One year after the catastrophe, the nation is recovering from the ashes of destruction and the loss of lives in hundreds and thousands. The tsunami, which hit the island on December 26, 2004, killed 35,322 persons, displacing nearly 1,000,000, and making it the worst disaster in Sri Lanka's. The worst affected areas were the country's coastal line encompassing 13 districts.
Besides the unbelievable extensive damage it caused to the infrastructure, such as the network of roads and bridges, the tsunami also put a large number of persons out of business disrupting the fisheries industry and tourism that is a cash spinner. In some cases, the recovery effort by the Government of Sri Lanka and International NGOs was hampered by the loss of legal documents. This also exuberated the existing economic woes of vulnerable sectors.
The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) is a major international voluntary organisation, which was engaged in micro level projects from re-settling communities to providing a livelihood for affected persons. It has also been actively involved with the Government in rebuilding infrastructure such as roads and construction of houses for affected persons.
UNDP Country Director Abu Salim and Deputy Director Sanaka Samarasinha on recovery efforts state:
The UNDP was involved in the recovery effort immediately after the tsunami, from the establishment of the Centre for National Operations to the capacity building of the local Government bodies that were destroyed by the tsunami. Thereafter, the UNDP started the "Cash for Work" program in the affected districts to attend to immediate needs such as clearing of debris and redemption of affected environment in the aftermath of the tsunami.
The ongoing project "Justice" is a project launched in collaboration with the Government to provide legal documents for affected persons whose legal documents such as deeds, birth certificates and identity cards were destroyed by the tsunami. The "Justice" project was carried out through mobile clinics set up in various parts. The UNDP also deployed UNV (UN Volunteers) in the Trincomalee, Batticaloa and Ampara districts.
"Addressing the immediate needs of the affected persons through People's consultation covering 1,000 villages and 450 focus group discussions was very successful. In collaboration with the Government, TAFRAN and Human Rights Commission, consultation was held to determine the actual needs of the affected persons. The outcome of the consultation will be presented to the President in a report," said Country Director Abu Salim.
"We have an effective monitoring system at work at different levels. In addition to this, we have also our field officers and all aid data is in our database in the UNDP Website. We have conducted awareness programs for provincial correspondents, how to track aid flow to the provinces, and the GAs and District Secretaries are provided online access to data. In addition, we are working with District Officers of the Auditor General's department and conduct regular site visits to evaluate the progress of ongoing projects" said Deputy Country Director (Recovery).
In the aftermath of the tsunami, one of the immediate needs was the cleaning of the debris and environment in affected areas. UNDP's Cash for Work Program was successful in clearing the debris and redeeming the affected environment in the Southern Province.
Cash for Work Programs were launched in Unawatuna, a popular tourist destination, with the participation of a community-based organisation to clean the beach and coastal areas. Under the program this road network in and around Unawatuna was also cleared. The UNDP has also launched such programs in Katugoda, Habaraduwa and the Balapitiya Pradeshiya Sabha areas. The tsunami debris was also used to fill up lime stone pits, which had been a breeding ground for mosquitoes.
Basic facilities provided
Basic sanitary facilities such as domestic toilets had also been destroyed by the tsunami and it was obvious that those facilities had to be rebuilt in order to avoid congenital diseases that are likely to prop up in affected areas where drinking water was highly polluted with debris.
The UNDP has also financially aided for the construction of 114 domestic toilets in five Grama Seva Divisions in the Balapitiya Pradeshiya Sabha area at a cost of Rs. 2,755,430.00. Rehabilitation of roads in different parts of the Southern Province was included in some of the programs launched by the UNDP.
As the coastal line was worst affected by the tsunami, the country's fisheries sector and Small and Medium Sector Scale (SMEs) businesses based in tourism were severely affected by the tsunami and an immediate influx of capital was needed to review them.
Besides, the drastic drop in tourist arrivals and the resultant drop in sales of ornamental and traditional crafts like batik, and the considerable structural damages caused to business premises made it an impossible task for SMEs to borrow capital from commercial banks at an affordable rate, as no commercial bank was willing to lend credit for SMEs in the coastal belt without collaterals.
In some cases, the land could also not be used as collateral, as the land was within the hundred-metre buffer zone. However, later the Government waved the ceiling of the buffer zone. The UNDP's revolving grants to Fisheries Co-operatives helped SMEs to restart their businesses.
Pragdana Co-operative Banking Society in Hikkaduwa is one such banking institution, which has received revolving capital from the UNDP to lend to individuals whose businesses were destroyed by the tsunami. A minimum sum of Rs. 50,000 is given to a member of the banking society and further funds could be obtained on the basis of the repayment rate.
According to the Chairman of the Society, Pragdana is a role model for successful micro-credit livelihood project, which maintain a high rate of repayment among the members.
Several members who have benefited from the project said that they could recommence their businesses, thanks to the loans granted by the banking society without any collateral requirements, at a time the commercial banks refused to lend money due to lack of collaterals, and the business premises being within the hundred metre exclusive buffer zone which was later waived by the Government.
A shop owner, one of the beneficiaries of the scheme, said that cosmetic items that he sells at his small shop in the tourist zone is becoming popular among tourists and that he had obtained loans five times more from the banking society. One of the UNDP aided projects was the Galle Fisheries Co-operative Society.
The filling station run by the Society at the Galle Fisheries harbour with its two tanks was completely destroyed by the tsunami. Operations of the filling station have now been resumed with the installation of two tanks and a group under the UNDP grant.
The Society also received revolving funds from the UNDP to be disbursed among its members primarily, to buy fishing gear and nets, which were destroyed by the tsunami.
Hunanwella Fisheries Co-operative Society of Gandara West is another banking society, which has successfully used UNDP revolving funds for the disbursement of funds among its members.
The projects for which loans had already been disbursed are manufacture of Maldive fish, which is a cottage industry in the area, setting up of a small scale shop or business and teaching of embroidery which has a ready-made market and office furniture for the Society.