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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, September 17, 2005

Development plan should focus on rural infrastructure – CB official

Daily Mirror: 15/09/2005" By Kelum Bandara

The country’s strategic plan of development should focus on rural infrastructure development to bridge the disparities in income distribution between the Western Province and the rest of the country, Director of the Central Bank’s Statistics Department Dr. Mrs.Anila Dias Bandaranaike said yesterday

Presenting the Consumer Finance and Survey Report 2003/2004, Dr. Bandaranaike said that the countrys’ overall socio-economic situation had grown with the improvement in the education, health and others sectors, but, according to the key findings of the survey, policy makers should pay attention on issues like aging population , quality of education and others.

Simultaneously, sectional disparities had also been reduced.

According to the Survey, the estate sector is still backward compared to other sectors. Many economic indicators clearly show that the Uva and Eastern provinces are also in the backyard.

Referring to the income disparity between the Western Province and the rest of the country, she said that 49 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) had been from the Western province while the contribution of the Uva province to the GDP had remained at four percent only.

“ Infrastructure development is needed to reduce the regional disparity. The productivity in the agricultural sector should also be increased to generate income for those engaged in the field,” she said.

In the Health sector, people have shifted from the state sector to the private sector for health services even in rural areas, probably due to the absence of options for such services, and she stressed that this sector should be rationalized.

“Our population is aging and therefore attention needed in areas like providing medical facilities, retirement and saving schemes. The government and the private sectors should make investments regarding this aspect,” she said.

Around 70 percent are employed in the informal private sector. One fifth of the employed people in the country are under employed as seen mostly in the informal private sector.

The individual living conditions have improved compared to 1996/1997 period, and overally housing, communications and other facilities have also shown marked improvement.

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Friday, September 16, 2005

IOM and Sri Lanka to create database of tsunami-affected people

ColomboPage: 11/09/2005"

Sept 11, Colombo: The International Organization for Migration (IOM) will support Sri Lanka in the creation of computerized database centers to register people affected by last year's tsunami.

An agreement for this purpose has been signed between the IOM and the Sri Lankan government. Under the project, database centers will be established at the Presidential and District Secretariats to collect information on the estimated one million Sri Lankans caught up in the disaster and to track the delivery of assistance to devastated communities. The database will help to identify the needs of tsunami-affected individuals on a case-by-case basis, to ensure that people receive the assistance they need and wasteful duplication is avoided.

The President’s Secretary, W.J.S. Karunaratne, said, “The centers will speed and strengthen the delivery of relief and the implementation of reconstruction activities while smoothing the flow of vital information between national and district levels.”

The initial phase of the US$ 1.2 million project will be funded by the European Commission Humanitarian Aid Office (ECHO) and will provide data to all stakeholders involved in reconstruction with the aim of creating effective and appropriate reconstruction policies.

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Thursday, September 15, 2005

Sri Lanka’s post tsunami recovery rated slow

Daily Mirror: 12/09/2005"

Sri Lanka’s progress in post tsunami recovery has been rated as slow according to a report in the Asian Development Bank Outlook (ADO) 2005 Update released last week.


It cited political impediments to recovery as one of the reasons for slow progress.

In an examination of the impact of the tsunami on poverty, ADO 2005 described two scenarios of recovery fast and slow. Under the fast-recovery scenario, assumed to take 2–3 years in most of the countries, poverty caused by the tsunami would be eliminated by 2007 in all countries except Indonesia, where the additional number of poor would still be around 345,000 that year (See table).

If the recovery process took longer 4 to 5 years (the slow-recovery scenario) the additional number of poor would be 1.1 million in 2007. So far, the record among the countries is uneven, the ADO Update said.

“Thailand has restored many of its coastal resorts and is waiting for tourists to return in large numbers. Likewise, most of the resorts in the Maldives are back in operation, and the industry hopes to see a complete rebound by the end of 2006, about 2 years after the tsunami,” it said. As of July, tourist arrivals were about 70% of last year’s level.

Noting that the tsunami caused much more damage in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and India, the ADOP Update said these countries face greater problems with the management of reconstruction programs.

“There are also political impediments to recovery in Indonesia and Sri Lanka, where rebel groups control parts of the tsunami-affected areas,” it said. Progress in Indonesia was initially slow because of the time it took to establish the Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Agency, which will play a central role in managing recovery programs.

Now that the agency is in place, and a peace agreement has been reached between the Government and separatist rebels in Aceh, the reconstruction process is expected to accelerate. If the agency functions as expected, Aceh may be rebuilt in 4 years.

“In Sri Lanka, it took some time for the Government to agree on establishing a system to distribute aid in areas controlled by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, and there are still disputes over involving this group in the reconstruction. As a result, recovery has been hindered. In the absence of a durable agreement between the Government and rebel groups, it would be premature to conjecture when reconstruction might be completed,” the ADO Update said.

The December 26th Indian Ocean tsunami devastated coastal areas in Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka, Maldives, and Thailand, destroying families and communities, houses, fishing boats, farms, and other assets, and dragging at least 2 million people into poverty (Asian Development Outlook 2005). In the 8 months since then, significant financial resources have been directed at providing initial relief and on starting to restore local economies. There has been a stronger focus on generating work and involving the communities than in past disaster-recovery programs.

In Aceh, Indonesia, where an estimated 600,000–800,000 jobs were lost because of the tsunami, up to 35,000 people are employed in clean-up operations. In Sri Lanka, 87% of households in the affected areas suffered the loss of their main income. Now, 60% of these households have regained some source of income, mainly through temporary manual labor programs. These programs not only provide income but also help address the psychological trauma as people take an active part in the recovery and rebuilding of their communities. Overall, the initial relief operations appear to have succeeded. The recovery effort is now moving to the medium- to long-term process of reconstruction—from cash-for-work programs to restoring local economies, since clearly, such programs alone will not restore sustainable livelihoods. However, restoring local economies will take much longer in some places than others.

The report also said that India is focusing on restoring the fishing industry, housing, infrastructure, and rural livelihoods in mainland states. Thousands of fishing boats are working again; electricity, water, and transportation links are coming back into operation; and livelihood programs are being undertaken through self-help groups. However, the full reconstruction program is still in preparation, with land acquisition, development planning, and engineering design requiring more time. More attention is needed on these preparations, as it is on the Andaman and Nicobar islands, so that the overall recovery in India’s affected areas is speeded up.

It appears that the fitful progress on recovery achieved so far in the five countries may well mean that the additional number of poor in 2007 could exceed 600,000.

Commenting on the challenges, the ADO Update said in addition to the issues outlined, three other main challenges need to be addressed to speed recovery and ensure that the disadvantaged are not left behind in the rebuilding effort. These emanate in large measure from difficulties in restoring the informal economies of the affected areas, and from problems in reestablishing property rights.

First, relief programs, even relatively successful ones, leave gaps in their coverage. Priority is often given to people who are registered with the authorities, such as owners of businesses. Registered fishing communities are more likely to receive assistance for rebuilding or buying new boats than those in more isolated areas and without licenses. Farm workers, small-scale traders, casual laborers, and others in the informal economy tend to be left out, too. Second, land-ownership issues remain a serious problem for many people trying to rebuild.

In some cases, ownership was recorded only in the name of a family member killed in the tsunami. For others, all copies of records were destroyed.

And the very shape of some coastal areas was changed by the huge waves that washed away land.

Third, other problems have arisen. Bouts of localized inflation and contraction in banking credit have aggravated the suffering in some tsunami-hit regions.

Inflation in Aceh, for example, is running at 17%, or more than double the national rate, mainly due to demand pressures created by the presence of aid agencies and the reconstruction work getting under way. Banks have faced difficulties in assessing credit risks when records have been lost and collateral destroyed.

ADO Update also noted Building up local economies from scratch is an enormous undertaking. It requires investment in infrastructure; the creation of jobs and support for sustainable livelihoods; and efforts to put back together the institutional and informational fabric that supports commercial activity.

ADO Update notes that progress is obviously being made - but at different speeds in different places. Although the macroeconomic impact of the tsunami is limited, its impact will endure in the affected localities, with the additional number of poor still at a high level in 2007. Minimizing economic hardships will require greater efforts to address the bottlenecks to recovery and to ensure that the assistance covers those who are being bypassed, it emphasized.

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Wednesday, September 14, 2005

‘Keep politics out of coal’: CEBEU

Daily Mirror: 09/09/2005"

The Ceylon Electricity Board Engineers Union yesterday appealed to all political parties and politicians not to make a political issue of the Norochcholai project and instead act in a responsible manner considering the national importance of the project,

The CEB union in a statement said:

“The CEBEU welcomes the positive steps taken by the government for implementing the Norochcholai coal power project. We hope that finally, after so much of delay, the benefit of low cost coal power will be available to the Sri Lanka consumer in the near future. We appreciate the decision of the Government, the President and especially the efforts of the Power and Energy Minister to implement the coal power project.

“As a trade union of professionals we have always emphasized the importance of the Norochcholai coal power project and the implications of delaying it. There is still a long way to go and there could be many opportunists who could yet scuttle the project. We will be keeping a watchful eye on the developments and will not hesitate to take whatever possible actions to make this project a reality.

“We would like to thank all those who supported our cause by word and deed including the Chambers of Commerce, the Chambers of Industries, institutions such as the Institution of Engineers and specially the printed and electronic media who took our message across to the people of this country.

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Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Govt. to use open source software for rural IT push

Sri Lanka BUSINESSThursday, 8 September 2005 - 3:47 AM SL Time
The Government yesterday said that the Open Source Software increases chances of maximizing the potential in rural Sri Lanka in IT in being a producer of innovative and quality software technology for the world.

'There is a need for the Sri Lankan economy to grow at a rate of 8%-10% and to achieve this 'we need prudent macro-economic policies couples with development of thrust industries such as ICT,' Science and Technology Minister Prof. Tissa Vitharana said in delivering the speech of Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse who was not present on the occasion. The subject of ICT comes under Premier Rajapakse.

The national Free and Open Source Software Week 2005 began early this week and the ceremonial activities began yesterday.

'The Cabinet of Ministers, having seen the tremendous benefits that Free and Open Source Software could bring to our nation, our citizens and our industry, recognized the Free and Open Source Software week as a national event,' he said.

He noted that through the e-Sri Lanka initiative, the ICT Agency would be able to harness the potential of ICT within the people of the country; he said adding that this could be carried out through a series of programs with support from several donors and partnerships with several departments, agencies, ministries, the NGO sector and the ICT Industry.

Prof. Vitharana observed that the ICT Agency is presently working closely with the Administrative Reforms Committee to establish LakGovNet linking all state agencies through a nationwide government information network which would facilitate the sharing of information between the many state agencies and also provide various services.

Sri Lanka has in place a Computer Crimes Act and is now setting up and executing strong Intellectual Property laws to protect the valuable creations of individuals and industries and software is one such product, the minister said.

However, he noted, 'the relatively high cost of software has kept most of our citizens away from ICT and Free and Open Source Software presents an alternate approach for acquiring software legally at a relatively low cost, provided we are satisfied with the quality.'

Japanese Ambassador Akio Suda observed that Sri Lanka was a country that has been through many national events such as the tsunami devastation, the tragic conflict and the general election and noted that the country is currently engaged in going in for another election.

Speaking on the topic of ICT, he said that it has been witnessed that there is a rapid scale of growth and need for development of technology. In addition, Mr. Suda pointed out that there was a responsibility on the part of the society to 'narrow down the digital divide so that many can benefit.'

In this regard, he said that through utilizing the Open Source System there is a possibility of opening the gate to a ubiquitous society, with its value being increasingly recognized.

Japan and Sri Lanka have developed relationship including technology with the Colombo University and have also initiated Colombo as origin for technological corporation scheme under the Colombo Plan.

CICC representative Akio Kanaya of Japan addressing the gathering said that the OSS is a good way to improve ICT in Asia and narrow the gap of the digital divide.

He observed that training of OSS in Japan is being carried out including contest, outside training, with some having already been conducted in Malaysia and Singapore.

These courses will be conducted more frequently and Sri Lanka as an important ICT centre would be part of the second quarter fest, he said.

Mr. Kanaya noted that ICC has been conducting workshops in Cambodia and as such 'we are planning to contribute to Asia', he said adding that thereby there would be a diffusion of technology OSS through government programs.

Meanwhile, ICTA chief Manju Hatththotuwa said that ICT has a special growth pole and also is an enabler in every sector in the economy.

'In Sri Lanka we need to transform growth to the rural economy and thereby use it as a tool,' he said.

He noted that the strategies that flow is a responsive public sector as well as NGO and private sectors.

ICT can penetrate into various sectors and in Sri Lanka there is a need for a far ore holistic approach and a need for consistency and political leadership and provide empowerment through reforms, Mr. Hathtthotuwa said.

This was required in a bid to avoid the acute disparities in the geographical zones that need be addressed, he said.

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Monday, September 12, 2005

Vehicle Emission Testing programme in mid 2006

Sri Lanka BUSINESS Wednesday, 7 September 2005 - 2:39 AM SL Time
The Department of Motor Traffic (DMT) is making arrangements to begin mandatory island wide vehicle emission testing (VET) by mid 2006. Under this programme, around 30 fixed testing centres will be established in major in addition to a couple of mobile testing units for the testing of vehicles in remote areas. This is a government project and is outsourced to two private companies. One is a joint venture between ISB and Environment Systems Products Inc. (ESP) of USA. Other company is a newly established subsidiary of Laugfs Gas.

ISB is proud to be a part of this nationally important project and to be the local partner for ESP. ESP is the world leader in vehicle emission testing and has over 60% market share in USA. ESP has developed state of art technologies for vehicle emission testing including what is known as `remote sensing` (RES).

Sri Lanka under the sponsorship of USAID was fortunate to make use of this latest RES technology to establish the base line data of vehicle emission which could be used to assess the impact of mandatory vehicle emission testing programme which will come into effect from mid 2006 (Those who are interested in getting more information and a hard copy of the report are requested to contact ISB or USAID).

Once the VET project is implemented, all the vehicles on road (except land and military combat vehicles) ,which will be in the range of 2 million by 2006 will have to obtain the emission clearance report from the nearest testing centre before applying for annual vehicle license. Failed vehicles which are estimated to be around 10% of the vehicle population will have to be retested (free of charge within two months) for emission clearance after rectifying the associated problems by authorized repair shops. DMT is now implementing a parallel programme for the capacity building of motor vehicle repair shops around the country in order to equip them for this new service demand (Vehicle repair shops interested in getting involved in this project are requested to contact DMT).

A half a day seminar was held on Friday 12th August 2005 in Colombo to present the findings of Vehicle Emission Remote Sensing Survey and also to officially award the tender of VET to two private companies selected for the task. Minister of Environment and Natural Resources - Hon. A. H. M. Fowzie graced the occasion and he was accompanied by many dignitaries including Deputy Chief of Mission, US Embassy for Sri Lanka and Maldives ' James F. Entwistle and key officials of USAID, Ministry of Transport and Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources.

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Sunday, September 11, 2005

Don't Rush Tsunami Rebuilding, UN Envoy Cautions - New York Times

Don't Rush Tsunami Rebuilding, UN Envoy Cautions - New York Times: By REUTERS
Published: September 6, 2005
Filed at 9:10 a.m. ET

COLOMBO (Reuters) - Tens of thousands of Sri Lankan tsunami survivors are still living in basic shelters and shacks over eight months on and frustration is mounting, but rebuilding communities takes time and must not be rushed, a senior UN envoy said on Tuesday.
Eric Schwartz, former U.S. President Bill Clinton's deputy United Nations special envoy for tsunami recovery, said he was encouraged by Sri Lanka's tsunami reconstruction and recovery efforts, but said there was a long road ahead.
Sri Lanka has built about 50,000 temporary shelters for families displaced by the tsunami, while tens of thousands of people are still living with family and friends, but fewer than 5,000 permanent houses have been completed.
``It's hard to say to somebody be patient, but I think it's better to get it right than to get it fast,'' Schwartz told Reuters in an interview after traveling to the island's tsunami-battered south coast to see relief and shelter projects.
``Building back better does not mean building back faster and it's a tremendous challenge,'' he added. ``If you want it bad, you're going to get it bad.''
Sri Lanka has essentially outsourced its tsunami reconstruction to a host of foreign donors and non-governmental organizations, but has had trouble securing land for some resettlement projects and some relief agencies say bureaucracy is slowing down implementation.
Many fishermen whose houses along the coast were washed away by the tsunami are loathe to move to proposed sites miles inland, and planning reconstruction and negotiating with affected communities is taking time.
``BE PATIENT''
``I look at some of these housing sites in areas far away from the coast and I think that in 10 years are these going to be communities or are these going to be abandoned houses?'' Schwartz said.
``The answer to that question I am firmly convinced is going to be a function of how deliberate the planning effort is in terms of identifying beneficiaries who want to be in those places, creating services ... having confidence the people who are there can get jobs,'' he added.
One of the biggest challenges ahead will be for Clinton and Schwartz to keep world attention focused on the plight of millions of people affected all around the Indian Ocean rim as other disasters such as the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina take their toll.
While the international community pledged around $3 billion in aid to Sri Lanka alone, it is not yet clear how much of that amount has actually been firmly committed. Around $750 million of that figure has actually been spent so far.
``As in all similar situations, there's going to be some disconnect between pledges and obligations,'' Schwartz said. ''Right now we're OK on funding. However, the compelling importance of sustaining the concern of the rest of the world increases in the months to come.''
Schwartz's visit comes as Sri Lanka heads into a presidential election, which many diplomats and analysts fear will divert attention and energy away from thousands of tsunami-displaced who are still surviving on food handouts.
The tsunami killed nearly 40,000 people along Sri Lanka's shores, wiping out entire towns and villages from south to north and across the island's ethnic divide, and political squabbling has temporarily scuppered government plans to share aid with areas controlled by Tamil Tiger rebels.
``A political season, when you're competing for peoples' votes, it always creates pressures, and statesmanship and leadership -- it's my hope and expectation that would prevail in this environment,'' Schwartz said.

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