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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, January 14, 2006

NAC unveils ten year plan for agro business development

Daily Mirror: 07/01/2006" By Dholani Mawalage

The National Agribusiness Council (NAC) on Wednesday unveiled a ten year strategy plan detailing collaborateive measures for both the government and private sector to increase their contribution to the agri-business sector.

This included proposals for the government to set up a National agri business branding committee and a fund to promote Sri Lankan agriculture in the regional and global market.

“Encourage cleaner and safer production is specially important for export oriented agro products .This is an essential precursor to branding Sri Lankan agro produce for global high-end niche markets” NAC Chairman Mario de Alwis said unveiling a ten year strategic plan for NAC.

Increasing the reach of the national agribusiness network, to include 16 key districts which are not currently included is also seen as an urgent priority.

“Despite the large revenue brought in by the agri-economy almost 16 districts need a proper agriculture network in place. This will help to increase the agri products and farmers could be more export oriented,” he added.

The new 10 year strategic plan aims to create a competitive and self sustained agribusiness community by year 2015 and includes suggestions on to agricultural infrastructure development and suggestions to improve the national policy for food security in the country.

Highlighting the urgent need for infrastructure development, specially in the transportation sector Mr. Alwis said that “today post harvest losses exceed 40%, mainly due to lack of packaging technology and transportation mishaps.” He suggested that transportation via the railway system was a cost effective alternative that should be explored in measures to reduce post harvest losses.

In the plan also focuses on means to develop local markets for home grown and processed products. According to Mr. Alwis this would help local producers to get a premium for their produce.

Mr. Alwis also highlighted that NAC will soon launch a web site to provide real-time information on all current market prices and demand information related to agri business.

He also emphasised the importance of government accepting the private sector as a development partner.

The plan also proposes the following short term measures to reduce the key problems plaguing the agriculture sector. The income tax exemption should be conducive for small medium Estate sector as well. It suggests that recognised CSR projects in focused sectors should be fully tax deductible. Also the regional development projects to be partnered and managed by private sector on a pilot basis.

Mr. Alwis also said that there is a high demand for organic agri products specially from European countries and also Japan. He address the importance of motivating farmers to use less artificial chemicals and imported fertilizer. He said that encouraging the farmers on organic farming will pave way to make farmers independent and also government can use the funds spent on providing subsidies for imported fertilizer to enhance farming communities for better living standards.

The National Agribusiness Council was formed in year 2000. It consist of 23 organizations and the total indirect membership is 2300 with corporate entities, partnerships, and individuals etc. It has reached up to 300,000 persons,in numbers.

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Friday, January 13, 2006

Tsunami rebuilding efforts, one year later

ReliefWeb: 22/12/2005"

What is the status of the tsunami reconstruction effort?

On December 26, 2004, a 9.0 magnitude earthquake on the Indian Ocean's floor touched off a series of devastating tidal waves through the Bay of Bengal and as far as East Africa. Walls of water, some up to sixty-five feet high, swept across the coastlines of Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and India, leaving more than 225,000 people dead and an additional 1.8 million homeless. The disaster touched off one of the largest humanitarian aid efforts in world history the world has ever seen: Aid organizations from around the world rushed to provide food, shelter, and medical care to the millions of survivors. In the year that followed, "Real steps forward have been made," writes Geoffrey Dennis, chief executive of CARE International in a December 2005 report. But there is still much to be done. Experts say it could be more than five years until reconstruction is complete.

Which areas are making good progress?

The tsunami sparked what experts call a remarkable outpouring of generosity in charitable donations from around the world. Relief agencies reported record levels of donations topping $13 billion, and in the case of Oxfam, more than 90 percent of the funds came from private contributions. The outpouring of aid quickly met basic needs for food, water, and medical care in the worst hit-nations -- Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and Thailand -- and prevented a much-predicted "second tsunami" of disease and malnutrition. Once the immediate need for relief had been met, aid groups shifted their focus to the process of longer-term reconstruction, says Mike Rewald, senior adviser for rights-based programming at CARE International. Recovery workers began meeting with community leaders to map out the rebuilding process.

Cash-for-work programs contributed to the reconstruction effort while providing jobs and prompting social development: Many women participating in such programs are receiving the same wages as men for the first time. Providing jobs like building houses and weaving rope used in fishing nets has given income to workers who expected to miss a year of work due to the seawater that rendered their farmland temporarily useless. Many of the communities ravaged by the tsunami relied on the fishing industry. As the waters receded, most fishermen discovered their equipment had been destroyed. International aid groups have provided thousands of fishermen with the means -- primarily boats, nets, traps -- to return to their livelihood.

Among the first areas to be rebuilt were resorts. The BBC reports many Thai resorts have already been completely rebuilt and are welcoming a steady stream of visitors. This speedy construction has created its own problems; local Thai villagers accuse developers of expanding their beachfront holdings illegally. More than two-thirds of the forty seven Thai villages destroyed by the tsunami are currently embroiled in land-title disputes.

Which areas have made poor progress?

"The most glaring challenge is in the housing sector," says David Fabrycky, a graduate researcher at George Washington University. A recent Oxfam report suggests roughly 80 percent of the people left homeless by the tsunami are still without permanent housing. The task of providing such shelter housing is roughly equivalent to re-housing the entire city of Philadelphia. Part of the reason for the slow progress is the focus on long-term development. Dietrich Stotz, senior advisor for the German development group GTZ, told the Wall Street Journal, "The houses should be better than before. If you do that, it has to take time." Other obstacles to the rebuilding effort include disputed land titles, impassible roads, and shortages of materials and skilled labor.

Identification of victims is another process that has gone slowly. One year later, nearly 50,000 people are still considered missing. In Thailand, where 2,800 remain missing, the national tsunami victim identification center has identified the bodies of some 3,000 people, but an additional 800 remain unidentified. This is particularly troublesome for a culture that believes a lifecycle is incomplete unless the body is recovered, prayed for, and cremated.

What is the status of the early warning system?

One year ago, when the tsunami struck, no early warning system for such natural disasters existed. The use of such a system might have saved thousands of lives. Efforts are now underway to create a two-part warning system for the Indian Ocean. The first component consists of advanced ocean-monitoring technologies -- seismographs, sea-level gauges, and deep-sea ocean pressure sensors -- that would alert early-warning centers of a coming tsunami. The second involves community response drills that take a signal from the warning centers and translate it into evacuations. In addition to tsunamis, the system will give advance warning of such coastal hazards as cyclones, sea swells, floods, and earthquakes. The United Nations is working with the Indian Ocean nations to create this system, which is slated for completion by July 2006. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is also assisting with this effort, contributing funding, American expertise, and technical support. Tim Beans, a USAID administrator, said in an August press release the warning system is "one of our top priorities in Asia, and an important part of the U.S. post-tsunami reconstruction effort."

What else has the United States done to assist in the recovery?

The U.S. government pledged $857 million in relief, more than any other nation. In addition, U.S. private and corporate donations totaled an unprecedented $1.48 billion. Former presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton spearheaded the national fundraising effort, and Clinton has gone on to become the UN special envoy for tsunami recovery.

USAID is the primary U.S. institution participating in the recovery effort. In addition to its contributions to the early warning system, the agency continues to distribute aid alongside many private agencies -- through cash-for-work programs, micro-loans, business advice, and job skills training. USAID is also working to rebuild critical infrastructure, such as water systems and roadways.

Has U.S. assistance in the recovery effort changed perceptions of the United States in Southeast Asia?

U.S. aid has fostered very positive sentiments toward the United States in tsunami-affected areas, reports show. One survey found as many as 65 percent of Indonesians now hold a more favorable view of the United States. The United States is "doing good work and getting credit for it, while boosting the image of America in the world," says Karl Inderfurth, a George Washington University professor and former assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs. "To project the humanitarian face of American foreign policy has been very useful."

What has the political fallout of the tsunami been on the local level?

Indonesia's Aceh province was one the areas hardest hit by the tsunami. Nearly 130,000 people died in Aceh and more than 30,000 remain missing. For nearly thirty years before the tsunami, Aceh had been embroiled in a bloody conflict between separatists and the government. When the waves hit, fighting ceased as the parties became focused on the more immediate struggle for survival. An August 15, 2005 peace agreement called for separatists to surrender their weapons and the government to withdraw its troops. This process was completed December 20.

Sri Lanka's civil war has claimed 60,000 lives over three decades, though a 2002 ceasefire brought an uneasy peace. When the tsunami struck, 35,000 people were killed in a matter of minutes. Almost immediately, the government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) -- the chief rebel faction -- rushed to the aid of the survivors. "There was hope this summer for a tsunami boost to the peace process," Fabrycky says, "as the two sides reached an agreement for a joint mechanism for distribution of external aid." There were even reports of soldiers from each side spontaneously working together on relief projects. Prospects of a lasting peace seemed good until November 17, when Sri Lankans elected Mahinda Rajapakse as their new president. President Rajapakse's insistence on renegotiating the truce further weakened the shaky peace. LTTE forces fired on a government helicopter December 17, violating the ceasefire and casting further doubt on the nation's future.

"The tsunami also showcased the rise of India in the region. While dealing with the effects of the tsunami on four of its own states, it also extended relief to other countries and used its military to assist in regional relief operations," says Fabrycky. India further demonstrated its humanitarian leanings when it delivered aid to the United States in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

What has the international political fallout been?

Though the recovery effort is far from complete, experts say the recovery effort has been remarkable. According to Inderfurth, "[The tsunami] has become the poster child for how the international community should respond." Aid agencies have proven adept at transitioning from relief to long-term recovery, and have adopted a development-minded approach whereby they "build back better." Inderfurth says the two most important factors in the response have been the outpouring of generosity and a sustained political will to see the recovery through.

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Thursday, January 12, 2006

Rebuilding Sri Lanka

ANN: 31/12/2005" By By Chin Mui Yoon

The spectacular sunset, against which Sri Lanka’s famous stilt fishermen are silhouetted, closes yet another beautiful day on this tropical island.

But once the fishermen get off their poles, their downcast faces tell of another story.

“We have to depend on visitors giving us money now, about Rs300 (US$2.94) to pose for photographs,” said R. Ajithwera, 39.

“We are not models but simple fishermen. Before the tsunami, we used to earn up to Rs300 a day catching up to 200 sardines, butterfish and coral fish from our stilts in three hours. Out at sea, our boats hauled in bigger fish like barracudas.”

The harvest has dwindled over the past decade, he said, and the tsunami has changed the tides in a way they couldn’t understand. Now, Ajithwera is supporting his family of three young children by making curry paste to sell to restaurants in Galle for Rs120 (US$1.18) per kg.

While dolphins are again frolicking in the golden waters of Arugam Bay in the east coast and boat charters are back to sea, tourist-related businesses are still picking up the pieces of the tourism pie shattered by the tsunami.

The country of 20 million has traditionally welcomed nearly half a million travellers each year.

As an inexpensive backpackers’ paradise with a laidback charm, Arugam Bay, a tiny fishing village near Pottuvil town was similar to our Port Dickson as a beachside escapade. It was famous as a surfing hotspot, drawing thousands of European surfers between April and November.

But the usual tourist traffic has been reduced to dusty lanes with lorries trundling by loaded with construction materials. The killer waves on Dec 26, 2004 had rendered over 3,000 people homeless.

The most famous hotel here is undoubtedly the Tsunami Beach Hotel, although the beachfront property was not spared the damage the waves wreaked across 20 resorts on the bay.

“Arugum Bay has always been a global travellers’ village,” said the hotel’s cook P. Joseph.

“We are rapidly rebuilding and we expect to receive tourists again in the new year. Last time, many locals asked what tsunami meant. Now everybody knows the word,” he added.

The nearby Tri Star Beach Hotel had Arugam Bay’s first swimming pool when it opened 25 years ago. General manager Elanka Mahadeva said backpackers would camp out on the roads during the peak surfing season when all hotels were packed. Business has dropped 80% since January and only NGOs occupied the rooms.

“We have long been an attractive alternative for travellers tired of crowded beaches at Hikkaduwa or Unawatuna,” said Elanka.

“Our beach has been voted among the world’s top 10. We’re confident tourists will return to Sri Lanka. But the tourism ministry must also promote this side of Sri Lanka, not just the south and west coasts. We have high hopes that 2006 will restore tourism.”

While exploring the wasteland of a once vibrant and picturesque Muslim fishing village of Sainthamaruthu in the badly hit Ampara District, I came across an unexpected aroma of curries and masala chicken wafting from amidst the rubble.

Mohd Yusof Jaufar’s Sea Breeze Restaurant with its breezy rooftop dining space is clearly the only building with life in it.

Sainthamaruthu, with over 3,500 dead, is a wrecked maze of broken concrete with only doorways left standing. However, several fishing boats have begun returning to sea.

Despite the destruction surrounding the restaurant, Jaufar’s famous briyani rice and other food are still packing in the crowds.

“An NGO helped me repair the roof but I lost half a million rupees worth of equipment,” said Jaufar, 37, who opened the restaurant three years ago. “We couldn’t close the restaurant, as NGOs kept knocking on our doors seeking food.”

With its aqua waves framed by beaches of slender coconut trees, Sri Lanka’s southern coastlines are made for postcards and beach breaks. But the area wasn’t spared extensive damage either.

Aruna Weerasekara, owner of South Beach Resort at Ahangama that has a vantage view of the bay, sadly spoke of his Rs6mil (US$58,763) loan to rebuild his wrecked hotel.

“The tsunami has stolen my life’s work,” he said. “I’ve laboured as a cook since 1980, worked seven years in Bahrain and later onboard the Cunard ship stationed at the Gulf War until I saved enough to open my own business in 2004.

“My hotel was fully completed on Dec 20. I hadn’t even celebrated when the tsunami came and I was hospitalised for three weeks. I am grateful the banks supported me. But now I will have to be in debt for the next seven years.”

Penang-born investment banker Christopher Ong who owns the beautifully restored Galle Fort Hotel inside the Unesco World Heritage 17th century Dutch Fort, said they were thankfully spared any damage.

“The walls of this ancient fort protected every building inside,” he said. “But our staff members’ families were affected. We had to give them money to buy coffins, and one staff member needed six.”

The Hilton Group Plc, which owns a top-rated business hotel in Colombo, has contributed some US$420,000 towards reconstruction efforts.

Other international hoteliers are expecting tourism to pick up again. The massive project of The Fortress hotel along the pristine Koggala beach is still on track despite a six months delay.

“We have great expectations what next year will bring,” said the hotel’s general manager Scot Toon.

“Sri Lanka remains a lure due to its charming combination of beautiful beaches, friendly people, a preserved culture and colonial architecture.”

The hotel’s business development group director Asma Rasheed said that tourism has always been a major income-generator in Sri Lanka, contributing over 10% of the country’s GDP.

Said Asma: “Sri Lanka as a destination offers a very diverse leisure product, with places of tourist importance like the hill country of Kandy, the cultural centres like Anuradhapura and finally the popular beaches.

”We expect to see substantial growth for 2006. Increased flight- carrying capacities of various airlines, in both European and Asian sectors, also support tourism growth,” Asma said.

The chic Amangalla had hosted British humanitarian relief teams in January and helped start Project Galle 2005 that fed 30, 000 people in the months following the disaster.

“The historical buildings on our doorstep date from the 16th century, and chart the rise and fall of the colonial powers of the island,” explained its general manager Olivia Richli.

“Galle is very historic and there are great shops, galleries and restaurants within the Fort, and spectacular walks along the ramparts. Within striking distance of the Fort, we have wonderful beaches, temples, tea plantations and rainforests.

“There is no reason for travellers not to return and we hope the New Year will restore more homes and opportunities for the people here.”

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Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Hope in the emerald isle

Front Line: by V.S. SAMBANDAN Housing projects as part of the rehabilitation efforts are well under way in Sri Lanka, but the shortage of skilled labour could prove to be a stumbling block in taking them to completion fast.

THE past year has been one of mixed emotions for the tsunami survivors in Sri Lanka. The initial trauma and shock gave way to hope of a proper rehabilitation, which receded with each bout of political bickering and ended in dejection. However, at the end of the year, it is that unique Sri Lankan attribute to get on with life rather than wallow in distress that has stood out and made all the difference.

According to official estimates, 35,322 people died, 21,441 were injured, 1,500 children were orphaned and nearly a million persons were displaced when giant tidal waves struck two-thirds of the island's coastline. Fifty-two district secretariat divisions (equivalents of taluks in India) in 13 districts across the country's northern, eastern, southern and south-western coasts were affected.

However, different government agencies have put out different figures on the exact number of the dead. While the Task Force for Rebuilding the Nation (TAFREN) puts the number of dead at 35,322, the police estimate is 20,936, of whom 10,152 were buried in mass graves and 421 were missing. Adding another twist to the tangled figures is a recent report by the Registrar General, which states that just over 17,000 tsunami-related death certificates were issued.

It has also been a year of remarkable positives. Among them is the fact that the handling of the post-tsunami operations helped avoid additional deaths from pestilence. Part of the credit for this should go to the non-governmental organisations (NGOs), whose number has grown several-fold, and the inherent advantage of the island-nation's positive social indicators, which have created a broad platform from which the rebuilding effort can take off.

The Office of the Coordinator for Humanitarian Relief (OCHA), led by the former United States President, Bill Clinton, noted that "thanks to a quick combined response by the government, local authorities, local NGOs, private sector and the international community, the country recorded no additional deaths because of tsunami-related diseases or lack of delayed medical treatment".

While relief distribution, despite lacunae, has thrown up no major issues, the real challenge lies in the housing sector. Construction is set to grow at a high rate in the coming years, provided the nation overcomes problems relating to labour and raw materials. "The cost of labour has risen sharply," said Piyal Ekanayake, a contractor from central Sri Lanka, working in the south-western coast. "Before the tsunami, I had to pay Rs.250 a day for a semi-skilled worker. Now it is difficult to get anyone for Rs.350 plus food," he says, overseeing the finishing touches to a housing project.

Promoters of housing units in the east have a more difficult time, confronted with a "massive shortage" of skilled labour, particularly masons. "I cannot get skilled labour, particularly masons, even if I pay more than Rs.800 a day. The best are going at Rs.1,000," said Jude Manoharan Joseph, director of a housing reconstruction project in Batticaloa district. Nearly 98,000 houses were damaged in the tsunami. The implementation of transitional housing projects is under way, as is the construction of the first permanent housing units. Of the targeted 60,000 transitional shelters, 54,102 have been completed and 1,948 are nearing completion. This would allow people to move out of the tents they are living in, the OCHA said.

"Now there is some hope," Saman Wickreme de Silva, a beneficiary of a housing scheme in southern Sri Lanka, told Frontline in early December. His hamlet near Peraliya, where a train full of passengers was washed away, had reason to celebrate a year after the tsunami. The new government is what brings De Silva hope, for the housing scheme is promoted by the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), a partner in the ruling alliance. He and his neighbours believe that the new government will set right the "lack of planning and absence of political coordination".

Gowthaman Balachandran, country representative, OXFAM-Australia, one of several international NGOs that have taken up reconstruction projects, foresees severe material shortages in the coming year. While there appear to be no problems in the availability of cement, shortages are imminent in roofing material, timber and sand. "These will come to a head next year," he said.

Balachandran does not subscribe to the view that not much has been done in the reconstruction phase. "Housing is a long-term investment," he said and added that Sri Lanka had managed it better than other tsunami-hit countries.

Joseph says that importing skilled labour is a way out, but political sensitivities are a concern. "In the short term, political sentiments may say that local jobs are lost. However, the inflow of tsunami funds and their full utilisation will prove that there are benefits to be gained by the multiplier effect in terms of additional jobs created, higher standards of living and opening up of new employment opportunities. By blocking off this one element, the entire tsunami aid absorption capacity is stunted." Officials in TAFREN say the Labour Ministry and the International Labour Organisation (ILO) have addressed the problem of shortage of skilled labour by conducting a training programme.

For the victims, however, these are the government's problems. "There have been shortcomings in the past, the new government will have to overcome them," JVP leader Somawanse Amarasinghe told Frontline.

Sayani Kusumalatha, who lost her father and an eight-year-old son, has moved into her new house with her husband and two surviving children. Her face radiates happiness and her main priority now is to re-create the family's lost home.

In the east, it is a case of double victimisation. "We are caught between several cross-fires," a Tamil resident at a relief camp in the eastern Amparai district said requesting anonymity. He was referring to the conflict within the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and its impact on their battle for survival.

On a visit to the camp on a rainy day in early December, this correspondent found the people huddled under a makeshift roof. Their main problem is simple but tragic. They do not know how much more the tension between the LTTE and the group led by its former military commander, V. Muralitharan (`Col.' Karuna), would disrupt their lives.

However, according to people working in the eastern districts, the issue of reconstruction appears to have been kept out of the internecine fighting. According to an informed source, the two groups "have left us alone" but they are keen that "quality is maintained" and have a monitoring system in place.

While the homeless aspire for dwelling units, the plight of those who have lost their livelihoods is even more telling. According to official statistics, over 1.5 lakh people lost their livelihoods, spread across sectors such as tourism, fishing and agriculture. The fisheries sector accounted for more than 50 per cent of this number. Available figures indicate that about 70 per cent have regained their main source of income.

Shanta Samaraweera, a fisherman in southern Sri Lanka, stands outside a wooden shack where his brick-and-mortar house once stood. The shack was donated by the local "temple authorities". He is back on the seas "thanks to a boat given by an American NGO". What then about the role of the government? "They give us food rations, but it has to be edible. At such a cost, what a waste of money!" he says. But he wants to move on in life and, like most of his fellow-countrymen, hopes to make good his losses one day.

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Her passion: Sri Lankan relief

TNO: 01/01/2006" BY Anne Blythe, Staff Writer

Betty Webb was on vacation in Sri Lanka a year ago when a tsunami rose in the Indian Ocean and washed away large pieces of the island nation and tens of thousands of its people.
Webb, the director of Meredith College's study abroad program, was at a hotel in Colombo when the wall of water crashed into seaside villages and tourist beaches. With her husband, John Rose, at her side, she watched in horror from a finger of high land in the capital city as the sea filled with furniture and other detritus swept to the southwest side of the island. But it was too soon to fathom the magnitude of the destruction.

"I remember seeing a teddy bear floating by," Webb says a year later. "I was so na•ve at the time about what had happened that I remember thinking: 'Wouldn't it be neat to rescue a teddy bear for a child?' "

Soon, details of the devastation settled in: 35,000 Sri Lankan lives lost, thousands of children left homeless, livelihoods sucked out to sea.

Webb is an empathetic woman with a tender heart and a steely spine. She immediately began planning to help. She left Sri Lanka determined to drum up support for a people that had charmed and welcomed her even in the dark hours after the waves hit.
This past week, Webb was in Sri Lanka again, her third visit since the tsunami. With Meredith College students along for the eye-opening experience, she talked with Sri Lankans about the best ways for North Carolinians to help.

"Dr. Webb says we can have an idea about what people need," says Rebekah Meek, a 2005 graduate who went on an earlier relief trip. "But we really couldn't know unless we go out on the ground and find out what really is needed. That helped us establish our relief projects."

Rallying, reaching out

Those who know Webb say she is very difficult to say "no" to.

The 60-year-old English professor can be a pixie around children. She sparkles with humor. But when the situation calls for stern and solemn words, she issues them with no apologies.

With that kind of resolute nudging, Webb is encouraging Meredith to raise $55,000 for tsunami victims. She knows how to rally students to her cause and reach out to community organizations in Raleigh. She chronicles her journeys in blogs and newspapers. Through her writing, she hopes to arouse support long after the immediacy of the devastation wears off.

"Meredith is such a generous institution," Webb says.

The college is sponsoring 16 boys in an orphanage and paying for English lessons and Internet access.

The fund raising is helping rebuild a school that was destroyed. The money buys sewing machines for women in several villages, contributes to a fishing village project, and buys boats, three-wheel all-terrain vehicles and other equipment to revive an industry.

"When people say you're so wonderful to do this, I always say, 'Well you would do it, too, if you had been there and seen what we did,' " Webb says. "My husband and I, we are sort of at an age when we don't expect something new to happen in our lives. But we feel oddly sort of fortunate that we were there when this happened. This is a major natural disaster of our lifetime, and we have to help."

Webb is an inspiration to many Meredith students, her charges and colleagues say.

"Betty is such a wonderful combination of being a very articulate, charming and elegant person," says fellow English professor Eloise Grathwohl. "The thing Betty does so well is to take these young women -- many of them shy and not sure what they want to do with their lives -- and she takes them out into the world and they come back changed, knowing what they want to do. It's wonderful to see."

Laura Williams, a 2004 Meredith graduate, went on her first study trip abroad with Webb three years ago.

"I just fell in love with her, she's just an amazing woman," Williams says. "She gets excited seeing people who have never been out of the country get excited about being out of the country. There's a whole other world out there, and I don't think I would have done as much if she had not shown me that."

Dream of global travel

Webb grew up in Statesville after spending her first four years in Charlotte. It was probably in the foothills of the North Carolina mountains, she says, where her interest in global travel was sparked.

"We were a family that always took National Geographic," she says. "My father was one of those businessmen who was always talking about the trips he would take when he retired, but he never got to."

Webb enrolled at Meredith in 1963. She studied English and history and never dreamed that she would spend most of the next 42 years on the campus.

She dabbled in newspapers but opted to pursue a different career after an editor told her during an internship that her need to fix things made her more suitable for social work.

Webb taught high school English and continued her own studies.

After getting a master's degree from N.C. State University and a doctorate from UNC-Chapel Hill, she landed back in Raleigh in the Meredith English department.

Webb's first trip abroad was nearly 30 years ago when she went with a Meredith College program to Great Britain. That was when she met Rose, her husband. But they were both married to other people at the time.

Their lives took twists and turns, and they got married 15 years ago. With a flat in Rose's native England, a home in Raleigh and a cabin in the mountains, they divide their time between two continents.

In Bath, England, where the couple spend most of their winter breaks, Webb enjoys catching up with her four step-grandchildren. In Raleigh, she teaches Irish literature and courses on educational methods. As the study-abroad director, she travels most summers.

She likes to take students off the beaten tourist paths, a convention she picked up from her husband.

"What I most want them to understand is what's distinct in and about a culture," Webb says. "My husband always says his preferred museum is the museum of life. He will tolerate a museum of art, but he really wants to be out with the people."

Out among the people of Sri Lanka, Webb and Rose befriended residents who tugged at their hearts. Webb still speaks of a boy in Galle who invited them to a two-room house filled with 30 people for sweet, milky tea and warm conversation in broken English.

She speaks of fishermen and relief workers. She vividly recalls the faces of children who she hopes have long lives ahead of them. She encourages people to help the hurricane victims in the United States and the Pakistanis whose lives were disrupted by earthquakes this fall.

But she is dedicated to the Sri Lankans.

"We cannot lose this whole generation of Southeast Asians," Webb says. "We have to demonstrate in tangible ways that we are committed to them."

Staff writer Anne Blythe can be reached at 932-8741 or ablythe@newsobserver.com.

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Tuesday, January 10, 2006

One year after the tsunami : UNDP's recovery effort in Southern Province

Sunder Observer: 01/01/2006 by Ranga Chandrarathne

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.

Actively involved

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.

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Monday, January 09, 2006

Realities of buffer zones

SAMN: 01/01/2006"

A full year after declaring inflexible buffer zones along much of the country’s coast, the government has released new reduced setback measurements—after learning the hard way that there just isn’t enough land to relocate thousands of people. The state is now appealing for donor funding to assist a large number of families who may move to their original plots following buffer zone realignment. These families have been living in temporary housing till new homes are constructed by donors on land allocated by the government. They are now likely to enlist in the government’s owner-driven housing programme, thereby seeking grants to rebuild their homes themselves on their own lands.

According to the housing division of the new Reconstruction and Development Agency (RADA), an estimated 11,000 families are eligible to return to areas that were earlier covered by the buffer zone. However, few donors have come forward for co-financing arrangements (under which the government provides part payment for rebuilding and the donor provides the rest).

"Due to the new setback standards in the buffer zone, a considerable number of families are moving to their homes and we have found that beneficiaries require more assistance in re-building their own homes," said a statement posted on the RADA web site. "It was highlighted`85 that co-financing arrangements have not materialized as promised by NGO/INGOs."

Although the decision to slash the 100-200 metre buffer zones was first announced in October, the government did not provide detailed information to the public about how the new regulations would be applied. Last week, the Coast Conservation Department (CCD) sent out a comprehensive advisory to district secretaries and other officials detailing how far the buffer zone would extend in their respective areas.

The setbacks will vary from segment to segment along the western, southern, eastern and northern coasts. For instance, it will be 125 metres from Koholankala in Tissamaharama to Parawamodaragala (Yala National Park) in Hambantota, and the same from Kallady to Bar Light House in Batticaloa. But from Pinwatta Railway Sation to Tangerine Hotel, Kalutara, the buffer will be just 35 metres. From Uswetakeiyawa in Negombo to Mt Lavinia Hotel in Colombo, the buffer will extend 55 metres.

Similarly, the CCD advisory outlines the reservation measurements for seventy areas. They range from 35 metres to 125 metres. Nowhere in the list does the 200 metre buffer zone apply.

Director of the Coast Conservation Department, R A D B Samaranayake, explained that the new setbacks—or reservation areas—were stipulated as specified in the coastal zone management plan of 1997. Asked how these had been decided, he said that various geo-morphological characteristics had been taken into consideration. For instance, areas with a high rate of coastal erosion had a wider buffer zone. If the coastal eco-system of a particular location included coral reefs that could act as barriers, the setback in those areas was narrower. The same applied to areas of high ground.

Ramesh Selliah, director of housing at RADA, said they would hold a conference this week with donors and non governmental organisations to educate them about the revised buffer zones and their application.

"The focus has shifted," he emphasised. "We would now request donors to assist people on co-financing grounds. Several organisations are involved but the turnout has been very low."

Last week, the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (Federation) committed $US 25 million towards the co-financing effort. "By supporting the owner-driven housing programme, we can provide support to affected families quickly and effectively through a tried and tested mechanism using the country’s banking system," said Tony Maryon, head of delegation with the Federation in Sri Lanka.

Selliah pointed out that, with the change in the buffer zone policy, NGOs and INGOs will not be constructing as many complete housing units as they had pledged under the government’s donor-driven housing programme. All these houses will no longer be required as people are likely to return to their original lands and rebuild damaged or destroyed homes. What the government now needs is funding for housing grants.

"Why not redirect the finances?" Selliah rationalised. "It’s a wonderful opportunity for donors. They will only have to pay 250,000 rupees per house under the co-financing arrangement. This is less than what they had initially pledged. It makes all the more sense for them to get involved."

Selliah said the government is yet to finish individual assessments to determine how many families would be returning to the earlier buffer zones. The figure of 11,000 currently available is only a number based on certain data tabulated by the Census and Statistics Department.

"We can’t say how many out of the estimated 11,000 families would actually want to go back," he noted. "But the general consensus is that quite a large percentage does want to return to where they were earlier living and to reconstruct their homes. We have had numerous inquiries from the people saying they want to go back."

Despite the realignment of the zones, those who do not wish to return to their coastal abodes may opt to relocate on government land. These families will remain in the donor-driven programme. (Around 43,000 families were listed to receive complete housing units from donors). Those families who lived along the beach but did not hold deeds to the land will not be permitted to go back but may apply for the donor programme. Tenants will get neither housing grants nor permanent housing from donors.

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Post-tsunami psychosocial bubble: will it ever burst?

Daily News: 02/01/2006" BY DR. D. CHANDRARATNA, Consultant, UNICEF/Ministry of Social Welfare

ON the 26th of December, we commemorated the first anniversary of the worst mass disaster that we have experienced in this country in our living memory. Much criticism still occurs with regard to the rehabilitation effort in the material infrastructure which was badly damaged.

Some of the pledges made by prospective donors have not materialized and some receipts have not been properly and expeditiously put to use.

At the human level the tragedy was immense and Sri Lankan tsunami victims were visited by a flock of psychosocial workers who were intent on rehabilitating them by this new found stream of psychosocial work.

As this is mostly a Third World phenomenon it is best to critically examine the origins of the multidimensional perspective in social work plus the implications and impact of its delivery in Sri Lanka mainly through the non-governmental sector.

This foray into their domain is important to the Ministry of Social Welfare which is the mandating body in Sri Lanka.

There are a number of reasons why this is urgent. The government has a responsibility to the citizens who are now exposed to the interventions by these workers and therefore it is necessary that they are delivering a service that is of acceptable quality.

The Government is also conscious of the need to be alert to the fact that it is the international donors who most often make the allegation that the millions of dollars remitted for the people of Sri Lanka have had little or no impact.

On the other hand the people themselves ask what support they have received out of these millions of dollars sent for their welfare.

Since these are services delivered solely by the non-governmental sector there is no monitoring body that either oversees the quality and nature of their work nor evaluates the impact of what they do.

Of course some of these are international non-governmental agencies and they are self regulatory in nature. There are no gatekeepers of their knowledge as such for they claim to be all things to all people which in one sense are the nature of their multidisciplinary focus.

The State is also interested in knowing what codes of conduct guide them for they belong to no professional group. Finally is the question of sustainability. These are issues that need closer scrutiny in the interest of all psychosocial workers, the stakeholders, clients and the State.

This paper will address these in a dispassionate way hoping that the psychosocial workers will get their act together in the interest of the clients they serve.

What is psychosocial work?

Is it something new? It is both yes and no. Like all workers in the social arena they will defend their turf by claiming that they do something that others are failing to do. The workers who claim to do psychosocial work come from different fields and many from the various subject areas in the humanities.

There are cultural anthropologists, lawyers, sociologists, psychologists, geographers, counselors, a few psychiatrists, and many others. Not all these are tertiary qualified and moreover there is no formal training as such in psychosocial work. In fact there is no governing body or a certifying mechanism or a course as such in psychosocial work.

Because of these lacunae they seem to describe psychosocial as an attitude or a perspective in which case it is unfair to pronounce someone as a psychosocial worker for it is patently not true. An approach is something that anyone can learn in a matter of days and it has no claims to professional status.

The author believes that this is a legitimate attempt by various social and psychological scientists to enter the social arena. They have a worthwhile claim to serving the people by becoming a team member.

The social workers on the other hand are trained to become generalists having learnt the fundamentals of most liberal arts subjects in the universities prior to embarking on social work practice on that foundation.

But psychosocial graduates have only been taught their own discipline with a smattering in the practice area. Hence they can only become a team member among others who are also working in the field.

All human services work is psychosocial work and no one can claim ownership to the total individual other than being a member of a multidisciplinary team. Social workers have been traditionally dominating the field as workers who have some special skills and the capacity to work alongside psychiatrists, medics and others.

There are international covenants calling for many professionals to recognize the interconnectedness of the work and also the importance of the social component, which is salutary. But that does not legitimate a special group of people as gatekeepers of that proviso.

However if psychosocial work is an approach that demonstrates the interconnectedness then there is no reason why a group of professionals cannot provide that systems knowledge in a professional manner so that others may find it compelling to incorporate that element in their professional training.

The medical faculties now have psychologists and social workers and psychologists do community studies and sociology. Psychosocial work is a new development in the academic world which hitherto taught human sciences in isolation and jealously guarded their turf.

In Sri Lanka sociologists who were reluctantly admitted initially to the universities then barricaded themselves by not allowing vocational professionalisms such as social work or social policy to the faculty.

When they realized that they could not enter as professionals to the social development field they surreptitiously dabbled in community development, social work, international relations, and human rights work, as elements in applied sociology.

When the universities in other countries are quick to accept the new developments in technology and science our universities tend to still cling onto traditional disciplines as sacrosanct and then the foreigners swamp the country at every opportunity.

When tsunami struck there were no social workers who were tertiary brained and the foreigners who flooded through were totally alien to the culture and society of Sri Lanka. But they came with the goodies and hence they were called the leaders in the rehabilitation effort.

An embarrassment of riches?

Sri Lanka needs workers of all sorts in the human services. We have just started the Bachelor of Social Work at the National Institute of Social Development which functions under the Ministry of Social Welfare only in December this year. It will produce about 50 qualified social workers every year. But the need is great.

In the estimates done we have about 2000 working as social workers, though not university trained. But by international standards, including India the need exceeds 40,000.

In hospitals, schools, children's homes (34000 children) certified schools, prisons, field workers to prevent abuse, domestic violence, probation, social services, housing community development, etc. Psychosocial workers work in these areas but predominantly in the conflict zones where non-Sri Lankans are in need, as well as comfortable.

The sector of psychosocial is virtually donor driven and it operates mostly outside the State mainstream services. What is necessary is for the State to know what they do and whether what they do conform to the standards set by the international covenants.

It is always possible to transmit unsavory commodities in the name of human services for we are told that some organizations which are proscribed in other countries operate here under the guise of psychosocial.

Given the numbers of workers and the thousands of dollars which are presumably donated to Sri Lanka we are curious to find out the impact of the work they do. If the claim that there are over one hundred such agencies in the North and East and a similar number in the South then we ought to be a happy, bubbling community with all our psychosocial problems been attended to.

We must be psychologically and socially a fit and proper society which is far from the truth. A cursory examination reveals that the problems are getting worse.

A need for ground investment?

There is one thing blatantly clear. However much many of these workers may not like it much of this donor funds are consumed by the workers themselves. The State is rather perturbed that there is very little of ground investment of this dollar. What we mean is that all dollars are circulating among the experts from afar and the middle class local workers.

The poor are only receiving the therapeutic sweet talk. These poor people are assessed over and over gain, interviewed by so many, promised so much but at the end of the day the material impact is nil or negligible. Although so much of research is done on them and they receive very little of the money for their crying need which is poverty.

In the social field there is no need for exploratory research because we have this information, except for nationwide compilation of existing research which none of these groups does. The psychosocial work is to relieve the poverty of spirit but underneath that lies poverty of material living. We must be able to alleviate that at least to some degree.

Generally people have good coping skills in times of grief and loss but that resilience has a lot to do with the fact that this strength depends on a material base. To go on with their life they need both a sound mind and a good economic standard.

Losing loved ones is distressful to say the least but, let's not forget, it was also a loss of livelihood. Psychosocial workers and donor agencies must put aside a part of the money to lift people up materially because therapeutic talk is insufficient.

One thing in favour of social workers and psychosocial workers is that unlike the specialists such as doctors and psychiatrists these are generalists who coordinate with others to deliver a package of services. In that regard they are performing a valuable role.

In a country without many qualified social workers these workers are necessary but only as an adjunct to material supplies. I am sad that many of these donors who are from rich countries fail to understand that psychosocial work in their respective countries is given to people who have a sufficient material base to manage the other needs and wants.

For them it is mostly poverty of spirit but to our poor people it is mostly absolute poverty. With kin supports, good cultural education, etc., they can lift themselves easily only if the former is made available. This is the fundamental truth that all social workers in a developing country ought to realize.

There lies the difference in the practice of social work between developed West and the developing countries. That is social sensitivity without which any psychosocial work becomes meaningless.

Counseling and advice about child rearing, good hygiene, holistic health, fulsome nutrition rings hollow to a person who cannot fork out two square meals for the children.

To say that putting one's children in an institution is a betrayal of the mothering responsibities is not only bad advice but also a cruel allegation to a poor mother.

The 34000 children in the children's institutions in Sri Lanka are not much because of poor parenting skills but deprivation and poverty. It is about time that all psychosocial workers, particularly those good intentioned souls who come on mercy missions need to understand.

The Government ought to demand that from every donor program a good portion is directly put into the people as a ground investment which will at least be fair in the distribution stakes.

It will also contribute to the sustainability of many of these programmes once the donor funds and the donor funded personnel are gone.

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Sunday, January 08, 2006

Maruthamunai: a tsunami-devastated village in Sri Lanka

WSWS: 29/12/2005" By A. Shanthakumar and W.A. Sunil

Last week a WSWS reporting team visited Maruthamunai, one of the villages in Sri Lanka most affected by the tsunami last December. It is situated in the Amparai district, about 260 kilometres from Colombo in the war-ravaged eastern province.

Houses in the village were previously built within 7.5 metres of the sea, but the huge tsunami waves swept nearly one kilometre inland. Now, as far as 250 metres from the shore, there are only house foundations.

The villagers were in a subdued mood. A year later, not a single permanent shelter has been built. Those who were displaced live in transitional shelters, their own partially damaged houses or with relatives.

According to statistics published by the Eastern Social Mobilisation Organisation (ESMO), a non-government organisation, there were 4,739 families or 17,393 people in this relatively large village before the disaster. Among them were fishermen, handlooms weavers, small business people, poultry and animal farmers and government employees.

The waves killed 922 people and displaced 11,086. Officially, 1,391 houses were completely destroyed and 1,359 were partially damaged. Yet, construction is still only in the initial stages on just 100 permanent new houses.

Twice during the past 12 months, in April and May, villagers organised protests, requesting proper relief and permanent houses but to no avail.

By contrast, they recalled Tamil, Muslim and Sinhala volunteers coming to help them immediately after the disaster struck. “We are still wearing the clothes provided by these sympathetic people,” several people told us.

Ayathulla Beebee, a 33-year-old widow, related her harrowing experience: “I lost my husband and two of my children. Our house was totally destroyed. Now I am a widow with two children. Our house was in the buffer zone. Because of the government’s restriction, I can’t imagine when our housing problem will be solved.

[The government initially prohibited rebuilding within a 200-metre buffer zone for the north and east and a 100-metre zone for the south. After protests, however, the restriction was abolished for the south and reduced to 65 metres in the east and north.]

“Presently we live in a small hut provided by a NGO. As you can see, we don’t have basic facilities. We all have to use common toilets. Tankers supply drinking water, but for washing and bathing we have to use water from a well that has not been cleaned since the tsunami. If we want clean water, we have to walk about 2 km.

“I have no income. Like many others, we depend on relief given by NGOs and charity organisations. My six-year-old child is going to school and the other one is only two years old. You just imagine how I can look after them without a permanent income.

“There are about 50 widows like me with children and small babies. Neither the government nor our leaders have cared for our plight. We heard many speeches from politicians over the past year about concessions and improving our conditions. But so far nothing has happened.”

Before the tsunami, there were 341 fishing families in Maruthamunai. Among them, 113 people were killed. They all lost boats and fishing nets.

I.M. Thalif explained: “We lost our boats and nets. We heard that NGOs provided some 32 boats and also nets. But we had no chance of getting them. They were donated through the fisheries department offices. We were asked to pay for these donated things—5,000 rupees or more for a boat. How could we pay such an amount of money without any income? Those boats went to businessmen.”

Out of 1,084 families previously employed in weaving, 366 lost their handlooms. According to the divisional secretariat, the losses to the village’s weaving industry amount to about 6.8 million rupees. Those dependent on weaving now face severe difficulties.

H.M.M Nazar, 48, explained that hand weavers had been given no support to restart the industry. “We are in a really hopeless situation,” he said.

Two schools in the area—Shams Central Collage and Pulvaramani Sarifudeen—were completely destroyed. Their classes are currently conducted at temporary locations. A.R. Mohammed Thawfeek, the vice principal of Shams College, explained:

“We had 1,450 students, of whom 108 lost their lives. The school buildings were totally destroyed. Presently we are conducting classes in a half constructed building, which belongs to a mosque. Also, we use a number of small huts on privately-owned land around the mosque.”

More than three-quarters of the school’s students were affected. They lost not only their homes but also at least one person in their family. With the assistance of various NGOs, they have been able to continue their education.

“Before the tsunami we had manageable facilities and resources. As the school was in the buffer zone declared after the tsunami, the education ministry asked us to locate an alternative site. A well-wisher of the village, currently in London, bought us a site.”

But the site is a paddy field and it has to be filled with earth. It will take time to construct a school with basic facilities. The government has reportedly signed an agreement with World Vision, but people do not know when the construction work will begin.

“After the tsunami, a number of Muslim leaders came but nothing much happened. It is difficult to manage 1,450 students in different places. The government has changed the buffer zone limit from time to time. Earlier it was 200 metres, later it was 100 metres and now it is 65 metres, they say,” the vice principal said.

Nothing has changed, even though several ministers visited the site and expressed their desire to help rebuild the school. The only recent visits were to garner votes for candidates in the November 17 presidential election.

Unemployment is a serious problem in the area. A 24-year-old student from Southeastern University in Batticaloa, who lost his family and is presently staying with a relative, commented:

“We used to do carpentry and sometimes joined fishermen. Now, we have no work at all. I think unemployment is the biggest problem in this area. Every government is defending the interests of exploiters, not ours. They are not interested in providing facilities to restart our industry. But you can see how much money they have wasted on the war in this country. They are slashing funds for education and health, and have no proper plan to provide jobs for the youth.

“As long as the private property system continues, this situation will also continue. The wars against Afghanistan and Iraq also are wars against the people of those countries and for the domination of natural resources.

“The people don’t want war. The LTTE [Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam] and the politicians are stoking up all types of divisions. We want to unite. But they want to divide us. When we faced the tsunami, those who first came to help us were ordinary people from all over the country. Without considering whether we were Sinhalese, Tamil or Muslim, they helped us,” he recalled.

He expressed opposition to communal politics of all types. A few weeks after the tsunami, the JVP, a Sinhala chauvinist party, came to the area, did some work and promised more help, but never returned.

He also pointed to the LTTE’s communalism. A Muslim person bought land behind the Pandiruppu Hindu College to resettle tsunami-affected people. When work began, the LTTE sent a message demanding that it stop as the land was a “Tamil” area.

“Tamil people have the right to fight for democratic rights. But the LTTE suppresses the Muslim minority in their areas. The Muslim leaders have no clear policy to defend our people. They demand a separate [Muslim] administrative area. It will only lead to increased tension among the people,” he said.

Incapable of addressing the social needs of the tsunami victims, the ruling elites—Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim—have sought to divert growing tensions into communal conflict. Like other areas of the north and east, the villagers of Maruthamunai are increasingly apprehensive that rising violence and killings will lead to a return to all out war.

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One year after tsunami - progress in disaster awareness and mitigation

Daily News: 29/12/2005" by Ananda Gunatilaka, M.T.M. Jiffry and Samantha Hettiarachchi

The new Disaster Management Act of 2005 is now in place. This gives the legal and operational framework for all disaster related issues in Sri Lanka. It establishes the provision for a Disaster Management Centre (DMC) under the office of the President.

For an EWS to be effective, besides proper technical monitoring of potential disaster hazards and reliable warning services (i.e. a time-tested communications network and an established chain of command in issuing warnings), prior knowledge of risks faced by communities has to be properly assessed and understandable warnings issued without delay.

Once the public had been well informed, there should be a committed preparedness to act. Proper education and coaching of the public to respond to a warning (including withdrawal of the warning) and move to known safe areas quickly has to be ensured. This requires a basic multi-level, administrative infrastructure, much organization/planning and discipline among the stakeholders.

To ensure success, capacity building and training within organizations and at community level is a prerequisite. It is clear that science and technology (S&T) initiatives and strengthening the scientific infrastructure must be a priority.

Hopefully, well trained engineers and scientists will play a key role in the DMC. Disaster awareness, mitigation and management programmes must eventually reach community level.

Community based hazard mapping using available GIS technology should start immediately to assess the levels of risk. Hazard and evacuation maps have and are being prepared by various organizations, which will eventually be available to local authorities, who themselves have to be trained in their use. A comprehensive database of known disaster hazards is essential for any mitigation programme.

There is a new awareness among the people of Sri Lanka regarding natural hazards and disasters, following the devastating impact of the 2004 tsunami. The National Science Foundation (NSF) of Sri Lanka, which is the government organization that promotes all scientific activities and research, was quick to identify disaster studies as a priority area for research funding and has established a thematic research programme in mitigation and management of natural disasters.

It was recognized very early that the greatest impact of the tsunami was on the groundwaters and aquifers of the coastal zone. Over 40,000 wells were flooded and destroyed by the saline waters and a vast number of affected people have to be provided with drinking water from inland sources and at great cost to the State. The ever present danger of cross-contamination by sewage and pollutants has to be monitored. Groundwater monitoring will tell us how long it will take to reestablish water quality.

Ensuring good quality drinking water in the future for the coastal communities could depend to a great extent on the results of this research. Research on the protective role of natural barriers (such as mangroves and coastal dunes) is being conducted.

A concerted programme to conserve the natural coastal barriers from human interference has to be ensured (we may have already lost about 20 per cent of the coastal mangrove area due to population increases in the coastal zone). Coastal engineers are involved in numerical modeling studies and simulations of tsunami, which are essential for prediction and hence mitigation efforts.

Several research groups are conducting investigations into all these aspects. The hasty and ill-advised decision to enforce a controversial coastal buffer zone (100 to 200 metres) has now been relaxed due to non-availability of alternate land for resettlement.

The destruction caused by the tsunami due to the extremely poor construction quality of buildings highlights the need for a strict building code along the coastal zone.

The NSF in collaboration with several state organizations, universities and the Sri Lanka Association for the Advancement of Science (SLAAS) has conducted a series of workshops, seminars and lecture programmes to emphasize the need for disaster awareness, mitigation and management.

It has sponsored scientists to attend conferences, hosted visiting research teams and conducted joint workshops with the US-NSF research teams and the Soil Science Society of Sri Lanka on the impact of tsunami on coastal groundwaters, soils and vegetation.

Two universities have already started post-graduate programmes on natural disaster related research. A UNESCO-NSF sponsored workshop to share experiences on "Awareness Raising in Disaster Management" with participation by ten countries in the Asian region is scheduled to be held in Colombo from the 24th to 27th January 2006.

Educational initiatives
An important aspect of the NSF education programme is the special committee set up for the popularization of science (SCOPS). During the past year SCOPS has undertaken several projects to promote science amongst the general public, especially school children.

A variety of strategies have been explored to promote science at the community level and on a learner friendly format. With the recent incidence of tsunami, in conducting these programmes, particular attention has been paid to educate the people on the scientific bases for understanding natural disasters.

It was assumed that a "scientifically literate" society would be more approachable to further enhance new knowledge and empower with adequate competencies to face natural disasters with confidence.

The World Science Day, which falls on the 10th November every year, was highlighted this year by activities that promoted awareness of natural disasters amongst the public as its main theme. A special volume of the Vidurava science magazine devoted to disaster awareness was released on this occasion.

Further, satellite programmes were conducted in four districts, to promote awareness of natural disasters and explain their scientific bases to school children. Scientists within these districts were encouraged to participate in these programmes. School children were requested to stage a drama on a theme related to natural disasters.

A poster competition was organized to facilitate active participation of children of all ages. The best drama and poster from each district were accommodated at World Science Day celebrations held at the BMICH in November. SCOPS of the NSF released a children's story book on tsunami, written by Ms. Sumithra Rahubedda with artistic presentation by Ms. Sybil Wettasinghe.

This publication, which is in all three languages, will be distributed to school libraries and is available for sale at the NSF counter. SCOPS are planning to publish similar books on all disasters. Several video programmes are being produced on disasters, in all three languages, and will be telecast soon.

To facilitate the diffusion of scientific concepts, the NSF has launched a programme to assist science writers to publish quality reading material written in simple language and format. These will supplement the ongoing NSF programmes in promoting scientific literacy with the objective of empowering the public to confidently face up to natural disaster situations.

SCOPS and the SLAAS are also collaborating on a project to produce supplementary reading material on relevant themes. A sub-committee of SCOPS has also prepared resource material for a disaster preparedness training programme. Three training and lesson modules for this project will be finalized by early January 2006.

Building confidence and inculcating the scientific bases behind disasters and facing high risk situations by even the remotest communities in the country, is the ultimate aim of the NSF programme. This cannot be achieved by a single programme or by a single organization or in a short time.

It needs effective partnership amongst all stakeholders responsible for the dissemination of basic information and educating the public to face disaster situations effectively and with confidence. This is a continuing programme, which needs to be executed with efficient planning, monitoring and effective management.

The Early Warning System for Sri Lanka

It is the opinion of most experts that a tsunami of comparable magnitude to the 2004 event has a low probability of occurring in the eastern Indian Ocean in the immediate future. Yet, this is no reason to be complacent.. In the aftermath of the Indian Ocean Tsunami, the need for a reliable tsunami warning system similar to that operating in the Pacific Ocean was identified.

The Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) has been at the forefront of establishing an ocean wide EWS for the region and the basic infrastructure for such a system are already on stream. An effective tsunami warning system must include four key components, namely,

1) detection of hazard

2) assessment of risk

3) dissemination of the warning

4) preparedness by the community to respond as advised in advance

The UNESCO/IOC in collaboration with the Indian Ocean states and other stakeholders convened a conference in Paris in March 2005 to reach agreement on the structure and operation of such a warning system. This meeting was followed by a Ministerial Meeting in Mauritius in April 2005.

It was agreed that the Indian Ocean Tsunami Warning System (IOTWS) will comprise of a coordinated network of national systems and capacities, and will be part of a global network of early warning systems for all ocean related hazards. Within the IOTWS, each Member State will have the responsibility to issue warnings within their respective territories.

For this purpose the respective Warning Centres of individual nations must be well equipped to receive and analyze information, detect the hazard, assess the risk and issue the warning to the community who have been adequately trained and coached on how best to respond to the specific type of warning issued. The Mauritius Meeting led to the establishment of the Intergovernmental Coordination Group (ICG), which met for the first time in Perth in August 2005.

The ICG will meet regularly to report, discuss and monitor the initiatives and actions taken by the nations individually and jointly to contribute to the establishment of the IOTWS. The second ICG meeting was held in early December in Hyderabad.

A reliable tsunami warning system requires information arising from three instrumentation networks, namely, an improved seismographic network, a real time sea level observation network covering the Indian Ocean basin and the deployment of advanced deep-sea pressure sensors capable of detecting the tsunami as it travels over the deep ocean.

It also requires the availability of a well equipped warning centre, which is able to detect the hazard, analyze, assess the risk and issue an appropriate warning. The nations must educate its people on disaster preparedness and how to respond to a specific type of warning.

In order to achieve the specified objectives related to the establishment of the IOTWS based on national and international contributions, the ICG agreed on the establishment of working groups covering critical areas of the IOTWS.

The said working groups comprising representatives of the nations and international experts are jointly contributing to the establishment of the IOTWS.

At present there are five working groups namely,

1) Seismic Measurements, Data Collection and Exchange

2) Sea level data collection and exchange, including deep ocean tsunami detection instruments

3) Risk Assessment

4) Tsunami hazard identification and characterization, including modeling and prediction

5) Establishment of a System of Interoperable Centres

During the course of 2005 progress has been made in improving seismographic networks, sea level observation networks and the capabilities of national warning centres.

There have been considerable efforts in identifying and providing access to a wide range of relevant databases and networking. Of significant interest is the fact that India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Australia are planning the deployment of deep sea buoys, which are currently being developed.

The deep sea buoys, which form a key element of the IOTWS will enable the detection of tsunami arising in the Sunda-Java fault zone and provide early warnings to the Indian Ocean states. It is expected that around 10 buoys will be in place by the end of 2006.

The presence of these buoys will be of great advantage to countries like Sri Lanka, which are located at a considerable distance (~1600 km) from the potential tsunamigenic fault line and providing them a warning of the order of 1.0-1.5 hours.

This gives sufficient time for evacuation procedures. Through the respective working groups the nations maintain a working relationship on all issues related to each group. Until the establishment of a fully equipped and staffed Early Warning Centre in Sri Lanka, the Department of Meteorology will act as the focal point in issuing warnings of an impending disaster.

We wish to reiterate the importance of science, technology and education in this endeavour. Disaster risk assessment and analysis requires specialized training and capacity building, which is at a low level in Sri Lanka - a situation that has to be rectified soon.

Much has been achieved in a short time and much more remains to be done. We cannot be satisfied with the pace of decision making with regard to disaster related affairs. At the same time we should spare some thought to all the victims of disasters and help them restart their lives with hope and new expectations.

Disaster awareness, preparedness, mitigation and management programmes should go hand in hand with relief and rehabilitation efforts. The ultimate aim should be inherently secure, socially and economically resilient communities.

Professor Ananda Gunatilaka
Geological Consultant, National Science Foundation of Sri Lanka.
Professor M. T.M. Jiffry
Chairman SCOPS-NSF, University of Sri Jayawardenapura
Professor Samantha Hettiarachchi
Dept. of Civil Engineering, University of Moratuwa and NSF.

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Sustainable recovery requires long-term effort in tsunami zone

Daily Mirror: 31/12/2005"

Q: What is your assessment of the recovery effort at the one-year mark?

A: Overall, the recovery is going well, but depending on the countries and on the level of damage, we are at different stages of recovery. If we look at Thailand where damage was severe but not overwhelming, they are well along the road to recovery. On the opposite end of the spectrum is the northwest coast of Aceh, Indonesia, where many areas are still in critical condition.

Q: What are the biggest challenges FAO faces?

A: Our biggest challenge is the scale of the reconstruction effort. Millions of people were affected across seven countries. It was an unprecedented level of destruction. In Indonesia and Sri Lanka, around 100 miles of coastline were destroyed – not just a couple of areas or towns.

Half a million people in Indonesia are still living in temporary shelter. Entire communities were destroyed. The heavy loss of life means that the social backbone of these communities is gone. The professional categories have been decimated. The town of Calang on the west coast of Aceh, for example, lost 90 percent of its population. The town will be rebuilt; there are sufficient international resources. But they lost administrators, schoolteachers. Where do you start rebuilding communities?

Livelihoods are not just economic, they are social. These need to be nurtured. There has been a huge amount of attention and financial support, but this will end relatively soon. So there is a danger of a relief gap -- a gap in funding, activities, policy attention. Sustainable recovery requires a five- to ten-year effort.

Q: The donor response to the tsunami emergency was unprecedented. How do you respond to people who criticize the pace of recovery?

A: There has been huge donor response, larger than for any emergency in recent history. In the immediate aftermath of the tsunami, people’s basic needs for food, clothing and shelter were met quickly. But reconstruction takes a lot of time, not just money, and it can only go as fast as the local communities are willing and able to go.

Our role is supportive. We’re not there to rebuild their country for them and then hand it over. Reconstruction has to be community-led, especially if you’re going to get it right.

Shelter, in particular, is a very complex issue, which involves not only the buildings themselves but land ownership and land use issues, as well as environmental considerations.

FAO is not directly involved in shelter reconstruction, but it is providing assistance on the timber side through development of appropriate timber use policies and technical specifications for wood products and assistance in identifying legal sources of timber.

Q: Is more money needed?

A: More money will always be needed. Overall damage from the tsunami is more than ten times what was pledged in assistance, and that doesn’t include the value of lives lost. Investment is still needed to rebuild productive activities, to top up these countries’ own activities and provide technical support. A year on, these communities need fewer blankets and more knowledge-based assistance.

Q: With so many boats being built or donated, what is FAO doing to ensure their safety and to prevent overfishing?

A: FAO is responsible for the overall coordination of fisheries sector rehabilitation in Sri Lanka and Indonesia, in collaboration with local authorities. We warned as early as February about the danger of building up excess fishing capacity and the potential environmental risks from inappropriate boats and gear.

What we are focusing on now is the quality of boats delivered and their appropriateness to local fishing practices. In Indonesia, FAO has trained 140 boat builders and is supplying 200 boats. We are also setting vessel safety standards, with the help of a naval architect working there now, and establishing vessel registration systems.

Fishing gear is also important, but engines and gear are often overlooked by those providing boats, even though they represent around 40 percent of a boat’s total cost. So we’re supplying engines and gear for a lot of boats.

FAO has been supporting sustainable fisheries management for decades, and we will continue to provide assistance in this area.

Q: What, if anything, has the international humanitarian community learned from this disaster?
A: Preparedness for something like this is virtually impossible, but there has to be a faster response. For this to happen, funds need to be available within 30 days of the disaster, not six months, as is usually the case. So there is a need for the creation of a well-financed global emergency fund so that aid agencies have sufficient resources to begin work immediately in the wake of disasters like this.

The overall message is a positive one. A large amount of attention, funding and adequate human resources to address the needs of these countries has resulted in exceptional performance to date. And the ability of the governments themselves to take the lead has been very strong.

According to a recent FAO/WFP assessment, markets are functioning relatively well, in spite of the damage to economic infrastructure. Rice yields in many areas are back to pre-tsunami levels, and although not all land has been brought back into cultivation, Aceh is still producing a rice surplus, with the net surplus going to other regions of the country.

Some areas, like the west coast of Aceh, will be a disaster zone for years to come. But in other areas, the picture looks much better. (FAO)

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