend should be rectified since majority of rural people will be at risk because the proportion depend on agriculture are large.

However, the future growth of agriculture requires Sri Lanka to generate commercial surpluses for international markets, which require interventions in productivity improvements and identifying thrust areas that should be promoted for export agriculture.

In this context it's worthwhile to analyze the present situation in the agribusiness sector: Its potential, the issues and remedial measures that could be undertaken on devising an export oriented competitive agribusiness sector benefiting largely the rural poor.

Existence of a quality infrastructure plays an important role because it helps producers to send products to market in time in the best quality condition and at the other end receive inputs efficiently. Even at the existing level of production a substantial amount of produce is being wasted every year due to lack of proper harvesting, transportation, storage, processing and marketing facilities and low demand of processed foods due to high costs in comparison to the fresh produce. 80 % of the land mass is owned by the government and proper use of land is the need of the day.

Land use for commercial crop production has been constrained mainly due to the existing rules and regulations in the country. Diversification of paddy lands contained by the No 46 of the Agrarian Services Development Act of 2000 thus favoring cultivation of traditional crops at the expenses of government subsidies. This has been a severe blow to the commercialization of the agriculture. Measures should be taken to allocate lands to promote investment in large scale in agribusiness and also should take necessary steps to make land allocation easy. Even though lands are available in remote areas they are also not accessible due to lack of irrigation, electricity, roads and markets. Not only that physical infrastructure is vital but also lack of availability and access to high quality seeds, other planting material and quality animal stocks are also difficult.

Country's public sector agriculture research, extension system is not well geared and trade oriented and they are limited to traditional crop production areas. Agriculture research and extension system and production of produce is presently are supply driven and are restricted to only traditional areas of research and extension. There is a lack of coordination between agribusiness companies and research stations as to what they should focus on the other hand private sector is not prepared to undertake or invest in research and development not only due to a high investment expenditure such as system require but also lack of private sector initiative. It is high time to encourage agribusiness research focused on innovation with suitable incentive scheme to motivate the private and government research groups and creating meaningful and market driven National R & D Policy with inputs from the stake holders.

Lack of access and availability of storage is another problem. Cold chain facilities are inadequate and in some cases not existing(in provinces and main towns) to meet the growing production and storage of perishables such as milk, fruits and vegetables, poultry, fisheries for domestic and export markets. Priority should be given to establish and maintenance of Cold chains in the private / public sector and should be treated as a continuing process in the industries and investment by facilitating and providing fiscal incentives to encourage the establishment of cold chains, which are capital intensive and have long gestation periods and credit by banks and financial institutions at reasonable lending rates. Cold storage facilities should be developed at international airport in the country and farmers should be directed and to sell their products directly to the cold storage companies. Prioritization of expenditure on rural infrastructure, storing and transportation facilities to Town, an increasing emphasis on private trade necessitates that storage systems are developed at the farm level. If not very high levels of wastage and value loss of horticultural produce due to lack of investments in storage will continue. Poor infrastructure for handling export of perishable foods agri-exports and floricultural products will limit the capacities of the agribusiness sector in export participation and government should device measures to contain this problem forth with.

Financial Services Available

The level of private sector investment will be determined not only by the factors mentioned above. Availability and access to the low cost finance also a major factor to the new players to the industry and to the expansion of the existing enterprises in the sector. There is no national level finance institution to fund the agribusiness projects. Investment in Agribusiness is discouraged because lending rates of existing commercial and private sector banks are exorbitantly high and discourage investment in agribusiness.

Credits are not available at a concessionary rates and the current system of institutional credit to the industry suffers from numerous problems and financing agribusiness has been curtailed due to industry/ farmer unfriendly procedure, formalities that have to be met and lack of collateral.

The other factors such as, lack of credit to the agri-industry/farmer at the appropriate rate of interest and delay in credit delivery to the farmer and the industry, imbalances in credit delivery which make farmers/industry resort to non-institutional sources of credit at high effective rates of interest will results in low investment culture in agri-business sector. Policies should be drawn to facilitate concessional finance at low interest rates to the industry and an effective financial package could be designed focused on Agri-business with liberalized and improved terms and conditions. On the other hand allowing agri-resources to be surety for working capital loans, effective crop and stock Insurance schemes to reduce the risk hence improve the investments, formulation of an effective Micro Finance Policy specifically for the agribusiness sector will improve the private sector attractiveness and could place agribusiness sector in a high profile.

Creating an Internationally Competitive Agribusiness Sector In Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka could reap the benefit from evolving trends in international trade. Demands for spices, herbal products, fruits and vegetables, floriculture and for organic products in the international market is increasing.

Processing in to high value addition, and exploring new areas like organic and more quality products in agriculture are the keys to the future. When accounts for varied agro-climatic zones we have, the nation blessed with all the right ingredients for success in agriculture.

Agriculture could be diversified and the food processing industry developed, which would give a strong boost to rural income and have major multiplier effect on employment and equitable income growth through the economy. Strong and dynamic food processing industry can play a vital role in diversification and commercialization of agriculture, ensure value addition to agriculture produces and create surplus for export processed products.

Upon finding solutions for the above mentioned problems agribusiness could play a significant role on the rural economic development and agro entrepreneurial sector and become a major source for rural non-farm employment with high income in the future.

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Redefining Community Service: Challenges post tsunami

Daily Mirror: "27/04/2005 By Chandra Jayaratne

I am privileged to be able to present before this gathering of worldwide business and professional leaders, some thoughts that redefine community service- challenges following the tsunami disaster. These may be termed as the ten new golden rules of community service.

Rotarians are committed to provide humanitarian service and to maintain high ethical standards in vocations, whilst helping to build goodwill and peace around the world. Within the objectives of developing acquaintances and dignifying one's occupation as an opportunity to serve society, new paradigms of thought and action with new definitions may now be necessary to be embedded within the Rotary commitments.

Disaster
The great Asian disaster of 26th December 2004, as a consequence of the earthquake that generated a vertical displacement in the sea floor with a tsunami of no real precedent, has meant new challenges to all stakeholders of Sri Lanka in providing relief and re settlement support to the victims of the worst ever natural disaster facing the citizens of the nation. Although in terms of cold statistics, the disaster may not be the worst faced by any country, it is unique in that, more than one country has been affected simultaneously and large extents of land have been devastated. The devastation has impacted the rich and the poor, elderly, young and children, without discrimination by way of religion, race or nationality.

It has been said that "Waves of destruction have been followed by Waves of Compassion". The latter has pervaded the whole nation, and in fact the whole world. It is reported that 46% of all American households, nearly 50% of the European households and over 58% of all households in the United Kingdom have been involved in some way in supporting those impacted by the tsunami, including at times even the welfare of the surviving dogs and cats. How many Sri Lankan families amongst the 50% of households living above the poverty line joined in supporting some aspects of the relief and resettlement initiatives? A new challenge in the process of community services is for the Rotarians to enhance the level of participative penetration of the Sri Lankan society. With many clubs spread across the country, expanding the groups engaged in community services must now become a priority.

On the dawn of the new year 2005 there were no dinner dances, festivities, and when not even one cracker was lit at mid night, the time during other years when crackers were a substitute for thunder and lightening, there appeared hope with prayers for the awakening of a new nation, rising from the ashes to build one knit in peace and harmony. As the months have faded these hopes may have now begun to wane, as division, selfishness and hunger for power may be leading the nation in a different direction. At the same time some remote villages in Ratnapura and Moneragala have organize themselves on the 19th and 26th of each month to visit tsunami affected villages of the South of Sri Lanka to support ongoing relief efforts and care for the grieving brothers and sisters in the manner of visiting close relatives - "Ne gam Yanawa".

Paradigm change
The first paradigm change denoted as Rule I of community service, relates to a change required in the manner in which community services are organized. Community services must henceforth be led by the people and society to serve society, seeking to embed an improvement or enhancement in the quality of life, productivity, skills, and options of the people served. Therefore, a mere repair, re-build, replace, re equip and re provide what was lost in its previous state, especially by competent local or foreign contractors will not suffice. Here it is important to examine whether the national planners of the north and south have taken a similar strategy? By examining the two documents compiled by the respective planners, the separate approaches in dealing with the need to address the damage and destruction to physical infrastructure, livelihoods, social infrastructure and psychological framework of the people can be clearly seen.

Rule II relates to the need to focus on building a new Sri Lanka Incorporation through the tsunami related community services. The physical re-construction which is more tangible should be accompanied by the personal and social transformation of ALL leading to the "Awakening of the Nation". Therefore can the Rotarians hereafter call their activities not as community service projects but as community re-building processes!

Vision
The country needs a VISION which not only motivates ALL stakeholders but also directs all efforts at Relief, Rehabilitation, Re Construction, Reconciliation and Reawakening, that binds all individuals, societies, the state, private sector, Non Governmental Organizations, international agencies etc. The Vision must be long term, people based, involve, empower and engage society and must deal with the society itself improving and enhancing the life styles and living standards and thus creating a new society and a new nation knit together by oneness and one purpose.

A community service’s new vision appropriate in the current context is to "By 2015 ensure all stakeholders of the Sri Lankan society enjoy a sustainable living standard and a lifestyle that assure to them

-Peace and Harmony amongst communities

-A secure and disciplined society with good governance

-Law abiding and law enforced environment

-The surpassing of Millennium Development Goals

-Opportunities for personal advancement through knowledge and skills development

-Opportunities, facilitation and support for growth and development of private enterprise and entrepreneurship

-Quality housing, with water, electricity, and sanitation

-Easy access to education, health, and recreation

-Means of transportation to access with ease the national infrastructure

- A sustainable environment and ecology

- An environment that fully empowers and engages the village community to achieve the desired level of political, economic, social and consciousness empowerment

-That the lowest 10% of the income earning households in society derive at least a per capital income of $ 1500."

The focus must be the raising of the living standards and life styles and not only economic indices and the national income per capita. The new focus must be on the lowest segment of society, full engagement versus full employment and full empowerment of people and society (in areas of freedom, economic, social and spiritual) versus centralized power and from a directed nation focusing only on economic numbers to one addressing national human happiness (Subjective Well Being) indices.

There is a new definition needed in community services. We need to define for whom, by whom, with whom, and with what strategies decided by whom. The only acceptable choice for all these appears to be none other than "the people and society" to whom the services are offered. Therefore Rule IV relates to community services being designed and delivered to people and society by the people organizing themselves, adopting strategies and action plans decided by them within selected risk levels acceptable to them. The role of the private sector, NGO's, International Agencies and community service groups like Rotary is only to network with the people and society and provide them with required resources in measures and in a way required by the community with the resources themselves being in the form of

-Capability (Knowledge/Skills and Attitudes)

-Technology and best practices

-Network facilitation to reach opportunities and options

-Money, materials and machinery delivered in a manner that brings out the best in the people and society, their creativity, quality, productivity, innovativeness, competitiveness and sustainability. Therefore Rule IV simply stated is people’s engagement and empowerment by facilitating a process and not a project.

The rule V relates to ‘whom and what to avoid" in the community service initiatives. In developing countries, all initiatives and attempts to provide community services are bound by the giant arm of government and politicians. If effective community services are to be provided, it is best to avoid networking and direct partnership with government and politicians. Their interests and actions generally are counterproductive and usually driven by personal motives. The voice of the community must be the beacon for community services. You need to open your computers and if the large screen you see in front of your initiative is a politician or the government, immediately minimize it and maximize the people power; people empowerment and people led initiatives developed according to the consensus reached following consultation amongst the community at village level. Paying heed to the voice of the community and their decided priorities and action steps must be the focus.

The rule VI relates to "how to do it" - the strategy of the initiative. Get the community to implement the initiative with your facilitation with your main task being empowerment and engagement of the community. This process of empowerment and engagement can be between you as an individual with another individual in a village, or your family linking up with a family in the village, you as a leader linking, leading and mentoring as a role model to a village leader, or your business supporting a village business led link up and finally village to a village, where your community adopt a whole village for engagement and empowerment.

The rule VII relates to the need to reverse the present process. Today the Rotarians are used to finding a project at a club level or at a donor and club level or between two clubs with one as a donor and other as an implementer. The new paradigm is the reverse, where you network with the community, find their needs, assess with them the best option of support and strategic support needs and engage them in to action, empower their capability with a resource plan and facilitative networks and then link with donors or club committees for adoption.

In this process it is important that you promise only what you can deliver and always deliver on your promises, recognizing that it is always better to over deliver on promises than under deliver. A classic example of what to avoid is the politician's way recently demonstrated in promising all tsunami victims permanent housing within three months. It would have been better to have promised tents within a month, temporary housing within six months and permanent housing within 24 months and over deliver.

The rule VIII relates to the new network partnerships needed to effectively discharge community services. Private business and organizations like the Rotary may not have the expertise and societal networks and understanding of the social, cultural and religious issues of the community. At the same time the community services NGO's lack the expertise, capability and best practices and also transparent accountable management processes. Therefore new partnerships linking the strengths of each of the network partners who together have the capability to optimize the delivered results has to be the way forward.

The rule IX shows the way to get power behind your initiatives leveraging the power of the multiplier effect. You should make every effort to involve others to engage with you in community services, multiply such initiatives and engage even their associates, to thus develop a chain reaction of support initiatives. You can begin with the friends and relatives and extend to visitors, business contacts, export contacts and import sources, your other business partners, internal and external network partners and especially the extended family of your movement, the other clubs both in Sri Lanka and overseas.

The need to engage are the many and not few, even preferring small contributing many to large contributing few, the task being to build a large network of caring, conscious and committed partners in large numbers across the world. Technology can provide significant links to make these contacts in multiple numbers. A web site with transparency, accountability which is also very user friendly can be a significant asset. The site should show project details, developments as the project progresses, costs, audit sign offs and comments of the stakeholders and options for a continuing network between the donors and recipients with the recipients' news and development being available to be tracked.

The film "play it forward" shows us the way and the power of the multiplier. When a child in a school suggests and organizes through the teacher for the entire class to engage in a "project for good", where a good deed needs to be done to five persons, with each recipients repeating it to five more, the end result is an unbelievable positive impact on society. It becomes evident that this simple chain of action for good can leverage a powerful force for community services.

The Social Marketing concepts can guide these initiatives. Here we remember some experiences in the USA, where accidents due to drink driving which resulted in 17 deaths in the previous twelve months reduced to none following simple positive action by the community. It was recognized that just saying "do not drink and drive" was of any use, so long as there were bars on the way from the city and people visiting the bars needed to get home driving their cars after the visit to the bars. The well meaning community organized the bars to provide transport to visitors or taxi services and arranged volunteers who dedicated their time to take the visitors to the bars and home thereafter. This shows how strategic positive social networked action can have a significant positive end result.

The rule X relates to a possible direction where and how to begin the process of community services within the new challenging paradigms, I ask you as leaders of society to turn to Confucius

"To put the world right in order, we must first put the nation in order; to put the nation in order, we must first put the family in order; to put the family in order, we must first cultivate our personal life; we must first set our hearts right."

~Confucius
The way forward therefore begins with looking inwards and transforming oneself to the new way of life and approach necessary for effective community service and then turning the attention to our occupations and businesses, our sector networks, and then to international NGO's and International Rotary networks. All this must be approached knowing that we are different in some ways only, but equal in most other ways from those whom we target to serve through community service and therefore the primary need is to further equalize by raising others ( the people in the community) through effective empowerment in political, economic, social capacity whilst enhancing knowledge and spiritual commitments as well.

I, like most of you Rotarians have been a fruit on an apple tree of business and professions, taking in sustenance from the society earth. As I am twisting my self away from the tree to fall on to the earth to sustain society that sustained me all these years through community services, I thank you for giving me an opportunity to get a deeper understanding of the tasks ahead, through my presentation.

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Friday, April 29, 2005

Permanent housing program fast tracked

Dail News: "29/04/2005, Land already demarcated for 34,000 houses: Permanent housing program fast tracked, BY MANJULA Fernando

NINETY per cent of the permanent houses for tsunami affected families will be completed by the fourth quarter of this year, the Government asserted yesterday.

"The bulk of the permanent housing project is to get off the ground by May and June and 80 to 90 per cent of the housing units are expected to be completed by the last quarter," said Mano Tittawella, Chairman of the Task Force for Relief and Reconstruction (TAFREN).

"The State has completed demarcating land for up to 34,000 permanent houses outside the 100 metre buffer zone as of yesterday and they have singed the MOUs with 71 donors to start construction," Tittawella told a news briefing. "May and June will be a decisive period for the housing program. Work has already started on 2,300 houses."

"We have to physically hand over the land at the time of signing the MOU with the donor," Tittawella said adding that the complex process involving land allocation has slowed the pace of housing reconstruction but they have overcome most of the issues now, in response to media queries.

He confirmed that the Government was capable of providing land for all the families needing relocation.

The TAFREN Chief said the Government with the help of foreign and local donors has built 15,470 transitional houses to relocate those in the relief camps and the total requirement of 30,000 houses will be completed by end of May. About 4,000 units are under construction.

Donors have expressed that they need at least 45 days from the MOU to finalise tender procedures and acquire material, one of the major challenges before actual construction could begin.

According to the latest figures of the Census and Statistics Department a total of 77,561 houses have been damaged in the December 26 tsunami which included 41,393 houses completely washed away by the waves.

A total of 194 donors have made pledges to construct about 97,000 permanent houses and these pledges are now being converted to actual commitments.

The Government has also decided to continue the family allowance of Rs.5000 up to June 30.

Tittawella said the President directed the Treasury at a recent meeting to continue this support payment up to June by which they hope the donor sponsored livelihood projects will be set in motion.

"We have paid this allowance for two months, January and February. Then it was stopped pending Treasury clearance," Relief Commissioner Tilak Ranaviraja said.

The Government Agent of Jaffna K. Ganesh, District Secretary of Hambantota, M.A. Piyasena, Batticaloa District Secretary V. Shanmugam, Matara District Secretary H.G. Jayasekera IOM Chief of mission Mary Sheehan and Plan Sri Lanka Director Juliano Fernando made presentations.

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Tsunami's 'Angels of Charity'

Daily News: "27/04/2005 BY THARUKA Dissanaike

THE tsunami death toll of 31,000 would have been much higher - if the rest of society did not rush to the aid of the affected the way they did.

Within minutes of the disaster, and even while it was happening people from around the wrecked coastal margin were rushing to pull the survivors to safety, the injured to hospital and donating food, clothes and medicines to those in refugee camps.

In the next few days, the authorities were still too dazed to announce any concrete action. But civilians flocked around the affected helping out at every turn.

In Colombo supermarket shelves emptied as people bought up essential stocks of rice, sugar, soap and milk powder and other essentials to distribute in camps for people displaced in the disaster.

Civilian volunteers pulled the dead out of wrecked buildings and saved the few remaining survivors. The spirit of giving had never been so strong.

A country that has seen deep sectarian divisions among its people virtually pulling it apart at the seams, suddenly saw a different side of society. People forgot their ethnic and racial divisions and biases- even for a few days- and pitched in to help with equal gusto whether in the Tamil North, or Muslim East, or Sinhala South.

One of the most unforgettable sights of the relief effort, for this writer, was in Valachchenai three days after the disaster. Convoys of villagers from the deep interior were carrying food and drinking water to the refugees along the coast. The villagers came from the troubled border areas and were mostly Sinhalese, the convoys being led by the village priest.

The refugees near that coast were a mix of Tamil and Muslim fishermen. The relief convoys crossed jungle tracks and even LTTE check points to get to the affected areas, in hand tractors, rickety trucks and old lorries.

The sight was amazing and heart warming. As was the news from Vaharai, an LTTE-held coastal area badly battered by the tsunami that many Sinhalese villagers including a Buddhist monk has stayed on for days helping the locals to recover the dead from the wreckage.

It was amazing to see this kind of bridge-building in the very areas where the civil war was fought with ferocity and had affected the lives of so many civilians.

Four months after the disaster, the situation has certainly changed. The rush for relief ebbed down and the country which was earlier, practically at a standstill now resumed 'normal' life.

But inside tsunami affected communities there is yet a great deal of local action- mainly to help each other get through personal loss and cope with the new responsibilities.

Ajith Nissanka, a 22 year old fisherman from Tangalle found himself a very young widower after the tsunami with an infant child to look after. The disaster also razed his house to the ground and destroyed his boat and implements.

He lives with his sister and the baby- just a year old- is being looked after by his sister-in-law while Nissanka struggles to regain some normalcy- a place to live and a livelihood. Many affected people today live with relatives or share their compound.

Several other widowed fishermen we met lived in their parents or siblings compound in a separate temporary shelter donated by various NGOs.

In Akurala, Hikkaduwa we met four families now living in a single house that managed to survive the tsunami with little damage. Before the tsunami they were neighbours and although some of them had erected tents on the foundations of their destroyed homes, the tents were far from livable, especially in the rain.

Across the country, in badly destroyed Kalmunai, similar informal arrangements between relatives, family members and neighbours make life marginally more comfortable for the displaced- whose only other option would have been to languish in tents, and temporary shelters in ill-designed camps until they manage to rebuild their homes.

In Batticaloa displaced fishermen and their families found they just could not live under the tin-roof temporary shelters erected for them at their relocation site. A group of them moved out to a nearby field and erected crude cadjan shelters which are much more comfortable in the heat. Many of them had lost their wives and were left with young children.

Because they now live in a closely dwelling community the women who survived the tsunami pitch in to look after the mother-less children while the men go fishing in their newly acquired boats.

The men, with the help of a local NGO, have formed a club through which they interact and share their loss, trying to come to terms with their widowhood and new responsibilities towards the children.

The most telling factor is the very small number of children who needed to be institutionalied in orphanages or homes after the disaster.

According to State records, only 37 children were admitted to institutions of the 1700 who lost both parents. This is a hugely positive indication that Sri Lankan society, regardless of geographical area and ethnicity, still retains compassion and care for victims of so tragic a disaster.

Many children have been unofficially adopted by surviving relatives and elderly grandparents. In some instances the guardians themselves are without adequate means of livelihood or support after the tsunami- like the 65 year old woman in Batticaloa who pounds rice for a living to bring up her three orphaned grandchildren.

Or the mason who did not have the means to complete his own two roomed house but was brave enough to take his seven orphaned nieces and nephews to the already crowded house and look after them.

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Welcome priority for women

Daily News: "27/04/2005 Nadira Gunatilleke

The Cabinet paper presented by the Women's Empowerment and Social Welfare Minister in connection with the tsunami rehabilitation mechanism which received Cabinet approval recently, marks a significant development in the protection of Sri Lankan women's human rights.

This Cabinet decision is also very significant because it has given due recognition to women's participation in decision-making. This is a rare occasion where Sri Lankan women enjoy equal rights as men.

The proposal made by Women's Empowerment and Social Welfare Minister Sumedha G. Jayasena ensures gender equality and adequate female representation in all relief and rehabilitation mechanisms and institutions related to the tsunami disaster.

The decision allows tsunami affected women to decide what they want and what they do not want to happen. This is a very important step in rehabilitation because it is those women who are going to live their lives in the newly built environment after the rehabilitation process.

In Sri Lanka women lead the family's day to day life and handle everything with or without assistance of a male partner. The percentage of women headed households was significant even before the tsunami hit the coastal belt of the country.

According to Ministry sources, the majority of tsunami affected persons are women and they have lost not only their livelihood but also their husbands and children.

Some of those women victims have been subjected to severe mental suffering and also subjected to sexual harassment. At the moment they stay in open welfare centres without any privacy and protection.

It is women who know best how to protect themselves from various threats including sexual harassment which is often executed by men known to them. Therefore those women should be consulted before taking any further steps towards ensuring their safety.

Presenting the proposal Minister Jayasena had stated that women's needs are entirely different from men's needs and therefore all ministries and departments should intervene to meet those needs.

Those authorities should look from a women's point of view and ensure gender equality when formatting policies and plans for the rebuilding process. All relevant authorities should understand the difference of women's and men's biological and emotional needs.

Minister Jayasena had pointed out eight main facts in her proposal and they are: introducing a permanent security plan to ensure the protection of women and also ensure female children stay in welfare camps, when planing economic programs, paying special attention to the tsunami widows and giving priority to them when implementing re-settlement programs, ensuring privacy to sustain personal hygiene and special physical needs of women and female children in welfare camps, implementing psycho-socio programs to ensure the welfare of women and female children in welfare camps.

It is very important to make sure that no man takes advantage of tsunami widows and the benefits they get from the State and other institutions. Proper security plans and a monitoring system is needed to ensure the safety and independence of tsunami widows and the orphaned female children.

It is natural that some men try their best to take advantage of helpless women and children. They always pray for a loophole. The best example for this is how some men acted during the tsunami disaster and took advantage of women (robbed and raped them) who ran for their lives.

Investigations are still on in connection with one case where a young Sri Lankan girl who returned from a foreign country was abducted by an unknown group of people (including women) while she was staying in a welfare camp alone.

It is better to encourage tsunami widows to re-build their lives with minimum help obtained from men. Such women should be educated and encouraged to seek the assistance of recognised institutions and organisations instead of individuals.

This will prevent some men taking advantage of helpless women and their children. The time has come to take every possible action to protect tsunami affected women and children from thousands of two legged hungry leopards.

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Rice researchers reaping a harvest of constraints

Daily News: "27/04/2005 BY AFREEHA Jawad

REGRETFULLY, researchers continue to remain in the backwoods and the shoddy treatment meted out to them needs arresting.

This writer's first hand experience at the Rice Research and Development Institute in Bathalagoda, Sri Lanka's prime research station pertaining to this country's staple food, revealed the trying conditions under which these researchers work, from the institutional head down to the clerical staff.

Executive Director Dr. Sumith Abeysiriwardena sits in a small rectangular room hardly enough even to stretch his legs. Any visitor seated opposite him must surely be mindful of not making him the recipient of a kick or two.

Both visitor and he therefore share mutual caution in leg-stretching lest one accidentally kicks the other from under the table while engrossed in conversation.

A tour of this 128 acre sprawling premises on which sits 50 acres experimental paddy - the rest being highland - brought me to the staff canteen which I understood to be the locality for what is called 'taking meals by turn'.

As I excused myself into this small, dingy, stuffy enclosure there were around 50 staffers - some preparing to eat, earnestly looking for a 'good soul' to vacate and others that hurriedly went through their morsel to make way for hungry colleagues.

Noted as we are in importing vehicles for politicos' travelling comfort, which according to them is "in the people's service," this writer wondered why higher authorities got their wires crossed in need prioritization - significantly of political extravaganza over facilities for researchers with better remuneration and all.

I saw some of Sri Lanka's finest researchers silently getting about their work in ill spaced yet neatly laid out laboratories that was anything but international standards.

In a country where the annual rice production cost is Rupees 50 billion, only 15 million is spent on research and development - all this is minus researchers' salaries.

According to the institute's chief Dr. Sumith Abeysiriwardena and his deputy Dr. Nimal Dissanayake - two energetic, hardworking men - at least if Rs. 50 million is given for research, exciting results could be got considering Bathalagoda's performance upto now - a little over five decades.

"We do not want a red cent into our hands. What we ask is the infrastructure, equipment and chemicals. Our experimental fields lack maintenance. We also need improved irrigational canals," they informed.

Bathalagoda is not without its fine intellectual capital but of what use is all that knowledge when one cannot realize still better results, thought this writer.

This status quo even brought to Dr. Abeysiriwardena's mind that well known Sinhala saying, "Aliya Innawa Henduwa Nehe". Making matters worse is all the red tape of financial and administrative constraints in getting what the institute needs.

Elaborating on the need for more and more research and its importance which in public eye is 'wasteful', Dr. Dissanayake informed of how research success is always not assured - something like 50-50.

There is both success and failure but still it has got to be done for crop development, high yields, plant growth and so on. For instance, he pointed out the paddy plants' nursery period of 14 days prior to planting proper.

"But if I decide otherwise like shifting it off the nursery after 30 days to see what kind of results I would get - this then has to be researched. May be it will succeed, perhaps not but still it has got to be done. It may sound silly but that's what research is all about for crop development," said Dr. Dissanayake signalling the importance of funds for research work.

Bathalagoda also needs funds for its upkeep as well. Certainly, maintaining 128 acres is no joke what, with those long and winding canals that meander through unending stretches of greenery - all of which are experimental fields where I saw researchers standing knee deep in mud exposed to Wayamba's ferocious heat working alongside agricultural labourers farmers and other para agro personnel.

This is certainly a place of scenic elegance and is sure to please and attract any tranquil and serene thirsty visitor. A well maintained circuit bungalow - abode to many international researchers as well - seemingly a facade to all of the institute's already stated numerous ills.

According to these two men Sri Lanka's rice yields have now hit an all time high record level of 80 bushels per acre - a distant laugh from the 13 bushels that was per acre - a six fold increase of 600 per cent starting 1940s.

The main contributor to this rise was this institute's technological innovation at which point brought to these staff officers' minds the contributions of the institution's staff along with past notables that sat amidst the greenery of Bathalagoda namely - Dr. Hector Weeraratne, Dr. D. Senadeera, Dr. M. C. A. Sandanayake, Dr. M. P. Dhanapala, Dr. Paul E. Peiris and Dr. Vignarajah.

Dr. Abeysiriwardena also recalled the 1940s decade bearing a six million population when rice imports were 60 percent. After several years in 2000 there were no imports at all despite a 19 million population.

Strikingly, rice production figures have kept abreast of population growth. Over the years thus we see rice production having had a ten fold increase over a three fold population rise - indeed an unparallelled achievement on the institution's part over 50 years that has kept Sri Lanka's teeming millions well fed.

All other factors apart, the giant technological strides on the part of Bathalagoda, justifies its claims to a production increase in rice. This may not have been so if not for its dedicated staff.

The institution has every moral right to be a major stakeholder inSri Lanka's present self-sufficiency in rice even surpassing Burma, Philippines and Indonesia - all of which were once rice exporters now become importers.

Drs. Dissanayake and Abeysiriwardena believe time has now come to think of nutritional quality as a follow up to bumper yields.

This then is where the State's concern should come in to fund the much needed research that these experts have in mind.

Despite hurdles and all other constraints if Bathalagoda could come this far one could imagine what its achievements would be given its growth essentials.

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Rebuild Differently After Tsunami

REBUILD DIFFERENTLY AFTER TSUNAMI, UNITED NATIONS ENVIRONMENT PROGRAMME ADVISES IN NEW REPORT: "

NAIROBI, 22 February (UNEP) -- The destruction caused by the Asian tsunami to the environment offers an opportunity to rebuild in a manner that preserves natural resources for the benefit of the local communities who were hardest hit by the disaster, a new report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) says.

Vulnerability mapping is urgently needed to pinpoint coastal sites where homes, hotels, factories and other infrastructure should be banned or restricted.

Klaus Toepfer, UNEP’s Executive Director, said: “The report underlines the importance of managing the reconstruction in an environmentally sensitive way. Buildings and other infrastructure need to be built in less vulnerable areas and to standards that will protect them and their inhabitants in the event of future tsunamis. This makes sense not only in respect to tsunamis but also with respect to storms surges, floods, hurricanes and other extreme weather events.”

Sri Lanka, one of the countries hit by the giant wave of 26 December, has already decided to establish a “no-build zone” up to 200 metres from the mean high-tide line.

Lessons can also be learnt from the Pacific where tsunami events have been more commonplace.

“Hilo, Hawaii, after being damaged several times by tsunamis finally moved back all structures to a less risky elevation and converted the foreshore area into playing fields, parks and other non-essential infrastructure”, says the study, entitled “After the Tsunami - Rapid Environmental Assessment”.

It suggests that the tourism industry, a vital revenue-raising part of many of the affected countries’ economies, should take a lead in locating hotels and resorts in less wave- and flood-prone areas.

Other measures that countries might consider are the establishment of a network of safe-haven towers. Bangladesh, a highly flood-prone nation, has developed community-based concrete towers, stocked with provisions such as emergency water and food supplies, where people can seek refuge.

Among the buildings that did survive were mosques, possibly because they generally have large open ground floors that allowed the waves to pass through.

“Considerations should be given to ensuring that, for elevations below 10 metres above sea level, all public buildings are constructed with this open ‘flow-through’ ground floor design. There appears to be no readily available best practice building code for tsunamis, so one may need to be developed”, says the study.

The report, based on surveys by UNEP teams in the field working with other United Nations agencies, governments and non-governmental organizations, is being released at UNEP’s 23rd Governing Council/Global Ministerial Environment Forum where some 100 Environment Ministers have gathered for their annual talks.

“The report indicates that the environment was both a victim of the tsunami but also that it often played its part in reducing the impact. Where healthy and relatively intact features like coral reefs, mangroves and coastal vegetation were in place, there is evidence that the damage was reduced. There are innumerable reasons to maintain healthy habitats like coral reefs. They are nurseries for fish and magnets for tourists. Now we have another reason to conserve them”, said Mr. Toepfer.

“The report also makes it clear that handling the rubble and other wastes generated by the damage is a key issue for many of the countries concerned. It goes together with building the capacity of their environment ministries”, he added.

The Executive Director also emphasized that the report also supported the need for a regional early-warning system, not just for tsunamis but for a wide range of weather-related natural disasters.

The report was coordinated by UNEP’s Task Force based in Geneva and chaired by Pasi Rinne. It was prepared in collaboration with UNEP’s Regional Offices in Asia-Pacific and Africa, other United Nations bodies, governments and non-governmental organizations (including IUCN-the World Conservation Union and the World Wildlife Fund-WWF International). The report covers Indonesia, the Maldives, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Seychelles and Yemen.

Findings

Wastes: A key issue affecting many of the countries concerned is how to deal with the huge quantities of waste generated from collapsed buildings and damage to rubbish tips and dump sites.

It is estimated that in Banda Aceh alone, between 7 million and 10 million cubic metres of waste has been generated as a result of the tsunami.

In the Maldives solid wastes such as asbestos, fuel drums and large amounts of rubble have been pinpointed as a key issue along with health care, human and animal wastes and oil leaks from damaged generators.

“The disposal of rubble and waste materials (in Sri Lanka) is proving to be a huge issue because of the sheer volume and associated costs”, says the report, adding that the emergency efforts there have led to the haphazard disposal of rubble along roads, in open fields, drainage ditches, waterways and on beaches.

Managing post-tsunami waste is also ranked as a high priority by the Government of Thailand. In PhiPhiIslands alone, the total quantity of debris is estimated at up to 35,000 tonnes of which some 13,000 tonnes have so far been collected.

Somalia’s coastline has been used as a dumping ground for other countries nuclear and hazardous wastes for many years as a result of the long civil war and, thus, the inability of the authorities to police shipments or handle the wastes.

“The impact of the tsunami stirred up hazardous waste deposits on beaches around North Hobyo and Warsheik, south of Benadir. Contamination from the waste deposits has, thus, caused health and environmental problems to the surrounding local fishing communities”, says the report.

Many people in Somalia’s impacted areas are complaining of unusual health problems, including acute respiratory infections, mouth bleeds and skin conditions.

Water Supplies, Sanitation and Soil Fertility: In many of the affected areas groundwaters, bore holes and aquifers have been contaminated by salt water and bacteria as a result of sea water infiltration and damage to toilets, septic tanks and other sanitation systems.

In the affected areas of Indonesia, rural water systems have been badly affected with an estimated 60,000 wells and 15,000 hand pumps contaminated, damaged or destroyed.

All 28,000 hectares of coastal irrigation schemes in Aceh were severely impacted.

Up to 90 per cent of toilets on some badly affected islands in the Maldives may have been lost. Meanwhile, groundwaters in over 30 islands in the Maldives may have been contaminated by sewage, with tests indicating that many of these supplies now break international health limits.

Many people in the Maldives rely on community or individual rain water storage tanks for their drinking water supplies. According to the Maldives Water and Sanitation Authority, well over 90 per cent have been damaged.

In Somalia there is evidence that hazardous wastes from dump sites have contaminated groundwaters.

In the affected areas of Sri Lanka, all of the 62,000 water wells are now contaminated with salt water and in some cases sewage.

A survey of wells in the six tsunami-affected provinces of Thailand has found that in PhangaNgaProvince that nearly 190 out of 530 wells are unsafe due to sewage-related contamination.

Villagers on the south-east coast of Yemen report increased salinity of groundwater wells as a problem. The tsunami there penetrated up to 400 metres inland so it is likely that some wells have been affected and may be unsuitable for human consumption.

There is concern that the fertility of the soils will be affected in the short to medium term as a result of salt water contamination. Rice crops in the western islands of Indonesia were seen to be yellowing in the fields within three weeks of the disaster.

In Seychelles, soils around Victoria still have a high salt content which is double the amount most plants in the islands can tolerate.

In Sri Lanka, several thousands fruit and rice farms in areas such as Trincomalee and Batticola Districts, have been affected by salt contamination.

The agriculture sector in the Maldives was one of the worst hit. Sea water damaged an estimated 1,200 farms and small holder plots. Over 840,000 timber trees were also damaged on the inhabited islands.



Over 20,000 hectares were inundated by sea water in Thailand with an estimated 1,500 hectares of agricultural land severely impacted.



Corals Reefs, Mangroves and Wildlife: The impact of the tsunami varied enormously across and within affected countries.



In Aceh region, North Sumatra Provinces and the western islands of Indonesia an estimated 30 per cent of the nearly 100,000 hectares of coral reefs were damaged.



Damage resulted partly as a result of the impact and partly due to materials, ranging from vehicles and fuel tankers to silt and mud, being dragged into the ocean.

Nearly a third of the 50,000 hectares of pre-tsunami coastal forests of Aceh and North Sumatra are estimated to have bee damaged, too.

Damage to coral reefs in Seychelles was generally low, with the exception of the Saint Anne marine park where up to 27 per cent of a reef at one site was damaged.

Seychelles’s small but important stands of mangroves amounting to around 30 square kilometres were also impacted mainly as a result of smothering of their “breathing roots” by sand and silt.

Over 12 per cent of the coral reefs along Thailand’s affected Andaman coast have been “significantly impacted” with reefs in some areas so badly affected, such as those in the Mu Ko Surin National Park, that they may soon be closed to tourists.

Turtle projects in Thailand have also been hit hard. For example, the breeding and conservation centre at Tap Lamu Naval Base in PhangNgaProvince is in ruins and around 2,000 turtles have been lost.

There is also concern that large amounts of fishing gear may have been washed away and are now killing and harming marine life.

Research from Yemen indicates that in the Al Mahra Governorate alone, 500 fishing nets, 1,500 octopus traps and 8,000 lobster traps were lost to sea.

“However, the largest possible source of ghost nets is likely to come from losses in Sri Lanka and Indonesia where tens of thousands of nets may have been swept out to sea”, says the report.

Beach erosion and Coastal Vegetation: Some areas of Seychelles, including the Anse Kerlan beach in the north-west of Praslin, did, however, suffer high beach erosion with the rehabilitation costs ranging from $1.4 million to $500,000 depending on the type of measures to be employed.

It is estimated that in the Maldives more than “100 million square metres of beach on 130 islands was eroded by the tsunami’s force. Extensive erosion caused sediment to accumulate in the harbours of 44 islands, impacting an area of approximately 400,000 square metres”, says the report.

Beach erosion also appears to have affected parts of the Yemeni island of Socotra, according to very preliminary studies.

The tsunami affected 650 kilometres of the Somali coast which suggests that the impact was higher because of the huge clearance of coastal mangroves for firewood, building materials and charcoal markets in the Middle East.

Sri Lanka offers some of the best proof that intact coastal ecosystems, such as coral reefs and healthy sand dunes, help buffer aggressive waves.

Most of Yala and BundalaNational Parks were spared because, “vegetated coastal sand dunes completely stopped the tsunami, which was only able to enter where the dune line was broken by river outlets”, says the report.

Some of the severest damage to Sri Lanka’s coast was where mining and damage of coral reefs had been heavy in the past.

Recommendations

A string of recommendations are made including building the skills, knowledge and equipment base of the affected governments and local authorities.

More detailed studies, including long-term monitoring of the countries concerned and the main impacts sites, are needed.

For most, if not all, the countries, the immediate priorities appear to be the condition and rehabilitation of groundwater supplies; waste management, including safe disposal of rubble, construction materials and hazardous wastes; and restoring livelihoods in the agricultural and fisheries sector.

Apart from the consideration of “no-build” or restricted build zones in the coastal zones, governments and local communities should also consider restoring mangrove forests and traditional forms of fish and shrimp farming.

Simply reinstating intensive fish and shrimp aquaculture systems of the kind that have become economically popular in recent years may be a mistake, says the report.

Meanwhile, the recovery and rebuilding process offers a “clear opportunity” for sustainable energy generation based on wind, solar and tidal, it adds.

Community-based, emergency shelters possibly like those in Bangladesh should be considered.

The towers can be made “multi-purpose, such as for village meeting halls, but their primary purpose is to provide a safe haven within, say, a 100 metre radius. This is especially important in those villages where there is no high ground for quite some distance and on low-lying islands”, says the report.

The design of the towers should also be given serious consideration. The tsunami that occurred on 26 December 2004 levelled large numbers of traditionally built wooden homes.

Many other structures were swept away as the wave hit with the force of 1,000 tonnes.

Replanting coastal forests is another proposal. Forests not only take the sting out of aggressive waves and offer other benefits including incomes for local people. Trees are also ideal places where people can climb to avoid being washed away.

“Bangladesh has also planted thousands of trees along the coastal strips as many people have been saved in previous disasters by clinging to the tops of coconut trees”, adds the report.

Notes to Editors

UNEP’s “Asian Tsunami Interim Report” is available at www.unep.org.

For more information, please contact: Eric Falt, Spokesman/Director, UNEP Division of Communications and Public Information, on tel.: +254 20 623292, mobile: +254 733 652656, e-mail: eric.falt@unep.org; Nick Nuttall, UNEP Head of Media, on tel.: +254 20 623084, mobile: +254 733 632755, e-mail: nick.nuttall@unep.org; or Jim Sniffen, Information Officer, UN Environment Programme, New York, tel.: +1-212-963-8094/8210, e-mail: info@nyo.unep.org, Web: www.nyo.unep.org."

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Thursday, April 28, 2005

Weekly humanitarian overview - Tsunami response

ReliefWeb - Document Preview - Weekly humanitarian overview - Tsunami response activites in the Batticaloa district - 11 - 24 Apr 2005: "Source: United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)
Date: 24 Apr 2005

HIGHLIGHTS

76 families have returned to Navalady.

The reconstruction of permanent houses of those returning home has started.

Organizations are advocating for an integrated approach of pre-tsunami and tsunamiresponse activities.

WATER & SANITATION

While the Water & Sanitation Task Force is now holding joint meetings with the Shelter and Infrastructure Task Forces, wat/san agencies will continue to meet on technical issues on the first Monday of every month or on an ad hoc basis when a need arises. The Task Force also decided to establish closer linkages with the Health/Hygiene Promotion Task Force. Both Task Forces will send a representative to each other's coordination meetings in order to exchange information and coordinate activities more effectively.

ACF has announced that, starting in July, it is planning to conduct longer-term research on fresh water sources in the district. The study will look into such issues as the impact of tidal waves on ground water, over-pumping resulting in increased salinity, and the contamination of ground water through sanitation facilities.

This past week, the Water Board made available information on existing water sources throughout the district. With this knowledge, wat/san agencies hope to be in a better position to set up durable facilities and address rising needs more adequately.

In response to complaints about flies at sanitation facilities over the past few weeks, the Central Environment Authority (CEA) informed that it had supplied the Mammunai North DS with sprays. Wat/san agencies may collect them from the Divisional Secretary for use in the camps.

The Water Board has announced that it has 4 water purification plants, which it would like to hand over to agencies for installation and maintenance. Please contact Mr. Pragash at the Water Board for more information: nwsdbbt@sh.lk.

HOUSING & SHELTER

In a meeting on 20 April, the Additional GA explained the current state of government policies and implementation in the district. Agencies expressed their concern that beneficiaries had still received little or no information on compensation, requirements for their own contribution to the reconstruction of their houses, and that different levels of government were given out different information.

In the meantime, the reconstruction of permanent houses of those, who have returned to their homes, has started in various parts of the district.

In follow-up to the need to replace or reinforce temporary and transitional shelters, the Task Force decided to divide the district up by agencies, review the condition of shelters and initiate replacement or reinforcement, as required.

PROTECTION/PSYCHOSOCIAL

The Women's Disaster Management Committee (WDMC) is in the process of finalizing a second memorandum for the attention of the district authorities. This memorandum will focus on issues of women's land rights and shelter policies.

This past week, the WDMC reiterated the need to address the situation at the Paddy Market. According to WDMC, there are hygiene and emerging health issues that need to be addressed urgently.

There are going to be two workshops organized this coming week that specifically target women's groups and organizations working with women's groups. The first workshop on "Land Rights and Government Shelter Policies" will take place at the Mangrove on Monday, 25 April, from 3-5pm. For more information, please call Theresa Osland at 077 318 7633. The second workshop on "Construction: Planning & Building" will be held at the Rivera on Friday, 29 April, from 9am to 5pm. Please contact WUSC, tel. 065 222 5761, for more details.

INFRASTRUCTURE

This week, the first 76 families have returned to Navalady, the narrow stretch of sand between the ocean and the Batticaloa Lagoon. This return process has been driven by the IDPs themselves. They will initially stay in two transit centers while they are working with agencies on the reconstruction of their homes. Critical road repairs and electricity works are yet to commence.

The newly revived Infrastructure and Development Task Force has compiled a priority list of infrastructure projects for the rehabilitation of communities and in preparation for relocation sites. While a few donors have come forward to fund some of these projects, needs remain great and donors are invited to work in Batticaloa. A major project, for which support is still sought, is the clearing of the Batticaloa coastline so that fishermen can resume sea fishing unhindered and without safety concerns.

LIVELIHOOD

This past week, the Livelihood, Welfare and Food Task Forces met jointly in a new format for the first time following recent modifications made to the district coordination structure.

In this meeting, ICRC as the representative of the Welfare Task Force explained that the distribution of non-food relief items in the classical sense had come to an end. Consequently, the use of the term NFRI should be phased out as well, and any items that would continue to be distributed in the future should be called by a different name, e.g. kits.

A database is currently being established for all NFRIs that have been distributed over the past 4 months, and will be maintain for non-food items that will be handed out in the future. It is hoped that this information can be made available as soon as possible, particularly to those who would require details for planning of their distribution over the next months. OCHA will facilitate data collection and would appreciate if all organizations, who have distributed over the past months, would please forward this information. Contact Yvonne at email: ocha_batticaloa@fastmail.fm

On the issue of boat distribution, the Livelihood Task Force agreed that - in order to better control the distribution of boats and avoid future environmental damage - the Department of Fisheries and organizations involved would discuss with fishermen the impact of the proliferation of unregistered boats. In this regard, the group also reiterated the need to better inform fishermen about the process of distribution as well as the timelines within which beneficiary selection and eventually distribution would take place.

In this context, CORDAID informed that their boat distribution was continuing according to plan. The first boats would be distributed on 30 April. As always, the beneficiary list would be published in the newspaper beforehand.

According to Oxfam GB, their boat distribution was delayed as details of the boat owners needed to be forwarded to the Department of Fisheries in Colombo first before boat registration at the boat yard could go ahead. It was clarified during the meeting that only motorized boats needed to be processed through the Department of Fisheries in Colombo, and that all other, non-motorized boats could be registered with the Department of Fisheries in Batticaloa. Oxfam GB expressed hope that the Department in Colombo would ensure a speedy processing so that distribution was not delayed much further.

In an effort to address the continued concerns of agencies to make donations to genuine beneficiaries and avoid duplications of donations, the Department of Fisheries informed that it had almost completed the entire list for the district, with the exception of Vaharai and Valaichenai, which would be finalized within the next two weeks.

On the issue of sea nets, Oxfam GB and Hong Kong Red Cross explained that the current government regulation of only distributing to individuals had prevented them so far from giving out sea nets. However, due to the high cost of the nets and the tradition of fishing in groups, they were not prepared to hand them out to individuals. The Livelihood Task Force decided to make a joint appeal to the Department of Fisheries to review their policy. Oxfam GB is prepared to donate 30 sea nets, while Hong Kong Red Cross would like to hand out 20 sea nets.

In its meeting on 12 April, the sub-committee on boat and engine repair expressed concern about the continued lack of coordination and information sharing of organizations involved in boat distribution and repair. The sub-committee requested all organizations to participate in coordination meetings and share relevant information.

FAO informed that two FAO consultants had arrived in the district. One would primarily work on fishing gear, while the other would focus on engines.

On the issue of agriculture, the group reiterated an earlier request to the Department of Agriculture to compile a list of all needs in the agriculture sector so that donors could be found and assistance could be delivered to farmers without much further delay. In this regard, the group also discussed the impact of salt-water contaminated soil and came to the conclusion, based on current experience, that farmers were in need of advice on the use more tolerant crop.

OCHA informed that the issue of non-compliance with fixed labour rates had resurfaced in various meetings recently again. While information on fixed labour rates had been circulated repeatedly, non-compliance with the guidelines were starting to negatively impact on the local economy. The group agreed to follow up on enforcement mechanisms in cooperation with the Kachcheri's Price Fixing Committee and appealed to all organizations to adhere to the guidelines.

COORDINATION

Across all sectors, organizations are advocating for an integrated approach of pre-tsunami and tsunami-response activities. At the same time, organizations also point out that, for many, current donor reporting and funding does not allow for this. Organizations are concerned that the discrepancy between those receiving tsunami relief and others in need of assistance will increase the social tension that is already visible in the district.

The CHA office in Batticaloa has now opened. Last week, on 18 April, CHA invited shelter agencies, particularly local partners, to a joint CHA/RedR workshop on transitional shelters. The CHA office is located at No. 79, Central Road, next to Focus. The local representative is Mr. Sylvester, who can be contacted at email: btcdesk@sltnet.lk, tel. 065 222 5551.

With regard to the new district coordination structure, a meeting schedule is currently compiled of all regular, cross-sectoral meetings to be held in the affected DSs. It is hoped that the complete schedule can be made available next week.

For comments, suggestions or more information, please contact OCHA Batticaloa: ocha_Batticaloa@fastmail.fm "

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The Reopened A9 is Changing the Face of Sri Lanka's North

ADB: "By Ian Gill, JAFFNA, SRI LANKA (25 April 2005) - A journey along Sri Lanka's historic A9 road between Jaffna and Vavuniya shows clearly how prosperity can burgeon amid an uneasy coexistence between truce and tension.

The ceasefire agreement between the Government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) still holds after 3 years, though progress towards a peace settlement has been uncertain.

This ambivalence shows its many faces during a drive down the A9 - repaired with ADB support - which has opened up the conflict-devastated north to the rest of country.

After being closed for several years during the 18-year civil war, the road was officially reopened shortly after the cease­fire, and its rehabilitation completed just over a year ago. Today, traffic and trade are once more flowing between north and south - though not yet in a totally unrestricted manner. Travelers need passes for the ­journey and vehicles go through time-consuming inspections at checkpoints.

Today, more people and goods from the south are reaching not only Jaffna, but also Mullattivu in the northeast. The A9 also links to access roads through which the rural poor can reach markets and social services in the urban centers.

The repaired road is having a "hugely significant" impact on the economic and social development of the north, says K. Ganesh, the Government Agent for Jaffna. Mr. Ganesh was also Government Agent based at Vavuniya while the road was being repaired from late 2002.

An unusual story lies behind one of ADB's most effective projects. For an ­institution sometimes criticized for cumbersome procedures, the project reflects aspirit of innovative improvisation and "can-do" practicality in the face of daunting challenges.

When the ceasefire agreement was signed in February 2002, an important clause was that the A9 - which had been barricaded and heavily mined on either side - would be opened up. This was easier said than done, however. After years of neglect, many sections were practically impassable. Some potholes could swallow up a small vehicle.

ADB's John Cooney, then country director in Sri Lanka, recalls that an idea for a quick, cheap and effective solution came to him "while I was in the shower."

He went to the Government with a proposal for a "quick and dirty fix" - making the road usable for 3 to 5 years, with a more comprehensive rehabilitation planned for later. Of course, the proposal also needed to be endorsed by the LTTE, who controlled much of the area through which the road passed.

"So off I went in a military helicopter, more nervous than afraid," says Mr. Cooney. "As we landed, I could see people smiling and waving who would have been running for cover a few months earlier. I was escorted to a meeting with senior LTTE leaders."

The LTTE was interested in repairing the road, but less enthusiastic about the approach suggested by ADB. Mr. Cooney says the fact that the construction would be carried out by local people helped to win the LTTE over in the end.

The result: a 100-kilometer (km) stretch of dilapidated road was repaired in 7 months at a cost of only $7 million. Time was saved by using loan savings from another project, without the need for the lengthy processing of a new project. Also, to keep costs down, the work was distributed among several contractors.

Symbolically and in practical terms, the impact was noticeable from day one. Once called the "highway of death," the road is now used by over three million travelers a year.

"The A9 provides physical proof of the ceasefire," says Bob Rinker, deputy country director of ADB's Sri Lanka Resident Mission in Colombo. "It is a demonstration of peace in practice."

The first dramatic effect of the road was to bring down prices.

"Basic goods were scarce in Jaffna during the war and prices were astronomical," recalls Mookiah Thiruchelvam, an ADB implementation officer responsible for projects in the north. "You couldn't even get batteries and fertilizer without great difficulty."

As essential consumer goods began to head north, so did products from the Jaffna peninsula's fertile soil and abundant waters begin to make their way south - fish, pulses, vegetables, fruit, rice, and tobacco.

Today, signs of new building abound in Jaffna. At one site, where a new judicial court is going up, T. Raju, project engineer for Colombo-based Sierra Construction, says the cement comes from Trincomalee and the steel reinforcement, scaffolding, and GI pipes from Colombo. "The travel time from Colombo since the road was repaired has been reduced by 25% to 3 days," he says.

Nowhere is the emerging affluence more evident than in downtown Jaffna with its bustling central market and packed bus terminal. One row of gleaming shops along Stanley Road, for ­example, didn't exist before the ceasefire.

Singer, the brand firm famous for sewing machines but which offers a range of household appliances, pulled out its northern branches during the conflict, but reopened in Jaffna after the ceasefire.

"Our supplies come through the A9 and business is growing steadily," reports branch manager Beeta Rajanayagan.

Across the road, at a motorcycle shop, Nadarasa Kunapalasingam used to bring in motorcycles by ship twice a week but, since the reopening of the A9, they all come by road. "Sales have increased by 50% since the ceasefire," he adds.

Times are changing for the better at towns along the way south, too.

In Chavakachcheri, the front buildings of the district hospital are ruined shells - but one intact building at the back has a long line of patients that extends outside. The hospital is targeted for rebuilding with ADB financing.

In his office, Dr. S. Ampikaipakan, the officer in charge, says medical supplies used to take a long time coming by sea via Jaffna when the road was closed. They often ran out of vital medicines such as antibiotics for asthmatic and bronchial cases. Nowadays, this isn't such a problem.

Soon after Elephant Pass - a narrow strip of land, control of which was pivotal in the conflict - comes the first LTTE checkpoint. Under the watchful gaze of gun-­toting soldiers, two men are shoveling a pile of sand onto a lorry - after unloading it to be searched for banned items, such as weapons and ammunition.

Even the trees bear the badge of war - their tops are shorn as a result of fire from multibarreled rocket launchers.

The next major stopping point is Kilinochchi - a ghost town during the conflict, but which is now changing. A water tower toppled during the conflict is being rebuilt by the World Bank. At one of a handful of new restaurants, a staffer says all 10 waiters are kept hopping virtually all day to handle the busy trade.

Just off the main road, the Central School has walls with gaping holes and aroof open to the sky - but pupils are visible within. The secondary school, also marked for reconstruction with ADB help, has 1,700 pupils. "A third live 8 km away or more and before the A9 was repaired, the journey in took half an hour and the ­children were ­often late," says principal R. Rajamahenthiran. "Now they take the school bus for a 10-minute ride and late arrivals are much fewer."

At the LTTE headquarters, administrative officer R. Sinnaappa says the rehabilitated road has cut the 57-km journey from Palaly to 1 hour from 3. But, he adds, "Now they have speed checks because the vehicles go too fast - and there are more accidents."

Business is growing quickly in Kilinochchi, he says, and could develop even faster if it wasn't constrained by a lack of power and communications (Japan Bank for International Cooperation is ­reconstructing the town's main transmission line and extending the power system into the hinterland).

Further south are LTTE and government checkpoints at Omantai. An average of 7,000-8,000 civilians and 1,000-1,200 vehicles cross this line daily despite being stopped and searched. Most appreciate the lifting of the barricades and are philosophical about the delays. To be sure, the A9 is proving a vital conduit in bringing new life to a long-suffering region."

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Tackling disaster in a different manner

Online edition of Sunday Observer - Features: "Tackling disaster in a different manner : Words of Warning, by Ranga Kamaladasa

They go from house to house educating, monitoring, investigating and searching. Searching for a sign, that may tell a disaster is coming. The majority of the country started paying attention to natural disasters only after the tsunami, but most of these guys, victims of natural disasters themselves, have been on the lookout and on the move ready to warn their fellow villages since early last year. They've grown out to be leaders and pilots of their own villages as well as the near-by localities.

Organised by the Sri Lanka Urban Multi-Hazard Disaster Mitigation Project (SLUMDMP) and funded by the ADPC of these energetic and motivated students come from 15 different schools and are chosen from the rural areas which are most affected by natural disasters. They have created disaster-management societies within their schools and have actively participated in going out to villages and warning them of any potential danger that might strike. The schools came together on March 27 to show their progress to the monitoring committee.

Landslides, floods, dam breaches, many villages live with the fear of such a tragedy every day. For them natural disasters have become a part of their life. And as the students found out, most people who fall victim to natural disasters are usually careless or unwilling to accept the fact of danger.

"We asked the people living in flood prone areas, why they're still living there in spite of all the warnings," says a student from Thawalama Vidyaraja Maha Vidyalaya. "and the reply was always the same; they live in a deserted rural place and they have over 1 acre or so of free land to grow their crops. They don't want to shift to a 10 perch land even if the land was safe."

"We identified places that may be prone to landslides and we notified the villages," says Ratnayake from Katuwana National School. "But their lands were inherited from generation to generation. Even with the risk of possible disaster they were not willing to sacrifice their lands to the government"

"We expect a flood at least once a year. The rainfall is so high that we expect at least a small flood" says another student of Deniyaya Central College. "Landslides are common in Deniyaya. But even in places where previous landslides occurred, people have resettled, either from not knowing the risk, or having no place to go to. What we're doing is putting up boards in such places, showing that this area is not safe."

Putting up notices, holding seminars, enacting dramas, getting the help and influence of village elders and other significant people, getting hold of nearby schools and initiating joint projects and in essence creating a disaster-ready culture even in rural and uneducated areas is basically what they have done.

The Matara Mahanama Maha Vidyalaya in their unique effort have gone further and investigated into a man-made disaster. As they found out the 2003 May flood that flattened half of the Matara town as well as the surrounding area was brought forth by the inhabitants living in the unsecured area of the Nilwala project.

"The inhabitants had broken the Thalgahagoda Dam in an effort to secure their lands, because according to them after the Nilwala project which left them in an unsecure area, they were not given any secure land to go to," says Harsha of Mahanama Maha Vidyalaya. "In breaching the dam they created a flood which was unexpected even to them and their own farms had also been washed away."

After the investigation the students had decided to notify the inhabitants further of the devastation a Dam breach could bring and they had given out laminated wall hangers to households in the unsecured area. "After the tsunami we went to two schools that were affected, and helped in cleaning the place and putting what was left back to order," says Nuwan of Naboda Maha Vidyalaya. "We also gave them some books and other stationary from our own funding."

"We also did some dramas, because just giving them leaflets or making them listen to a lecture about disasters wasn't really making any impression on them. The drama we did gave the people some idea as to what extent a disaster could affect their lifestyle."

But they explained that they were not welcomed with open arms all the time. The notion of children coming over and educating the adults was not according to the standards. They had to prove themselves worthy, and after working with the villages, planting soil erosion scales, rain gauges and getting a guest lecturer from the university to educate them of lightning strikes the elders slowly came to appreciate what the students were doing. Even though the elders were reluctant to follow every piece of advice given to them, they were glad that the students were doing something to help the community rather than digging into their school books.

"When we went to most of the villages, we were practically ignored." says Dinesh. "We were just identified as school children who didn't know anything. Sometimes they mistook us for people coming to distribute funds and they were really angry because according to them a lot of people had come and asked for information in the guise of giving them funds but in the end they were left with nothing."

"But after working with them for some time they got the feeling that we were really trying to help them and slowly they came to like what we were doing."

"Most of the people have very traditional ideas like disasters happen because we anger the gods and similar ideas like that," says Ratnayake. "Sometimes they won't even listen to what we have to say. But as far as this project goes I will say what I have to say to get the people into the right track."

The students who participated in the presentations showed great strength and potency on what they should do and how they should act, which they probably inherited from the actual field experiences they got when going out and dealing with the locals.

Most of them were firm on expressing that educating the people will lead to lesser disasters and many of them were proud of what they had done, making a difference to their own communities and learning a bit themselves. "

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How to avoid the effects of another tsunami

Online edition of Sunday Observer - Features: "by Dr. J. G. de Zoysa

In the wake of the tsunami disaster what has not occurred to the authorities and the powers that be is that preventive measures should be adopted and put in place side by side with reconstruction. All that is reconstructed could be washed off if there is another tsunami. It is the height of folly to believe that we cannot be struck by another tsunami.

The answer is not only to run away, protecting our lives, but also to protect our property and belongings.

We have missed the woods for the trees, and lulled ourselves into a state of complacency that there could not be another tsunami for quite sometime. We are wrong. We could have been hit by the quake of 28/03/05 if it developed into a tsunami, particularly as the quake registered 8.7 on the Richter Scale.

We are becoming increasingly vulnerable to tsunamis, as there is a tectonic plate developing just 300Km south of Sri Lanka, and as there is a grave possibility of the Australian plate and the 'Sundar' plate coming into collision. It is impossible for scientists to predict when, where and how this plate collision could cause tsunamis.

All they can say is that it will reach Sri Lanka in 2 or 3 hours after a tsunami has occurred, depending on the intensity of the earthquake. It is believed that even a quake measuring over 7 on the Richter Scale can endanger Sri Lanka.

How do we ward off the evil effects of a tsunami? Speedy and immediate measures should be taken to identify the most important and vulnerable areas of the country. The port of Colombo is the most vulnerable and an important spot. If the Colombo Port is struck our economy will come to a standstill.

The Fort, adjoining the Colombo Harbour is the financial hub of the Country. All the Head Offices of all major Banks are situated in the Fort, viz the Central Bank, Bank of Ceylon Tower, Twin Towers, Grindlays Bank, Seylan Bank and various other banks, the President's House, the Telecom Towers, Naval Headquarters, Army Headquarters and Police Headquarters...etc.

Apart from all these institutions and installations, over 250,000 people work in the Fort.

If one traverses the areas struck by the tsunami, one would see that areas with coral reefs and/or mangroves were not affected at all, or their damage was minimal.

We suggest adopting the following strategies to ward off the evil effects: immediate root-balling and planting of huge mangroves, with the assistance of a foreign government; undertaking forthwith the construction of a breakwater. This breakwater can be built very close to the shore, so that there is no interference with ships coming into the harbour.

A rock wall 20-25 feet in height spanning a length of less than a maximum of 1/2 a mile, and a thickness of about 7-10 ft commencing from the light-house area to about the Pettah area would suffice to protect the Fort - the Financial Hub of Colombo.

This whole operation will cost less than Rs. 100 million. If the experts are consulted, they will probably inflate the estimate to about 1 billion, either foolishly or cunningly so that Rs. 900 million can be shared between themselves and the contractors.

Some of the unintelligent so called experts will pooh-pooh this plan as not being feasible. There are quite a number of unintelligent professionals in this country.

This is a sensible and intelligent approach to minimise damage. If we don't take timely action, all the millions spent on reconstruction will be reduced to zero if we are struck by another tsunami, and those experts should be held accountable if there is another catastrophe.

We will not have international assistance a second time, if we don't take preventive measures.

Those in charge of rehabilitation, have lost sight of the possibility of another tsunami. The warning of the possibility of another tsunami given to us on the night of March 28, should open the eyes of these so called experts.

Pose on yourselves the question as to how the Fort of Galle was not affected by the tsunami of 26/12, whereas the immediate adjoining areas were badly struck. This is because of the existence of a break-water in the form of the ramparts - though built 350 years ago, and exposed to the elements day in day out. This strategy on a smaller scale can protect the Fort of Colombo and its environs. The cost will not be so heavy as compared to the destruction if hit by another tsunami.

You don't need engineers to see the wisdom of this. Any intelligent person with common sense will know that such a structure should be built forthwith to protect the Port of Colombo, the Colombo Fort and its environs. This way, we will avert the damage to hundreds of buildings, all built cheek by jowl in the Fort, not to mention the protection of the lives of about 250,000 people working in the Fort.

If this is ignored, it will be damning to the powers that be, for ignoring common sense and advice tendered free of charge.

Instructions should be given by the government, forthwith to those who have offices in the Fort to immediately relocate in a safer area in Colombo or its suburbs, till such time as the Fort can be made and declared a safe place to work in. This is something that the Government owes to the people who daily work in this trapped environment. If danger strikes, it will be a stampede to get out of the Fort, unlike any other place in Colombo."

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