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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 10, 2005

After the tsunami, rising birth rate brings challenges

ReliefWeb - Document Preview: Source: United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), Date: 01 Dec 2005

Tsunami: One Year Update

By Leanne Mitchell

TRINCOMALEE, Sri Lanka, December 2005 - Aruentathy, 30, sits at the door of her temporary house, nursing her one-day-old girl, both weary after the ordeal of birth. Her sister Vickneaswary, 28 and seven months pregnant, is by her side, ready to help if needed.

The sisters live in Ninakeney Camp, a couple of hours drive south of Trincomalee on the eastern coast of Sri Lanka. Both are married to fisherman. The two families lost a total of five children to the tsunami of 26 December 2004.

New babies offer new hope, both women say.

“When the baby was born,” recounts Aruentathy, “my husband came in and he cried, because he was reminded of our three children who were lost in the tsunami. He said, ‘We lost our three girls and now we have been given this baby girl as a gift from God.’” Vickneaswary’s baby, due in a couple of months, is equally important for her and her husband.

Children wanted despite all

Dr. Sabaretnam Jeyakumar, Consultant Medical Officer at Trincomalee General Hospital, says women who lost children to the tsunami are becoming pregnant again to rebuild their families. It is a trend that, given the circumstances, is perfectly natural, but it also places new risks on both mothers and babies.

“Many mothers who lost all their children are now giving birth,” says Dr. Jeyakumar. “Many people come to the hospital trying to reverse sterilization. We are also seeing many older mothers who are risking pregnancy to replace the children they lost.”

Dr. Jeyakumar says that families’ caring capacities are sometimes being overtaxed. “After the tsunami many cannot afford these growing families, nor are they strong enough psychologically to support them.”

But many are determined to have additional children regardless of challenges. “There are women who, despite the risk, want a child. They don’t have anything in the world, but they want a child,” says Dr. Jeyakumar.

Basics are lacking

Trincomalee General Hospital is also facing its own challenges in coping with the number of new births. Not only are birth rates rising among tsunami-affected families, but also the Hospital is one of the few remaining maternity facilities in the area. Other nearby hospitals and health centres on the east coast of Sri Lanka were destroyed in the disaster.

As a result, nine months to the day after the tsunami struck, the hospital’s maternity ward recorded its busiest day on record - 26 births. But even on non-record days, the daily average of 10-15 births is proving difficult for hospital staff to cope with. The long, narrow ward where mothers and babies rest after childbirth is full to the brim.

Dr. Jeyakumar explains that the hospital has some sophisticated equipment, but it’s the basics that are currently lacking: “We have only six beds. We have to manage labour in corridors and sometime people give birth on the floor.”

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Friday, December 09, 2005

Homogenising humanitarian assistance to IDP communities

ReliefWeb - Document Preview - Homogenising humanitarian assistance to IDP communities (a cautionary note from Sri Lanka): Source: Refugee Studies Centre, Oxford University (RSC), Date: 30 Apr 1999

by Simon Harris

This paper argues that IDPs do not constitute a homogenous group and that relief agencies need to improve their analysis of the composition of internally displaced constituencies in order to plan appropriate interventions which account for, and respect, the issue of difference.

If one were to randomly select a hundred people from any disaster situation or emergency environment, the demographic composition of this group would reveal a wide range of different people from different backgrounds. The attitudes and actions of each in responding to their circumstances would be informed by the way in which the influence of factors such as gender, class, caste, race, religion and ethnicity has shaped their individual experiences.

Despite, or more probably because of, the multifarious complexity of people affected by poverty, conflict and disaster, there is a tendency amongst providers of emergency relief services to homogenise their intended beneficiaries. Whilst recognising the utility of this approach in simplifying and rationalis-ing the delivery of humanitarian services to large populations, this paper will argue that failure to account for constituency difference in programme planning and implementation may negatively impact upon the effectiveness and sustainability of such services. Furthermore, the potential effect of homogenising non-homogeneous groups may even be a deterioration of the very conditions which humanitarian agencies seek to help improve.

Humanitarian agencies working in Sri Lanka’s conflict-affected northern Wanni region generally categorise the civilian population as either internally displaced people (IDPs) or residents. There exists a set of perceptions regarding IDPs which are commonly accepted by these agencies.

Most agencies would agree that the IDPs living in the LTTE controlled areas are ethnically exclusively Tamil, that women and children form a particularly vulnerable group and that female-headed households are especially disadvantaged. There would probably also be broad consensus that loss of livelihood is one of the most significant effects of displacement and that access to food, water and sanitation provision, psychosocial care, health and education services are all extremely important factors which agencies need to prioritise. Indeed, the priori-tisation of these issues has been endorsed by the constituents themselves in a series of community consultation exercises by Oxfam GB and SCF (UK)2. Addressing one or more of these areas of concern forms the operational objectives of each international aid agency working in the Wanni.

Full report (pdf* format - 262 KB)

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Education brings normalcy to children

ReliefWeb - Document Preview: Source: Save the Children Alliance, Date: 11 Nov 2005
Opportunities to resume education have helped thousands of children get back to normalcy and recover from the tsunami disaster. In the last 11 months, Save the Children in Sri Lanka has built 80 preschools across affected areas and will be completing 80 more reaching a total 40,000 children in 3-5 year age group. To help support pre school education 16,000 pre school kits have also been distributed up to date among children in early childhood development (ECD) centres and welfare camps. Providing supplementary food where necessary is also part of the ECD programme.

Pre school teachers in affected areas needed particular training on helping children to recover from their emotional and psychological setbacks. Save the Children has trained 400 teachers on child protection and psycho social care of children in addition to the regular pre school teacher training. More teachers are receiving this training.

On the request of Ministry of Education, Save the Children is also rehabilitating 21 schools that were used as welfare camps, for the benefit of 15,000 children, and providing extra classes and equipment to more than 11,000 children to help them catch up with their studies. So far, I4, 000 sets of secondary school notes were distributed to ordinary and advanced level students to enable them to take their examinations. Small projects are underway responding to displaced children's educational needs such as providing bicycles to enable them to get to school, setting up study centres and libraries to do their homework. This has enabled both teachers and children to focus on studies and have hope for the future.

The Education Programme of Save the Children has taken accessibility to buildings for the disabled into account in the rebuilding and repair of preschools and schools for which it has assumed responsibility. Save the Children has also responded by encouraging preschools to take in children who have disabilities.

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Nobody's Child

LBO: 04/12/2005"

Almost a year after the tsunami devastated Sri Lanka's costal communities, many are still languishing without permanent housing due to government inefficiency, under estimating of reconstruction cost and political interference according to a study.

There is still a shortage of 10,000 houses for victims, of which, no work has started and 50,000 people who lost their livelihood are still to get back to work according to the study by think tanks and a donor.
A combination of underestimation of reconstruction cost, inflation, the appreciation of the rupee and the lack of donor coordination are also affecting the speed of the recovery.

In some cases cost inflation has meant that a house is 50 percent more expensive to construct since the tsunami because of the high demand for construction material and labor.

Work on 25,000 houses is continuing while another 5000 are about to start according to a local think tank that led the study.

The Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) said 10,000 houses are yet to start work.

All these houses will cost more than previously estimated because of inflation.

"People outside the buffer zone get about Rs. 250,000 at the rate of inflation they will not be able to build houses," says Sisira Jayasuriya, Economist, Institute of Policy Studies

The study shows that the massive reconstruction cost which includes labor and raw materials and a shortage of land, is beyond original expectations.

Most of the people who lived in the coastal areas do not want to move in to inland due to their lively hoods dependent on the sea.

Buildable state lands are also limited.

"The land available is limited or not suitable and this combination creates problems. Then trying to purchase private lands lead to cost escalations," says Paul Steele, Associate Researcher, IPS.

Bureaucracy has also helped create a muddle.

Last week, the government axed TAFREN the body tasked with coordinating the reconstruction effort and set up a new agency.

Even leaders of the study, that included the Asian development bank institute and the Asian economic center of the Melbourne University, say capacity to use aid is not there.

They say issues about financial mismanagement have already emerged in tsunami reconstruction.

Allegations of cronyism and political interference in allocating built houses have already emerged.

"When distributing pre-built houses there should be transparency and there should be beneficiary lists. People have filled forms but there is still no guarantee. SO there is a sense of lack of transparency and insecurity. Issues of political interference are also coming into play," says Steele.

Appreciation of the rupee, due to aid inflows after the tsunami has reduced the impact of the inflows in the local market.

If the rupee were to depreciate 10 percent instead of appreciate the aid dollars could buy 10 percent more goods and services in the local market with the same amount of money.

-LBR Newsdesk: LBOEmail@vanguardlk.com

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Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Dedicated English teacher

Sunday Observer: 04/12/2005" by A. Kandappah

Wilbert Ranasinghe, a teacher in his early 40s at Ketawala Vidyalaya in rural Inguruwatha, Mawathagama is an exceptional man in this largely material society that blindly worships only 'winners' - those who accumulate big bucks - and fast. The means are often overlooked for as the saying goes "success is a great deodorant, It washes away all your past sins".

We are sadly a society where the success of men are measured only by the cold yardstick of accumulation of wealth. But there are amongst us men of greater character and integrity though less poorly endowed with material trappings.

What makes Ranasinghe different from other teachers is his inherent and passionate humanism, his dedication to equip his economically disadvantaged students with a working knowledge of the English language in a background where only Sinhala is spoken. He has taken upon himself the task of teaching English to these children of poor farmers and cultivators - as an instrument for their upward social mobility when they enter the job market.

There are about 200 children in this cramped, underprivileged school located in an almost inaccessible rural setting where students get up at dawn and walk to school in rubber slippers. The timings of the only bus from Mawathagama town to the four kilometre ride to Ketawala is not in line with school opening time and the meagre bus fare, totally out of reach for these children.

The children shyly admit they often have one square meal a day and that too "Parippu" and "Polsambole" and yet their cheerfulness and the radiance of their omnipresent smile betrays their inner dream that one day they will "make it". Though himself not an English graduate or with exceptional competence in the language, what teacher Ranasinghe has accomplished in turning these rural children to enthusiastically read, write and speak English is remarkable.


Ranasinghe arrives in school an hour ahead of opening time and leaves two after closing time to teach them English since the regular syllabus has to be covered during normal school times. That the children have gained better - than - average grasp of English-achieved with minimum tools of education available to them is not only a tribute to the dedication of their teacher but also the reality even in the harshest of conditions there remain in simple children talents within that cry out for opportunities to manifest.

I learnt of this school and teacher Ranasinghe while watching TV some months ago. I got in touch with Ranasinghe and told him I have friends who might be of assistance and enquired how I can help. I was told these children go about in rubber slippers, for they do not have the means to buy shoes.

I spoke to a friend of mine - one on of Sri Lanka 's largest makers of shoes. He kindly consented to donate the 200 pairs of good quality leather shoes.

Other friends gladly gifted chocolates, biscuits and other sweets. I visited the school a few week ago joined by two friends who shared my thoughts to be of assistance to these children. One a well-known medical man identified with public health and the other, a successful Colombo businessman.

Another friend, a former Vice Chancellor and a former Minister of Education, who was keen to join us called it off at the last moment since he contacted a bad bout of influenza.

The Principal K. Wimaladeva, teacher Ranasinghe and the Divisional Director of Education, Mawathagama D. C. Ranasinghe were there to receive us extending typical rural hospitality, with the children singing the national Anthem and the School song unfurling the National flag and the School flag. They were keen we speak to the children in English.

Rural Hospitality

We did and were impressed by the knowledge of English they have acquired conditions of clear handicap. We have no doubt at all, of given the right facilities and opportunity, these children will match the best in the more developed areas. We took along with us a little girl of eight - a winner of the Trinity College English of Speech and a student of a leading International School to interact with these children.

The Ketawala children grilled her in English and one girl asked her in perfect English "What language do you speak with your parents at home?" The Colombo girl replied "Mostly in English" and the Ketawala children giggled - obviously meaning "There you are".


The school had arranged for two girls, aged 11 and 13, to make brief impromptu speeches for us. They did well.

That the children of Ketawala have accomplished much sans the disadvantage of conversing with their parents in English and lacking an enabling environment was quite obvious but, nevertheless, what they have accomplished is encouraging.

If the excellent example set by this simple but dedicated English teacher in far away Ketawala inspires other under-developed areas, there is little doubt, like the children at Ketawala, if given the right opportunities, there can be thousands of children the quality of whose simple lives can change substantially if they secure a working knowledge of English initially, as a key to increasing their chances of a better job or better higher educational opportunities.

Already a leading Rotary Club in Colombo has expressed interest to see in what way they can help these children realize their dream of securing competence in English. I am also confident there are many others keen to assist talented children in under-developed areas to improve their lot.

The Ministry and Department of Education should look into this matter and offer necessary encouragement to the Principal and the English teacher referred to in a focused campaign to improve English at the national level.

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Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Poverty lines versus the poor: method versus meaning

Poverty Development Gateway: "Is there any redemption for the poverty line approach? This paper argues that the use of poverty lines provides a one-dimensional picture and overlooks the multifaceted nature of human deprivation. The author presents the argument that there is insufficient 'poverty' in the poverty line approach, providing evidence suggesting it is dangerously misleading methodology. The arguements both in support of and against poverty lines are laid out in detail, with the author drawing upon specific examples in each case. The main conclusion the author makes is that the danger posed by the income-poverty line approach is that it inevitably leads to a misidentification of the poor. Authors: Saith, A. Produced by: Economic and Political Weekly (EPW), India (2005) Source: ELDIS

Download this Document

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Monday, December 05, 2005

Ground Reality

LBO: 01/12/2005"

Nearly one year after, Sri Lanka’s tsunami survivors are stewing in uncertainty while tsunami recovery stagnates in politics.

One year into recovery, very little has changed.
The duplication, confusion, corruption, political interference, poor communication and lack of consultation that UN agencies and local institutions warned about, are thriving.

Around 250,000 men, women and children, living in cramped transitional shelters and nearly 500,000 crowding it out in relatives’ homes – are not thriving.

A study on Post Tsunami Recovery, by the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS), the Asian Development Bank Institute and the Asian Economics Centre, shows that a major roadblock to recovery is the government’s continuous inability to communicate with relevant stakeholders.

Despite swinging highly effective election campaigns, the government is still not able to communicate its decisions on aid packages, concessionary loans and relocation, to thousands of displaced families and relevant disbursement agencies.

Government circulars, that pass down instructions to various government bodies, are not available to the public and as a result tsunami victims do not know what arrangements are made for them and what they are due to receive.

“So people depend on rumours,” said associate research fellow at IPS, Paul Steel, at a consultation on Post Tsunami Recovery organised by IPS, United Nations Development Programme and the International Labour Organisation, on Thursday.

For instance, 50,000 home owners that were living outside the government’s original 100m and 200m buffer zone, got a Rs 50,000 first instalment to rebuild their houses.

But less than 10,000 have got the second instalment – apparently because of a lack of staff to evaluate applications.

Meanwhile, building costs have increased by around 50 percent from the calculated Rs 400,000 and the cost of a basic two bedroom house is now Rs 600,000 and still going up.

Although the government promised Rs 5,000 per month, for every tsunami affected family for their daily survival needs, the payment was made only for four months.

Meanwhile, micro credit schemes and loans cannot be accessed by many extremely poor tsunami victims because state banks have not relaxed their collateral requirements - despite a government directive to do so.

When it comes to relocation, the shortage of land outside the government's buffer zones and changes to the buffer zones in some areas, is adding to the insecurity of the homeless.

Pre-build houses have not improved the situation because there are no selection criteria on how the houses are awarded – as a result political interference is the deciding factor.

Where state land has been awarded to rebuild, the families are not given a clear title deed.

The stop-start flow of assistance and general uncertainty on relocation means hundreds of thousands of Sri Lanka’s tsunami survivors can’t pick up the pieces and get on with their lives, or plan their future.

To get the recovery process moving, the IPS is once more calling for better consultation and communication, to inform affected families about cash grants, land tenure, loan schemes and relocation.

-Dilshani Samaraweera: dilshanis@vanguardlanka.com

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The tsunami: Living in transition

BBC News: 02/12/2005" Just under half a million Sri Lankan people were displaced by the tsunami that hit the island's coastline on the morning of 26 December 2004.

Nearly a year on, many are still living in refugee camps, waiting for government and aid agency help to rebuild their homes.

They have been told they may have to stay in transitional shelter for up to three years, while the estimated 100,000 homes to house them are built.

Save The Children Sri Lanka has funded PhotoVoice, a London non-profit organisation, to run a five-week intensive photojournalism training workshops near Matara, in the island's southern province, to let children document their lives a year after the tsunami.

Journalists David Gill and Annie Dare are teaching eight children between the ages of 12 to 18 from the coastal village of Kamburagamuwa.

Some of the group lost family members, some lost friends, some lost belongings and some lost homes.

As the anniversary of the tsunami approaches, each of these children is lucky enough to have a permanent house to call his or her own.

For the next fortnight, they are partnering families from the nearby fishing community of Talaramba.

Here they are gathering stories from and photographing the daily lives of people forced to live in an overpopulated transitional shelter made of wood and corrugated tar sheets.

In the coming weeks, Annie and David will also be training children living in the transitional camps in photography, so that they too can tell their stories. The next update on the BBC News website will include these pictures.

An exhibition of the final body of work will be exhibited in Sri Lanka at the beginning of December and also at Save the Children in London EC1 from 19 December.

If you are interested in finding out more about this project or the resulting exhibition please contact anna@photovoice.org

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Sunday, December 04, 2005

WFP to extend Aceh and S.Lankan tsunami aid to 2007

Reuters: 29/11/2005"

Distribution of food aid to more than 1.5 million survivors of the Indian Ocean tsunami in Indonesia and Sri Lanka will be extended to 2007, the World Food Programme (WFP) said on Tuesday.

In a statement, it said food aid would be phased out in the Maldives and Somalia by the year-end. Tsunami relief operations in Myanmar and Thailand were wrapped up in mid-2005, it added.

Initially, food was provided to all people affected by the December 26 tsunami in Indonesia's Aceh province and Sri Lanka. Now the agency was concentrating on people having trouble rebuilding their lives, the WFP said.

Aid would be provided to approximately 1.2 million people in Indonesia, and another 347,000 in Sri Lanka, the statement said.

"We will maintain our commitment to the tsunami survivors by providing help to those communities that most need it," said Anthony Banbury, WFP Regional Director for Asia.

"WFP will focus assistance on the most vulnerable: children, new mothers, the elderly and displaced people. We will be there until people are back on their feet and have regained the livelihoods they lost."

A 9.15 magnitude earthquake off Sumatra on December 26, the world's strongest in four decades, triggered a massive tsunami.

With no warning systems in place, the waves killed as many as 232,000 people in a dozen Indian Ocean nations and left more than a million homeless. Aceh was hardest hit and about 170,000 people were killed or left missing there.

In Sri Lanka, the tsunami killed nearly 40,000 people.

In Indonesia and Sri Lanka, assistance would increasingly focus on long-term recovery rather than free food, the U.N. agency said.

At the peak of operations in May, WFP provided food aid to 2.24 million people in six countries across the tsunami zone, it said.

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