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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. 

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Lakhs of tsunami victims still at sea

Daily Mirror: 28/01/2006" By Gihan de Chickera

Only 20% of houses completed as INGOs pull out and block funds

More than one year after the tsunami, just over 20% of the houses destroyed in the catastrophe have been completed – and with several NGOs unilaterally terminating their agreements to rebuild houses, tens of thousands of tsunami victims continue to languish in transitional shelters and tents, an official committee reported yesterday.

It said of the 98,000 houses destroyed in the tsunami only 20,000 had been completed up to now.

The Reconstruction and Development Agency appointed recently by President Mahinda Rajapakse said in a report that the NGO question had added to the woes of the government’s tsunami rebuilding efforts.

“The buffer zone has been a critical issue in the recovery process” the RADA report said.

It said of the targeted 60,000 transitional shelters 54,000 had been completed and almost 2000 are nearing completion.

RADA was formed by the President to replace the TAFREN, headed by Mano Tittawella who last year pledged to complete the construction of 90 percent of tsunami houses by last December. Mr. Tittawella was replaced by Thiran Alles - the present chairman of RADA.

The latest crisis is the case of several INGOs which signed MoUs with the government to build houses going back on their pledges and leaving the country. The situation has resulted in tsunami victims facing an uncertain future and continuing to languish in transitional shelters.

The government appears unable to tackle the current situation and has no legal hold of the funds due to the monies pledged being channelled directly from donors to the NGOs.

“All we can do at the moment is stress to the INGOs the moral obligation they have by the victims to build the houses”, a government spokesman said. Over 270 NGOs and INGOs had signed agreements with the government to build houses for tsunami victims.

Minister of Housing Construction Mrs Ferial Ashraff however said the money pledged to rebuild the houses must be viewed as State funds. “All monies pledged by NGOs are monies belonging to the Sri Lanka State. If this situation continues we have to bring it to the notice of the world community”, she said speaking to the Daily Mirror. The Minister added that not all NGOs were guilty of the offence and said she was grateful to the ones that were engaged in productive work.

The NGO scandal surfaced in Parliament as well with Minister of Urban Development Dinesh Gunewardane recently saying that he had facts to prove that some INGOs had left the country with monies pledged for the construction of over 16,000 houses.

A 20 member Parliamentary select committee to study the activities of NGOs headed by JVP MP Nandana Gunatillake was also recently appointed. However Mr Gunatillake was unavailable for comment despite repeated attempts to reach him.

Housing reconstruction policy is being carried out in two fronts. One is the donor built reconstruction programme where all affected families are given a house by a donor agency. The other is the home owner driven programme where the government and INGOs provide a cash grant of Rs 100,000 for partly damaged houses and Rs 250,000 for fully damaged houses.

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