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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, July 30, 2005

Reaching out after tsunami

The Academic: Associated Press, Fri July 29, 2005 03:55 EDT . When Pat Smith helped rebuild a Sri Lankan village in March, he was struck by the thousands of tents that dotted the coastal landscape.

"We drove for two hours down the coast to get to the site, and it was just total devastation on both sides," he said.

Seven months after a deadly tsunami hit South Asia, those tent cities still stand.

So Smith hopes to join 300 volunteers from Kentucky Habitat for Humanity this fall to put the people from an entire Indian village back into homes of their own.

From October to December, six teams of 50 to 60 volunteers will work two-week shifts in Killai in southern India to build 111 houses. They'll also build a health clinic, a community center and a school.

Smith said that since the tsunami, aid workers have mostly focused on temporary housing for those who were displaced. It's time to start rebuilding whole communities, he said.

"Trying to acquire the land, getting government approval -- it's a bit of a logistical nightmare," he said. "The government doesn't want them to rebuild right on the coast. The fact is, it's their property. We can come in and build safe houses for them."

Habitat picked Killai because the land acquisitions and government permits are almost ready, Smith said.

The houses will include sleeping and family space, inside kitchens, and attached toilets with exterior entrances. Each will be equipped with electricity and piped-in water. And they'll be elevated so sand won't blow in.

The Kentucky volunteers will work on the first long-term project in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, where Habitat for Humanity International hopes to build 2,000 houses.

Since the Dec. 26 tsunami displaced more than 5 million people, 30 teams of 12 to 15 volunteers from around the country have gone to South Asia and spent one to two weeks rebuilding. Habitat's goal is to put up 35,000 homes in the next two years.

Charlene Stone, volunteer coordinator for the Kentucky project, said she hoped airlines would give discounts for anyone who travels to India to help rebuild. Otherwise, volunteers will have to pay full fare. She said round trip from Lexington ranges from $1,700 to $2,400.

Kentucky Habitat organizers are trying to raise $100,000 for construction costs.

"It's such a good feeling to go over there and give a little bit of sweat," she said. "When you think of how much these people need, it's really not that much to give."

Volunteer Ed Todd said seeing the devastation in Sri Lanka in March was enough to make him want to go to India this fall.

"Your heart just goes out to them," Todd said. "They had to get some kind of shelter, so they just staked their claim on their foundation with wooden shacks. It's nothing a good wind-wouldn't blow away."

Brian Smith also worked in Sri Lanka. He said the smiles from people moving into their new homes encouraged him to want to return.

"These people are not wealthy," he said. "At the dedication ceremony, their friends and family brought us food and drink, stuff you know they don't have to give."

Brian Smith said lack of construction skills shouldn't keep anyone from volunteering.

"If you can push a wheelbarrow or carry water, there's certainly something to be done," he said.

"The need for people is great. It takes a couple weeks out of your life, and that's a big thing to give up. But when you consider these people need help in such a desperate way, it's not a big sacrifice."

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Transparency International says non-function of Constitutional and Election Commissions in Sri Lanka adversely affect the law of the country

ColomboPage: July 29, Colombo: Transparency International Sri Lanka (TISL) yesterday urged the Constitutional Council and the Independent Elections Commission to be made functional without further delay as non-function of these two had adversely affected the rule of law in the country.

Issuing a statement the TISL said, “It is also regrettable that for more than 18 months the Independent Elections Commission has not been appointed by the President, despite the fact that the previous Constitutional Council unanimously submitted its nominees to the President. Consequently, the 17th Amendment provisions in relation to the Independent Elections Commission could not have been fully implemented and the present Elections Commissioner has been made to function against his wishes as the Commissioner has now passed the compulsory age of retirement.”

“The failure to appoint the Constitutional Council and the Independent Elections Commission has serious repercussions adversely affecting the Rule of Law. The primary responsibility of making appointments lies with the President, though other political parties are also required to cooperate in the process. It is also necessary to understand that the immunity guaranteed to the President under the Constitution has prevented any legal challenge to the President's inaction to appoint Commissions.”

“Appointments of members to the Constitutional Council and the Independent Election Commission are vital in many socio political and legal contexts, and thus the non appointment could be seen as a deliberate attempt by those responsible to nullify the effect of the 17th Amendment to the Constitution,” it added.

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Friday, July 29, 2005

Lankan film breaks new ground

Hindustan Times: 26/07/2005" Saibal Chatterjee

Vimukthi Jayasundara’s Sulanga Enu Pinisa (The Forsaken Land) isn’t an easy film to watch. Languorous, minimalist, shorn of all established narrative norms, it plays out in the form of a series of long takes that record a small gallery of characters going about their lives in the most desultory manner imaginable.

Lazy filmgoers not accustomed to cinema that communicates primarily through images and subtle sound effects rather than by means of words and elaborate musical pieces might find its ponderous pace and enigma-laden narrative an impediment.

But as a debut effort designed to break new ground in Sri Lankan cinema, The Forsaken Land is certainly one of the most important films to come out of south Asia in recent years. It pushes the envelope completely unmindful of how the market back home will respond to the challenges that its substance and style pose.

The rest of the world has already warmed up to the stunning quality of this unusual cinematic essay. In May last, Jayasundara became the first Sri Lankan ever to win the prestigious Camera d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. The French-funded film was selected for the premier festival’s Un Certain Regard section.

The Pune FTII-trained Jayasundara has made no effort to simplify any of the basic components that have gone into his remarkable film. “I wanted to capture the state of limbo that Sri Lanka is in. There’s no war, but there’s no peace either. My film is about this frozen timeframe where war, peace, morality, religion and justice and are mere abstract notions.”

The Forsaken Land is unlike an average south Asian film in another important respect – its matter of fact approach to sexuality and nudity. “It wasn’t easy to get the actors (all of them from television) to shed their inhibitions,” says Jayasundara. “But I spoke to them and explained the film’s context to them. Once your actors begin to believe in the film, everything else falls into place.”

In The Forsaken Land, sex is equated with all the other daily chores that the characters perfunctorily perform in their struggle for survival. “Sex is just another aspect of these cold, tormented lives that are teetering on the edge of complete meaninglessness,” explains Jayasundara.

The landscape also plays an important role in The Forsaken Land. “It is, in fact, the principal character,” says the young director who once worked for the leading Indian ad agency Lintas in Mumbai. “I am particularly interested in the passage of time. Cinema is the best medium to record time,” he adds.

The Forsaken Land is a sort of an observation post for perceptive viewers: Jayasundara presents his characters – a couple, their daughter, the husband’s unmarried sister, an old man and an army man – in an aimless pursuit of their basic physical and emotional needs. They respond to the heat, wind and rain in an almost unfeeling sort of way.

Now that The Forsaken Land, which won a Special Jury prize at the just-concluded Osian’s-Cinefan Film Festival in New Delhi, has garnered international encomiums, will its passage be smooth in Sri Lanka? “That’s doubtful,” says Jayasundara. “We do not have an audience for this kind of cinema. People in Sri Lanka are hooked to Bollywood films.”

If the film does make it past the hawk-eyed Sri Lankan censors, Jayasundara intends to invite Aishwarya Rai to the premiere of his film in Colombo. “She will draw the crowds to the theatre,” he says. Could Jayasundara be serious about that strategy? Even if he isn’t, the statement re-emphasises the courage that young director has shown in making a film as personal, as uncompromising, as unconventional as The Forsaken Land.

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Sri Lanka Accreditation Board: A boon for local exporters

Daily News: 29/07/2005" BY MANJARI Peiris

TODAY, Sri Lanka is faced with the problem of getting its products sold in the international market, due to their quality even if their prices are low.

The Minister of Science and Technology, Prof. Tissa Vitarana, presented a Bill in Parliament in May 2005, to provide for the establishment of the Sri Lanka Accreditation Board for Conformity Assessment, and to provide for connected matters.

Accordingly, The Sri Lanka Accreditation Board for Conformity Assessment will be set up soon.

The Minister explained; "In the context of the open economy and globalisation, products from various countries compete with each other. In this competition, the ones that are of a lower price can capture the market only if their quality is also equal to or better than other products.

In this context the developed countries find it difficult to produce goods cheaper than those from developing countries where the labour cost is less.

Therefore to remove this competition to the products of the developed countries that are under threat it has been decided to make quality the main issue and to prevent the products from the Third World countries reaching their market on the basis that our quality is not good enough.

Thus the European Union countries have decided that from January 1, 2006 no products from Sri Lanka or developing countries can enter their market unless they get certification to show that they conform to ISO (International Standards Organisation) quality. Thus even our tea might not be able to be sold in Britain or in other EU countries from this date.

1. All products on the market should conform to quality standards.

2. The SLSI has established some national standards and issues the SLS mark as an indication of good quality.

3. However, foreign countries do not accept this.

4. Developed countries insist on ISO standards and in some cases their own standards.

5. Thus the laboratories in Sri Lanka which want to test products for the foreign market have to;

a. Conform with ISO standards

b. Get certification from a National Accreditation Board in a foreign country (example, Sweden), which is accepted by the international community as conforming to the ISO standards.

These Accreditation Bodies of developed countries and a few developing countries are members of the International Accreditation Forum.

6. But to get accreditation by a recognized foreign National Accreditation Body is very expensive - for example, SLSI and ITI laboratories have to pay for a limited number of tests more than one million rupees or even two million rupees.

7. As a result, the cost has to be passed on to any laboratory in Sri Lanka that needs to be accredited and this sends up the cost of their products making it difficult for the laboratory to compete in the foreign market.

8. By setting up a Sri Lanka Accreditation Board once this is recognized by the International Accreditation Forum, it will be possible for this body to give accreditation to local laboratories at one twentieth of the cost or even less, and this can be done quickly.

9. Both the Government and the private laboratories can then get the benefit of this and develop, so that all our export products can have the requisite ISO certification.

Implementation thirteen members appointed to the Governing Board of Sri Lanka Accreditation Board will take the control of this body. They are;

* Three members of the Ministry of Science and Technology

* One from Sri Lanka Standards Institution

* One from the Institutions belonging to the Ministry of Science and Technology

* One from the Ministry of Agriculture

* One from the Treasury

* One from the Ministry of Trade

* One from the Ministry of Industries

* One from the Ministry of Health

* One from the Department of Meteorology

* One from the National Academy of Science

* One from the Chamber of Commerce and Industry

The day-to-day activities of this body will be carried out by the staff appointed at senior management level, which includes those who have the knowledge and experience in quality management.

Thirty members have been already trained in different disciplines for this purpose in Sweden and they are ready to be appointed.

They include chemists and microbiologists. Activities of this body will commence soon. Sweden has agreed to send their trained staff, if there is a shortage of staff here for assessment.

The importance of this body consists in the fact that if the laboratories get accreditation of this body, then they may earn more income, as people will rely on them for the quality of the product. But there will not be any compulsion from the Government to obtain membership of this body.

This will be done completely on a decision taken by them on a voluntary basis.

Rs. 10 million has already been allocated for this project by the previous budget. The opposition was very supportive towards this Bill.

Prof. G. L. Peiris (UNP) and Bimal Rathnayake (JVP), parliamentarians, have made some comments and amendments in this regard.

The House is very supportive because they have realised the importance of this Bill. The Accreditation Board has to be a very independent body, amid any type of pressure. Anyone can apply for accreditation. Private and Government laboratories can do tests.

There is a process and there will be inspection organisations for certification. The AB delegates these tasks to different organisations who can be private or public. The body will be located at the previous office of the Ministry of Science & Technology.

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Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Tsunami housing - 'small is beautiful'

Daily News: 27/07/2005" BY AFREEHA Jawad

BAD enough was the tsunami, still worse is the post-tsunami housing and infrastructure construction which if badly handled would culminate in greater havoc superseding even what the tsunami wrought.

Ashley De Vos one of Sri Lanka's top ranking architects citing the dangers of unplanned visionless post-tsunami construction referred to the Brazilian story where housing estates have now become ghettos and slums - its residents now into large-scale nefarious activities. He was addressing a seminar at Sausiripaya on post-tsunami reconstruction.

De Vos very emphatic on small units - the community based type said would help preserve all what was traditional for basically many tsunami-affected folk were dancers, artists and some other.

Sri Lanka with its traditional small communities lost it all when the tsunami came on. Far worse damage including permanent zonal destruction would come in if large-scale estate, housing was introduced.

Reiterating the sustenance of traditional importance De Vos said there was a future in tradition and tradition in the future for its ability to accumulate practical experience and knowledge over the years. It also absorbs the good while rejecting the bad.

Recalling the traditional architecture in Puranayamas he noted how these dwellings resisted rain, sun, heat and glare, keeping intact the social milieu and people's lifestyle. Its raw material came off the environment while the people themselves interacted with the environment as fishermen and farmers.

The war's impact together with the tsunami's arrival greatly destroyed the Waadiya lifestyle - the fisherfolk who once enjoyed free movement - the beach itself where boats lay anchored and nets laid to rest where fish was dried and children played - that had now disappeared.

In fact even the tourism industry was deprived 10.5 metres of Sri Lanka's coastal belt. The tsunami destroyed two kilometres inland.

He also reminded of whatever housing is provided, "it should be dwellings suited even for us to live in." De Vos illustrated his presentation with different types of houses and schools to be built for tsunami victims where they could live comfortably engaging in whatever occupation they were earlier into. For instance the ones into business wanted their shops on the ground floor.

Dr. Jagath Munasinghe of the Moratuwa University advocated guidelines in post-tsunami reconstruction.

The structure's physical fitness inclusive of internal structural stability functioning, evolution and the ability to absorb shocks, contextual integrity where the structure/environment relates harmoniously leaving room for space to grow which when ignored would lead to congestion, social equity where equal opportunities are for all residents including accessibility to housing, healthcare, education, markets, urban services, public spaces of parks and grounds, the projects economic viability - of people and goods transportation along with water and power supply, a fair zonal mix where occupants share amenities patronise and meet same civic facilities, simple streets bearing highlighted nodes and landmarks, hierarchically organised streets and open spaces, access to maintain and augment physical structure, spatial organisation that facilities orientation and way finding.

Munasinghe also cited the varied past settlements that fulfilled some of these requirements such as the dry zone colonies of the 30s bearing large square grid layout with scattered houses, the model villages of square lay out, Mahaweli settlements featuring an organic pattern, Gamudawa's circular lay out, the 1980s government housing scheme both grid and organic and the Diyawanna gammana on flat land.

Munasinghe being a chartered architect and town planner strongly recommended liveable human habitats.

He disowned whatever design that came off personal instincts and ad hoc knowledge. Our knowledge body is not organised which if coherent order would prove better in designing and better settlements.

As designers, architects and engineers handling space he reminded the importance of normative concepts concerning the cosmic order, functional order, organic order and the replication of heaven in all untended structures.

Shiromal Fernando also of Moratuwa University recalled the tsunami damaged ill-designed structures.

Recommending what he described as structures with strong foundation and columns he noted how free flow of water between columns were non-resistant to the waters force. Sea walls though an expensive exercise, he saw as a way out for vulnerable areas. Trees also was suggested including all other necessary precautions to minimise life loss.

Professor M. T. R. Jayasinghe also of Moratuwa campus was at hand to recommend cyclone, earthquake and flood resistant structures.

He saw sufficient ductility as a way out for structures to reduce chances of a building collapsing in toto during some severe earthquake.

During cyclones the first to go off being the roof can be prevented with concrete slabs. Floods can be well handled with concrete stilts enabling free water flow.

Professor Priyan Dias suggested horizontal bands that tie the walls laying emphasis on overturnings, coverings and slidings avoiding long walls and structural robustness.

The seminar though with knowledge expertise at times failed to reach out to ordinary people and often ran into lengthy delivery per speaker. However, if policy makers would interact with such expertise it would help equip Sri Lankans into much of disaster control.

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Making Agricultural Trade Work for the Poor

Poverty Development Gateway: "With ``development'' as the theme of current WTO negotiations, agricultural talks have become an area of particular importance and concern. The plight of the rural poor in developing countries has often been attributed to persistent and distorting agricultural trade policies. Therefore, when it comes to the effects of trade on development, the stakes could not be higher. This paper assesses the impacts of agricultural trade on poverty by reviewing the current literature. It discusses the potential welfare impacts of policy reform and examines the recent trends of open trade in developing countries. "

Contributor: Matthew Straub ( Member )
Published Date: July 21, 2005
(PDF,165 K)

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Photos reveal Sri Lankans' plight

BBC News: 25/07/2005" The plight of Sri Lankans hit by the Boxing Day tsunami is revealed by an exhibition of photographs taken by a Manchester pilot.

The exhibition, at the city's Central Library, chronicles the impact of last year's disaster on the island.

The massive wave struck 1,000km of the coastline, killing more than 31,000 people and injuring a further 23,000.

Norbert Stepie, a long haul pilot from Chorlton, took the photos during visits in January, February and May.

He said: "Visiting Sri Lanka for the first time, I was moved by the extent of the devastation.

'Not forget'

"People who have so little have lost everything. In spite of this, their spirit and warmth has not been broken."

Manchester City Councillor Mark Hackett, responsible for culture and leisure, said: "The tsunami was shocking and devastated much of South East Asia.

"It is important for us not to forget.

"By showing this revealing exhibition of photographs we can learn about both the devastation and the beauty of this island and it will hopefully prove an inspiration for people to help in some way."

The exhibition of about 30 photographs begins on 26 July and runs until 3 September.

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Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Anti-Sethu lobby seeks compensation

South Asia : Hindustan Times.com: Anti-Sethu lobby demands compensation from India , PK Balachandran, Colombo, July 22, 200519:41 IST

The vocal anti-Sethusamudram Ship Canal Project (SSCP) lobby in Sri Lanka is demanding compensation from India for those in the island who will be affected by the project, now that the project is on and is unlikely to be abandoned.

Dr Susai Ananthan, Senior Lecturer in Geography at the University of Jaffna and a fisheries expert, told Hindustan Times that he recognised that the project would spur economic growth in the South Eastern coast of Tamil Nadu. But he pointed out that no such development was on the cards in the North Western coast of Sri Lanka, given the traditional step-motherly treatment meted out to the Tamil-speaking areas by successive Sri Lankan Governments.

Dr Ananthan said that the latest reports on the SSCP suggested that the alignment of the canal had been shifted nearer the India-Sri Lanka maritime boundary. He feared that the chances of the North Western Sri Lankan waters being adversely affected by the digging and the shipping traffic to follow, had increased.

"Earlier, I thought that the project would not harm Sri Lanka, but after the alignment was shifted eastwards, I felt it would. The damage can be quite significant. There has been a total change in the perception here," he said.

Asked about the view expressed by the head of his Department, Prof Balasundaram Pillai, that the SSCP could lead to the development of ancient, but now moribund, North Sri Lankan ports of Talaimannar, Kankesanthurai and Point Pedro, Ananthan said that there was no chance of growth so long as Tamils were not in-charge of North East Sri Lanka.

"This will be the case so long as the Sri Lankan government is in charge. Governments in Colombo will not encourage growth in the Tamil-speaking North. We can hope to see development here only when power passes into the hands of Tamils under an Interim Self-Governing Authority (ISGA). Till then, our fishermen will have to put up with the adverse impact of the canal. Sri Lanka should therefore ask India to provide adequate compensation to these fishermen in lieu of abandoning the project," Ananthan said.

Loss of Katchchativu feared

The Jaffna expert also feared that as a result of the expanding needs of the SSCP, India might sooner or later ask Sri Lanka to give Katchchativu island on perpetual lease.

A top Indian academic and Sri Lanka expert, Prof V Suryanarayan of Calicut University in Kerala, has, in fact, been suggesting this for the past decade or more.

The Jaffna don recalled that Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa had also publicly demanded that India "retrieve" Katchchativu from Sri Lanka as a solution to the problem of Indian fishermen straying into Sri Lankan waters and poaching there.

India has been claiming that its fishermen can exercise their "traditional right" to fish around Katchchativu, besides drying their nets there. But Sri Lanka has been disputing such an interpretation of the Indo-Sri Lanka maritime boundary agreement.

Writing in Daily Mirror and The Island on Wednesday, Dr Lareef Zubair, a Sri Lankan oceanographer at Colombia University's Earth Institute, urged the Sri Lankan Government to demand compensation from India, in addition to lobbying hard for its abandonment, both bilaterally and internationally.

The Indian Government must assure fair and expeditious remediation, if the plans go awry, and compensation for the affected, along with mutual agreement on arbitration, must be negotiated, Zubair wrote.

The US-based long standing Sri Lankan campaigner against the SSCP, warned that the South East Indian and North West Sri Lankan coastlines would become vulnerable to tsunamis and earth slips as a result of the digging in the shallow Palk Strait.

Like some Sri Lankan and Indian commentators, Zubair also saw a military and strategic dimension in the project. This aspect had been highlighted recently at a conference held at Calicut University in Kerala, reports of which were published in Sri Lankan papers.

Zubair said that a militarised Palk Strait could be subjected to missile attacks during war or by terrorists. There was also a possibility of a nuclear disaster because the Kalpakkam nuclear reactor was not far away, he warned.

Governor encourages anti-SSCP stir

Meanwhile, instigated by the pro-LTTE Tamil National Alliance (TNA), and subtly encouraged by the Governor of the North Eastern Province, the fishermen of Mannar have agitated against the SSCP.

The Wanni district TNA MP, Vinonoharathalingam, participated in a demonstration earlier this week. Banners calling upon the Indian government to stop the project were held by the demonstrators.

Suggesting that the Government of Sri Lanka was backing the fishermen, the Governor of the North Eastern Province, Tyronne Fernando, made an unusual visit to Mannar recently, to hear out the fishermen on the SSCP. He urged them to give their objections in writing so that the government could take up the matter with India. He also held talks with the influential Bishop of Catholic-dominated Mannar district, Rev Royappu Joseph, on the project.

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Monday, July 25, 2005

Can policies quench thirst of the poor

The Island: 22/07/2005" by Rajindra de S. Ariyabandu

The water policy debate still goes on. Here, we refer to the National Water Resources Policy which caught the public eye and created so much controversy during 2002 -2003. Today we have two draft water polices (from two ministries) attempting to manage the same water resource within Sri Lanka. To the public, the number of policies is of little consequence as long as they get their water at home (water security) and in the fields for cultivation. Besides these two policies there are number of other polices and a great deal of legislation (50 Acts and over 40 institutions) dealing with water in Sri Lanka.

However, Only 71% of the population in the country has access to safe water. In rural areas situation is worse with 40% of the population not having access to safe water. Nevertheless, the state is committed to provide safe water to all its population by 2025 (meeting the UN’s Millennium Development Goals). Being a signatory to UN General Comment No. 15 of 2002 on ‘Economic, Social and Cultural Rights’ the state is responsible to safeguard the rights of all its citizens to adequate safe water for livelihoods. UN general comment recognizes that ‘right to water is indispensable for leading a life in human dignity. It is the prerequisite for realization of all other human rights’. Though human rights to water is not enshrined in our constitution, state is obliged to act as the trustee and custodian for water resources. Can existing and draft water polices fulfill this obligation?

Sri Lanka is often referred to as a water rich country with a per capita water availability of nearly 2400 cubic meters (less than 1700 cubic meters per capita being considered as critical). However, there are wide variations in spatial and temporal distribution of rainfall and more than 50% of rainfall escapes as run off. Considering environment water needs, there is still lot of potential for developing more water resources (most recently being the Weheragala reservoir in the Manik Ganga basin). Developing water resources certainly increases the availability of water for ‘beneficial use’. Most developed water will be used for agriculture while some will be used for domestic, urban and industrial use. Issue therefore, is how do we maintain equity and what is the priority in water allocation. Do the existing water policies or the proposed draft policies offer a solution? While macro level water allocation between agriculture and power takes place at the Mahaweli Water Management Panel, there are no micro level water allocation policies or clear priorities.

National Water Resources Policy

The draft National Water Resources Policy attempts to provide a water allocation system through establishing ‘property rights’ to water. While recognizing that water is a limited resource, it attempts to improve water use efficiency plus attain equity at the same time. Improving efficiency in water can be achieved only if water is allowed to be used in most water productive uses i.e in high value low water consuming crops or for industrial use. This will negate the equity concerns in water use. Moving water from agriculture to industry or introducing high-value crops will deny access to water for small farmers, poor and disadvantaged. The proposed draft policy attempts to achieve this balance by introducing "appropriate instruments" (possibly water permits). Permits are only given to ‘bulk water’ users, policy implies that while bulk water user rights will be protected by ‘water permits’ rights of small water users will be ‘safeguarded’ through this mechanism. Unfortunately, policy does not illustrate clearly how rights of small water users can be protected. This can leave small water users in a greater risk of losing access to water they already enjoy. Experience from other countries (Tanzania, in similar resources situations) indicate that access to water enjoyed by poor through existing traditional and negotiated rights have been lost when ‘formal rights’ are bestowed. This will directly threaten ‘rights to water’ as enshrined in UN general comment. The state as the trusty to safeguard the rights of its citizens will not be able to abdicate its duties by only protecting the rights of ‘bulk water’ users. Therefore, policy will have to mention explicitly how rights of poor can be protected, not only with safe water for drinking and sanitation but also for livelihoods. It is now recognized that water for reasonable livelihood use should be provided to all people without hindrance to live a life in dignity.

Another issue that needs attention in the draft policy is prioritizing water allocations. Water allocation policy during times of water shortage is clear. It mentions that domestic water will be the priority at time of scarcity. Unfortunately, importance to livelihood water needs during times of scarcity is not recognized. Further, the policy does not mention explicitly, allocation priority under normal situations. Irrespective of the environmental conditions, water for drinking, sanitation and livelihood needs has to be protected. Thus, it becomes a duty by the state to ensure unhindered provision of water for life sustaining activities.

Policy underpins the onus of maintaining equity and efficiency that is vested with River Basin Committees (RBC), a new institutional arrangement at local level. While it is always good to empower local organizations to manage natural resources, RBCs as envisaged in the policy will be premature, given the political and bureaucratic situation in the country. River Basin Committees or River Basin Organizations are viable organization dealing with water allocations and management in countries like Australia (Murray Darling River Basin), where all water users are more or less homogeneous in their respective livelihoods.

We in Sri lanka are far from this situation with different stakeholders in a river basin comprising of varying livelihoods, wealth and political power. Certainly, we should not discard the concept of RBCs as local institutions for water resources management in a river basin. However, implementing such democratic institutions can come when we as a country are more mature in sharing natural resources for a common good.

Rural Water Supply Policy

The common citizen associates the water policy to, ‘selling of water’ ‘taxing of water’, ‘cost recovery’ etc. But how many of us know that there are other policies, such as the "Rural Water supply and Sanitation Policy" that has been in practice over the past decade. A policy does not have to be a written document to be practiced. A consistent framework that oversees intended beneficiaries can be a policy. However, sustaining such frameworks for future beneficial use needs to be approved as a policy, preferably by the cabinet of ministers (as practiced in Sri Lanka).

The framework that was followed by the National Water Supply and Drainage Board (NWSDB) in supplying water to rural areas in Sri Lanka is an exemplary policy. This practice became institutionalized only in 2001 as the "National Policy for Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Sector" (RWSS) was a result of work by NWSDB and the Community Water Supply and Sanitation Project (CWSSP) in providing water to the poor in rural Sri Lanka. The ‘policy’ recognizes water as an economic good and has a value attached to it. This is certainly due to its preoccupation of being a water supply agency which puts a price on water for cost of delivery. However, it also recognizes water as a ‘basic human need’ which warrants equitable allocation. To this extent RWSS policy acknowledges the significance attached to water with respect to "human needs". This policy could have been further strengthened if it recognized water as a "human right".

Provision of water to rural areas in Sri Lanka follows the principle of Demand Responsive Approach (DRA). While DRA is a concept that was introduced by the World Bank to approach a wider section of community on a sustainable basis, it has its own draw backs preventing greater effectiveness. DRA is inherently biased towards cost recovery. This can eliminate poor and the marginalized. However, experience gained from implementing RWSS projects over the past decade has improved its performance with respect to effectiveness of outreach.

Approach adopted under DRA takes into consideration the importance of information to select a technology-based on ‘informed choice’. Community Awareness, Community Mobilization and Participatory Planning process under DRA takes more than a year. In wider application of DRA for rural water supply else where in the world, Sri Lankan approach has been considered as exemplary mainly due to preparatory time prior to implementation.

How have rural communities benefited through this policy? Research conducted in some rural water supply schemes in Sri Lanka, reveal the poor have benefited most through RWSS projects implemented using DRA. Poor who depend on wage labour for livelihood sustenance had to sacrifice lot of time for fetching water. Provision of water supply schemes have provided them with the extra time which they can now deploy in labour work. Three to four hours per day spent on fetching water has been saved due to rural water supply projects. There is a three fold increase in per capita water use among the poorer groups in rural communities while among the wealthier groups per capita water consumption has increased eight fold. Increase in water consumption among the poorer groups were for sanitation needs while home gardening and water based small scale industries were common among the wealthier groups, besides increased water for sanitation. Hence, water security of rural communities have increased due to rural water supply projects implemented through DRA.

However, increase in water security has a cost. Poor have to pay dearly to obtain household water supply. This could vary from consumption substitution to economic substitution and in extreme conditions even mortgaging permanent assets (i.e land). Substitution among wealthier groups could limit only to adjustments in spending or reallocation of expenditure i.e postponing house repairs. Poor sometimes spends up to 85% of their monthly income to obtain household water supply while wealthier groups spend about 30%.

Costs involved in obtaining rural water supply has sometimes denied poor people, access to water. Funds obtained by the state to serve the poor, are denied due to certain policy drawbacks. On the average 5% of most deserving rural poor do not get access to water due to inherent weaknesses in DRA policy (independent research has indicated more than 10% community drop outs due to economic reasons).

Can the state ignore this section of the population and achieve Millennium Development Goals? Is the state abdicating its duty by the people to provide and protect the rights to water for all its citizens? This is when water becomes a "social good".

We need to recognize when water is an ‘economic good’ and when it is a ‘social good’. Water being a peculiar commodity it has both these features depending on the use and user. It is an economic input when water is used for commercial production in industry but it is a social good when it satisfies basic need of human beings. In essence, policies have to recognize this fact and treat water both as an economic and a social good depending on the circumstances. It is only then the rights of poor in attaining water security will be fulfilled while satisfying the needs of the rich as a productive asset.

Finally, let me conclude this article by suggesting that we need to change our approach in dealing with rural communities at least in water supply. Rather than being satisfied with one community as a whole we need to look at sub communities and smaller groups to identify the poorest of the poor.

Most of our water policy development approaches have been project based. Projectized policy reforms are not sustainable due to lack of resources to maintain the project cycle. Therefore, policy formulation should be essentially a local affair (like what happened when India formulated its water policy in 1987). Foreign assistance can be or should be sought for generating data and information, conducting public awareness and pilot testing the policy reforms process.

Policies should ensure that poor improve their access to water and not distance them from the resource.

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Recalling battered, Northern lives to life

Daily News: 22/07/2005" BY CHANDANI Jayatilleke in Jaffna

THE fishermen in Cheddipulam, a village in Kayts, are looking forward to rebuilding their lives which were shattered by the prolonged conflict in the country.

Having returned to their native village after the truce, all that they want now is some support for housing and fishing.

Three hundred families who had returned to the village of Cheddipulam. Prior to the conflict there were 500 families. Most of the families in this village were displaced in the 1990s following the fighting and lived in various places such as Mannar.

However, following the truce, the villagers gradually returned after they were convinced it was safe to do so.

On the way to this village recently we noticed, some of the houses which were damaged had already been repaired. Every now and then roofs with new tiles and a new coat of paint appeared.

Although they had begun fishing on a small scale, the villagers say that business is not as good as earlier. Their catch is basically purchased by traders from Jaffna who visit the village.

In another village - Theriaddy in the Tellipalai AG division, we met a farming community who lamented that their houses and livelihoods are badly affected and they need support for housing and developing agricultural lands.

Many returnees are of the view that they have been given step motherly treatment by the authorities including several foreign donor/support agencies and NGOs based in Jaffna.

"Various representatives, both local and foreign visit our village and collect information, promising to help rebuild our lives, but none has done something fruitful so far," said one villager when we visited this village.

The whole village gathered at the tiny community centre - the only facility in the village - for a discussion with the officials of the European Commission, UNDP and the media.

During this session, the villagers brought out various problems that they have been facing over the last two decades at the height of the conflict.

They have not got any support from the LTTE either, the villagers said.

They were agitated that the focus now is on the tsunami victims and they have been promised houses and all other facilities within a short time. "We have lived in camps and suffered much due to the war for over 20 years. Bur yet, our issues have not been addressed," they said.

Another issue they brought out was the anomaly in housing allowance for the war victims and the tsunami victims. While the persons who lost their houses during the war would get only Rs.250,000, the tsunami victims would receive up to Rs. one million. "This is very unfair," the villagers said.

For farming, though it is limited to a few areas, the villagers said they had not received the fertiliser subsidy.

"The fertiliser is quite expensive and we cannot bear the cost. When we ask the authorities they say it may be due to high taxes charged by the LTTE when the stocks are being transported to Jaffna," a villager said.

These villagers were displaced in 1992 and they returned only after the A9 was opened, following the truce.

Landmines litter the borders of the village and around the wells. Halo Trust has started clearing landmines, yet the work gets hampered as there is a shortage of labour. And it is dangerous and difficult to remove landmines, the villagers said.

Some villagers have opted to clear the mines on their own, despite the risks involved. They are not trained in unearthing and defusing mines, leaving them vulnerable to accidents. "But, we have no other option," one villager said.

There are 72 families living in this village, at present. They lack even the most basic facilities for a humble living, such as water for drinking and bathing and lavatories. There is a school and a montessori in the village. However, the facilities at the school are virtually non-existent.

A group of villagers have set up a society to support other villagers in the rebuilding process. Now they lament that although there is a society, and its representatives continue to meet various organisations that have pledged to assist them, they had not been able to do anything for the benefit of the villagers so far.

"In fact the fellow villagers are of the view that we gain everything for ourselves and had not passed down the benefits to them as we continue to meet different officials, with no use. But that is not the truth. Simply we have not been able to help the villagers or ourselves," they said. The Farmer Society has not been able to win the confidence of the villagers.

Their main farming crops include rice, vegetables and onions. However, they do not have a proper system to sell their produce. During elections, like in the South, many politicians visit their village. But none has done any good for them so far. "They are all broken promises," said another villager.

Assistance for farming is urgently needed before the rainy season, according to several villagers we interviewed. Kandiah Sinniah Rasamma, an elderly woman, wants a house to replace the one destroyed in 1990 due to the war. She now lives in a cadjan hut.

Thavamani is another helpless mother with a mentally retarded son to look after. She has no house and no income. "I want someone to help me to look after my son," she says.

Many people in these parts have lost much of their property due to the conflict but they haven't got anything back and now survive with great difficulty.

Rajani is a mother of five children. Her husband is not in a position to work for a living as he has lost a limb during the war. "I work as a labourer and earn about Rs. 100 to 150 a day," she says. With that she looks after a family of five children and a disabled husband.

Her children go to the village school but she finds it extremely difficult to continue to send them to school as they do not have a proper source of income.

Despite all their problems, the villagers are happy to experience the peace that has been sustained following the truce. "We need peace," they say in unison.

The European Commission and UNDP Jaffna branch have come forward to assist these villagers through a project called, Integrated Recovery and Resettlement Program (IRRP) at a cost of Euro 4,000,000.

The UNDP Jaffna will be in charge of the implementation process and has already chosen several villages and identified their specific and urgent requirements.

Gnana Sivapathasundaram, Senior Program Officer, UNDP Jaffna said that they plan to address similar issues in the villages of Jaffna, Killinochchi, Vavuniya, Mullaithivu and Mannar.

The project will support a community orientated, integrated area-based approach to undertake a package of inter-related activities. These focus on support to the sustainable reintegration of refugees, IDPs and vulnerable local communities who lack opportunities.

Among the four areas for development are community based housing reconstruction, support to fisheries sector recovery, integrated agricultural sector recovery and support to community rehabilitation and reintegration.

UNDP will build the capacity of local structures, community based organisations, NGOs, governmental and non-governmental organisations.

The support to these communities to monitor and supervise construction and rehabilitation works will have a long term impact in terms of their ability to undertake relevant maintenance works which will be required by all communities.

The institutional sustainability of IRRP activities at the target group level is ensured through the network of strong community based organisations (CBOs) at village level, through which most of the project activities will be implemented.

IRRP will support the development of the regional fisheries industry through training and capacity building of concerned institutions, including the Department of Fisheries, the Fisheries Union and individual fisheries societies.

Through this, IRRP will promote the expansion of the industry, increasing market profits and enhancing the livelihoods of fishermen.

The IRRP will seek to introduce only those technologies that people can use and manage independently and which are not alien to the traditions and lifestyles of the people.

Apart from economic improvement, certain attitudinal and behavioural changes among the target group are intended. Sivapathasundaram said that under the IRRP, people in the fishing village would get houses and a community trade stall.

The villagers in Theriaddy would get houses, a fertiliser storage facility, agro wells and several other facilities.

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Sunday, July 24, 2005

Political bickering undermines tsunami rebuilding, says report

The South-East Asia Earthquake and Tsunami Blog: Lack of cooperation between Sri Lanka's government and the opposition parties has hampered the post-tsunami rebuilding process, a non-governmental organization monitoring relief work said here Thursday. Kingsley Rodrigo, chairman of People's Action for Free and Fair Elections (PAFFREL), said the lack of national consensus between the government and the opposition toward the rebuilding effort has impeded the process, slowing it down to an undesirable low at the ground level.
PAFFREL's report released on its supervision of relief work during the six months after the tsunami says that less than 1,000 of permanent houses had been completed out of over 64,000 houses required. Local councils are controlled by the main opposition party, and the central government's relations with them has affected the progress, Rodrigo said, adding that the political parties are using the victims for political gain he charged.PAFFREL recommends a mechanism to be set up at village levels to avoid delays and to increase efficiency. The government has faced accusations from the main opposition for its alleged inefficient handling of the relief efforts. The victims say that the non-governmental organizations both local and international have been of more use than the state apparatus in handling the relief coordination, according to the report.Two thirds of the country's coastal line was devastated in the tsunami tidal wave attack on Dec. 26 last year, which killed over 30,000 people.

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Quality Housing for Tsunami Survivors with Minimal Environmental Cost

ReliefWeb - Document Preview : Source: International Organization for Migration (IOM)
Date: 12 Jul 2005

The quality of accommodation for tsunami survivors and environmental protection are two issues of growing concern as the pace of reconstruction accelerates across Sri Lanka.

The Sri Lankan government says more than 40,000 transitional houses have been completed island-wide, but 20 percent do not meet minimum standards.

This week, IOM completed 2000 transitional homes, all of which provide at least 200 square feet of space per family, along with adequate ventilation, electricity, water and sanitation. IOM is considering how it can provide support to ensure that shelters of this standard are available to all the tsunami homeless.

"Our transitional accommodation is designed to last up to two years, or longer if necessary, while permanent housing is finalized for the 86,000 Sri Lankan families made homeless in the disaster," said Christopher Gascon, IOM chief of emergency operations in Sri Lanka.

In addition to quality construction, the need to protect the environment is emerging as an important factor in the massive rebuilding effort. According to the government's Task Force for Relief, the construction of some new settlements near protected areas and high demand for sand and wood for rebuilding, are placing a huge burden on the island's natural resources. Without careful management, these activities could potentially cause more irreversible damage to Sri Lanka's environment than the tsunami itself.

While IOM is purchasing some construction materials locally to help revive the local economy, it is also taking steps to minimize environmental damage. It is trucking more than US$130,000 worth of high quality Australian timber to construction sites on the battered east coast.

The timber, donated by OXFAM Australia, will be used by IOM to build a further 1300 transitional homes without placing further pressure on local forests.

"The wood is now being trucked from Colombo to the hard hit eastern regions of Ampara, Batticaloa and Trincomalee in one of the biggest single transport operations since the tsunami struck six months ago," said IOM transport and logistics officer, Dejan Micevski.

Oxfam Australia is donating a total of 100 containers of timber and more wood is expected to arrive soon in the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo. IOM will receive 70 per cent of the timber for its transitional shelter programme. The remaining 30 per cent will go to other aid agencies but IOM will transport the timber to all building sites as part of its ongoing support for the wider relief and reconstruction programme on the island.

For more information please contact: Gina Wilkinson, IOM Sri Lanka, tel: +94-777-597-837 Email: ginaw@iomsrilanka.org

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