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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, December 03, 2005

Oxfam calls for appropriate land for tsunami survivors

Daily News: 29/11/2005"

As the UN special envoy Bill Clinton prepares to meet Governments of Sri Lanka and Indonesia, Oxfam International urged the authorities to provide more appropriate land for the construction of permanent shelter, an Oxfam news release said.

The call comes on the day (Tuesday) that Clinton arrives in Sri Lanka and the day before he goes to Indonesia to see the recovery effort. Although thousands of permanent houses have already been built in both countries, one of the major factors holding up progress is that Governments have not yet got policies in place to ensure appropriate new land is given to all those who lost theirs to the tsunami.

Oxfam is supporting UN special envoy Clinton's efforts to ensure that appropriate land is made available for permanent housing.

"Thousands of permanent houses have already been built for tsunami survivors but until new land is provided for those made landless, the rebuilding process will be too slow. New land must be granted to those who lost it," said Oxfam Director Barbara Stocking.

People lost their land to the tsunami in different ways. For many, the land their homes stood on is now under the sea or uninhabitable. Others find themselves banned by the Government from rebuilding on their old land due to the creation of coastal buffer zones.

In all cases land in locations acceptable to displaced communities must be found, before new houses can be built. Oxfam and its partners are working closely with these Governments to encourage them to provide appropriate land as quickly as possible. So far the Indonesian government has not got policies in place to provide new land to the landless, although a consultation process is now underway. This means that in many cases the rebuilding process cannot even start.

In Sri Lanka the Government has made land available but in some cases the land being offered is inappropriate, such as fishing communities being offered land too far away from the sea. This means rebuilding is delayed as it is unclear about whether the communities would move into any new houses built in these areas.

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Better infrastructure? Ruthless efficiency, killer instinct can help

Daily Mirror: 29/11/2005" India’s Finance Minister Chidambaram wants developing nations to learn from China’s strategy and success

New Delhi, November 28: India’s Finance Minister P. Chidambaram emphasized the need for what he called as “ruthless efficiency” and “killer instinct” to speed up much needed infrastructure development failure of which would put developing economies by the way side.

“We (India) are committed to efficiency in infrastructure development. But China does it with ruthless efficiency. This is what is required to address the urgent need for better infrastructure and we need to do it quickly. Those who have the will, will find the way and those who don't will be on the wayside,” Mr. Chidambaram told a packed ceremonial opening ceremony of the 21st World Economic Forum (WEF) India Economic Summit at the Taj Palace Hotel in New Delhi.

He said that growth in agriculture, industry and services sectors is dependent on good infrastructure.

“What we lack is the killer instinct or the ruthless efficiency which China has,” India’s Finance Minister said.

He recalled that New Delhi will build a new airport in a few years time whereas China will complete the second Beijing airport by 2008. In infrastructure China is building many firsts and world’s biggest.

Sending a strong message to 600 delegates from 200 companies and organizations attending the summit as well as rest of developing countries, politicians and trade unions Mr. Chidambaram also called for greater Foreign Direct Investments (FDI).

“We need to allow more Foreign Direct Investments (FDI) into manufacturing and industry to enhance efficiency. China is a shining example and FDI has done wonders in China. This has boosted its efficiency enabling China to capitalize on its comparative advantage of its cheap labour.

“India has educated and a young labour force yet only attracts a fraction of FDI what China draws,” India’s Finance Minister pointed out.

Another message was that Government as far as possible must leave entrepreneurial activity to entrepreneurs or private sector.

The Summit was told that China has adopted the East Asian model and was leading the pack of high growth economies with 9% growth.

“India too has joined the pack while many more countries such as Pakistan were expected to follow. The need of the hour now was to find ways and means of sustaining and surpassing the growth rate that India had already achieved,” Minister Chidambaram said.

On a positive note he said that the resilience and dynamism within was helping Asia to drive global growth.

He said that a few years ago 8% growth would have been a wild dream but today it was possible. A key focus of the WEF Summit is how India could focus on 8% growth and beyond.

The Finance Minister said high growth could be achieved and sustained via improved infrastructure for which countries need to pursue ruthless efficiency, attract higher FDIs among other measures.

For agriculture he said that the way forward was to cover more land under irrigation. Stepping up public investment into irrigation by restoring man made and natural waterbeds and expanding the reach of irrigation could do this. This will also reduce the dependence on the monsoon by the agriculture sector.

Greater private sector participation in post harvest activities was also stressed.

Focusing on the industry, Mr. Chidambaram said: “India is an industrial society today. But this is not enough and we need to become an innovative society. Product leadership defines leadership today. It can come about only through higher investment in Research and Development. However most firms have financial constraints.”

The need to open up services except health and education to private sector was also stressed.

Here too Mr. Chidambaram said that the services sector must be open to foreign investors as well as to improve competition.

WEF Summit co-host Confederation of Indian Industry President Yogesh C. Deveshwar said that high growth must be pursued but it also must be made sustainable.

“So we need high, sustainable and inclusive growth,” he added.

He also endorsed the need for better infrastructure saying that it will boost entrepreneurship and inclusive growth.

“We have many priorities but resources are scarce. Therefore we need strategies that best utilise scarce resources to deliver better results,” the CII chief emphasised.

WEF founder and Executive Chairman Klaus Schwab observed that he had seen a huge change in the mindset in India, over the 21 years that the summit has been taking place here. According to him there is an increasing incidence of public-private partnership and that the gap between society and government is narrowing but now focus should be on generating employment in rural areas.

The opening session ended with Colette Mathur, Director, India and South Asia, World Economic Forum presenting a book compiled by her and CII chief mentor Tharun Das called “India Rising” to the Finance Minister.

The opening night included a gala reception and spectacular cultural show hosted by Sri Lanka. It was arranged by the Ceylon Chamber and sponsored by the BOI, Tourist Board and SriLankan Airlines.

A 25–member Lankan delegation led by National Enterprise Development and Investment Promotion Minister Rohitha Bogollagama and comprising nearly 20 business leaders are attending the summit. Today, which is the final day of the Summit, will see a luncheon session on Sri Lanka.

The Lankan team will use the opportunity to promote Indian investor and trade interest.

The second day of the Summit, yesterday, discussed a host of issues through parallel sessions.

Among topics taken up were Foreign Direct Investment, global challenges, infrastructure development, future knowledge based industries, reinventing manufacturing, energy security, financial services, unlocking agriculture’s potential, the environment, health sector and judicial reforms.

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Friday, December 02, 2005

Aid scramble wasting Sri Lanka tsunami relief, think-tank says

Yahoo! News: Thu Dec 1, 5:31 AM ET
COLOMBO, (AFP) - International and local charities have wasted aid money meant for tsunami relief and slowed reconstruction efforts in Sri Lanka, an independent think-tank said.

The Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) asked the Sri Lankan government to rein in the number of charities, many of which it says are in competition with each other and preoccupied with grabbing media attention.

Last year's tsunami killed more than 31,000 people here and displaced nearly a million. Some 250,000 people still live in cramped transitional homes, despite international aid pledges topping 3.2 billion dollars.

"Reluctance to co-operate with government institutions and competitive behaviour towards others continue to hamper coordination and implementation," said IPS economist Paul Steele.

Nearly 300 aid agencies capitalised on a huge international outpouring of sympathy for tsunami survivors and collected millions of dollars to rebuild and restore livelihoods along Sri Lanka's devastated coastlines.

But an official from the country's housing ministry said some NGOs (non-governmental organisations) were less than honest.

"We came across quite a few NGOs that had signed MOUs (memorandum of understanding to build homes) and then used the document to raise funds," said the official, who declined to be named.

IPS's Steele said one way to monitor performance would be to consolidate.

"It might be better if some NGOs are amalgamated. There is a whole plethora of costs," he said.

"Administration costs are high. There are salary anomalies within NGOs, poor targeting of recipients and most unfortunately, competition among organisations themselves to get visibility within the community," he said.

The tsunami damage to infrastructure was estimated at one billion dollars, but the replacement cost was put at between 1.5 and 1.6 billion dollars, according to a study released in January.

"Costs are up by around 60 percent since January. For instance, the government estimated around 400,000 rupees (4,000 dollars) was enough to build a house. Now its over 600,000 rupees (6,000 dollars)," said Sisira Jayasinghe, economist and an author of the IPS post-tsunami recovery study.

The island's former tsunami reconstruction chief, Rohini Nanayakkara, warned that Sri Lanka has to compete for aid following natural disasters in other parts of the region.

She said that although the initial pledges were twice the reconstruction cost, the country could end up with funding gaps.

"If aid is not closely monitored, donor interest will slow down because there have been other disasters elsewhere that are now drawing their attention," she said.

In a report to parliament, Auditor General Sarath Mayadunne said continuous project delays had cost millions of dollars.

President Mahinda Rajapakse, who was elected on November 17, has set up a new authority to coordinate all tsunami-related relief operations.
For further details please visit http://www.ips.lk/

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Women and ICT at Tsunami reconstruction

DO Channel - Homepage / MICT / MICT- MAY - JUNE: by Harsha Liyanage,
If utilised effectively, ICTs can cut short the process of re-establishment. e-Enability can reduce the gestation period of new businesses, create better networks for resource accessibility and help the local business persons in connecting with vibrant markets.

‘Treat mother as a living God at home’ is a maxim oft-repeated by Buddhist monks while advising the youth of Sri Lanka. It captures well the unique combination of compassion and strength that defines the very essence of a woman – often also signified through her comparison with Kali – the goddess of power. Though this force often remains buried under societal and familial mores and beliefs, when adversity strikes it always reinforces its existence, always.

In the last year’s Tsunami tragedy, the female mortality rates emerged to be three times higher than that of the men. When these statistics were analysed, logical explanations were sought. It was claimed that the number of women victims was higher as most of them stayed at home while the men went out to work. However, Noeleen Heyzer (Executive Director of the United Nations Development Fund for Women) refuted this opinion and is quoted by the Sunday Observer claiming that, “I found that the reason why more women had died in the tsunami than men was not because they were reluctant to expose their nakedness when the turbulent sea waters tore the clothes from their bodies as some people believe, or because they were unable to climb trees (many of them did and saved their lives in the process). It was because they cared. The women who died in the sea invasion had gone back to their homes to save the lives of their children, rescue their husbands, relatives and friends who were being washed away by the sea. This is why I call them the real heroines of the tsunami.”(1)

As the giant tides returned, leaving devastated rubble all over the coast; women came to the forefront of rescue and rehabilitation missions. At temples, churches and kovils in Sri Lanka, putting their own grievances behind, they responded to situation by feeding and sheltering the starved children and men alike.

Such passionate engagement in the rehabilitation drive was not limited to the affected areas alone. Thousands of miles away, in countries like Canada, women organised fund raising dinners, charity functions and even volunteered to work in the disaster hit regions.

Women at relief operations

Lalitha, born in Trincomalee, Sri Lanka, lost her parents during the early years of the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka. Orphaned and alone, she ended up at a rehabilitation camp run by Sarvodaya and that marked her entry into the vocation of a peace worker. Today, she works with the Peace Secretariat of Sarvodaya, Head Quarters and leads campaigns in the very area where her family was massacred.

Lalitha’s story is a reflection of the millions of women who face atrocities, which rather than breaking down their spirits, transform them into stronger personalities. Rather than care-seekers, they become providers for the whole community. An instance from India is that of Bolangir (Orissa), where women forget the differences of caste and creed, to look after the children of migrant labourers, who venture into other Indian states in search of work. Every woman in the village who stays back is a mother for these kids (temporary orphans) and treats them as family till their real parents return, after a period of 4-6 months.

Women: vulnerable links in the relief chain?

However, none of these accounts imply that by being agents of relief, the women are removed from the threat of further exploitation. Reports from all the Tsunami affected countries highlight the fact that women victims formed the most vulnerable group at the IDP (internally displaced persons) relief camps. Women specific needs like separate toilet facilities, reproductive health requirements and contraceptives were rarely met at the male dominated IDP camps. Right after the Tsunami, high incidence of rape and abuse of women was reported. Heyzer has also highlighted the need for involving women in the major policy formulation processes for post tsunami reconstruction work, as it helps to incorporate their local expertise into upcoming schemes.(2) She also endorses the idea of delivering relief assistance through women wherever it is possible: the bank accounts to be opened in their names, so the men cannot waste the relief donations to consume alcohol; listen to women when road, water tanks and housing schemes are being planned.

Commitment to such policy guidelines would be an effective way to integrate the untapped potential of women to the mainstream development force. Time and again, international women leaders have emphasized the hidden potential of women to become community change agents. In Sri Lanka, over 6000 women teachers teach over 150,000 children annually at the pre-schools run by Sarvodaya. Fifty five per cent of the youth in Sarvodaya Peace Corps (Shanti Sena) programme are females, who deliver first aid and relief services.

Micro-credit programmes in South Asia recognize women as key agents for economic change and operate through them. The well known Cellular Women project of Bangladesh is a good example of women’s mobility and leadership capacity for a persistent change. Women are the key recipients (approximately 60 per cent) of micro-credit offered by SEEDS (Sarvodaya Economic Enterprise Development Services) programme in Sri Lanka.

ICTs: strengthening women’s leadership

Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) possess an almost magical power to excite the human mind. It can simultaneously entertain and give invaluable information to the recipient. Technology also makes physical and temporal differences irrelevant. As such, ICTs also possess the potential of diminishing gender inequities and can integrate women with mainstream development activities and outcomes. A variety of ICT projects that aim to empower women are already underway in many parts of the world. One hopes that a cross-fertilisation of the information created by such projects would generate a wider positive impact.

However, statistics indicate that there is far greater participation by men in the ICT projects than by women. Addressing this imbalance will require gender sensitive policies. For instance, managers of ICT enabled telecentres may require more training to encourage gender conscious participation; business accounts may be incorporated with gender columns which may track the gender balance along with economic turnovers. Telecentres can fix dedicated women-only time slots to attract those housewives who are willing to participate in such initiatives. Women-specific content, both web based and static, will also encourage female participation.

Illiteracy acts as a major barrier to women’s access to technology in many parts of the world. In India, Action Aid’s ‘REFLECT for ICT ’project employs a variety of ‘Forum Theatre’ approaches to break this barrier. Trained theatre artists from the same localities perform at local communities to introduce project elements. Even as they are being entertained, the illiterate women slowly begin to recognise the underlying messages; the potentials and opportunities presented by the new technologies.

A pilot research conducted for Information and Communication Technology Agency, (ICTA-Sri Lanka) by Sarvodaya for testing the potential of subsidy vouchers in promoting community participation at telecentres, gave very promising results. As the community became more accepting towards the idea of a telecentre, the promise of vouchers increased female participation from 8 per cent to 40 per cent within a three week period. In fact, the number of women participants bypassed that of the males.

ICT: relief operations

The Internet played an important role in decentralising relief operations during the Tsunami disaster. In the Internet, the relief workers found an effective mode to put their appeals before of the world community. Similarly, web based payment gateways provided a chance to the world community to pick and chose the charities they wanted to donate to.

The ICTA of Sri Lanka, adopted an innovative approach during post-Tsunami relief work. The organization opened Nana-Salas (e-libraries), a type of minitelecentre, at the main IDP camps to provide free ICT access to the victims. The IDP campers found a constructive way to spend their time, by learning computers, airing their grievances, accessing global responses, and sometimes continuing the search for their beloved ones.

The ICTA telecenters also contributed towards the relief operations by providing ICT access for damage assessment, registration of those injured, inventorying donations, and supporting logistical coordination with other organisations. Now as the rehabilitation and reconstruction process is underway, women entrepreneurs who had lost all their belongings, are beginning to rebuild their operations. According to the UN, rebuilding local economies is a quick way to recovery in these lost lands. If utilised effectively, ICTs can cut short the process of re-establishment. e-enability can reduce the gestation period of new businesses, create better networks for resource accessibility and help the local business persons in connecting with vibrant markets.

End notes

1 http://servesrilanka.blogspot.com/2005/05/ womens-role-in-post-tsunami.html
2 http://servesrilanka.blogspot.com/2005/05/ womens-role-in-post-tsunami.html

Author: Harsha Liyanage is an independent consultant (ICT for Development and Community Development Projects) and is presently based in London, UK.

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Non-cooperation hampers reconstruction, says report

Daily Mirror: 02/12/2005"

Some international and local NGOs’ reluctance to cooperate with government institutions has hampered the post-tsunami reconstruction in certain areas, stated an Interim Report launched yesterday by the Institute of Policy Studies of Sri Lanka.

The report said that poor coordination among domestic and external agencies have emerged as serious problems, together with the sensitive issues of balancing political considerations and humanitarian assistance to the needy.

“The modalities of aid spending, including procedures and mechanisms should be reviewed to improve quick and effective responses”, it stated.

The report said the promised external assistance of a total of US$ 2.2 billion over the next two to three years appeared to be more than adequate to cover reconstruction costs. But problems have emerged with relief payments, providing credit facilities, distribution of funds, coordination of reconstruction activities and mismanagement of funds.

The report also said that overall macro-economic management circumstances and policies were critical to the success of reconstruction. The tsunami hit at a time of serious macro-economic imbalance and paradoxically helped to mask them for a time.

The report added that the imbalance was re-emerging now, fuelling inflation, lowering the real value of aid funds, constraining the government’s fiscal capacity and adversely affecting reconstruction.Wider macro-economic imbalances should be addressed directly by targeting their sources, it added.

“The cash grants for rebuilding and repairs of houses are inadequate. The government’s initial MoU’s with donors and companies for stipulated design envisaged a cost of around Rs. 400,000. But surveys and field interviews shows a rapid cost escalation. The poorer households will find it very difficult to rebuild with current levels of assistance. Therefore the IPS recommends an upward revision of the grant, at least for the poorer households, using designated donor funds”, said the report. -

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Thursday, December 01, 2005

After the tsunami - Human rights of vulnerable populations

ReliefWeb - Document Preview: Source: East-West Center (EWC), Date: 20 Oct 2005

Executive Summary

The tsunami of December 26, 2004 devastated thousands of communities along the coastline of the Indian Ocean. More than 240,000 people were killed. Tens of thousands went missing and are presumed dead, and more than a million people were displaced. Those most affected by the tsunami were the poor, including fi sher folk, coastal workers with small retail or tourist businesses, workers in the tourism industry, migrants, and those who farmed close to coastal areas. The majority of those who died were women and children.

Immediately following the tsunami, international aid agencies feared that human traffi ckers might seize the opportunity to compel those most vulnerable (women, children, and migrant workers) into situations of forced labor. Fortunately, few incidents of traffi cking were reported, although other human rights problems, including arbitrary arrests, recruitment of children into fi ghting forces, discrimination in aid distribution, enforced relocation, sexual and gender-based violence, loss of documentation, as well as issues of restitution, and land and property tenure soon emerged in certain tsunami-affected areas.

As we have seen in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina, which devastated coastal areas in the southern United States, natural disasters often catch national and local governments and relief agencies unprepared to deal with the massive exigencies of emergency relief and management, and can expose victims of these catastrophes to violations of human rights.

Victims of natural disasters are protected by a host of human rights treaties and agreements. Both the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement and the Sphere Project's Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Disaster Response protect victims of natural disaster and guide relief efforts to ensure that those displaced receive access to adequate and essential relief—including food, shelter, and medical care. These guiding principles maintain that internally displaced persons (IDP) have the right to request and to receive protection and assistance from national authorities who, in turn, have the primary duty and responsibility to protect and assist populations within their jurisdiction.

Natural disasters can exacerbate pre-existing vulnerabilities of populations already at risk. Poverty-stricken groups living in substandard housing, on unstable ground, or in fl ood plains are usually the principal victims of these disasters. Often these groups have experienced ongoing discrimination because of their ethnicity, religion, class, or gender, which has left them living in fragile physical environments. Moreover, pre-existing civil war or a history of ongoing human rights abuses can complicate or interfere with aid relief and reconstruction.

In countries where corruption and bureaucratic incompetence are rife, certain individuals and groups may manipulate their political connections to receive or distribute aid at the expense of others. Still other groups may receive little or no aid because of their ethnicity, religion, gender, age, or social standing. These abuses can leave individuals and families at risk and prolong the time they have to stay in poorly built and even dangerous camps and shelters for internally displaced people.

Isolated in camps, the internally displaced often are sidelined as government offi cials in distant towns and cities formulate and implement resettlement and rebuilding programs, sometimes in favor of special interests. Uncoordinated relief efforts run the risk of exacerbating these problems, especially where there is weak government oversight of the activities of international agencies and aid organizations. A tension can develop between government appropriating all decision-making to itself or allowing nongovernmental organizations to carry out their missions as they see fi t. Lack of a middle ground leaves survivors with no-one to turn to for assistance.

In March and April 2005, a little over two months after the tsunami struck, the Human Rights Center of the University of California, Berkeley, in partnership with the East-West Center, dispatched teams of researchers to fi ve countries—India, Indonesia, the Maldives, Sri Lanka, and Thailand—affected by the disaster to interview hundreds of survivors and key informants.

The specifi c objectives of the survey were:

1. to assess the nature and extent of pre-existing human rights problems and their impact on vulnerable groups prior to the tsunami;

2. to investigate violations of human rights in the post-tsunami period;

3. to examine the response of governments and aid agencies to reports of human rights abuses; and

4. to identify human rights violations that likely may develop or persist during the reconstruction phase.

Researchers used a semi-structured questionnaire to interview tsunami survivors and key informants in the fi ve countries under study. All participants gave verbal informed consent. In India, surveys were carried out along the coast of Tamil Nadu, the worst-hit state, in the districts of Cuddalore, Nagapattinam, Kanyakumari, and Kancheepuram. In Sri Lanka, interviews took place in three provinces, Northeastern (Batticaloa and Ampara), Southern (Galle and Matara), and Western (Colombo). In the Maldives, research was conducted in Male', Hulhumale' and Guraidhoo. In Thailand, interviewers worked in eighteen communities on the coasts of the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand. Finally, in Indonesia, fi eld research was conducted in nine refugee areas, Banda Aceh, Aceh Besar, Sigli, Bireuen, Pidie, Lloksuemawe, Aceh Utara (all in Aceh), Medan and Deli Serdang (in North Sumatra).

Six themes emerged from the survey data that were common to all the countries surveyed:

1. Exacerbation of pre-existing human rights violations. The tsunami exposed groups already suffering from discrimination and other human rights abuses to greater harm. Examples include government use of humanitarian aid rationales to secure military goals, corruption threatening property rights, lack of migrant protection, and gender violence.

2. Inequality in aid distribution. A number of vulnerable populations, in particular women and members of certain ethnic or religious groups, did not receive equal assistance. The research revealed multiple causes for maldistribution of aid, including discrimination towards certain ethnic, religious, or marginalized subgroups such as castes; inequities based on political infl uence; bureaucratic ineffi ciencies; and exclusion of specifi c groups based on government defi nitions of victimhood.

3. Impunity and lack of accountability. There was virtually no accountability of governmental or other aid providers for the reported corruption, arbitrariness in aid distribution, and violations of international standards that protect the human rights of survivors of natural disasters. Contributing factors included the lack of state action in responding to tsunami victims, lack of independent redress mechanisms, lack of political will to investigate abuses, and lack of reporting of human rights violations by humanitarian aid agencies.

4. Poor coordination of relief aid. The sudden activity of large numbers of aid providers in tsunami-affected areas overwhelmed the capacity of states to effectively coordinate relief efforts. The efforts of multiple institutions and organizations providing relief were not harmonized because of a lack of coordination among humanitarian and aid agencies, different levels of government, competing agendas, and lack of NGO accountability.

5. Low public confi dence in coastal redevelopment. There is a lack of clarity among some coastal communities about the conditions under which coastal areas will be rebuilt. Policy makers, in some cases, have responded to the environmental damage with policy recommendations that appear to marginalize or even disenfranchise the poor.

6. Lack of community participation. Government and relief offi cials often failed to consult survivors and their communities about decisions regarding aid distribution, resettlement, and reconstruction aid. In some cases, these offi cials discredited or ignored the views and opinions of local communities. Donors and aid agencies often prioritized timely outcomes over deliberative processes that allowed for community participation and discussion.

To address these concerns, we recommend that the following measures be taken:

1. UN agencies and NGOs should take into account the prior human rights context of the particular country in their aid and reconstruction policies and programs. Non-state actors carrying out relief and reconstruction work should take into account the pre-existing vulnerabilities of groups due to armed confl ict, legal status, caste discrimination, or general restrictions on civil and political rights. Adopting a human rights framework will help humanitarian groups identify the most vulnerable and deliver assistance in a manner that does not compound vulnerabilities to abuse.

2. States should commission an independent survey of tsunami-affected areas to assess the process of aid distribution. The ultimate purpose of the survey should be to determine if the aid distribution process was conducted properly, fairly, and effi ciently, and if any vulnerable groups were overlooked. Recommendations for how to remedy those survivors who have not received payments should be made.

3. States should increase accountability and transparency of public and private aid providers. The national human rights commissions in the fi ve countries surveyed should monitor and report on their government's compliance with international human rights standards. States should create ombudsman offi ces for tsunami survivors that can adjudicate individual complaints during the reconstruction phase. An ombudsman would also be able to investigate individual allegations of human rights violations and to refer appropriate cases for prosecution under domestic law.

4. State agencies should strengthen coordination with UN and NGOs during the reconstruction phase of the tsunami catastrophe. In recent months, states have improved their knowledge and supervision of the type and quality of material donations and the number of NGOs operating within their territory. However, much more needs to be done to improve coordination among these agencies. A central registry should be kept of all national and international aid agencies involved in relief and reconstruction work so as to ensure that those organizations are legitimate. The UN should assume a leadership role in coordinating the reconstruction activities of NGOs and promoting synchronization between public and private rebuilding efforts.

5. States, international agencies, and local aid organizations should improve community participation in reconstruction planning and implementation. State reconstruction agencies should develop community-based consultation mechanisms that are legitimate and transparent. UN agencies and NGOs should participate in consultations so that all providers are working together with community members.

6. A human rights framework should inform coastal redevelopment and the reestablishment of land rights. Redevelopment planning should be transparent and NGOs and survivors should have the opportunity for legitimate consultation. In many areas there is uncertainty about land rights and in some instances disputes have turned violent. Expedited procedures should be put into place to establish title and occupation rights. The ombudsman offi ces, suggested above, could serve this function.

7. Particular attention must be paid to those affected by ongoing armed conflicts. It is apparent that war, political violence, and the priorities of warring parties will often be given precedence over assisting survivors. In these situations, the United Nations or other international mediating parties must provide leadership to secure a temporary cessation of fi ghting or a peace agreement in order to maximize the ability of humanitarian aid providers to help those in need.

Full report (pdf* format - 1.03 MB)

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Clinton paints false picture of “progress” for Sri Lanka’s tsunami victims

WSWS: 30/11/2005" By Panini Wijesiriwardena

During a visit to Sri Lanka yesterday, former US President Bill Clinton praised the government for making “real progress” in assisting the victims of the December 26 tsunami. “Ninety percent of children are back in school, epidemics have been prevented and transitional shelter has been provided to almost all internally displaced people,” he declared.

Clinton’s rosy picture is a long way from the grim reality facing thousands of survivors, many of whom lost everything in the disaster—homes, possessions, livelihoods and family members. Nearly a year after the tragedy, many victims still live in intolerable conditions because the government and international donors have failed to provide assistance to meet their basic needs.

After Indonesia, Sri Lanka was the country worst affected by the tsunami. The death toll was 40,000 people and nearly one million people were displaced. More than 50,000 families are still living in often-poor quality, temporary accommodation and a similar number are with relatives or friends.

According to Task Force for Rehabilitation of the Nation (TAFREN) figures released for October, 80,000 houses were completely destroyed by the huge waves and another 40,000 were partly destroyed. An estimated 400,000 people needed to be resettled. More than 275,000 people lost their means of support—many of them fishermen. Nine fishing harbours, 15,300 fishing boats and one million fishing nets were destroyed.

Some 182 schools and 72 hospitals were damaged along with 363 other facilities, including mental health and childcare clinics and central dispensaries. The estimated cost for the relocation and reconstruction of health and education services alone is $US269 million. Total damage is conservatively put at $1 billion and reconstruction costs at $1.5 billion.

Despite the pledges of government aid and international assistance, reconstruction has barely begun. Auditor General S.C. Mayadunne issued a report recently, criticising the government for using only 13 percent of funds received for tsunami rehabilitation. As of the end of July, only 1,055 permanent houses had been built.

Attempting to counter the criticism, Treasury Secretary P. B. Jayasundara issued a statement in late October declaring that 3,200 permanent houses had been built—out of the 80,000 projected. However, another set of statistics from TAFREN put the number of houses actually handed over to tsunami victims at just 868 by the end of October.

Whatever the actual figure, there is a glaring discrepancy between what has been constructed and the needs of tens of thousands of people without proper accommodation.

“Living in a hell”

A World Socialist Web Site reporting team went to affected areas south of Colombo on Sunday. Travelling towards the southern city of Galle, one can see plenty of evidence of the lack of any reconstruction. As well as the ruins of homes and buildings, there are makeshift temporary shelters with discoloured walls covered by misshapen and loose roofing sheets scattered everywhere.

Twenty kilometres from Galle, 44 families are living in the village of Godagama in temporary shacks built by non-governmental organisations. A crowd of men, women and young people quickly gathered.

Dayananda, a retired worker from a ceramic factory, told the WSWS: “We were waiting for this type of international media to tell our real story to the world. The government, the bureaucracy and the media have shoved us behind a curtain. No one can see us. We are living in a hell. We feel like helpless human beings without home and livelihood. Once we worked and earned a livelihood. But now we are forced to wait for aid from someone.”

Piyasena interrupted, saying housing was the main problem. “Come inside and see how my family, wife and the five children, live together in this 12 x 10 foot area. Because of the [recent] heavy rains, my kids frequently suffer from colds and coughs. Every night we send our children to the house of a relative half a kilometre away.” If the government helped with housing, he said, people could look for work.

Dayananda added that he had thought former president Chandrika Kumaratunga would help. People in Godagama had supported her Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP)—but to no avail. “We voted for Mahinda Rajapakse in the recent presidential election. We are waiting to see how he is going to solve the problems. He promised to complete tsunami housing schemes within six months. We will give him those six months. If he fails we will sleep on the highway until we die. No one can stop us doing that.”

Asked about the failure of the US, Pakistan and Indian governments to adequately assist the victims of Hurricane Katrina and the Kashmir earthquake, Dayananda’s wife said: “Poor people all over the world have to face the same treatment from their governments. It would be good if we could mobilise the poor all over the world who confront the same problems.”

Dayananda said it was the same with the treatment of workers by big companies. He worked 27 years in the nearby factory of Meetiyagoda Ceramics Ltd. Workers were paid an annual bonus to push them to work hard. After the tsunami, they received no help from the company. “They exploited us and threw us away,” he said. “The government’s bureaucratic system is also working against us. How many papers have we had to fill out? How many times have we gone to government offices and been turned away without anything?”

Immediately after the tsunami, the government used coastal conservation laws to prevent people rebuilding in a buffer zone of 100 metres from the shoreline. In the northern and eastern provinces, it was 200 metres. An estimated 56,000 houses were destroyed—totally or partly—in these zones. As they have watched tourist hotels being rebuilt within these zones, people have become more and more angry—so much so that Rajapakse had to promise to overturn the decision.

One of those affected by the ban, Wasanthi, a widow with three children, said: “The government acquired land for us and made a big noise about starting a housing scheme. According to a plaque, 1,500 houses are to be built. But only 10 houses have been constructed and handed over up to now. When we consider how long construction is going take, one can guess what will happen to Mahinda Rajapakse’s promise to build houses for all tsunami-affected people in six months.”

No one has much faith in the pledges made during the November 17 presidential election campaign. Both Rajapakse and his United National Party rival Ranil Wickremesinghe engaged in a meaningless bidding war of empty promises.

The issue of aid has become embroiled in communal politics. Rajapakse allied himself with the Sinhala Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), which demanded that he renounce plans for a temporary joint body with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) for the administration of tsunami relief. According to the JVP, the Post Tsunami Operation Managerial Structure (P-TOMS) agreement is an impermissible concession that is tantamount to the betrayal of the Sinhala nation.

Even the limited government aid has been distributed on an openly political basis. According to TAFREN’s countrywide statistics, 721 of the 868 permanent houses built and given to tsunami victims have been in Hambantota, Rajapakse’s electoral district. No houses have been completed and handed over in the districts of Amparai, Batticaloa, Kilinochchi, Mullaithivu and Trincomalee, where many Tamils and Muslims live.

International donors have been using the promise of tsunami aid to push their own agenda. The US and other major powers had hoped that the P-TOMS agreement would pave the way for restarting talks between the LTTE and the Colombo government to end the country’s civil war. Washington is concerned to end the conflict that threatens its burgeoning economic and strategic interests in the Indian subcontinent.

According to Treasury Secretary Jayasundara, although donor countries pledged $3.4 billion in aid, only $2.7 billion has been transformed into “firm commitments.” Most of this financial assistance is tied to the resumption of the “peace process”. Clinton used his visit to reinforce the message, declaring that while “real progress” had been made, the work could be “reversed” if the current ceasefire broke down.

Clinton’s hollow words about “progress” simply underscores the utter cynicism of bourgeois politicians in Sri Lanka and internationally. The last consideration of any of them is the plight of tens of thousands of destitute tsunami victims, who, 11 months on, still confront a bleak future.

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Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Sri Lanka update 9 months after the Tsunami

Reliefweb Document Preview: Source: Agency for Technical Cooperation and Development (ACTED) Date: 13 Oct 2005

Context of the Intervention

Like many international actors, ACTED has engaged in reconstruction efforts in countries hit by the Tsunami December 26th of last year. Today, ACTED leads its programs from its base in Batticaloa with the support of the national office in Colombo. To implement these projects ACTED has mobilised four expatriates and 70 national Staff. ACTED and its personnel are confronted with a new context. The post natural disaster rehabilitation is atypical and far from what we could have imagined due to the high presence of international and national NGOs, and various types of donors. Today for example, 75 organizations are present in the District of Batticaloa.

ACTED Sri Lanka has targeted three villages by focusing its first actions on the cleansing of wells and the construction of semi-permanent shelters. The list of beneficiaries becoming more and more precise as ACTED's staff comes to better understand the context, the strengths and weaknesses of the different actors working on similar projects or areas, and the exchange of experiences of these different parties. From the start, ACTED privileged integration programs. Their impact, in terms of quality and results, deserves to be analyzed, nine months after the disaster.

ACTED's Privileged Integrated Approach

ACTED has, henceforth, a name and an identity in Sri Lanka. Recognized, not only by NGOs and the government, but also by the communities with which ACTED interacts. Thanks to the support of the Foundation of France, the Post Tsunami Interdepartmental Delegation (DIPT), the French Embassy and the Adour Garonne Water Agency, ACTED intervenes in many domains and several administrative divisions of the district, from the construction of semi-permanent shelters to the rehabilitation of water and sanitation infrastructures, as well as road rehabilitation through cash for work incentives, hygiene promotion, psychosocial support for victims, and support to the fishing sector.

From the start, ACTED Sri Lanka focused on an integrated strategy aiming at facilitating the return of populations displaced because of the Tsunami. The organization adopted a mid-term vision. This enabled ACTED to stabilize itself, and reinforce its ties with the communities and ensure the quality of its programs. Basic water and sanitation infrastructure rehabilitation as well as shelter construction were the two components of the logical approach to rehabilitation. Once the emergency needs covered, ACTED's intervention concentrated on providing support for the fishing sector, badly hit by the Tsunami, through the implementation of income generating projects for fishermen. These activities lie within a long term vision aiming at gaining economic stability. Simultaneously, ACTED launched several other projects relating to hygiene promotion, and psycho-social support (accessibility to schools, community clinics etc.) as well as underwater coastal cleanup in order to make the fishing sector activities long lasting for selected villages.

Results to Date

ACTED has distributed twelve boats (18 to 31 feet) as well as their fishing nets and other equipment, assisted over 100 fishmongers, underwater coastal cleanup around one village, and is currently in the rehabilitation phase of machines producing ice, used to facilitate the stocking and selling of products from the ocean. Finally the employment of 4,500 beneficiaries in the entire district has not only enabled the creation of new opportunities for the beneficiaries through income generation, but also rendered possible the rehabilitation of over 70km of priority roads in villages thanks to the cleaning and recycling of debris.

In the southern region of the District of Batticaloa, ACTED is currently completing the construction of 382 semi-permanent shelters, and over 300 latrines. In these same villages, ACTED' teams also cleaned 1,343 wells and distributed over 1,500 hygiene kits to families returned from refugee camps. ACTED equally has a network of volunteers working for hygiene promotion and the set up of psycho-social support for communities. 600 families per week are approached by 90 women, trained to heighten public awareness on the importance of hygiene. The innovative distribution of locally created brochures has enabled ACTED to become a reference for other organizations such as the Italian Red Cross, Care, or the district's Department of Public Health.

Today these different entities re-use this documentation for their public awareness actions. In order to ensure long lasting interventions, ACTED has, while moving forward, tried to associate itself as much as possible with local institutional actors in order to reinforce their capacities, mostly through training sessions. ACTED organized (along with Terre des Hommes, and other international NGOs), for example, two large festivals in camps, bringing together over 5,000 children and educating them on subjects such as community cohesion, or family hygiene.

Sustainable Action and future perspectives

With 9 months of experience at hand, but also strong ties with the community's beneficiaries, ACTED understands the importance of setting up a sustainable and comprehensive intervention strategy. Learning its lessons from the Tsunami context, ACTED Sri Lanka must henceforth balance its effort between "Tsunami" projects and projects benefiting war affected communities. The Tsunami gave rise to unprecedented worldwide generosity for the victims of the disaster. This aid, however, created an unfair aid situation for the populations affected by 15 years of civil conflict. Today ACTED cannot envision future action in Sri Lanka without taking these populations into account. In the Tsunami affected zones, ACTED is planning on implementing micro finance activities in order to provide Tsunami affected populations with more autonomy in their development, insisting once again on the training of these persons. ACTED will invest in other sectors, somewhat neglected such as infrastructure, water and sanitation. It is, the war affected communities' needs, left aside after 15 years of war, for the most part humanitarian, that will push ACTED towards the next level. By choosing to engage in community assistance, ACTED would like to take on a new challenge: work in areas that are neither controlled by regular authorities, nor ruled by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), rebel group still fighting for the civil war for the independence of the territory it claims, the Tamil Eelam. Although this group is trying to acquire international credibility, the situation remains unstable in the field because of the tensions with the regular army. Populations have not yet been displaced, but the volatility of this increasingly blurred situation, especially after the Tsunami, has complicated ACTED's interaction. The movements of ACTED teams, for example, often slowed by the numerous check points from the army or the LTTE, targeted assassinations between political parties, or kidnapping threats on national staff or local organizations with which ACTED works or desires to work. Negotiations between ACTED and the LTTE have already taken place to ensure that ACTED's presence remains neutral amidst this conflict. This neutrality is fundamental for it enables ACTED to continue implementing its programs, responding to the objectives of its term.

The project currently being set up with the support of ECHO, the construction of 500 semi-permanent shelters and latrines with an important hygiene education component, and the reinvestment in the agricultural sector of three villages on LTTE territory, will enable ACTED to integrate this new perspective. At the same time, ACTED Sri Lanka would like to pursue, thanks to the Foundation of France, and following the integrated approach of community capacity mutual reinforcement. Following the same lines, ACTED will continue to pursue its engagements in Sri Lanka by opening new LTTE zones, or in other districts of the East Coast bring depth to the micro finance project.

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A tuk tuk mechanic leads friends and family beyond disaster

A tuk tuk mechanic leads friends and family beyond disaster: Source: The World Bank Group
Date: 21 Nov 2005
Community consultation has been one of the guiding principles for the reconstruction process after the devastation of last year's tsunami.

A US$5000 World Bank grant to one of Sri Lanka's leading non government organizations, Lanka Jathika Sarvodaya Shramadana Sangamaya, [Sarvodaya] earlier this year helped initiate talks among tsunami affected communities in the south and the east. The result was a Sarvodaya report, titled Post Tsunami Voice of Community Leaders.

Here's a profile of one of the community leaders who contributed to the research – K. G. Nadeeka Dilan, a three wheeler mechanic from Galle – who suffered great losses and underwent great changes because of the tsunami.

November 21, 2005 - "This was the first day I knew the meaning of fear," says K.G. Nadeeka Dilan, a three wheeler "tuk tuk" mechanic, recalling the tsunami of December 26.

The Devata Bay in Galle in Sri Lanka's Southern Province, where Dilan lives, is calm and blue. It's hard to imagine now the 20 foot wall of water which swept Dilan off his feet and brought death to his only daughter and 13 close relatives.

"In a matter of minutes, my precious daughter and the house I had built and furnished so proudly and my business … all rubble," Dilan says.

But his is a story of a man who stood up courageously from tragedy to become the Camp Coordinator of the temporary shelters, guiding and helping his community through crisis and recovery.

Dilan had lived with his extended family in a compound overlooking Devata Bay. The land had belonged to the then Ceylon Government Railway, but his father-in-law had acquired possession as a long-standing tenant.

Now Dilan is further from the shoreline, close to the main road. His three-wheeler repair shop is back in business. It's a rectangular shack boarded with zinc sheets. And it leads to two tiny living areas. In one is a little bed surrounded by boxes of salvaged personal belongings and in the other, there's a small television. A black and white photograph of Dilan's lost daughter has pride of place on top of the television.

On the day of the tsunami, Dilan had just one glimpse of the monstrous wave: "Like the great wall of China, high as the electricity pole on the main road," he says.

He only remembers holding his daughter's hand and trying to run. The powerful sheets of water dragged them apart. He couldn't see anything in the swirling mud and was carried half a mile inland, wedged against a tree when the waters ebbed.

Today Dilan points to two coconut trees where he found the lifeless mud-covered body of his daughter. "She was cold. I had to wipe the mud from her to give her artificial respiration. I pumped her chest, rubbed her hands and feet, did everything to revive her. My anger against the sea was enormous. …. My mother-in-law, my sister's five year old – all were gone."

At that time last December, Dilan's shoulder was dislocated. But there were no doctors and no time to go looking for one. He wedged a friend's head under his armpit, and gritting his teeth, yanked his shoulder back into place. He says the pain was nothing compared to what he felt in his heart. And with his shoulder fixed, Dilan did the last thing he could do for his daughter – he carried her to the hospital morgue.

The dead were all around him. They were all relatives or close friends. And as the water ebbed, people emerged, screaming and crying in anguish. Many were naked - their garments ripped off by the water. "I did the best I could to help people," Dilan says. "I found whatever material I could for them to cover themselves; pulled out 48 bodies from the sludge. My grief was lessened as I helped the people."

It was a powerful reflection from a man who'd lost his pride and joy, but who sought to help others. Luckily, his son and wife were alive. His boy had run ahead of him and climbed high on to a nearby cement factory tower. His wife, who was working in a garment factory, had been safe.

In the immediate aftermath of the tsunami, and the rush to help survivors and find bodies, Dilan's relatives gathered at a nearby temple. They were 18 families in all. Each had lost everything. They had no place to stay, no money, and no possessions.

Dilan got help from the cement factory - a heavy earth-moving machine to help shift the rubble and create a space for tents. And as the tent town grew, so too did the number of families seeking shelter in the camp. There were now 63 families there.

"There were no racial or caste issues and no cases of rape in the camp," Dilan says. "Fourteen families were Muslim, five Christian and the rest Sinhalese." The families unanimously appointed him the Camp Coordinator, and he formed a small committee along with two women, who he felt could best address the needs of the women in the camp.

The fact that Dilan was a good communicator and a Catholic with established links to the Parish priest and the business community stood him in good stead. He consulted his now extended family to find out their needs. He prepared documents to register community members to receive aid and he coordinated assistance from state officials and non governmental organizations (NGOs)

"I was beaten up by one person who thought I was not demanding enough from NGOs," Dilan says. But he was not deterred. He kept a level head and ensured distribution of aid was fair and that people did not collect handouts just for the sake of getting something.

"This is my community and I tried to do the best for them. I didn't just ask for anything and everything – what I got was targeted to the needs of specific people."

The list of recipients was long. Fifteen sewing machines were given to those who could earn a living from tailoring. The vegetable sellers and fish sellers received scales, bicycles, and other items and an initial capital of US$100 [LKR 10,000] to start their businesses. The brick maker got power tools and ten bags of cement. The man who'd earned his living selling dress materials door to door received US$250 [LKR 25,000] to buy his initial stock and get going.

Only 10 families now remain in the camp. A few are Muslim families who did not want to locate to an area where there is no mosque. Others feel the houses which were built for them are unlucky, as the builders did not take into account the traditional accepted positions of beams and doors.

Dilan, like many others, was offered jobs by the plethora of international NGOs who arrived in Sri Lanka in the wake of the tsunami. But even the offer of a car for his use was not enough to entice Dilan. He slides from under the red three-wheeler he is repairing to say: "The garage is my business, and I want to build this up. I have my basic tools but once I get a compressor, and a few more items I can employ two more people."

His daughter is lost forever but Dilan thinks one way forward is to adopt an orphaned child. His smile is wide as he bids us goodbye.

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Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Protectionist land laws worsens poverty

Daily Mirror: 25/11/2005" By Poornima Weerasekara

Experts yesterday asserted that the exclusive protectionist approach to land ownership has only perpetuated poverty in Sri Lanka at the sixth Annual Symposium on Poverty Research title “putting land first – exploring the link between land and poverty.”

“Although the different land laws were introduced in Sri Lanka to secure the rights of the landless it is a bare-bone law and the lack of an additional resources allocation framework needed to enhance land productivity has prevented it from achieving the goal of poverty alleviation,” Centre for Women’s Research (CENWOR) Director Prof. Savitri Goonesekere said.

However, she noted that “if you have pure market policies, and expect the trickle down effect to work, it has never worked in any country.”

Hence, Prof. Goonesekere urged policy makers not to devise “ad-hoc legislations merely motivated by Millennium Development Goals, but rather to make it a consultative, transparent process with the involvement of the private sector.”

Accessibility to agricultural land is seen as a core issue in rural poverty. Although Sri Lanka boasts of a unique Paddy Land Act, according to research findings presented by Central Bank Director of Statistics Dr. Anila Dias Bandaranaike, “one third in the agriculture sector face underemployment due to low land productivity, which has resulted in low incomes and rural poverty.”

“Of the 9% of the population who are unemployed only 1% desire to move to the agriculture sector,” Dr. Bandaranaike added.

As such, it was noted that the narrow focus of the current land laws, limited to only providing accessibility to land needs to be reformed to ensure not only poverty alleviation but also gender equality. Dr. Goonesekere highlighted that “many of the local legislation which attempts to be gender neutral nonetheless involves a degree of discrimination. However, gender equality is a crucial factor in poverty alleviation and cannot be considered in isolation.”

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ICTA empowers rural tele-center operators

Daily Mirror: 24/11/2005"

Recognizing the importance of capacity building in ensuring that rural communication centers migrate up the value chain to become true knowledge centers, the ICT Agency conducted a two day residential workshop at the Distance Learning centre at the SLIDA for 60 ‘nanasala’ (tele-Center) operators from various parts of the country. The operators came from remote centres in the Deep South such as Buttala, Suriyawewa and from Koslande and Welimada in the Uva area.

The programme was inaugurated by the Chairman of the ICT agency Prof V K Samaranayake. Manju Haththotuwa the CEO of the ICT Agency shared with participants his vision of an e- Sri Lanka. A vision in which the Nanasala operators had key role to play. Each participant worked at his or her own computer, learning how to access information from the Internet, how government forms such as passport application could be down loaded from the Govt, web site. Participants were taken through a wide range of information in digital format collected by the Agency from various organizations – both state and private. This included multimedia CDs on a variety of topics from how to grow a variety of crops such as tea, rice, onion, on environment, on culture as well as a wide range of educational CDs.

Representative of Jobsnet were on hand to educate participants on how they could use the web in registering with the Job Bank and in finding employment opportunities. Officers of the Sri Lanka Export Development Board gave practical demonstrations on how to access market prices, find buyers and market products on line. This information was extremely relevant as the financial sustainability of nanasals needs to be supported through auxiliary sources of revenue via e-commerce, information sale and training.

E- channeling was another important area covered through this programme – another auxiliary source of revenue for nanasala operators. Representatives of e- Channelling who were there explained how it worked and as an initial gesture issued “web cards” to a section of those present so that they could launch this services through their centres, serving the community while earning a revenue for themselves.

ICT Agency took the opportunity of the presence of operators from differing parts of the country to launch a community needs assessment. The key objective being to ensure that the information needs of the communities are being met - making sure that communities themselves get involved in their own developments.

“The Nanasala operators training session was very useful for us, since we learnt lot of ways in which we can help the villagers through internet. Though we knew how to use e-mail, we were not really using it fully. Now we can e mail each other through Nanasala Yahoo group and we know how we can get a lot of useful information for the people of our village through the Internet,” nanasala operator V. Dissanayake from Wanduruppe, Hambantota says.

“This skills development work shop organized by the ICT Agency made me think. I now have a better idea of how we can all join to develop our Country through ICT,” another ‘nansala’ operator Janaka Ruwan Kumara from Embilipitiya said.

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Agriculture-Poverty Nexus and mixed blessings of WTO

Daily Mirror: 24/11/2005" By Poornima Weerasekara

Department of Commerce Deputy Director Gothami Indikadahena, yesterday highlighted the mixed blessings from the ongoing WTO agriculture liberalisation talks and its effect on Sri Lanka’s poverty alleviation efforts.

She made these observations on Monday at a National Dialogue on Trade and Development organised by the Law and Society Trust, a part of the project on “Linkages between Trade, Development and Poverty Reduction” initiated by the Centre for International Trade, Economics and Environment (CUTS-CITEE) based in India, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, The Netherlands and the Department of International Development, UK.

First, shedding light on yet unresolved issues, Ms. Indikadahena said, “it is imperative to ask whether there is an equal impact of liberalisation on domestic agriculture and export-led agriculture and whether further liberalisation of the sector results in future gains.”

She also expressed her concerns over the protectionism in the sector via relatively high applied tariffs and noted that “reductions of applied tariffs could generate adverse effects which would subsume the productive gains of trade liberalisation.”According to Ms. Indikadahena, Sri Lanka’s agriculture tariffs would have to be cut drastically after the sixth WTO ministerial conference in Hong Kong, this December.

Sri Lanka's agriculture tariffs are already much lower than most developing countries with over 90% of tariffs bound at the average of 50%. In contrast, India has bound its tariffs at 100%, 150% and 300% for different item categories.

Further, Ms. Indikadahena noted that “Sri Lanka’s actual applied rates are lower than even the bound rate, averaging around 28%.”

“Under the proposed Swiss formula tariffs on agriculture can come down to 25 %. Under the linear formula it can come down to 35%,” she added.

The Swiss and linear formulas are the two formulas that are being considered for countries to reduce their agriculture tariffs.

In the Sri Lankan context both formulas will reduce the ceiling on duties for agricultural goods to a very low level, directly affecting small farmers by making imported goods more competitive than local produce.

However, Ms. Indikadahena highlights that “the Doha Development Agenda provides clear language on Special and Differential Treatment for developing countries, including the possibility of different rules and disciplines in recognition of the particular needs of these countries including food security and rural development.”

However, she bemoaned the lack of initiative from policy makers to leverage on these flexibilities to provide better support to domestic farmers.

“We have not been able to afford even the permitted green box subsidies for our farmers,” she added.

To safeguard majority rural communities, Sri Lanka is also pushing for a list of special products that will be sheltered from the inevitable tariff cuts. “We are suggesting that products bound at less than 50 percent be designated as special products. Then most of Sri Lanka’s agricultural products will come under it,” Ms. Indikadahena quipped.

Sri Lanka has already identified around 20 product sectors including crops grown by small farmers like rice, potatoes, coconut, onion, maize, cucumber, cereal and poultry. The special products concept has already been accepted by the WTO but the items and reduction in tariff cuts are yet to be decided.

However, Ms. Indikadahena stresses the urgent need to “implement the special safeguard mechanism to cover all agricultural products defined in the agreement on agriculture (AOA) and not only the import-sensitive products.”

A similar mechanism for developing countries is under discussion at the WTO for agricultural imports.

The objectives of the ongoing World Trade Organisation negotiations on agriculture aims to iron out the fierce differences in opinion between the developing, emerging and developed economies obtain new commitments to lower tariff levels to agricultural goods, reduce the level of domestic support and eliminate the provision of export subsidies.

According to Ms. Indikadahena the negotiations provide both opportunities and threats to domestic and export-oriented agriculturalists. She notes that "success in making developed countries increase market access and reduce domestic support for their agricultural sector can result in enormous benefits for the export agriculture sector in developing countries and for poor communities. However, unrestrained trade liberalisation would adversely affect small farmers in developing nations. This is specially true if cheap imports tend to glut the market precisely when the domestic crop is to enter the market.”

Further, Ms. Indikadahena assures that “the benefits of improvement in living standards and reduction in food insecurity and poverty are likely to far outweigh the cost of any distortion in the world agricultural markets.”

Lowering duties, removing other non-tariff barriers, removing the export support provided to the export agriculture sector, reducing domestic support to the sector and the lack of infrastructure facilities were highlighted by Ms. Indikadahena as the key reasons for the poor performance in the export and domestic agriculture sectors.

The two latter reasons, i.e. removing agriculture subsidies, inaccessibility to irrigation, lack of storage facilities, exorbitant cost of transportation and inaccessibility to markets had a severe impact on small farmers and in-turn on rural poverty (Fig 1and 1).

Therefore, Ms. Indikadahena stresses the urgent need to “increase, rather than decreas, support to agriculture in order to accelerate agriculture productivity and growth.”

Agriculture -poverty : The hard facts
Agriculture accounts for
Around 20% of Sri Lanka’s GDP.
18% of merchandise exports and
Supports 40% of the population.

Further,
The number of small farmers employed in the sector is 70% – 90%,
Food consumption averages 2,300 calories per day,

However,
An estimated 25-30% of the population is undernourished.
Sri Lanka is food deficit country – It is a Net Food Importing

Points to Ponder
“The world produces more than enough food to feed everyone. Yet, about 480 million people, or almost one sixth of the world’s population, still suffer from under nourishment. The overwhelming majority of these – about 92%– suffer from chronic under nutrition, rather than acute hunger.”

Nash J and M Donald [March 2005] Finance & Development p.34

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Monday, November 28, 2005

Carving out a livelihood in Sri Lanka

Carving out a livelihood in Sri Lanka: Source: International Organization for Migration (IOM)
Date: 17 Nov 2005

By Ranjitha Balasubramanyam, IOM Colombo

Nearly 2,500 families have been helped by an IOM livelihood restoration programme for tsunami survivors in Sri Lanka. The programme allows people to build a foundation for their future by developing sustainable incomes. Among them is a carpenter proud of his new but popular creation fashioned out by tools provided by IOM.

The IOM transitional settlement in Moratuwa on Sri Lanka's western coast is a beehive of activity as our vehicle pulls in one sunny afternoon. Sounds of children squealing in delight as they go back and forth on swings fill the air. But there's another persistent noise that draws our attention - the scraping of wood.

Walking around a transitional home down a rather neat little lane at the entrance to the settlement, we come upon a man in his mid-thirties working away diligently on a piece of wood. K. Wimalasiri Perera is doing what he's been doing for nearly a couple of decades now - creating things out of wood.

If there's one place in Sri Lanka renowned for handcrafted furniture, it is Moratuwa. Located some 20 kilometres from the capital Colombo, the city is home to some of the finest carpenters in the country.

Wimalasiri though, is busy fashioning something a little more humble: a wooden coconut scraper. The finished product is not very elegant but it more than makes up for that with its efficacy. It's basically a low stool with a piece of metal jutting out and an extended piece of wood to hold a bowl underneath it.

"You just have to sit on the stool and hold a halved coconut over the metal scraper. It's so easy," Wimalasiri beams. Obviously, he is proud of his creation. And he has reason to be happy too. Coconuts are a big part of Sri Lankan cuisine. So, needless to say, this little contraption is quite a hit not just with customers outside the IOM settlement but with residents too.

Wimalasiri's modest carpentry business was washed away like that of thousands of others by the 2004 tsunami.

He used to make timber beams used in the construction of roofs for houses and buildings. When he came to the IOM settlement in Moratuwa along with his wife and his young daughter in July this year, Wimalasiri was a dejected man. But he didn't sit around dwelling on his misfortunes for very long.

IOM provided Wimalasiri and other carpenters in the settlement with carpentry kits. Each kit cost about US$ 200 and consisted of a hammer, a drill, a grinder and hand-blower used in reshaping metal.

The assistance is part of an IOM livelihood restoration and development programme for tsunami-affected people funded by USAID, ECHO and Greece. So far, more than 2,400 families - including Wimalasiri's - in five districts have benefited from the programme aimed at helping people regain and develop a sustainable livelihood.

"Right from the beginning, I didn't want to depend on handouts," Wimalasiri explains, referring to aid distributed by the government and other agencies.

His coconut scraper-stool sells for 300 Sri Lankan rupees, which is less than three US dollars. It takes Wimalasiri about 90 minutes to make one and he says that while his product is already quite popular, he plans to start a door-to-door sales campaign.

The young carpenter does not conform to the stereotype of a disaster victim. And if more proof is wanted that he is a man with initiative, 35-year-old Wimalasiri is currently in the process of producing hand-held coconut scrapers as well.

So, does he see his time at the transitional settlement as a foundation for a future life?

"Yes. I definitely want to try and grow in this business. I want to provide for my family and give my daughter a good life," says Wimalasiri, exuding confidence.

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Sunday, November 27, 2005

ACCA Sri Lanka launches second sustainability reporting awards

Daily Mirror: 23/11/2005"

ACCA Sri Lanka announces the launch cycle of the second Sustainability Reporting Awards to be held in Sri Lanka.

The announcement calls for applications from large scale companies or SMEs to compete on issues of sustainability that are now a priority in business values and ethics.

The deadline for submissions is set at December 20 with judging to take place in January 2006. The awards to be held in March next year are open to all types of organisations or industries, with an option of submitting entries in any format including information from an organisation’s website, which is an increasing trend in today’s context.

At the core of the judging criteria are completeness, credibility and communication, identifying and rewarding innovative attempts to communicate corporate performance, which falls in line with the sustainability concept.

Last year’s winners were Ceylon Tobacco Company Ltd. In addition, Ranweli Holiday Village received a commendation for Integration of Business within the immediate environment and Atiken Spence Hotels Ltd. received a commendation for Integration of Environment within business operations.

“Stakeholders are seeking greater transparency, organisational accountability and good governance,” says ACCA Sri Lanka President U. H. Palihakkara.

“Business is shifting from the shareholder to the stakeholder, from identifying to engaging and from engaging to involving.

The core values of economic viability, environmental responsibility and social accountability (the triple bottom line) hedge on the influences that stakeholders wield on a business,” he said.

Having mooted the awards last year, ACCA Sri Lanka believes that by rewarding transparency, it will be an encouragement for more businesses to get involved in the lessons to be learnt and best practices to be emulated.

“There will be the participation of a larger audience creating a greater awareness and understanding of the importance of CSR and a more emphatic determination to take environmental and social responsibility more seriously,” he observed.

The ACCA Sustainability Reporting Awards are already functional in Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, Ireland, Malaysia, New Zealand, Pakistan, Singapore, South Africa, Sri Lanka, the UK and the USA with similar awards, largely based on the ACCA criteria, existing in Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Holland, Italy, Luxembourg, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.

Environmental, social and sustainability reporting however is still in its early stages in Sri Lanka and of a relatively poor standard except for a handful of multinational companies following their parent company guidelines in social reporting by producing stand alone social reports.

ACCA Sri Lanka Manager Ajitha Perera deduces that Sustainability Reporting Awards in Sri Lanka will create a greater depth and breadth of reporting that conforms to international guidelines and best practice frameworks, which will soon become imperative in the country’s roadmap for development.

“Being an emerging economy and with aspirations of gaining more strength as a hub for South Asia, it will not be long before both SMEs and the larger businesses place more emphasis not only the ‘rupees and cents’ aspects but also on creating wealth among their stakeholders through empowerment, sustainability and greater environmental awareness,” Mr. Perera said.

He explained that more transparency, accountability, sincerity and responsibility of action by corporate concerns around the world has led to more awareness on the principles of Corporate Social Responsibility in the last decade with more than 4,000 environmental reports being produced worldwide for stakeholders to peruse.

“Through the awareness created by the first Sustainability Reporting Awards held last year, ACCA Sri Lanka has been successful in instilling the importance of adhering to standards and guidelines, the necessity to benchmark businesses against global counterparts, the need for transparency, accountability and sincerity of action and have heightened awareness of living and working productively and in harmony with the environment. None of these issues have been disseminated effectively by any organization before this as primary business principles and we are glad to have carried the mantle in helping to create the mindset in taking these fundamental trusses of corporate ethics ahead in Sri Lanka,” he also said.

Mr. Palihakkara commented that reporting varies in each organisation depending on the needs of the stakeholder groups and can either be seen in hard copy or stand alone format, separate sections in annual reports, site reports, newsletters, electronic corporate profiles, CD Roms or simply on the corporate website.

“But while each has a different cost profile to the reporting companies, what is most important is that the ultimate goals of sustainability reporting are met vis a vis expectations of all stakeholders and the company’s commitment in meeting those aspirations sincerely and responsibly,” he also said.

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Tsunami survivors forced from homes in S.Lanka floods

Reuters: COLOMBO, Nov 22

Tsunami survivors were among some 20,000 people forced from homes and makeshift shelters across Sri Lanka on Tuesday after heavy rains triggered severe flooding, officials said.

The rains badly affected eastern and northern provinces, where hundreds of thousands of coastal residents are still living in wooden shacks and concrete shelters almost a year after their homes were swept away by the tsunami.

Newly installed President Mahinda Rajapakse delayed the planned swearing-in of a new cabinet until Wednesday to focus on emergency relief, his office said.

"Around 4,000 families mainly from the Northern and the Eastern provinces have been affected," said N.D. Hettiarachchi of the National Disaster Management Centre.

"Instructions have been given to move them to different locations like schools and community centres on higher elevations," he added.

In Colombo, many people in residential areas were marooned and unable to get to work along flooded roads after 270 mm (10 1/2 inches) of rain was dumped on the capital. The Colombo stock market opened late to give traders time to reach their office.

The rains were triggered by a low pressure system in the Bay of Bengal,the National Meteorological Centre said.

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