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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. 

Monday, January 02, 2006

One year after tsunami

Sunday Observer: 25/12/2005" by Jayantha Sri Nissanka

Tomorrow is the first anniversary of the Tsunami tragedy which took over 35,000 lives and displaced one million people in 13 coastal districts. Many religious ceremonies will be held to remember our fellow citizens who were victims of the tragedy.

We must also assess whether the rehabilitation and reconstruction program launched to help the survivors has achieved its targets. Are they languishing in transitional centres even without basic facilities due to political misguidance and administrative lethargy?

Of course, almost every citizen in this country united forgetting racial differences donating money, clothes, food items, medicine and all other immediate relief assistance even without any request from the Government. Children came to donating centres with their tills showing unity when the country faces a tragedy. Sri Lanka was internationally acclaimed for the way the immediate relief assistance program was handled here.

But the question is whether we have achieved the set targets in the second phase of rehabilitation and reconstruction directed by the Task Force to Rehabilitate the Nation (TAFRAN). The TAFRAN senior officials who knew nothing about disaster management are responsible for the present delay in the rehabilitation and reconstruction programs.

Imposing a buffer zone further delayed the construction of permanent houses for tsunami survivors. Even the NGOs which undertook to build houses were struggling to implement projects due to lack of experience in handling such programs earlier.

However, the TAFRAN has been renamed as Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Agency (RADA) recently and infused with competent persons to handle tsunami rehabilitation programs. According to the progress report of RADA, NGOs have completed only 4,299 houses.

Only 491 people have received the fourth instalment under the Owner Driven housing program. That clearly proves that only about 5,000 people have got permanent houses during the year. Other 93,000 families are still languishing in temporary shelters. Under the Owner Driven Program 66,000 houses are scheduled to be built and NGOs have accepted to build 32,000 houses.

The owner Driven program releases funds to people on the basis of utilisation of instalments to rebuild or repair their houses. Each family will be granted Rs.100,000 to repair a partially damaged house and Rs.250,000 to rebuild a fully damaged house. These funds will be distributed on four instalments. However, 55,525 families have drawn the first instalment but only 491 families have got the last instalment.

Instalments under this housing program have to go through a strict verification and approval process. As a result of a dearth of technical officers and official delays, this housing program is moving on at a slow phase but the money is productively used without wasting.

Accordingly, 93,000 displaced families will have to live in transitional centres at least for another two years until the houses are constructed unless the RADA and NGOs introduce speedy mechanisms to rectify the delay.

Restoring the livelihood of the victims is another challenging task faced by about 200 NGOs which are involved in livelihood restoration activities. About 150,000 persons lost their main source of income. About half of them were engaged in the fisheries sector and others in tourism, agriculture, public sector, micro enterprises, etc.

According to the report, 70% to 80% families have regained their main source of income. But many NGO's complained to the Sunday Observer that they found it difficult to provide assistance to the real tsunami victims due to the pressure from the local politicians and officials in the Divisional Secretariats.

However much NGOs try to convince, the authorities they continue to obstruct the distribution of assistance. For instance, the World Vision Relief Office in Tissamaharama is trying to distribute canoes among fishermen who are tsunami victims. But local politicians and Government officials have given a list urging World Vision to first provide canoes to them.

When World Vision officials inquired after the backgrounds of persons in the list they found that businessmen and a bar owner were also included in the list. Many other NGOs are also fed up working with Government officials and local politicians and complained to the Sunday Observer in the same manner. They urged the RADA to set up a special Complains Centre where RADA can sort out problems encountered by NGOs instantly to speed up rehabilitation programs.

The RADA report says that over 250,000 households received two instalments (of a planned four instalments) of Rs.5,000 and food worth Rs.375 per week. About 165,000 received the third instalment as well. Cash for work programs have spent an estimated Rs.700 million so far.

Under the two main micro finance and SME support schemes, more than 13,000 subsidised loans amounting to Rs.3.8 billion have also been disbursed. All these livelihood assistance programs have helped to a certain extent to bring survivors' lives back to normal.

Forty one of 52 damaged hotels are back in operation after a year. The report claims that the tourism sector is yet to recover, as total earnings have declined by 10% as of September 2005 despite an increase in number of arrivals.

The report states that a number of small hotels, guesthouses and related services in the informal sector are facing problems of finding necessary funds for repairs and operation.

While social services have been largely restored, only a low percentage of education and health facilities have been fully repaired or rebuilt, the report says.

Though the rehabilitation and reconstruction of health facilities are still moving on at a slow pace, immediate health assistance was able to arrest of the break out of waterborne diseases among thousands of survivors and prevented recording of any post-tsunami deaths.

Primary health care facilities and routine immunisation, nutrition surveillance systems were established. 500 community support officers have been trained and deployed to address mental health needs of affected families. Funds have been allocated to rehabilitate 97 damaged health institutions.

Over 90% school children of tsunami affected families returned to schools despite physical destruction of buildings. Students of totally destroyed schools were admitted to nearby schools. A child friendly approach for rehabilitation and construction was adopted.

However, funds have been allocated to rehabilitate 180 damaged schools. These projects are scheduled to be completed in 2007.

The report claims that although attendance in tsunami affected schools now stands at around 95%, evidence shows that some children are dropping out of schools during the day in order to work. Some families are reluctant to send their children to damaged or temporary school environments. Other families have moved out of the areas. Teacher attendance is also an issue with some areas reporting attendance at less than 75 percent.

Tsunami rehabilitation work was carried out after major infrastructure developers Road Development Authority, Railway, Electricity Board, Water Supply, Telecom restored services of already debilitated coastal infrastructure due to neglected maintenance for years.

However, the new management of RADA has a daunting task of implementing rehabilitation and reconstruction projects together with NGOs sorting out administrative and other issues to speed up the completion of projects as early as possible. Local politicians should keep away from interfering with rehabilitation programs and RADA should take stern action against officials at Divisional Secretaries who obstruct the rehabilitation work.

Otherwise people will have to live many more years in transitional centres due to political interference and official lethargy damning all of us.

Some of the major human, economic and social impact of the Tsunami


Number of poeple killed 35,322

Number of people injured 21,441

Number of Internally Displaced (IDPs) 516,150

Economic Value of lost assets US $900 million

Number of lost livelihoods 150,000

Number of houses damaged 98,000

Proportion of fishing fleet destroyed 75%

Extent of salinated agricultural land 23,449 acres

Damage to tourism infrastructure

- Large Hotels out of 242

- Small Hotels 248

- Related small enterprises 210

Social Widowed, orphaned and affected

elderly and disabled 40,000

Health facilities damaged by the tsunami 9

Education facilities damaged

- Schools 182

- Universities 4

- Vocational Traning Centre 1

Schools used as camps for IDPs 446

School children affected 200,000

Source: TAFREN, Central Bank, MoF - National Planning Department, Sectoral Reports, Department of Census and Statistics.


Red Cross and Red Crescent Housing program gather pace
by Patrick Fuller, IFRC

It's been a long wait, but Samsudeen Mihilar and his wife Aisha are among the lucky ones in their small coastal community of Jalaldeen Square in Pottuvil. They have spent their last night in the wooden hut that has served as their home for the past months and now they are moving their belongings into their new home, which has been built by the French Red Cross.

Since he lost his home and the youngest daughter to the tsunami, it has been an uphill struggle for Samsudeen. His last memory of the tsunami was of a wall of water coming towards him as he prepared to launch his fishing boat from the beach.

Unable to escape the wave, he was swept inland and lost consciousness. He woke up in hospital and nine months on, he has yet to make a full recovery. "I cannot work on the fishing boats anymore, as I still have chest problems caused by the water that was trapped in my lungs," he explains.

The French Red Cross Society is building houses for some other members of the village on privately owned land that falls outside of the coastal buffer zone. The foundations of Samsudeen's old home are still visible next to his new two roomed bungalow. "We are very relieved to finally have a permanent home again," says Aisha. "Now we have a safe place for our children."

More than 150 houses have so far been built by the French, Belgium and Maltese Red Cross Societies. As a whole, the Red Cross and Rec Crescent Movement has made a pledge to build upto 15,000 houses.

The Government of Sri Lanka has allocated 57 sites to the Movement for construction in ten tsunami affected districts in the north, east and south of the country. Construction work has commenced on 45 of these sites on which 5,671 new homes will be built for families who lost their homes inside the buffer zone.


is assisting 5,000 fishing families in Jaffna, Kilinochchi, Mullaitivu, Trincomalee and Batticaloa by replacing fishing nets lost in the tsunami.

is reinforcing existing livelihoods or establishing income-generating activities in the most vulnerable conflict- afflicted inland communities that have suffered economically due to the tsunami.

has initiated some 20 community based interventions in the districts of Jaffna, Kilinochchi, Mullaitivu and Trincomalee. All projects have been designed according to the specific needs of the communities and are aimed at assisting the community as a whole.

is supplying 9000 families (3,000 each in Jaffna, Trincomalee and the Vanni) with a new set of essential household items as economic support, to improve living conditions.

is planning in 2006 to improve the overall economic security of 30 vulnerable inland communities affected by the armed conflict, totalling around 12,000 individuals in the districts of Mullaitivu, Kilinochchi and Trincomalee.

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