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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 24, 2005

Sri Lanka status report - 25 Aug 2005

ReliefWeb - Document Preview: Source: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) Date: 25 Aug 2005

Coordination:

FAO has been selected by the Government to be the official coordinator of fisheries in Sri Lanka. FAO has instituted regular NGO/Donor Coordination Meetings both in the fisheries and agricultural sectors to coordinate inputs distribution, avoid duplication of efforts and optimize sustainable outcomes from NGO assistance. In addition, FAO is working to promote sustainable recovery of these sectors to ensure that the appropriate standards are upheld and the funds are used effectively to leverage the rehabilitation and reconstruction phase.

Fisheries:
FAO has distributed 1 898 fishing nets, 225 packed net kits complete with ropes, floats and twine, and 67 outboard engines, 100 eight-horsepower engines to 430 beneficiaries in Jaffna, Galle, and Tangalle. FAO has purchased 655 outboard engines, 434 of which have been received and will soon be delivered. A new tender for fishing gear for approximately US$4.5 million will be issued in early August. To date, orders valued at US$5 174 347 have been placed with local and international suppliers for delivery between now and the end of November 2005. Ordered items include US$730 587 of boat repair materials, US$1 782 773 of fishing gear, US$873 350 of outboard engines, US$509 164 of inboard and outboard engine spare parts.
FAO contributed to the repair of 4 002 fishing boats and 1 084 engines through its partnership with Cey-Nor Foundation, the state-owned boatyard. Another contract with Cey-Nor for an amount of US$325 203 will cover government costs for repairing up to 2 650 boats and 3 350 engines (inboard and outboard). Two contracts worth US$509 164 have been signed with suppliers for spare parts to repair outboard and inboard engines. In early June, FAO distributed approximately US$95 000 worth of boat repair material to the Cey-Nor repair centres in Beruwala, Galle, Matara, Kudawella, Tangalle and Kalmunai.
A first cycle of tenders were issued in March 2005 and includes fishing gear, outboard engines and spare parts, repair materials for boats, inboard engine spare parts, vehicles, motorcycles, and office and communication equipment. To date, items for a total of US$2 196 197 have been supplied; inputs under delivery are boat repair materials, fishing gear, agricultural inputs (salinity equipment, seeds, fertilizer and tools) and office equipment.
An in-service training programme in nutrition and food processing was held at Vavuniya in July. The main objective was to provide support to increase food security and nutrition during emergencies as well as to build the capacity of local people to promote nutrition and livelihood opportunities. The agriculture programme also strengthened its coordination capabilities at district level.

Agriculture:
FAO has distributed 2 000 kits of quality vegetable seeds to the district authorities for the Yala 2005 planting season. Each of the 2 000 beneficiaries targeted for the distribution received 270 grammes of vegetable seeds that should produce 400 kgs of vegetables. The seed was generated through seed farms rehabilitated by FAO. The beneficiaries targeted, some of which are now also tsunami victims, were returnees displaced by the former conflict in the North and East. The seeds were also distributed to people living in camps where cultivation can be carried out at a community level. In addition, FAO delivered 540m of flexihose and accessories to the Agrarian Service Centre (ASC) in Trincomalee. The ASC will use the equipment to rehabilitate saline wells on Sri Lanka's eastern coast under supervision of the provincial agricultural department.
The distribution of rice seed and appropriate fertilizer to 1 668 farmers in Galle, Matara and Hambantota for the current "Yala" planting season is now completed. Orders have been placed for vegetable seed for an additional 560 farmers in these districts which will be targeted to those who lost homestead gardens as a result of the tsunami floods. 14 810 handtools worth of US$56 000 were distributed to Tsunami affected farmers through the Ministry of Agriculture. These tools, including 12 394 hoes and 2 416 sickles, were handed over to the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Lands and Irrigation (MALLI) in April. Another 9 250 hoes have been ordered, of which 8 150 have been distributed to homestead garden farming families by the districts (Galle, Matara, Hambantota, Ampara, Trincomalee, Batticaloa). Three solar refrigerators were delivered to the three veterinary offices in Mullaitivu. The refrigerators are replacements for the ones destroyed by the tsunami and will be used to store vaccines and other veterinary equipment. FAO's agriculture programme is now preparing for the upcoming Maha planting season. The programme is preparing to provide tsunami-affected farmers in seven districts (Ampara, Batticaloa, Trincomalee, Mullaitivu, Galle, Hambantota and Matara) with seeds, fertilizer and livestock.

Forestry:
FAO has assessed the forestry-related requirements and reconstruction needs of the tsunami-affected areas of Sri Lanka. Issues of extent of damage, fuelwood availability and timber for reconstruction of houses were looked at carefully and from these initial assessments, FAO is developing forestry proposals based on the recommendations of the assessments, which include: the need for an overall assessment, coastal area management, planting of coastal shelterbelts, rehabilitation of home gardens, extension programmes and village wood working mills.

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Foreword: Making the wealth of nature work for the poor

World Resources 2005 :
Profound poverty is a fundamental obstacle to the dreams and aspirations of people in every nation. Even after five decades of effort to support development and growth, the dimensions of poverty still stagger us. Almost half the world's population lives on less than $2 per day; more than a billion live on $1 or less. Poverty at this scale ripples beyond the boundaries of any particular country or region and affects the well-being of us all.
The publication of World Resources 2005 comes at a particularly critical time. Economies in many developing countries have been growing at a rapid pace for several years. That growth has made us aware of two stark realties: in the largest of those countries it has lifted millions out of extreme poverty; but the price these nations are paying in accelerated degradation of their natural resources is alarming.
At the same time, there have been a number of key events this year, 2005, that provide a clearer focus on the future. At the G-8 Summit in Scotland, attention on the problems of global poverty, especially in Africa, was unusual for its single-mindedness and for the acknowledgement of poverty's far-reaching consequences.
In the spring of this year, the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA), an international appraisal of the health of the world's ecosystems, published the first of its series of reports after five years of intensive study. The MA findings sound an alarm bell for the future, but they also contain within them a framework to address the challenges we have created for ourselves.
The MA has shown beyond any question the degradation we have caused to the ecosystems of the earth. At the same time, the MA has demonstrated unequivocally that we can better manage these assets, and, by so doing, secure their benefits for the future.
World Resources 2005 is about simple propositions:
Economic growth is the only realistic means to lift the poor out of extreme poverty in the developing world; but the capacity of the poor to participate in economic growth must be enhanced if they are to share in its benefits.
The building blocks of a pro-poor growth strategy begin with natural resources. These provide the base upon which the vast majority of the poor now depend for their fragile existence, but over which they exercise little control, and therefore can't exercise full stewardship.
The role of governance -- transparent and accountable governance -- is critical to fostering pro-poor growth, and essential to ensuring that the engine of that growth, natural resource wealth, is managed wisely.
There are some things we know for sure. We know that the great majority of the world's poor are concentrated in rural areas. They depend on fields, forests, and waters -- the bounty of ecosystems -- for their livelihood. These ecosystems provide a natural asset base that the rural poor can use to begin a process of wealth creation that will boost them beyond subsistence and into the mainstream of national economies - but only under the right circumstances.
If the natural resource base is not managed for the long-term, if it is exploited and polluted for short-term gain, it will never provide the fuel for economic development on the scale demanded to relieve poverty.
And that is what is happening today, as the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment has dramatically shown. If the ecosystems of the world represent the natural capital stock of the planet, we have drawn down that account at an alarming pace in the past decades. Over the last 50 years, we have changed ecosystems more rapidly than at any time in human history, largely to meet growing demands for food, freshwater, timber, and fiber.
These changes have not been without benefit. The resulting increase in food, fiber, and other services has contributed to improved human well-being. However, the gains are unevenly distributed, and the poor have more often born the associated costs.
As populations and economies grow, the pressures on ecosystems will inexorably increase. Yet thanks to the MA, we finally understand, in terms even the most hard-bitten economist or banker can appreciate, the economic value of our natural capital account. And like the banker or economist, we now understand that we must manage that capital account-a trust fund, if you will -- so that it not only provides for our needs today, but also for the needs of future generations.

This volume documents that such stewardship of nature is also an effective means to fight poverty. When poor households improve their management of local ecosystems -- whether pastures, forests, or fishing grounds -- the productivity of these systems rises. When this is combined with greater control over these natural assets, through stronger ownership rights, and greater inclusion in local institutions, the poor can capture the rise in productivity as increased income. With greater income from the environment -- what we refer to as environmental income -- poor families experience better nutrition and health, and begin to accumulate assets. In other words, they begin the journey out of poverty.
For some time now we have known that economic growth, growth that expands the availability of opportunities, is necessary to any permanent effort to alleviate poverty. But the quality of that growth is crucial if its economic benefits are truly to extend to the poor. Pro-poor growth based on the sustainable use of natural resource capital requires a fundamental change in governance. World Resources 2002-2004 demonstrated that the wisest and most equitable decisions about the use of natural resources are made openly and transparently. Those most affected by such decisions must have full access to information and the ability to participate.
Change in governance must necessarily include reforms that give the poorest a real stake in their future. The issues of land tenure, of responsibility for resources held in common, of control, and accountability must be addressed in a way that acknowledges and catalyzes the role of individual and community self-interest in managing natural resources as a long-term asset.
Included in these reforms must be a clear mandate to end corruption, which particularly oppresses the poor. The graft of government officials, the inside deals of vested interests, and the exploitation of natural resources for the immediate gain of a few creates an environment where the resource rights of the poor are violated and pro-poor growth cannot flourish.
The growth of free and uncorrupt institutions in developing countries provides the catalyst that will help us solve these two inextricably linked challenges: the eradication of extreme poverty and the management of our natural capital to provide for future needs.
Access to the natural capital to create wealth, control and responsibility for that capital, information and basic technology to make that control useful and productive, and the ability to reach markets that bring the poor into the global economy are the tools at hand. The payoff for countries that take up these tools is the prospect of a far better future than what they face today, and a social stability based on choice, access, and economic opportunity.
Achieving these goals will not come without a price for the developed world, but it is one developed countries should be eager to pay, given the return. Aid programs will have to become more targeted and accountable. Free trade will have to mean just that. Tariffs, import quotas, and crop subsidies will have to be modified, minimized, or eliminated so that the promise of a better life that starts on a farm in central Africa is not dashed on the docks of Europe, Japan, or the United States.
Consider the consequences of inaction or misguided action: Continued poverty. The unchecked ravages of preventable diseases. Lost generations whose talent and promise are denied to us. Depletion of resources vital to our future. And the social corrosion born of inequality and political instability that national boundaries can no longer contain.
Much of what we call for in this latest Report is captured in the Millennium Development Goals, adopted by the United Nations in 2000, and committed to by the wealthiest nations of the world. World Resources 2005 shows us how important pro-poor management of ecosystems is to attaining these goals.
What World Resources 2005 argues eloquently and unequivocally is that the path forward is clearer now than at any time. The Report presents a wealth of examples to adopt and replicate, demonstrating how nations can support a bottom-up approach to rural growth that begins naturally with the assets that the poor already possess. We know so much more than we did at Rio in 1992. We know the folly of extending aid without the tools to make use of it, of granting debt relief without improved governance, of stimulating production without access to markets. And we know the promise of ecosystems for poverty reduction. Delivering on that promise can allow the bounty of nature to become the wealth of the poor. At no time has so much been at stake, and at no time are we better able to respond.

Kemal Dervis, AdministratorUnited Nations Development Programme
Klaus Töpfer, Executive DirectorUnited Nations Environment Programme
Ian Johnson, Vice President for Environmentally and Socially Sustainable Development World Bank
Jonathan Lash, PresidentWorld Resources Institute

Download the full report and more

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Friday, September 23, 2005

Call to make agriculture sector more attractive

Sunday Observer: 18/09/2005" by Gamini Warushamana

The agricultural sector should be modernised to increase income and make the sector more attractive for the new generation, experts say analysing recent findings of a survey.

The agricultural sector is backward compared to other sectors and less than one percent of young people take to agriculture.

The agricultural sector share to the GDP is 18% compared to the service sector which is 56% and industries 26%.

The average monthly income of housholds in the agricultural sector is Rs.4,449 and is less than half of the service sector income (Rs.9,846) and only 60% of the industrial sector income (Rs.7,313). The underemployment rate in the agricultural sector is also the highest in all three sectors and stood at 33% compared to 18% in service and 20% in industries.

The employment share in the agricultural sector is 33% compared to 41% in the service and 26% in industries.

The final report of the eighth Consumer Finance and Socio Economic Survey of the Central Bank (CB) published last week highlighted the trends in many fields of the socio economic development in the country.

The urban rural disparity contribution to the economy is also highlighted in the survey findings. All other provinces are far behind the Western Province (WP) and the Uva Province (UP) is the most backward in terms of the share of GDP, employment, underemployment and the average household monthly income. WP share to the GDP is 45% while in other provinces it is 3-10% and UP 4%. WP contributes 28% to employment while other provinces contribute 2-13% and UP 7%.

The underemployment in UP is the highest and stood at 24%, while it is 16% in WP and other provinces 19-29%. The average houshold's monthly income of WP is Rs.25,602, more than double that of the UP (Rs. 11,178) and in the other provinces it is Rs.11,178-Rs.15,792.

The hard facts of demographic information revealed by the National Census in 2001 have been reflected again by the survey report. The population is aging and the number of problems as well as new opportunities in business are emerging through these developments.

Policy makers should take into account the demographic information and find ways and means to deal with the high dependence rate in the future. Opportunities are available in new retirement schemes, adults accounts and adult care, said Dr. Anila Dias Bandaranayake presenting the survey report. In all sectors over 50% of households are spending money on tuition or private education. The second largest expenditure component of households is education and is only second to food.

The higher expenditure on education emphasises the need to ensure the quality of the public education system.

In the health care sector too the trend to seek private services is on the increase, the survey revealed. Dr. Bandaranayake said that poor communities in urban areas have options and non urban sectors too need them.

The quality of state health services should improve and preventive health care optimised.

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Thursday, September 22, 2005

Tsunami displaced have a common dream: A home before rain comes

Sunday Observer: 18/09/2005" by Shanika Sriyananda

"Rain, rain go away. Come again

another day...", the little girl sings

looking at the sky. To her, it is the last nursery rhyme that she had learnt at the montessori, which was washed away by the tsunami. But to her mother, who is counting the days for a permanent shelter, it is a wish to protect her family from rain and thunder.

Several families, who were displaced after the tsunami and living in temporary 'transitional houses' in the tsunami hit areas hold a common dream and wish - a house before the rain. They are counting the days till the nightmare ends.

Still in love with the mighty ocean, they now know much about the sea and are ready to live away from the cool breeze. Some innocent families in the East who thought that they receive step-motherly treatment demonstrated carrying placards pleading the Government to give them homes soon.

Amidst destruction

a 'journey' around the tsunami-hit coastal belt, which still displays debris and partly damaged houses, may give you the impression that reconstruction is proceeding at a snail's pace. But... just miles away from the coastal towns, life has already begun. New settlements with modern facilities are coming up.

"We are so confident that by the end of next year those who are displaced and living in temporary houses will be moved to their permanent houses", says the Chief Executive Officer of the Tsunami Housing Reconstruction Unit (THRU), Gamunu Allawattegama.

Even with some practical problems, construction work of over 60,000 housing units have already commenced. " I am not saying the work is 100 per cent completed and many people think that by this time we should have completed constructing all the houses. But, this is a gigantic task for a country like Sri Lanka, which constructed only 5000 to 6000 new houses annually", he adds.

According to Allawattegama, THRU have had problems of acquiring and clearing land, but now most of the land issues have been solved.

However, he claims that some houses, which were built at the early stages, were not up to standard and correct specifications due to lack of proper guidance and planning. "We took action to demolish those houses and some have been rebuilt as a result to improve the quality".

Allawattegama says the country now needs quality houses which cannot be built overnight. "I strongly believe that there should not be a rush in housing construction because these are permanent structures.

The THRU has to look into the environment and social implications too, in housing reconstruction. And especially, we do not want to build new settlements hurriedly and ultimately convert them into slums in the future. The main desire of the Government is to settle these people in quality housing schemes with all the modern facilities," he adds.

The minimum size of a permanent house is 500 square feet which will have two bed rooms, a living room and a kitchen. The size of the land given to the beneficiaries will vary depending on the land availability in each district. The smallest land will be four perches and the maximum will be 20 perches.

Environmental aspects

Environment is the most forgotten portion in most of the new housing projects but not with the THRU, though it gives top most priority in providing permanent shelters to affected families. The separate unit established with the assistance of the Central Environmental Authority (CEA) is in the process of screening over 300 sites in 12 districts to mitigate environmental issues.

THRU, Environment and Project Planning Division, Director, Thilina Kiringoda, says that at the initial stage most of the housing construction sites have not given any consideration to environmental protection and some sites were with slopes, rocks, outcrops, forests, etc.

According to Kiringoda, at the first stage, the planning teams of the Urban Development Authority (UDA) in districts evaluate the suitability of available sites for housing using a planning checklist which states the criteria for screening the sites for environment concerns.

"Locations are checked for accessibility to environment infrastructure services and also for avoiding flood plains, marshes or low-lying land, steep slopes, archaeological forest and wildlife reserves", he points out.Meanwhile, THRU with the assistance of five Universities - Ruhunu, South Eastern, Eastern, Jaffna and Moratuwa - the CEA and IUCN have formulated environmental profiles for all these sites which will be completed within the next few weeks. " This is a comprehensive data base of environment profiles of all housing sites.

The CEA will decide on the needs for extending further Environmental Impact (EIS) Studies and housing projects that come under this need to carry out EIS", he says.

According to Kiringoda, if there are any environmental problems, mitigatory measures will be taken into account to make these new settlements more 'green' and several programs are already on the card.

Reconstruction of houses

According to media reports, tsunami housing has become a 'good business' to some of the major NGOs.

According to THRU officials, these NGOs pledging to build hundreds of houses 'happily' signed a Memorandum of Understandings (MoUs) with THRU, but so far built only a few houses.

The THRU Chief agreed that some of the major donors are not working satisfactorily and do not fulfil the tasks that they have undertaken in building houses for the tsunami victims.

"There is no problem with the donors from small NGOs and they are doing well with us to meet our target."

"But, the NGOs with big names have not kept their promises. Some NGOs have signed MoUs to construct hundreds of new housing units but built only a few houses", he claims.

However, with the assistance of the TAFREN, THRU is keeping tabs on the activities of ten top donors and will take action against them if necessary. "We have been monitoring them from inception and given several warnings", he adds.

"The detail reports about their performances during the past few months will be sent to their Head Offices in the respective donor countries soon," he says.

A THRU officer (who wishes to remain anonymous) says that the Government should carry out a thorough investigation into the activities of these NGOs.

"They may receive the full estimated amount from the donor country or the agency to construct the total number of houses that they have signed in the MoU. They have built only a few houses and no one knows what has happened to the rest of the money. But, the ultimate blame will come to the Government and the people will say the Government delayed the whole process", he says.

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Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Tsunami – the unfinished story

Daily Mirror: 17/09/2005" By Indrani Iriyagolle

The Sinhala Women’s Organsation is working with tsunami victims and for tsunami victims in Sri Lanka since January 2005. A chain of modest middle level projects are on-going making positive impact especially in the context of helping women and children, in Trincomalee and the southern coastal towns. Sri Lanka was the second worst affected country when the deadly tsunami waves struck on 26th December 2004.

The range of statistics vary from the national data collection to those of the international agencies and United Nations support bodies. From the moment catastrophe struck, international and local NGO s moved instantly. It brought out the humanitarian spirit and reflected national pride by the numbers of increasing volunteers who appeared in the national forefront. “Tsunami - a word none of us will ever forget ……………. We probably lost more children on 26th December than on any other day in the history of Sweden” was the comment when the Swedish government opened a Parliamentary debate on foreign affairs, on tsunami.

Sri Lanka statistics place over 35,000 dead, over 5000 missing, nearly half a million displaced. The tsunami stories are not over, though the new focus on elections could easily efface some of the most poignant memories. WHO, FAO, WFP, UNDP, UNHCR, soon became key players. ICRC, SL Red Cross, UNIFEM,UNESCO, RED CROSS, RED CRESCENT, instantly delivered goods and services, food and water. Others followed. First aid relief goods, truck loads of water, contraptions to desalination wells – all were brought in to complement the national efforts. Galle, a ghost town, put to darkness with scattered decomposed bodies buried under the rubble, boats and trawlers washed up to the main road, standing as silent sentinels are no more. Distribution of relief and welfare goods have stopped, temporary shelters have increased appeals, complaints and stories of suffering continue.

A new story unfolds

Refugees world wise had risen to over 27 million by 1995. Where do we stand about our own efforts? Is the “Tsunami focus” shifting away from the centre of attention? From human beings to election ideology, thereby hurting the dignity of these victims? The work carried out by NGO’s and by the state has been selective and slow. Women’s human rights are openly and explicitly denied. The situation demands not only a knowledge of what the problems are but also the personnel to implement them and how best to do so. Government must take the lead in identifying and eliminating the obstacles to help the gradual realization and enjoyment of such rights expeditiously. Our visits to Trincomalee, Matara and other coastal towns do not show a national plan of project activities and programmes of an intense nature at work with the aim of assisting speedily. Large numbers of women and children are turning to vagrancy and forced prostitution.

Hopelessness and despair is well reflected and proven if one stands with a team of workers at any point down the southern coastline. Hordes would surround you to tell their tales of woe and the insurmountable efforts they were called upon to make by rescuing victims from the waves, corpses brought ashore, and other tasks of bravery. Gunaratne of Hikkaduwa told how he saved 29 persons, virtually swimming against the waves with the victims on his back. He shows his temporary shelter with 6 children and asks ‘what do we get for all these risks – not even a permanent shelter, nor any allowance”. “We beg for our living from NGO’s or passers by. That too with indignity and insults”, says another, David is his name. In some areas common amenities do not exist, only a little privacy behind the rubble heaps or abandoned walls of damaged houses.

Relief distribution

Natural disasters, usually experienced in the form of incapacitation, death and destruction results in relief distribution. Women and children survivors suffer most. “Gender awareness” or simply put, disregard about the special need of women and children make matters worse. In the common situation physical vulnerability, social vulnerability, attitudinal vulnerability which involve a combination of factors should be noted as helpful sub headings for planning in such disaster crisis. Special attention to extremely vulnerable groups, and relief distributions to such groups require special support system, in an organised manner. Internally displaced persons, elderly women, women with physical disabilities, widows, chronically ill women, women in subordinate cultural groups (viz. caste etc), low income groups women headed households etc call for classified registers to enable fair relief distribution. Many poverty stricken women of the above categories have told that they could no longer obtain relief they deserve due to discriminatory distribution under male domination. They request a more systematic method of relief distribution. Longer the period of waiting, greater will be the harm done.

Strengthening livelihoods

Consequent to nine months of services to tsunami victims by NGOs and the state, in our estimation, providing permanent shelter and more opportunities to strengthen the livelihoods of these people take priority. Lack of access to basic production resources such as land, capital and other inputs kill initiative. Other link up factors are communication, knowledge, protection of family members, security of the home. No woman could commence small enterprise devoid of security in the home – for their family members.

Media reports say that Bank support regarding credit facilities to tsunami victims has become a contentious issue. Media says that tsunami victims cannot fulfil the demand for collateral – viz. a security pledge as a guarantee for repayment of loans. Unless banks make temporary amendments to such practise the opportunities for micro – enterprise for helpless tsunami victims would disappear. The term “vulnerability”, used especially in relation to women in the context of weakness, hopelessness and despair is not the correct usage. It refers to a set of factors and conditions that affect both sexes in regard to opportunities, ability, aspirations and more so, it prevents meting out the conditions for social justice to prevail. It is not merely the sate of being poor. Fair treatment of human beings and creating conducive conditions by NGOs and the State by co-ordinating an overall National plan to hold overcome such vulnerable conditions speedily becomes an absolute necessity.

Case studies

A few case studies of Trincomalee resident tsunami women victims revealed a number of serious social and family problems during counselling sessions, and training workshops for setting up small enterprise and self employment ventures. 3-4 months after the tsunami catastrophe, indebtedness has increased, family stress and tensions have multiplied, divorce and separation pushed the family apart, school attendance affected, jewellery, radio sets, and other household items pawned. 20% of the women interviewed suffered suicidal tendency. The unexpected micro enterprise trainings conducted by for SWO tsunami victims had helped to restore hopes for their future. A drop in the ocean of tsunami victims. However, the more confidence gained for economic strengthening by training and credit societies the ripple effect created brings out hopes for the future. Both in Trinco and Matara the rapport with the victims has been excellent.

Counselling

On the principal of “inclusion and “exclusion” more women get included and more men get excluded in counselling sessions. 90% of the women we came across revealed trauma symptoms and neurotic behaviour. Insomnia and hallucinations were also brought out as worrying conditions. The tendency for suicide had reached ‘affliction’ level. The need for counselling calls for excellent rapport between Councillor and Counselee, a closeness of mind and heart. Instances of rejection of counselling services surfaced as women pointed out that counselling by foreign visitors had not gained positive results. Clear techniques of communication had not fused due to the language barrier. Counsellors included, policy planners, disaster manages, trainers, researches, volunteer workers, would gain new insights if and when they possess an understating of the cultural milieu of the host country.

In response to the findings of the Review and Appraisal Committee meeting held at the 23rd Session of the General Assembly titled “Women 2000: Gender Equality, Development and Peace for the 21st century it forecasts increasing casualties and damages caused to women by natural disasters. It further raised awareness from a gender perspective, of the inefficiencies and inadequacies in responding to such emergency disasters. Identification and understanding of families, children kinship structure, communities, accepted social norms, and images of gender identity play an important role when seeking solutions to all aspects and problems natural disasters.

(The writer is President – Sinhala Women’s Organisation)

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Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Institution of Engineers welcomes coal power plant

Daily Mirror: 17/09/2005"

The Institution of Engineers, Sri Lanka IESL) in a statement said yesterday that it congratulates the Government of Sri Lanka and the Ceylon Electricity Board on the signing of the agreement with the Chinese Government for the setting up of the Coal Power Generation Project at Norochcholai.

“The Institution is pleased to note that both this project and the Upper Kotmale Hydro-Electric project have now been launched,” IESL said.

The Institution has long campaigned for the implementing of these two projects that are vital for meeting the increasing demand for electrical energy necessary for national development.

“The IESL is happy that the Government has taken this bold and progressive step and pledges its full support in implementing these two projects," the statement added.

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Monday, September 19, 2005

Angered UK donors withdraw pledges to children's tsunami hospital

The Island: 17/09/2005" By Harischansdra Gunaratna

Bureaucratic red tape and the indifferent attitude displayed by Sri Lankan officials have delayed the proposed construction of a fully equipped children's hospital in Kalutara, southern Sri Lanka.

Dr. Tush Wickramanayaka, Chief Executive of the Children's Hospital Tsunami Appeal Fund (CHTAF) today (Sept 16) blamed the "bureaucratic red tape" for the delay in constructing the estimated to cost Rs 900 million (US$1 = 101.45 Rupee).

She said the delays caused by official indifference had resulted in the donors in the United Kingdom withdrawing their pledges amounting to 827,000 sterling pounds (One sterling pound = 183.50 Rupees).

Dr Wickramanayaka also lambasted some of the non-governmental organisations (NGOs), calling them corrupt.

She claimed the NGOs had collected huge sums of money on the pretext of constructing houses for the tsunami displaced and their welfare but had failed to account for the money.

"They have a thousand and one excuses for not doing the work. The tsumami has now become a "big money making operation" she added.

"Their actions have made it difficult for genuine charities to raise funds for a worthy cause and we get tarred with the same brush," said Gary Cutter, Trustee of the Fund.

Dr Wickramanayaka said: "We should have commenced work on phase one of the 300-bed hospital in June and completed it before the first anniversary of the tsunami.

"Now the project will be entirely handled by the private sector and I am optimistic that it will get underway in six to eight weeks time."

Asked whether they were happy with the progress so far she said she would like things to move faster.

Once completed, this hospital will be the only one of its kind built in a tsunami stricken country, she said.

She added that round 20,000 children in the country perished due to the tidal wave. In some villages there are hardly any children left after the tsunami.

She appealed to the public and the business sector to donate whatever possible to make this cause a success and added that they could contribute not only in cash, but also in kind with material needed for construction, medical equipment bricks and cement.

The hospital will be built on a three acre block of land belonging to the Kalutara Hospital in Nagoda in Southern Sri Lanka and a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between the Health Ministry and the CHTAF for the purpose. Once completed, the hospital will be handed over to the government.

The required amount for the completion of the phase one of the project will be around 150,000 to 200,000 sterling pounds and the hospital with medical, surgical and also counselling services will serve to a wider community without any religious, ethnic class barriers and political interference, she said.

She added that rehabilitation of children who were victims of the tsunami and the civil war will also be carried out.

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Sunday, September 18, 2005

Sri Lankan Media Failed Tsunami Victims, Report

Inter Press Service News Agency: 15/09/2005" Amantha Perera

For a country that suffered more than 35,000 deaths and one billion US dollars in damages, local media coverage of the aftermath of the Dec. 26 tsunami has been woefully inadequate, a study, sponsored by Transparency International in Sri Lanka, has concluded.

''The voiceless were not given a platform to express themselves at all. The main function of the majority media texts analysed was to conceal the fact that the state of public opinion at any given time is made up of a system of forces, of tensions, and the serious inadequacy of the Sri Lankan way of journalism toward representing the state of public opinion,'' the report, released last fortnight, said.

Titled 'Post Tsunami Media Coverage, The Sri Lankan Experience', the report analysed 913 articles and programmes over 11 TV and radio channels between Mar. 20 and 26 and found that instead of acting as a platform for the victims to air their needs and grievances, the media became the voice of the politically powerful.

''The media was basically a tool of the power elite. It reflected the thinking of the power brokers and was not that concerned about the victims or the reconstruction effort,'' Thilak Jayarathne, lead researcher and author of the study told IPS.

Taking the example of a story written for a national English weekly which dealt with housing, Jayarathne pointed out how it only represented the views of the government agency and an non-government organisation (NGO), without any proper verification, according to the research. ''The most important actors in the story -- the tsunami victims are missing, thus denying voice to the people who were affected and powerless.''

Jayarathne told IPS that this was a pattern that was common to all local media in reporting the tsunami and blamed the country's media culture, rather than individual journalists. ''I think it is a problem with how our newspapers work. This chap was given two phone numbers by a superior and set a time to hand in the story. That is not the way it should be done.''

There has been criticism of the media coverage of the long-term reconstruction effort so much so that several agencies, including the United Nations bodies, to sponsor training programmes for journalists.

The U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) is funding a series of eight such workshops in the worst-hit areas in Sri Lanka, conducted by the Sri Lanka College of Journalism. During preliminary discussion sessions, regional journalists have complained that they did not receive adequate support from their head offices to pursue tsunami-related stories.

Also, of late, there has been a reluctance on the part of editors to take on tsunami stories so that newspapers are not overburdened.

Jayarathne said that overtly-politicised reporting would definitely have an impact on long-term tsunami reconstruction policy decisions because the ground needs were not being clearly conveyed to the policy-making centres in the capital.

''We have a reporting system that is very Colombo-centred and politicised. And we also don't have professional full-time journalists working in the outstations, leading to a lot of slack reporting,'' Sunanda Deshapriya, from the media advocacy group Free Media Movement said.

Deshapriya felt that media reports in the immediate aftermath of the tsunami had been effective but lost track thereafter.

''It is very likely that the tsunami coverage followed the pattern, at least after the first week of national solidarity and shock when the politicians politicised the tsunami,'' Johan Romare, a Swedish consultant working with the College of Journalism, in the capital, said.

Deshapriya warned that the pressure to push tsunami stories out of the pages would increase when the campaigning for presidential election intensifies in the coming weeks.

''Tsunami stories now will be reported from the eyes of the politicians. It will not be the victims who will get a voice, instead politicians will hold the mike,'' Deshapriya said.

One issue has been the tendency in the Sri Lankan media to focus too much on the political power game in Colombo. Instead of publishing stories on the reconstruction work and human stories on what is happening in the tsunami struck areas, the papers are using space to refer to, and speculate on party politics.

''Of course, the political game per se has to be reported. But, it seems like Sri Lankan media fails to keep the politicians accountable by following up on what the government is actually doing. By that, media becomes more of a platform for the political debate, than a watchdog scrutinising the work done by people in power,'' Romare said.

In the past, government-owned media has come under heavy criticism for toeing the line of the party in power. However, during the study, researchers found that private media was equally guilty of touting hidden agendas. ''We could not observe any differences between government media and private media on the approach to the story. There is a myth of the private media in this country, but if you look closely, you can see the embedded agendas,'' Jayarathne said.

While efforts are underway to address the lopsided tsunami reporting, the Transparency International study recommended major overhauls inside media houses to stem the rot.

Jayarathne, who was Director at the College of Journalism before he took up the study, warned that the patterns that were visible during the study were not limited to tsunami reporting alone. ''It is a pattern that we have come to expect from the media, especially when covering important national issues like the conflict,'' he said.

''We wanted to know if the journalists in this country are reporting the news with an agenda,'' said J.C. Weliamuna, chief of Transparency International Sri Lanka (TISL). ''The study found that the media in Sri Lanka, irrespective of policy differences, engages in propaganda for parties which they prefer.''

''When we talk about media reports in general from sites of conflict, it is clear that more often than not, the tendency is to report from a selected vantage point, rather than from that lofty and often, unachievable objective of objectivity,'' said in an introduction to the report.

The nine months since the tsunami may have added to the erosion of public trust placed on the media, the report warned.

''The sad outcome of this catastrophe is that the public in turn, increasingly distrusts journalists, even hate them. And it will only get worse. The majority of Sri Lankans would not think the media cares about the people. It seems that journalism is disappearing,'' the last paragraph said. (END/2005)

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