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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, October 15, 2005

What happened to Econo Rail – Diesel Multiple Rail Unit accepted by the Government in November 2004?

Asian Tribune: 09/10/2005" by Q. Perera

Dr Lawrence Perera’s name has gone down in the annals of the history of Sri Lanka as the first man to manufacture utility motor cars in Sri Lanka and is one who risked and took up the challenge of first local manufacture of cars and the product - economical and affordable ‘Micro Car’ is now fast selling in the local market and expected to export soon.

A man with 30 years of experience in the field of transport saw that there is an infrastructure built in since 147 years in the Sri Lanka Government Railway without maximizing its efficiency. He said that road transport can serve only a limited way and it would not serve the masses of the country properly. This reason prompted him to use his expertise, pick up the vast technology available internationally in designing a prototype train which can carry many people at the same time – to establish Lanka Econo Rail Project.

As they did not have the right kind of total technology in Sri Lanka, they have obtained technical assistance from a world renowned manufacturer Bombardier Transportation from Denmark and also the other company involved is ZF AG transport manufacturers from Germany for the engine. He said that they tied up with this company to manufacture the first prototype train in Sri Lanka.

The system called ‘Diesel Multiple Unit System’ (DMU), where every three carriages is powered with a medium horse power, Power Pack. It is not one engine carrying the entire carriages and this system is ideal for a country like Sri Lanka, as now energy is used to run 10 compartments. He said that Sri Lanka has the highest mountains in broad gauge and climbing up to 1,700 meters. He said that in this context the proposed DMU is ideally suits the local conditions, which is ideal for pushing and pulling and the weight of the train on the track would be minimal.

DMU is very much economical and affordable for Sri Lanka as instead of spending huge sums of money for power-sets at costs ranging from Rs 300 million for one engine. If the DMU is turned out locally the cost would be around Rs 50 million and also the maintenance cost would be low and economical in value because the system is run on diesel hydraulic.

Dr Perera said that the original offer was that the Micro Cars that it would undertake the cost of the first prototype power-pack to be borne by them and the Railway Department could test the first train and on satisfactory operation the payment could be made. Dr Perera said “I do not think that anybody in the world would have given an undertaking to the government to bear the initial cost of the trains, but I undertook because that I am too sure that the system works”.

On 11th November 2004 the Sri Lankan Government approved the first Diesel Multiple Unit (DMU) manufacturing project to manufacture Lanka Econo Rail. This project was jointly designed developed and was to be manufactured by Micro Cars Ltd and the Ceylon Government Railway (CGR). This was revealed by Dr Sarath Amunugama, Minister of Finance on that day at a press briefing.

The Minister went on to say that the Treasury had promised to fund this project and hoped to commence services within nine months. He said that this project would bring a huge saving and it was also a source of income to the government.

Dr Perera commenting on the transport system in the country said that it is in an utter chaotic situation, mainly because; we have not capitalized the massive infrastructure available in the Railway Transport network.

Econo Rail proposed that the first few prototype trains could used the discarded under-frames which are now sold as scrap iron, which are lying all over the railway yard at present. Dr Perera said “We would use three under-frames and six bogies. If scrap iron is used the maximum amount would be rupees one million. There are about 30 such under-frames available now and about 10 power-sets could be manufactured. He said that they have prepared full technical and commercial proposals for these prototypes.

He said that the DMU system has penetrated to almost all parts of the world during the last five decades where well over 9,000 such DMU power sets are in operation now, covering all kinds of terrains with an annual approximate distance of 300,000 to 500,000 km showing a new trend in the rail industry which is heading towards a new era, where DMUs are being used instead of costly conventional locomotives.

If a locomotive of 1500 HP handles a train of 10 coaches, then for each coach approximately 150 HP is consumed from the engine power. Instead of having the 1500 HP locomotive in front, same train could be powered by 10 of 150 HP engines, under slung, on each coach. When the passenger load is less accordingly engines could be switched off.

He said that this would work as a private public joint venture. He said that project design was started in 2003 and the proposal was submitted early in 2004. The government accepted the proposal and the Cabinet appointed a committee to handle the project.

As the whole issue of the DMU has received wide publicity, the country would be thinking that the project is underway which could make a tremendous impact on the present chaotic transport system in the country. The actual situation is far from that. In the final analysis of the process that has taken place, it is apparent that certain officials have sabotaged this vitally important national project and now it has reduced to correspondence only.

Dr Perera said that as far as he know, the Cabinet paper was misinterpreted by the Railway Department as when the Cabinet approval was given to handle the project, it was misinterpreted in such a way as to evaluate the project by a committee of 8 members. He said that he was not blaming the politicians at all as the Minister of Finance, the Minister of Science and Technology and the Minister of Transport have valued the project very much. These officials have misled to the extent that this project would not take off the ground.

Thoroughly depressed Dr Perera said that it was not a loss to Micro Car, but the project not coming up would be a national calamity. These officials first came up with a theory that the project could be handled by the Railway Department. The original estimated cost was Rs 40 million, but it went up to Rs 50 million. These officials pointed out that the railway department could do it at a cheaper rate. But after their evaluations, the cost exceeded more than Rs 50 million.

Dr Perera said that only on 19th January 2005, Micro Car received a communication from the Ministry of Finance which is a copy of a letter addressed to the Chairman, National Procurement Agency (NPA) indicating that Ministry of Finance has encouraged Micro Cars Ltd to enter the field of production of cars and Econo Rail, since it is a local company making use of local expertise.

The Minister of Finance has drawn the attention of the NPA to the fact that there was a study on purchasing 100 new carriages and diesel locomotives from China and said that there was a fear that such a study would exclude the possibility of Lanka Econo Rail from participating in the development of the railway system.

The letter which was under the Minister’s own signature indicated that the Econo Rail could be accommodated in the area of commuter transport as Lanka Econo Rail seems to be a very promising development regarding rapid transportation of urban travelers. The Minister therefore has urged the NPA to integrate the proposals of the Micro Cars with whatever recommendations the NPA makes regarding the Chinese proposals.

On 14th July Micro Cars have addressed a letter to Minister of Transport Felix Perera drawing his attention to the proposal submitted by Micro Cars on the Lanka Econo Rail Project a year ago. In response to this letter, Secretary to the Ministry of Transport wrote back to Micro Cars by his letter dated 30/6/2005 indicating the matter was referred to the NPA for evaluation. The entire matter is now on hold with a reply by NPA indicating that it has submitted a report.

Several pioneering manufacturers who risked large investments has said that though it was the bounden responsibility of the government to assist them, while not only the government agencies failed to provide any assistance, there had been occasions that some of these agencies were really sabotaging and tried to prevent such ventures.

It is high time that the country must identify and weed them out as their continuance would make serious further damage to the development process of the country.

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Manpower master plan, needs survey vital to address unemployment

Sunday Observer: 09/10/2005" by Surekha Galagoda

Sri Lanka has no manpower needs survey, a manpower master plan or a suitable education path which are fundamental requisites to address the issue of unemployment, said Director, Human Resource, National Chamber of Exporters, Nihal Rangala.

He said countries such as India and even the Middle East have done manpower needs surveys and the policy makers know the country's requirements in each area which has helped them prepare the education path accordingly.

Therefore at any given time they know how many IT graduates they would need and how to cater to the demand based on the human capital available in every sector as children have been guided in the education path according to their abilities and the needs of the country based on the manpower masterplan.

We in Sri Lanka, however, do not know what the requirement is in each field and therefore even if an investor wants to acquaint himself about the manpower availability in the country we are not in a position to answer such a question as we are not armed with a manpower master plan.

Though we were an agricultural economy 50 years ago primarily exporting tea, rubber and coconuts the country has shifted towards the manufacturing sector within the last 30 years with the latest trend being the service sector. The policy makers of the country did not change the curriculum of the schools and universities to suit the needs of society.

At present there is a huge demand for jobs in the IT, Banking, Marketing and Tourism sectors, but how do we cater to this demand. The policy makers did not identify the changes that were taking place globally and continued with the old curriculum which has resulted in a great mismatch between the available jobs and job seekers.

In this scenario career guidance plays a vital role. According to Rangala career guidance is defined as a vital component of Human resource development and a mechanism through which you identify a person's knowledge, attitude, skills and talents and guide that person to a work environment where these qualities can be applied.

Career guidance is important for schoolchildren, school drop outs, O/L and A/L failures, unemployed graduates, disabled soldiers, non school-goers due to economic reasons and the informal sector. There are about 1,500 Vocational Training Centres.

At present 100,000 opt for tertiary and vocational training and according to statistics the employability rate at most of these institutes is not more than 35% while just one institution has a success rate of more than 70%. Most students cannot find employment after following these courses as they do not cater to the needs of the society.

According to a survey the country does not have sufficient people to fill the IT vacancies for the next five years. The country has a labour force of around 6.5 million excluding the North and East. Although the overall unemployment figure has reduced to 8.8% from 14% in 1992 unemployment is the highest in the educated categories such as those with O/L, A/L and higher education qualifications.

Unemployment among those with O/L and A/L are 10.3% and 14.8% while the country's labour force will increase at a rapid rate in the next two decades before it settles at a comfortable level. According to a survey 50,000 vacancies were advertised during a year and there were only 3,000 vacancies for graduates.

First we have to do a manpower needs survey, and based on that the policy makers must draw up a manpower masterplan. The curriculum and the education path must be adjusted to suit the needs of the industry to be market oriented and futuristic, he said.

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Friday, October 14, 2005

Millennium Development Goals: Lanka should step up efforts to address critical challenges

Daily News: 10/10/2005"

COLOMBO, Recent progress in Sri Lanka's human development indicators had led many to suggest that victory over poverty is around the corner.

A new World Bank report shows that even though performance in some key areas has been impressive, fulfilling the Millennium Development Goals by 2015 will require stepping up efforts to address critical challenges.

The report "Attaining the Millennium Development Goals in Sri Lanka" finds that to meet these development targets the country needs to maintain strong growth, ensure male and female students attain better educational levels, improve health and nutrition, expand infrastructure, and pay close attention to districts currently under-served."

Five main human development MDGs relating to poverty, under-five and infant mortality, child malnutrition, school enrolment and completion and gender disparities in schooling, are examined and discussed in the report.

Bright Spots

Sri Lanka gets credit for achieving the two educational MDGs 'Universal Primary Enrolment and Completion' and 'Eliminating Gender Disparity in Primary and Secondary Education', well ahead of the target date in 1990-91. These achievements are even more noteworthy considering the fact that the country has suffered a 20 years of civil unrest.

"The report emphasizes in particular the need for accelerated pro-poor growth if better progress is to be achieved towards reducing the number of people living below the poverty line," said Peter Harrold, World Bank Country Director for Sri Lanka.

Expressing hope that this report will assist Sri Lanka to strengthen efforts to serve the poor and achieve the MDGs by 2015, he said 'the Bank looks forward to continuing the work with the Government to achieve this objective.'

Despite the achievements, Sri Lanka faces considerable challenges with substantial shortfalls in learning achievements.

"The challenge now is to ensure high quality of primary education, with special emphasis on educationally disadvantaged areas, through strategic policy development, and efficient investment in human resources," asserted Harsha Aturupane, Senior Economist, World Bank, who headed the study team and is one of the main authors for the report.

Significantly, the report finds that there is a strong linkage between female adult schooling and many of the millennium indicators. Female schooling at post-primary level is strongly associated with poverty reduction and with lower child underweight rates.

The report advocates continued investments to ensure increase in girl's secondary and tertiary enrolment in future, adding that improvements in learning levels of both boys and girls would strengthen the economic prospects and human development attainment of the country substantially.

The report also recognizes the country's efforts in bringing down its "Infant and under five mortality rates, "but here again there is cause for concern as there exists large regional disparities in the country", says Aturupane.

The study shows that living standards alone can't explain the entire variation in infant mortality. For instance, Moneragla has one of the lowest infant mortality rates in the country despite being the poorest district, while Colombo has a relatively high infant mortality rate despite its affluence.

Several factors like sex and birth order; mother's schooling, mother's age at birth, mother's vaccinations, birth weight, household headship (male or female); and access to infrastructure all pay a part and contribute to the infant mortality rate.

Surprisingly, the report shows that, infant and child mortality rates were lower for households headed by males (12.1 and 14.3 per 1000 live births) than for female headed households (15.3 and 20.6 per 1000 live births).

Critical challenges

The dual challenges for the country are eradicating extreme poverty and hunger and improving Sri Lanka's poor performance in addressing child malnutrition.

Analyzing the Poverty issues, the chapter on 'Consumption poverty', examines trends and patterns and states that 23 per cent of he population lives below the official poverty line in seven of the eight provinces.

The highest level of poverty is in the estate sector, which comprises the plantations in the central highland areas, where 30 per cent of the population is poor. This is followed by the rural sector where about 25 per cent of the population lives below the poverty line.

The more profitable economic opportunities available in cities and towns bring the poverty in urban sector down to 8 per cent.

Sri Lanka's inability to tackle child malnutrition is much more difficult to understand. Sadly, the efforts that went to reduce the infant and under five mortality rates did not assist in bringing down the malnutrition figures.

On a more positive note the report says while moderate child malnutrition is pervasive in Sri Lanka the rates, of severe malnutrition, are very low and are in the range of 3-5 per cent. However, the report states that one out of three children up to age 5 is underweight.

Amazingly, 15 per cent of children even from well to do households are underweight and stunted. Child malnutrition is considerably higher in the conflict affected North and Eastern provinces (46 per cent) than the rest of the country.

Here the prevalence of malnutrition is higher among the boys (50 per cent) than the girls (46 per cent). Notwithstanding the high levels of female literacy and access to medical services there is also revealing evidence of discrimination against girls in the allocation of nutritional and medical services within households.

As data for each MDG is analyzed and presented the importance of infrastructure facilities for attaining the MDGs become evident. The findings show that poverty and child malnutrition are high in areas where access to electricity is lacking.

As one would expect, child malnutrition is affected by lack of access to safe drinking water and proper sanitation facilities.

The report interestingly show through simulation exercises that expanding electricity coverage from 57 to 72 per cent would in itself reduce child malnutrition rate by 5 percent.

Two factors that emerge clearly, when data are compared regionally and provincially, are the diversity of outcomes among the various social indicators and the variation in achieving the MDG targets.

These findings draw attention to the unpalatable truth that even if the country as a whole attains a particular MDG, some regions in the country might still fall way below the expected outcomes. The necessity to systematically monitor millennium development outcomes and the impact of social assistance programs such as Samurdhi are stressed.

The report argues that the right set of interventions with which to achieve the MDGs is only possible if data is available to evaluate which anti-poverty programs have been successful and which have not.

The Millennium Development Goals

1. Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger.

2. Achieve universal primary education.

3. Promote gender equality and empower women

4. Reduce child mortality

5. Improve maternal health

6. Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases

7. Ensure environmental sustainability

8. Develop global partnership for development.

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Thursday, October 13, 2005

Recruitment of child combatants remains a threat

ReliefWeb - Document Preview : Source: Refugees International (RI)
Date: 06 Oct 2005
As political problems persist in Sri Lanka, recruitment of child combatants by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) is rising. In the wake of the tsunami in Sri Lanka, there was a brief interlude of harmony as Sinhalese and Tamils worked together to rescue survivors of the tsunami and rebuild damaged coastal areas. Fears that the LTTE might capitalize on the tragedy by forcibly recruiting orphans of the tsunami did not come to pass and while recruitment of child combatants did not end, it remained low. In recent months, however, recruitment has increased, and children and adolescents remain vulnerable to forced conscription.

The eastern coastal district of Batticaloa, which was hard hit by the tsunami, is an area of political tension and LTTE child recruitment remains a constant threat. The figures of UNICEF, which monitors the child recruitment situation nationally, show that recruitment in July was at the highest level since before the tsunami, with 135 under-age combatants known to have been recruited. A local agency staff member told RI, "Recruiting is going on in the tsunami shelters in the un-cleared [LTTE-controlled] areas. At temple festivals, we see the LTTE openly trying to recruit children. They tell them to 'Come and see a video program' and sometimes they forcibly abduct them." International humanitarian agencies have been able to provide a measure of protection for children by increasing their presence in areas where recruitment is rife, such as temple festivals.

In 2004, Colonel Karuna led a faction that separated from the LTTE in Batticaloa and Ampara. The Karuna faction unilaterally demobilized almost 2,000 child combatants, but without the assistance of a formal demobilization process. The number of former combatants exceeded the capacity of the child protection agencies in the east. Further, the split itself has led to an increase in daily violence in the east, with repeated attacks and assassinations, making children more vulnerable to violence and possible re-recruitment.

While UNICEF and child protection agencies were previously able to intervene when parents reported suspected recruitment of their children, in the current environment people are becoming increasingly reluctant to report incidents to humanitarian agencies. RI interviewed teachers and school officials who acknowledged that people are afraid to become too involved in working with child combatants. "Aiding and assisting runaways from the LTTE could put our staff at risk. We have to be careful." Another school official acknowledged, "Many are reluctant to identify as former combatants now because that could identify them as candidates to be re-recruited." Additionally, as no one knows who supports which LTTE faction, even acknowledging that one is a former combatant could mean a risk of retaliatory violence by the other faction.

The LTTE maintains that it is complying with its international commitments, first made in April 2003 in the Action Plan for Children Affected by War, to eliminate its recruitment of child soldiers. The LTTE spokesperson interviewed by RI was critical of the international aid agencies for failing to provide adequate livelihood and psycho-social activities for the 5,000 children that he claims have been demobilized. Further, he insisted that adolescents continued to volunteer due to lack of economic opportunity in northern and eastern Sri Lanka.

In much of the LTTE controlled areas there is an all-pervasive environment of Tamil nationalism and political control in which many families feel an obligation to give at least one child to the LTTE. Many former combatants maintain that they volunteered. In the context of the total control exercised by the LTTE at the community level, the act is often not truly voluntary. It is undeniable, however, that the war has in effect created two countries: the south, with its relative wealth and economic opportunity, and the north, where the landscape is harsh and there is little economic investment. Thus, the LTTE culture of martyrdom and sacrifice, coupled with the lack of economic opportunity, suggests that physical intimidation and force are not always necessary to convince young adolescents to join the LTTE.

While prevention of child recruitment is an essential element to working with children affected by the conflict, it is also important to address simultaneously the reintegration of former combatants back into society. Many programs focus on vocational training and education. These are crucial elements to a successful reintegration but there are psycho-social and cultural issues that may also arise. Former combatants, particularly young adolescents, are often traumatized upon their release from the military. An educator for a program that works with former combatants explained, "Their lifestyles have completely changed because of the fighting. They now have to learn a new way of life. The [former combatants] don't act like the others. They can get angry and very aggressive. We have to take special care for them -- sometimes we need to counsel them to help them understand what they went through." The split in Batticaloa has made it increasingly difficult to identify former combatants and assist them. "It is dangerous to keep all the ex-combatants together. It was a challenge to find homes to board ex-combatants because of the fears of the Karuna faction and the peace process breaking down," said a director of a vocational training program. "Since the Karuna faction is in Batticaloa, there are lots of ex-combatants. Some want to rejoin the LTTE and some don't. The ex-combatants in the classrooms are also impacted by this factionalism. They can't talk about their experiences because they don't know what the others support. It could put them at risk."

To ensure that former combatants' needs are not ignored, many child protection agencies have attempted to implement community-based programs that work with all children affected by the conflict. This effort must be supported and increased. "An unfortunate side effect of paying increased attention to former combatants is that they might inadvertently benefit from the attention," acknowledged one group in Sri Lanka. "We don't want to see them rewarded for joining the LTTE. It might give them an incentive to join so they can benefit from leaving." As RI has seen in the controversial decision to pay cash to former child combatants in Liberia, specialized attention can actually put former child combatants at risk. It can provide an incentive for families to allow recruitment and it can encourage the propaganda that serving with the LTTE will benefit you and your family.

The dilemma is that some former child combatants, especially females, may benefit from special attention. While male former combatants can easily physically pass as civilians, female former combatants are physically branded as different due to the requirement that female combatants in the LTTE cut their hair. The particular philosophy of gender neutral training and treatment within the LTTE has led to many conflicting notions in the international community around the vulnerability of female combatants. "Many of the girls come out of the LTTE and are qualified in non-traditional skills like motor mechanics. They return to their communities and can't use their skills. How can we help the girls use their skills in a productive way?" asked a child protection officer.

While female combatants do not face the stigma of sexual abuse that those in African armed forces must confront, there are definite gender differences in the ways that former combatants reintegrate into society. A teacher told RI, "The girls are aggressive but also shy. Since their hair is cut they are shy. They don't want to go out or travel -- they want be hidden until their hair grows and they can blend in." Many female combatants initially feel stigmatized by their physical appearance and do not wish to further call attention to themselves by acknowledging or using the non-traditional skills that they may have developed in the LTTE. However, this may make them further vulnerable and difficult to reach, as they then feel unable to capitalize on the positive aspects of their time in the LTTE. Rather than encouraging these young women to feel like victims, they must instead be allowed to feel as if they can become positive additions to society.

Therefore Refugees International recommends that:

- The LTTE respect their international commitments and cease their recruitment of child soldiers;

- Donors address the imbalance in international assistance to the north and east of the country compared to the south, and increase investment in long-term development programs in conflict-affected regions;

- International agencies increase their presence in areas where children are impacted by conflict;

- Donors and agencies that provide programming for children impacted by the tsunami in the north and east expand programs to include children, especially adolescents, impacted by the conflict;

- UNICEF and local and international child protection agencies review their programs to ensure that the particular needs of female combatants are addressed;

- Donors fund non-traditional skill training to women in Sri Lanka, both those who are former combatants and those impacted by the tsunami.

Contacts: Sarah Martin and Joel Charny
ri@refugeesinternational.org or 202.828.0110

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Sri Lanka: One boat, many lives

ReliefWeb: 07/10/2005" Source: British Red Cross

Sri Lanka's fishing industry was ripped apart by the tsunami which destroyed thousands of boats and with them people's livelihoods.

The main focus to date has been on repairing and replacing the smaller boats of poorer, individual fishermen.

However, having examined the plight of the fishing community, the British Red Cross is reaching out to a broader number of people in an innovative programme.

K. Parameswaran is one boat owner who will benefit directly from the scheme.

"I came back because I had to, because I am so poor. Fishing is my job and I have no other work to do," he said, resting on the stretch of beach that is his fishing ground, just north of Batticaloa, on the east coast of Sri Lanka.

The fishing industry is one of the largest employers in Batticaloa, but last year's tsunami affected almost all of the district's coastline and destroyed or seriously damaged 2,000 boats.

The larger beach seine boats and their associated 'pardu' (a government assigned fishing area) have traditionally been owned by relatively better-off men, yet many more lives are dependent upon them. A beach seine boat can offer regular work to as many as 30 people,whereas a smaller craft will employ a maximum of five people.

Now, the British Red Cross, together with other Red Cross societies and Oxfam, is working to tackle the issue of replacing these larger boats so that not only the needs of K. Parameswaran, but also those of the workers and their families that depend on his boat, can be met.

More than one hundred 'beach seine' boats in Batticaloa were lost or damaged, leaving a similar number of crews with an uncertain future. The British Red Cross and its partner agencies are talking to K. Parameswaran and other owners in the district to agree how profits from replacement boats and kit can be shared more equally with the workers.

Already the owners have identified a variety of ways to make the industry fairer for all. Suggestions include the owners paying back the entire cost of the boat and equipment, about £4,500 including safety equipment, not to the Red Cross, but to the workers over the course of five years. Other owners prefer to change the profit-sharing from the usual fifty-fifty split to forty percent, for the owner, sixty per cent for the workers, or even a more generous twenty-five, seventy-five split.

Boat owners here are called 'mudalalai' – 'capitalist' in Tamil. However, as K. Parameswaran explained: "Not all mudalai are rich, there can be great differences between them."

"I'm a very poor mudalai. I used to borrow money to pay the workers, both when there was no catch and for the yearly advance to ensure they stayed loyal to my boat. I had 25 workers in my pardu and used to help them when they had problems. I can only pay back the debt by fishing."

At just 24, K. Parameswaran had worked hard to own his own boat and felt confident he could support his wife and their two young sons. Having learnt fishing at the age of nine from his father, he had his own sea canoe.

He saved money for a few years and borrowed the rest until he was eventually able buy his own beach seine boat. For the last five years, his boat helped his workers and their families try to make ends meet. This lifeline was taken away from them on 26 December last year.

K. Parameswaran remembers being on the beach when the tsunami struck.

"I was preparing the nets, calling the workers and getting ready to go," he said. "The current seemed quite fast so we hesitated, then suddenly the water rose and we saw a tidal wave coming. We dropped everything and ran."

When he mustered the courage to return to the beach the following morning, he found his fishing equipment scattered everywhere, the boat damaged and nearly all his nets lost.

For four months, K. Parameswaran and his crew did not go back out to sea. There were radio warnings of another tsunami. But over and above the fear, there were other, more practical reasons. Reports of fish eating people who had been swept away by the wave slashed demand. There was also the risk of further damaging their already compromised equipment. The beach had been cleared but not the sea - logs and other debris still threatened to rip through nets.

With no other source of income to turn to, by May they had repaired the boat, mended the remaining nets and started fishing once again. With few other options of earning a living, most of the crew has returned to work the same boat.

Kalidas Ramadas, is one such worker. Aged 59, he is nearing the end of his working life and is quite an exception on the pardu. Hauling in the catch from a beach seine boat is such physically demanding work that most fishermen have to retire in their 40s and are forced to rely on their children for support.

"Before the tsunami the catch was very good and I had no problems with daily living, but since the tsunami I have undergone severe difficulties as I haven't been at sea for several months," Kalidas said.

"There were no jobs for us and we had to borrow to pay for food and clothing. Even now, because the situation continued for more than four months and since the catch is not that satisfactory, it's difficult to manage. I bring home 50 to 100 rupees a day but need around 200 (just over £2) to look after my family."

Kalidas started fishing from the age of 12 alongside his father as his family was too poor to send him to school. Kalidas and his wife, R. Thailamai have raised six children and still look after his daughter and her three children who lost their father to the conflict.

His wife and mother used to sell breakfast to the fishermen on the beach but the wave also took away that source of family income. "If I have enough money to make them, I prepare string hoppers and short eats [Sri Lankan snacks] which I sell to neighbours in the village. If there is a good catch I sell to people on the beach but I can't do that this month as it's very poor," R. Thailamai, explained.

The grandmother, Kaliammah, used to live on the beach but she has moved to a wattle and daub hut on scrubland inside the village. At 80 years old she has had to swap making string hoppers for collecting firewood, walking great distances with bundles of logs on her head.

Hopes rest on new equipment and a good season ahead to help K. Parameswaran, his men and their families recover the losses of the tsunami.

"I need nets, a boat and a good 'madi' [part of the net where the catch gathers] that won't break," he said. "If these things are provided the workers will also benefit as there will be more fishing, more income and they will be able to work continuously."

In the meantime, he and his crew meet at the pardu every morning at 7am. Once the nets are prepared, they wait for the signal from the foreman that a large school of fish is nearby and then some row the repaired boat out to sea, whilst others wait on the beach ready to haul the damaged net in, hoping that it won't break with the strain of a big catch.

Meanwhile, on shore, the beneficiary lists have been agreed with the fishermen unions, the boats are on order and crews should soon start receiving the equipment to make new nets within the coming weeks.

The first five pilot boats for those who lost everything will hopefully be working by the time the season starts in September. The next step for the British Red Cross will be to find ways to make the lives of Batticaloa's fishermen and their families more sustainable. The long-term aim is to assist communities to develop opportunities for people to find different ways of earning a living, so the young have other options open to them and the elderly, like Kaliammah, the grandmother, can live the more comfortable life they deserve.

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Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Sri Lanka: AP diaries Asia - Back to the sea

ReliefWeb: 06/10/2005" Source: Advocacy Project

Cheddipalayam is one of many fishing communities that lay in the path of the Tsunami, and 71 of the village's families have petitioned the Home for Human Rights for support. We go out to visit, and find that the families have gathered in a courtyard and are overflowing into the streets. The mood is tense. There is more to this than meets the eye.

Perhaps they are turning their back on the sea. We have heard that some fishermen were so terrified by the memory of the Tsunami that they are looking for other work. But this is not the goal of the Cheddipalayam group. They say they have recovered from their fright and want to return to fishing.

Perhaps they want to rebuild the fleet. Six of the village's 32 boats were completely destroyed, and another 19 were too badly damaged to put to sea. This has left many villagers out of work (because each boat employed two crewmen). It also robbed another 15 families, which used to dry fish, of their only source of income. The Tsunami even wiped out the "tea boutique" of S. Kobalapillai, who fortified the fishermen with hot tea before they went out to sea.

It would make sense if the villagers want all this restored. But again, this is not quite what they want. What emerges - slowly and in bits - is a new variation on the familiar theme of discrimination and inappropriate aid.

After the Tsunami, Cheddipalayam received many visits from aid agencies, seeking to help the fishermen. The most generous donation came from ACTED, a Catholic agency which gave six sturdy new boats and engines.

This has caused enormous divisions in the community.

The reason is that the boats of Cheddipayalam are owned by mudalalis, which roughly translates as "magnates." Under the system, the day's catch is sold at the end of each trip. Half the proceeds go to the mudalali, and the remaining half is divided equally between expenses (fuel) and the two crewmen.

In the Sri Lankan society, the mudalali has power and wealth. P. Sinnathamby is one of only two mudalalis in Cheddipalayam who owned two boats before the Tsunami. He earned 25,000 rupees ($2,500) a month, which is more than ten times the average wage of his crewmen.

Most of the crew members have been out of work since the Tsunami, and they were disgusted when ACTED handed over new boats to the six mudalalis who lost boats in the Tsunami, instead of spreading the aid among the entire community. ACTED even replaced the second boat of P. Sinnathamby, reinforcing what many saw as an unjust system. The price of fish has risen since the Tsunami, putting more money in the mudalalis' pocket.

This is the issue which prompted the letter from the 75 families. In what is becoming a familiar pattern, their letter is as much of a protest as a request. It is another sign of how the Tsunami has mobilized communities along this coast.

Interestingly, P. Sinnathamby is the only mudalali to attend our meeting. This takes some guts, although some of the others grumble about his presence.

S. Nagalingam begins by making a powerful appeal. He is secretary of the Cheddipalayam fishing society, and has to support several children. He has a good education and had a chance to take another job, but he says he is committed to the sea. How many others feel the same? Most of the hands go up.

The question is how HHR can help. There are basically two options. The first is to help the mudalalis, which would provide work for their crewmen but perpetuate the unjust system that existed before the Tsunami. The other option is to help the crewmen directly - and undermine the monopoly of the mudalalis. This would be bold and subversive.

Still, this meeting is resoundingly in favor of the second option. Several brothers and friends would like the chance to work together and own their own boats.

There is one major practical problem. HHR has only budgeted $3,000 for this entire village, and a single new boat costs $3,500. How can HHR's small contribution be used judiciously and without creating further divisions?

One thing becomes clear. If we discuss this much further in public, we will start to make some promises. We are told that a small army of agencies has passed through Cheddipalayam and conducted "assessments" but failed to deliver. They include Oxfam (which took photos of the destroyed boats that have not been returned), the Swedish Cooperative Society, Seva Lanka, Save the Children, and the Tamil Rehabilitation Organization (the relief arm of the LTTE). Several asked the families to fill out questionnaires.

This community is tired of being assessed. While one can sympathize with the agencies, which have to identify their beneficiaries carefully, one can also understand the irritation of these villagers. This is another unfortunate feature of aid - it gives out mixed signals, and makes promises that it cannot keep.

It is important that HHR does not make the same mistake. It is clearly beyond HHR's resources to transform the fishing industry, even if this were wise, but HHR can act as an advocate for the fishermen. Xavier decides to fund a detailed survey of the villages fishing needs, and take the issue up with larger NGOs and UN agencies - the UN Development Program and the International Labor Organization. HHR's lawyers will also help the 71 families form a legal association, and register with the government departments of Fisheries and Cooperatives.

HHR's also decides to build on what it has learned elsewhere and support sewing classes. 40 applicants, including several men, have applied and word is getting around that this is something HHR does well.

HHR can make one more intervention that will help the entire community. HHR will restore the tea boutique of S. Kobalapaillai. At least those who will fish will have a hot cup of tea before they set out and on return.

After we return to Batticaloa, Sanathani and I visit some of the fishing boats of Batticaloa just before they leave for the night's fishing. Before they head out to the unreliable sea, their crews light incense and say a prayer to the Hindu goddess Kadalatchiamman who watches over fishermen.

They tell us that their confidence was badly shaken when a small temple to the Goddess was washed away in the Tsunami. But life must go on.

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Eastern hamlets refreshed by gushing well-springs of hope

Daily News: 08/10/2005" BY CHANDANI Jayatilleke in Thirukkovil

RAJADURAI Suthakaran was employed in the Maldives as a teacher at a leading school in the archipelago. When the tsunami struck the Eastern coast on the fateful day of December 26, Suthakaran was on a short holiday and was at his home in Thirukkovil. His home is about 400 metres away from the sea.

On that morning when he was in the bathroom, he felt a sudden surge of water just outside his house and he ran out to see what was going on. His compound was a pool of water and he remembers seeing some of his neighbours running and screaming.

There was no time to waste. He jumped into the water and climbed the nearest coconut tree in his garden to save his life. He was worried about his parents and siblings.

He didn't know where they were. Once the water receded, he went searching of his parents and his siblings and was relieved to find that they were safe in a school nearby.

Well.. from that moment onwards, Suthakaran started assisting people in numerous ways and also coordinating with the Army and various voluntary organisations in relief activities. His foreign job was the last thing on his mind. He thought it was time he served his country and people.

"I did not want to go back to foreign employment, leaving my people and my community in misery. Instead, I started getting involved in many social welfare programmes to assist tsunami survivors," he said.

Finally he started working with Oxfam in Ampara and Akkaraipattu. He says he enjoys the job. For Oxfam, he is certainly a precious employee.

REFLECTING the resilence of spirit which is so typical of the common people, tsunami survivors from a village called Umari in the East, are now living in transitional houses in Thandiyadi, Thirukkovil.

This group has undergone prolonged misery but their spirit remains unshattered. They are actually people from the plantation sector who migrated to the East after the 1983 riots. Since then, they have had to undergo immense hardships throughout the conflict, getting displaced many times.

The tsunami too did not spare them. The tsunami's killer waves destroyed all their wealth within seconds, although their wealth was not extensive.

In this village, Thandiyadi, ZOA, an NGO has supported the community to build transitional houses. When we visited the village, we saw some people engaged in upgrading the walls of the tiny, transitional houses made out of 'Takaran' to concrete bricks - a bit of comfort.

People in this camp have got over their initial mental trauma. They are now in a mood to listen to music as many transistors in the camp were on at the time we were there. All what they want now is to restart life with income earning activities, build houses of their own and continue to send their children to school.

Before the tsunami, these villagers were engaged in fishing, brick making and farming.

Another international NGO, Oxfam, conducts a gender programme in this camp. The participants in this programme say that there has not been any major incident of violence against women in the camp.

"But there are lots of issues relating to women. Hence it is better to make people, both men and women, aware of domestic violence and its negative impact on children and women and society," they say.

In this gender programme, men (a couple of them) and women sit together in a circle and the instructor, Ms. Guna, addresses them.

In this session, women are given a basic knowledge of violence and rape and how to avoid such situations or what precautions they should take.

Oxfam has also started a well cleaning and renovation programme in this village and the adjoining villages. After the tsunami, the wells couldn't be used for drinking water as debris filled most of them.

Over 1,100 wells have been earmarked for cleaning and 810 have already been completed. People in the area have access to clean drinking water now. Prior to that, Oxfam provided 240,000 litres of water per day to these communities.

Rajadurai Suthakaran, who is a tsunami survivor, now works for Oxfam in Akkaraipattu. He says that Oxfam works closely with communities, local partner organisations and supporters, to work out need based programmes.

In the East, Oxfam is engaged in various tsunami rehabilitation and reconstruction activities. Their aim is to secure a livelihood, a dignified house, and promote education and health, reduce vulnerability to natural disasters and conflict, ensure the right to be heard and fight for gender equality and freedom from discrimination.

"We do not do things the way we want.We talk to people, and work according to their wishes, so that the whole community can get engaged in the rehabilitation work process", Suthakaran says.

T. Bahirathan, Oxfam's Programme Coordinator in Ampara, says that they are committed to supporting the affected communities in the area over the next several years. "The commitment has to be long-term as there are many issues to deal with in the process of reconstruction and rehabilitation," he says.

After the initial emergency and recovery processes, they have now moved onto reconstruction and development work. Introduction of livelihood activities and construction of transitional housings came as part of this programme.

In Ampara district, Oxfam works in 35 villages where the Tamil population is 50% Muslim, 32 percent and Sinhala 18%. They have also completed 1,050 transitional houses in Thirukkovil, Saindamarudu, and Akkaraipattu. Oxfam has been awarded the Presidential Award for their innovative transitional housing project.

After the tsunami, Ampara's total permanent housing requirement is 23,000. According to present information, agreements have been signed to construct about 7,000. Oxfam plans to build 500 houses as their contribution towards this goal.

"We plan to use a new technology which is cost-effective and user-friendly. We have not yet finalised the programme and when and where the houses would be constructed.

However, we are hoping to get the fullest involvement of the community in this endeavour. This will be a complete self supported programme," says Bahirathan. "We will make use of carpenters, masons and other labour from the area itself."

Currently, Bahirathan and his institution are considering putting up three model houses. "Then the people will get an idea of these houses," he adds.

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Sri Lanka: Recommendations for the Recovery Strategy in Sri Lanka

ReliefWeb: 04/10/2005" Source: Academy for Disaster Management Education Planning and Training

As we transit from Tsunami relief to the recovery process it is important to recognize some critical aspects for the recovery strategy to be effective. Certain definitions of the roles of the actors – state, civil society and local community, are required for effective recovery process.

Towards this goal we put forth the following recommendations which are based on the consensus arrived at by representatives from thirty five iNGOs, NGOs, UN organizations, and local administration after the 2 day intensive deliberations at the Workshop for Transition from Relief to Recovery held in Colombo on 25 & 26 August 2005.

1. The recovery strategy should focus on the medium and long-term needs of the survivors themselves. The needs of survivors must take precedence over organizational aid agendas.

2. Needs of the community must be assessed through a participatory process. Therefore consultation with local affected communities and stakeholders is essential.

3. All interventions need to respond and articulated to address the clearly identified needs of local communities,respecting local religion, culture, structures and customs.

4. Local communities should be empowered to make their own decisions during recovery, and participate fully in recovery activities. Local initiatives and use of local resources must be encouraged.

5. Recovery interventions should be structured in such a way as to build confidence between different actors in the process, both inter-organizational and intra-organizational. They should also aim to build trust between different layers within the organization, between the organization and the community, and between the Government and NGOs.

6. Analysis of individual interventions is critical for their potential impact on the community, culture, and conflict situation, and for long-term sustainability. Such impact analysis should also incorporate considerations such as governance, gender-sensitivity, environment, resettlement / land issues, issues specific to the extra-vulnerable disabled, and human rights concerns.

7. The allocation of resourcesboth domestic and international should be strictly guided by the identified needs and local priorities, without discrimination on the basis of political, religious, ethnic or gender considerations.

8. There needs to be communication and transparencyin decision-making and implementation. Mechanisms should be put in place to ensure access for the affected communities to information regarding policies, entitlements, and implementation procedures, and to permit feedback to involved communities as well as implementing authorities.

9. Effective mechanisms need to be created to monitor, evaluate, and ensure transparency in availability of resources, both financial and material, and their usage,

10. A coordinated approach is critical to prevent duplication or overlap in activities. Coordination should not be just between Government and donors, but involve all stakeholders including civil society, the business community, and international NGOs, who have resources that will not pass through Government. Capacity would need to be created at the local level for such coordination. Such capacity would necessitate an integrated approach to intervention that includes all actors in the area, and avoids organizational and sectoral bias. Such coordination and integration could be done by a forum of Humanitarian organizations, either existing or newly formed for the purpose.

11. The recovery strategy should bear in mind the special political circumstances of Sri Lanka, and should be conflict-sensitive, and at the very least do no harm to the peace process, while always attempting to strengthen it.

12. The recovery process should be guided by international standards and best practice for protection, with special attention to the needs of vulnerable groups.

13. The recovery plans should provide for capacity building and strengthening at various levels of governance, but especially District and P.S.s, as well as local civil society organizations.

14. Recovery plans must have a holistic perspective, taking into consideration the complex mix of Tsunami survivors, war victims and the nouveax ultra-poor. Focus must be on the basic values of Humanity, Human Rights, dignity, and respect. They must also address all levels of the hierarchy of needs, especially complex needs of access to a meaningful social life, family life, friends, work and having a value in the social infrastructure.

15. Last, but not the least, in order for all the above to be implemented effectively, there is a need for a new political consensus, freedom from ethno-political bargaining power relations, and an inclusive decision-making process both at governmental and local administration levels.

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Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Orphans get healing touch for tsunami traumas

Daily News: 11/10/2005" BY BILL Tarrant

NAGAPATTINAM, India (Reuters) - Seven-year-old Stephen Raj belts out a Tamil pop song, striking poses and swivelling his hips like a Bollywood star. Tamilarasan, 10, shyly shows a visitor the trophy he won in an art competition.

The children in this school assembly bear the marks of poverty, but while their clothes are shabby, they are eager and laughing. All have one thing in common. They are tsunami orphans.

The Annai Sathya orphanage in the south India town of Nagapattinam organised puppet theatre and magic shows when the children began streaming in after the Dec. 26 tsunami. Yoga and karate teachers were brought in along with trauma counsellors.

"We try not to remind them of trauma and flashbacks of sorrow," said Surya Kala, a social welfare officer at the orphanage. "We're entertaining them so they eventually forget."

The tsunami had a calamitous impact on children. At least a third of the 232,000 people who were killed or are still missing across a dozen Indian Ocean nations were children. Hundreds of thousands who survived are coping with the loss of family members, teachers and friends.

An unprecedented humanitarian effort mounted after one of the world's worst natural disasters especially targeted children, averting the second wave of deaths from malnutrition and disease that many experts had anticipated would follow.

Now hundreds of activists have joined international groups, such as Save the Children and the United Nations Children's Fund, to help deal with their traumas, get them back to school and try to keep them safe from abuse and exploitation.

Child trafficking, always a problem in India, has risen in some fishing communities where parents who lost everything have been persuaded to send children to work in sweatshops.

"The agents lend parents money and, when they can't pay it back, they send their children to town to work in the underwear industry, which is labour intensive," said R. Manivannan, coordinator at AVVAI Village Welfare Society in Nagapattinam.

"They are vulnerable to sexual abuse. There is a chance for exploitation," he said.

Psychological problems are compounded by life in the overcrowded temporary camps - around a million people are living in tents or wood and corrugated tin shelters around the tsunami region nine months after the catastrophe.

Social workers have fanned out to affected villages in India, Thailand, Sri Lanka and Indonesia to give counselling to men, women and children.

Volunteers and aid groups have set up "Tsunami Learning Centres" in fishing communities in Thailand's hard-hit Phang Nga province on the southwest coast, where children receive counselling through after-school art programmes.

"Sometimes they still think about the wave, the damage it did, the people who died, their friends," said Nattakan Songpagdee, a 24-year-old Thai volunteer who runs the "Learn from Tsunami" programme in Khao Lak.

The emphasis is on positive thinking, looking to the future, she said.

"We believe the child can be the centre of the family and can influence the rest of the family," she said.

While most of the rubble in coastal communities has been cleared, psychologists and social workers are worried about the wreckage left in people's minds.

If anything, the children may be more resilient than adults.

The tsunami killed a disproportionate number of women and children, leaving "bachelor villages" of men struggling to run homes. Mothers guilty about surviving their children are battling depression. Fishermen are taking to the bottle rather than face the sea again.

The World Health Organisation says most survivors go through the grieving process and recover. But about 5 to 10 percent develop persistent problems such as depression and chronic post-traumatic stress disorder. Severe depression, with suicidal thoughts, hits 1 to 2 percent.

"People just want to be heard," said A. Radakrishnan, the administrative chief of Nagapattinam district. "They want to know that the reactions they are feeling are normal."

Many mothers in India who lost children had been previously sterilised under the government's family planning drive. The Nagapattinam government has offered to pay for surgery to reverse the operations, bringing fresh hope for families despairing of never having children again.

"About 120 couples have expressed interest and 37 have undergone recanalisation so far," Radakrishnan said. He did not know the success rate for the operation.

"It's a very important psycho-social measure in that it removes the feeling they are helpless. It rekindles hope."

For Viyarseeli Nadarajahlingam, 32 and living in a temporary camp at Sri Lanka's northern tip, hope battles despair as she copes with the loss of her six children.

"Just imagine how it is to lead such a lonely life," said Nadarajahlingam, who tried to kill herself after her children drowned in front of her eyes.

She had a hysterectomy just before the tsunami, so all she can do now is pray that her husband makes good on a pledge to find a child to adopt to help her move on.

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Tsunami housing reconstruction: A major challenge

Daily News: 11/10/2005" BY RAJMI Manatunga

THE day tsunami waves ravaged the coastal areas of Sri Lanka and left thousands of people killed, maimed and displaced is probably the bleakest day in our country's history. The massive waves that submerged the once beautiful sea-side villages took over 30,000 lives and made nearly 1,000,000 people homeless in barely 20 minutes.

Apart from its toll on the human population the tsunami also undid years of development and progress in the affected areas. Many cities and villages in several districts including Batticaloa, Kalmunai, Hambantota and Matara were reduced to ruins leaving thousands of people stranded in temporary shelters.

Even as we mark the lapse of nearly nine months after the disaster today, a large number of them continue to live in huts or other temporary housing in IDP camps.

According to the Tsunami Housing Reconstruction Unit (THRU), the Government body entrusted with the task of planning, facilitating and overseeing the reconstruction of houses damaged by the tsunami, around 90,000 houses were completely or partially destroyed in the Boxing Day disaster.

"For a country like ours which was building an average 4,000-5,000 houses a year this is undoubtedly a gigantic challenge," said THRU Chief Executive Officer Gemunu Alawattegama.

"The total requirement of 90,000 houses includes around 45,000 in the 100 metre buffer zone declared by the Government and another 45,000 outside the buffer zone. Our objective is to provide housing to every person who was occupying a house which was destroyed in the tsunami disaster," he said.

Alawattegama said that the Government has launched a grant scheme to provide capital to help people displaced by the tsunami rebuild their houses.

"Under this scheme they can reconstruct their houses on their own using the Government grant. Rs 250,000 is granted in four instalments to rebuild a completely destroyed house while the grant for a partially destroyed house is Rs 100,000. The Government will assist them by providing the required infrastructure".

As regards the buffer zone the reconstruction activities are carried out by the Government in association with donor organisations which have pledged financial support for the reconstruction of houses.

Accordingly, the Government identifies the land on which the houses are to be built and hands them over to the donors who will be responsible for carrying out the construction.

"Since no construction is permitted in the buffer zone we had to find alternative lands to build houses for people who were previously living within 100 metres from the sea.

State land was mostly used to build the houses while private lands were also acquired and purchased in desperate situations. Although the land issue was an obstacle at the beginning we have overcome the difficulty to a large extent now," he said.

The THRU Head pointed out that the Government has already handed over 50 per cent of the land required to build these houses to the donor agencies.

"Accordingly, the construction of around 20,000 houses for people who previously lived in the buffer zone will commence shortly. Around 7,000 houses are already under construction. Steps have been taken to expedite the supply of lands for building the balance 25,000 houses as well," he said adding that special attention will be paid to the fisherfolk during resettlement to ensure that they will not be hindered in continuing their livelihood.

Outside the buffer zone the destruction caused by the tsunami is not equally grave. "In these areas it is often a matter of rebuilding since most houses have only been partially destroyed. The inhabitants of these houses are entitled to the Government grant which could be used for rebuilding the damaged houses".

Alawattegama said that THRU sub offices comprising engineers, and managers have been set up in every district to oversee the progress of the reconstruction activities. They are responsible for coordinating with the District and Divisional secretaries in the area and constantly monitoring the work.

In the North-East the reconstruction work is carried out mainly with the assistance of the Government Agents and National Housing Development Authority (NHDA) officials in the area.

However, the THRU head said that there was a delay on the part of the donor agencies in commencing reconstruction.

"There is a slack on their part in starting work even though the Government has handed over 50 per cent of the land required for rebuilding. The delay is most conspicuous in the North-East. We have requested them to commence work as soon as possible since we are concerned about the plight of the displaced people during the rainy season."

Responding to criticism that the Government lacks an efficient plan to provide housing for the tsunami displaced, Alawattegama said that long-term planning was needed in matters of resettlement.

"We do not want to create slum cities. Instead, one must plan for the future and take account of all the environmental, social and livelihood issues in resettling these people. The new settlements will be based on a new concept of village equipped with all infrastructure, educational and health facilities.

It will take us around two years to complete the major projects to provide an adequate water supply for these settlements. We are trying to find alternative solutions like tapping ground water and rainwater harvesting.

Alawattegama said they were confident of completing all reconstruction and resettlement work by April 2006. "We appeal to the public to bear with us until then. We also request the organisations that have not yet embarked on their task to start work immediately specially in view of the monsoon season," he said.

Before the tsunami, Sri Lanka was known to be a safe haven where outrages of nature scarcely occurred except for occasional floods and landslides during the rainy seasons.

Therefore, the magnitude of the December 26 disaster undoubtedly leaves our country with enormous challenges in terms of disaster management, livelihood issues, development and above all rehabilitation and resettlement.

Around 50,000 persons displaced by the tsunami still live in temporary shelters around the country which are often canvas tents. These shelters which could barely accommodate a family or stand against heavy rains do not in any way provide a conducive environment for them or their children to lead a normal life.

Therefore, providing permanent houses expediently for those living in temporary shelters is the best way the Government can help them rebuild their shattered lives.

The commitment of the Government as well as the donor agencies which promptly pledged support following the disaster is essential to succeed in this endeavour, Alawattegama said.

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Sea sand – an unique alternate raw material for the construction industry

The Colombo Times: 04/10/2005" By Sunil C.perera

Sand is an unique raw material for the construction industry, at present, but contractors say that they have to spend more allocations for obtaining bulk loads of sand for their construction work.

But, most of small scale contactors, specially National Engineering Research and Development Institute NERD and its registered agents who connect with the pre-cast cement products use alternative materials as sand.

Quarry dust is one of alternative raw material for the construction industry, but most contractors and the house owners are not showing any interest in using quarry dust for their constructions.

According to the industry sources, the price levels of the river sand has skyrocketed.Tractor load of river sand will cost over 5000 Rupees , a leading contractor said.

Meanwhile, the Land Reclamation and Development Board plans to popularize the use of sea sand as an alternative to river sand.

According the experts in the global construction trade that Sea sand is being used in the construction industry in the Asian region and some leading European countries. Civil Engineering Department of University of Moratuwa and the National Building Research Organization [NBRO] have confirmed that the sea sand pumped from a distance about ten kilometres is very suitable for the building construction industry .

“It has less chloride if we compare with sea sand in beaches, the experts said.

According to the industry figures, the price of the river sand has increased by over 40 per cent after the banning of removing river sand. The tsunami is another reason for the price incense, they said.

Due to the government barriers on the removal of river sand, the construction industry faces lots of difficulties to obtain river sand in time.

The Land Reclamation and Development Board says that their institution is now pumping bulk load of sea sand for the industry purposes. The institution says that their Sea sand stocks are available at the Muthurajawela site.

“We just started our marketing activities, said an official of the Land Reclamation and Development Board. According to the board’s sources the washed sea sand is ideal for concrete and plastering activities.

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Unbowed, they rise above the tsunami waves

Daily News: 05/10/2005" by Chandani Jayatilleke in Akkaraipattu

Despite tsunami's merciless devastation of the East nine months ago, some women have managed to restart their lives from their temporary shelters through courage and sheer determination.

The women we met in the many villages around Akkaraipattu and Thirukkovil, showed immense courage and commitment to their work. Besides, they also had interesting future plans for their children and families. They all want to build their own houses and expand their support systems. They are encouraged to restart income generation activities through a micro credit scheme launched by Oxfam together with several NGOs in the area.

We spoke to K. Maheshwari who now lives in a tiny transitional house in an area allocated for tsunami affected people.

Maheshwari (56) of Thambiluvil is a mother of eight daughters, of whom five are married. During the tsunami she and her daughters managed to save their lives. When the tsunami came she got onto a tree and her children managed to run to a safe place. But, she lost her husband who was drowned in the deadly tidal waves.

Although she saved her life, her body was badly wounded and bleeding. Her clothes were torn when she finally managed to find shelter in a temporary camp. Life became very unpleasant and miserable for her and her daughters.

Before the tsunami, Maheshwari and her husband used to cultivate paddy over six acres. But with the tsunami she lost all her hopes. Her paddy land disappeared under water.

But Maheshwari was undaunted, she obtained a loan of Rs. 30,000 from Oxfam and restarted cultivation. She got Rs. 15,000 as a grant and Rs. 15,000 as a loan. She did most of the work alone. She toiled hard with the only support of her daughters. Her hard work brought good results. In the past season, she had an ample harvest. She sold the paddy and managed to repay the loan.

"I have the courage. I know, I'll have to be strong and do everything alone to be successful," she said.

Life in the transitional camp is not good at all. "I want to build a house and find partners for my unmarried children," she says. Her ultimate goal is to find a better future for her children.

K. Navamani lived in a house by the sea. When the tsunami struck, she managed to run away and save her two children and her disabled husband. However, her mother was not that fortunate.

She earlier had a shop in the village where she made a substantial income for a living. But with the tsunami, she lost all her wealth.

After the initial period of living in a camp, Navamani's family got a transitional house where she thought of opening a boutique. With a loan from Oxfam, she purchased goods for her small boutique. She now gets an income to support her family. But she says, there are many other boutiques in the village now and her business has been affected as a result.

Kalpana Jeyanathan is a young woman who yearns to become a successful businesswoman.

After the tsunami, for three months she and her husband lived in a camp. Her life was a misery. She had lost the energy and the self confidence.

But after the first three months there were various programs where they could earn some money like 'cash for work' program. Kalpana made use of these opportunities and actively engaged in various cash for work projects. She knew, if she worked hard, she could turn the disaster into an opportunity.

And after she, her husband and her grandmother got a transitional house, she needed to work. And she wanted to be successful in whatever she did.

She already had some experience in poultry farming. She had also got some training in the field through a WUSC - World University of Canada program.

She obtained a loan from Oxfam under the micro credit program, and set up a small chicken farm right behind her transitional house. Now she has 50 broiler chickens and chickens for eggs. She keeps on getting new stocks of chicks for broiler.

Now she has a ready market, traders come and buy her produce and the villagers also buy her chicken and eggs. She gets a reasonable income to run her family.

Now that she has started repaying her loan of Rs. 15,000, Kalpana has lots of plans for the future. She neatly maintains account books and profiles. She has already made an expansion report for her business. "Although I have expansion plans, I don't have the space right now. And I also need to get finances for such a project," she says.

Now Kalpana has her own bank account. With that she manages to save money to expand her business. She wants to be successful and she craves for it.

Kala Malar, a 42 year old widow is another brave woman whom we met. She currently lives with her two sons and her mother. One of her sons is going to school while the other son is working. Her husband died during the conflict. He was a farmer.

During the tsunami, Kala's house got damaged and all her wealth was washed away. They lived in a camp for two months, and returned to her house which needed renovation. She managed to clean the house and do the repairs.

She spent whatever money she got from the Government with utmost care, and even managed to save a little. Kala used to make string hoppers for an income before the tsunami. She wanted to restart her profession, but she did not have the necessary equipment. This is where Oxfam came to her rescue with a loan of Rs. 7,000 rupees inclusive of a Rs. 2,000 grant.

She is now earning a small profit on a daily basis. In addition she takes orders from various people. As we said earlier, she had spent her money with much care and she was able to save a little to buy several pieces of gold jewellery which she wears proudly.

She now wants a better life for her children." I hope that they would look after me in my old age," she sighs.

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Monday, October 10, 2005

TSUNAMI IMPACT: In Sri Lanka, Polls Take Priority Over Housing

IPS :Inter Press Service News Agency 03/10/2005" by Amantha Perera

Democracy does not come cheap and Sri Lankan victims of the Dec. 26 Asian tsunami are discovering that their already long wait for permanent housing could now be delayed for more than a year after November's presidential polls are completed.

In fact, authorities are now talking in terms of the bulk of some 250,000 people no living in refugee camps having to wait for not less than a year and a half, if not more, before they have a tin sheet over their heads that they can call their own.

Already, the emphasis has shifted from the effort to quickly build permanent homes to improving conditions in 'transitional' camps set up for the refugees.

'' We now have to transform ourselves into the role of social workers and work day and night, and during weekends and holidays,'' Tilak Ranaviraja, commissioner general of essential services and the man overseeing reconstruction, told a meeting, organised recently by the United Nations, on providing transitional accommodation.

Ranaviraja admitted that the completion of permanent housing was going through an ''uncertain'' period.

The country is facing its fourth election in five years and the reconstruction effort has taken a backseat due to campaigning for the election.

What is more, the results of the polls can have far-reaching and direct effects on the rehabilitation effort, since one of the main election issues is that of sharing international aid between the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, which controls the north and east of the island, and the government.

Indeed, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse, one of the two main candidates for president, has entered into an electoral pact with the People's Liberation Front and pledged to scrap an aid-sharing mechanism incumbent president Chandrika Kumaratunga sealed with the Tamil Tigers.

Opposition leader and presidential hopeful, Ranil Wickremasinghe, last week said that he would abolish the buffer zone if elected and do away with the government reconstruction agency, Task Force for Rebuilding the Nation (TAFREN) as well.

Where Kumaratunga had hoped that the tsunami emergency would facilitate reconciliation between Sri Lanka's warring ethnic groups, the Post- Tsunami Operational Management Structure (P-TOMS) agreement between the Tamil Tigers and the government was successfully challenged in court by pro-Sinhalese parties.

All too visibly, Sinhalese-dominated districts in the south of the island are rapidly effecting reconstruction, while work in the north and east, which suffered far worse devastation, is languishing .

The reconstruction effort appears to be the slowest in the two eastern districts of Ampara and Batticaloa. In Ampara, where the worst damages were reported, TAFREN is still searching for donor commitments for 7,314 houses from the 12,481 destroyed within the zone.

In contrast, the southern district of Hambantota, where the need is for 1,057 units, agreements have been signed with donors for the construction of 4,044 units and TAFREN said that by end September, construction had commenced on 4,760 units, more than 3,000 units above the needs assessments.

There is also little rationale or conformity to regulations so that immediately north of Galle town two-storey villas complete with tiled roofs and balconies are coming up and that within the buffer zone between the coastal highway and the sea, while most fishermen are housed far inland in two-room tin shacks which are unbearably hot.

Housing sites in the east are located in flood-prone areas and there is now the very real danger of secondary displacement of refugees once the rainy season sets in.

TAFREN has blamed the lopsided reconstruction effort on donor willingness to work in the south and logistical and practical difficulties in the east. The government agency can only guide donors but no construction can take place unless the government signs a memorandum of understanding with the funding agencies.

Privately though, TAFREN officials blame the lack of political will to push reconstruction effort in the east.

There is also a lack of suitable alternate land for relocation in the east, especially near densely-populated coastal villages like Sainathimaruthu, Maradamunai and Karathivu in Ampara where more than 8,000 people died.

The two districts have also been at the centre of an internecine war between the Tamil Tigers and a splinter group resulting in more than 200 deaths. Tension between ethnically-divided villages has also dampened donor willingness to commit in the two districts, according to TAFREN officials.

The overall reconstruction effort itself has come under heavy criticism by Auditor General D. D. Mayadunne, who in a report submitted to parliament last month said only 13.5 percent of the aid money had been utilised even six months after the tsunami.

Referring to the housing, the report said that only 12.3 percent of the pledge funds had been utilised. The report also highlighted several instances of waste and possible corruption.

Donors and others have not been able to clear 686 containers of tsunami relief due to government taxes. Only 37 percent of some 40 million US dollars, collected locally for relief and reconstruction, had been spent by August and Mayadunne said in his report that records of funds collected had been poorly maintained.

Soon after submitting the report, Mayadunne said he would press for a parliamentary debate on it, but chances of that happening are unlikely till after the elections are over. The tsunami caused more than 32,000 deaths and 4,000 persons are still unaccounted for in the Indian Ocean island of 19.5 million. The Asian Development Bank has estimated the total damages to be over one billion dollars and almost half of that, 400 million dollars, in the housing sector.

Almost one million Sri Lankans were estimated to have been affected by the tsunami immediately after the tragedy, the worst in the country's modern history.

Despite pledges of over three billion dollars for the overall national reconstruction effort, the permanent housing component has been bogged down, leading to TAFREN warning that the country was facing a shortage of more than 5,000 houses in the eastern districts that were worst affected by the disaster.

So far, only 334 houses out of a total of 49,273 have been handed over to victims to compensate for those destroyed within the 100 metre buffer zone within which new construction is banned. In the east, the figure was a meagre 48 out of a total need of more than 17,000.

TAFREN said that a further 45,000 houses have to be rebuilt outside the zone. They are being reconstructed under government and donor grants disbursed in tranches.

A survey by the international aid agency Oxfam, in a report timed to mark the sixth month of the disaster, found that the waves had left the poor hardest hit. ''Poor communities were more vulnerable: their fragile houses were washed away, while the brick houses of richer people were more likely to withstand the force; poor villages in remote areas took longer to receive help,'' the report said.

In one Sri Lankan village, villagers who had lost their houses also suffered a 94 percent drop in personal income from 64 cents to four cents per day. The same survey said the government was targeting aid more at registered business, adversely affecting the poorer segments of the victims.

''This means that, for example, the owners of coir (coconut fibre) mills are being compensated for damages, but the poor coir workers who struggle to make a living will not benefit,'' Oxfam said.

The government has admitted the threat of poverty levels exacerbating due to the tsunami. Its Millennium Development Goals Country Report, 2005 said one in every three persons living in every tsunami-affected district, outside the Western Province, was living below the national poverty level of 14 dollars per month.

''The tsunami disaster has increased the vulnerability of a large proportion of the very people whose income was to be uplifted under the government's poverty reduction programme,'' the report said.

Relief workers participating in the U.N. meeting said that several areas in the transitional camps, including sanitation and waste disposal, needed fast improvement, especially with the monsoon setting in from this month.

They also cited the need to protect vulnerable groups, particularly against trafficking, substance abuse and sexually transmitted diseases as well as demanding a better communication network and flow of data between Colombo and the disaster areas.

''We are dealing with the lives of people and their basic needs. We cannot leave their conditions and concerns to chance,'' Miguel Bermeo, the U.N. Humanitarian and Resident Coordinator in Sri Lanka said. (END/2005)

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Estate poverty needs urgent attention - Tittawella

Daily News: 04/10/2005" by Hiran H. Senewiratne

The level of poverty and quality of life in the plantation sector has significantly improved during the last few years but need to develop further to retain labour in the sector, Chairman-Taskforce to Rebuilding Nation (TAFRN) and Presidential Adviser Mano Tittawella said.

The entire plantation sector will be in a crisis if we do not eliminate estate poverty and housing problem in the sector within next few years, Tittawella said at the Annual General Meeting of the Plantation Human Development Trust (PHDT) last week.

He said that exodus of estate labour is one of the major problems due to poor housing and sanitary conditions in the sector, which is a major problem, the plantation sector has encountered with.

"It is not fair for plantation companies to spend money on poverty alleviation programmes. We need to obtain donor support to improve the sustainability of the plantation sector," Tittawella said.

He said that estate labour wages should continue to increase to attract and retain this labour force in the sector in the country. The community rehabilitation programmes have to be increased for the purpose of the set objective, he said.

Tittawella said today new tea producing countries are emerging and produce at a lesser cost which would affect the entire sector in time to come.

'With the exodus of labour from the plantation sector we will not be able to be competitive in the global market',he said.

To improve the viability of the sector, regional plantation companies have not fully utilised lands in plantation or housing. He said that those un-used lands could be utilised for estate housing programmes.

Tittawella said that tea smallhoders account for more than 65 per cent of the total tea production in the country which needs to be improved to increase their productivity. Big estates produce lesser tea for the sector, he said.

PHDT Chairman in his review stated that last year Plantation Development Support Programme was Funded by the Government's of Netherlands and Norway. Early child care development and life skill projects were supported by UNICEF and the Child Labour Prevention Program supported by ILO/IPEC were the main programmes implemented by the PHDT.

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Sunday, October 09, 2005

Shoved from pillar to post and dumped on the pavement

Daily News: 04/10/2005" by Afreeha Jawad

From fruits to vegetables, from the pavement hawker to some office worker no one and nothing is spared the pain and anguish of politicization. Sri Lankans continue to be one of the most highly politicized communities whichever government in power and if allowed to remain that way, would not augur well for the future.

Take for instance the goings on in the aftermath of the Borella Podu Welenda Sankeernaya or popularly called 'podi market' reconstruction. Its rebuilding under one regime was much to the benefit of another. It couldn't have been better said other than through the expression coming off an anonymity insistent vendor who said:

"Kaandayamak Haduwa. Thavath kaandayak Beduwa!!"

A reminder of what Nehru had to say;" There are two types of people in the world. Some who do the work and others that take the credit.

Listening to the vendors was heart-rending many of whom were earlier into brisk business in the market's old building who looked forward to moving into their new allocation and environs following rebuild. But surely that was not to be.

As political destiny would have it, the units within the new structure were the privileged deposit of well-to-do political henchmen. Sources also point out how even underworld gangs have been given stalls in many instances while denying the long-standing vendor populace within.

Premathilaka (61 yrs) from Kataragama, a seasoned vender whose pavement life extends well over forty years was in tears ("Mata podi market eken bim angalak labune nehe. Deshapalanaya keruwanan mata meka wenne nehe."

(I didn't get an inch from the rebuilt Podi market and here you find me on the pavement. But if I was into politics I certainly would have been a 'choice pick'").

Premathilaka, a father of four children is into managing his home in the absence of his late wife. L. G. Premadasa (51 years) is saddled with a different problem, having to look after his daughter's children. He, a fruit trader striking commonality of expression with Premathilaka said:

"Mamath Parana Podi Market Eke Parana Minihek. Ithin Deshapalane Nokarapu Hinda Maava Kon Una. Athule Inne Okkoma Deshapalana kaarayo thamai."

("I too am a long-standing vendor. Had I taken to politics, I too would have been given a stall. All those that got stalls were into politics").

Suneetha and Bandula, the fruit selling duo holding a 30-year track record disclosed a unique digression. Opposite this now rebuilt rather controversial market is what is called the 'Pavement Park'.

Though designed to accommodate the 'would be misplaced' - not even here did anything come their way. The pavement was 'pre-ordained' to be their permanent abode. Today even that 'Pavement Park' is abode to political lackeys.

An irate Amaradasa (54 yrs) twenty years in vegetable disposal, crying out his heart, nerve and sinew said:

"Dan Mata Jeevethe Epawela. Duk Vindala Hamba Karapu Thena Nathi Unaa."

("I am sick of life. That little spot where I earned my living is no more.") Padmini also bemoaned discrimination even seeing the rebuilt market's present plight as the famous dog in the manger story. The place now has stalls completely shuttered up. "No, they wouldn't even try to give these to us instead of keeping them closed all the time," she said.

According to Priyanthi, another political dislodge shoved on the pavement yet another longstanding vender in the 'old podi market', earlier there were around 40 entities but after reconstruction the market has around 100 shops. "Kiyala Wedak Nehe Apata Una De" she lamented.

"No point talking of what happened to us".

Making matters worse are the police that come and order them out. Though overwhelmingly disgruntled at whatever confrontation brought on them as they pull through the day, they are also not unmindful of whatever inconvenience the public face, truly the pavement is pedestrians' territory.

Yet the evergreen accommodative Sri Lanka spirit particularly among those not evolved is most vibrant as both pedestrians and vendors co-exist neatly. Business is brisk. You name it it's all there. The Ammes whom I thought to be a dying generation are still around not to forget the kadale cart now under the charge of some other. The faces that stood behind this mobile entity are now long past paving the way I believe for the next generation.

"So there it goes, the pathos, the anguish and pain of more than 40 vendors both men and women - all victims of political misdoings now spending their days along Danister de Silva Mawatha with the pavement - their permanent abode.

As the tortuous sun sends out its burning rays and the torrential rain beats hard against their burnt barebodies, the will to survive remains untempered - a story akin to the old oak.

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