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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, July 22, 2006

FEATURE-Recovery dreams wiped out in Sri Lanka's surf capital

Reuters: 21/07/2006" By Peter Apps

ARUGAM BAY, Sri Lanka, July 21 (Reuters) - Sitting on a bed in a surf shack overlooking the Indian Ocean, 33-year-old rickshaw driver A.L. Salaheen watches the handful of surfers catch the morning waves.

This year was supposed to be the best ever for Sri Lanka's surf capital of Arugam Bay.

Four years after a ceasefire halted the island's civil war and more than a year since the 2004 tsunami, the town hoped it had bounced back.

"Last year there were not enough cabanas because of the tsunami and lots of customers," Salaheen told Reuters. "Now there are lots of cabanas and no customers."

Dozens, including foreign surfers who have been visiting the resort since the 1970s, died when the tsunami slammed ashore in Arugam Bay. Even 100 metres back from the coast, whole buildings were swept away by waters perhaps 15 to 20 feet high.

But less than six months later, surfers descended on the town on Sri Lanka's southeast coast for the World Championships. Hoteliers, most of them without insurance, pulled together money to rebuild and take advantage of the goodwill and publicity.

"This year we were hoping for real big money," says Naleen, co-owner of the Tsunami Hotel, named for the big surfing waves and then completely destroyed by its namesake.

"This should be the peak season. But this is the worst in years. People have been scared away."

Renewed violence between Sri Lanka's government and Tamil Tiger rebels has killed more than 700 people so far this year, most of them since early April, raising fears of a return to war and scaring away all but the hardiest tourists.

HIPPY SURFER HAUNT

There has been no violence in Arugam Bay so far. But it is only a few miles from areas in the east where the Tigers, government and a breakaway group of ex-rebels frequently clash.

"People see there is trouble in the Eastern Province and they do not realise there has been nothing in Arugam Bay," said Naleen.

While overall tourist figures for Sri Lanka have so far held, visitors have been staying away from Arugam Bay, leaving newly rebuilt hotels empty.

When Reuters visited recently, hoteliers estimated there were only about 25 visitors in town, compared to the 600 they had been hoping for. Many of the visitors were aid workers taking a break from reconstruction work further north.

But hard-core surfers, some of whom first came through the chain of army checkpoints around Arugam Bay at the height of the war, seem largely unconcerned. Indeed, some are glad there is a dearth of tourists.

When the first hippy surfers came to the area in the late 1970s, they slept in villagers' huts or out on the beach under the stars. Swiss physiotherapist Nadim Ismail first came before the ceasefire and says since the town has changed for the worse.

"The atmosphere has changed," he says, sipping a beer after a day on the water. "People are much more money-centred. But the atmosphere is much more relaxed again this year."

SPECIAL TASK FORCE SOCCER

That said, he's wary of the Police Special Task Force commandos as they patrol through the town carrying M-16 and AK-47 assault rifles.

During the war, Ismail says the relationship between the surfers and the security forces was awkward, and might become so again.

Once, he says the surfers protested to the local base commander after an ethnic Tamil boy was imprisoned and beaten up by police. That worsened the relationship, but they managed to build bridges with a friendly football game with the commandos.

"We were one nil up at one stage," he says. "But they won 7-1. It was a really friendly game."

For some of the hotel owners, the new, quieter Arugam Bay is good and bad.

"Commercially, it's not very pleasant," says Briton Steve John, who has just rebuilt a hotel after the tsunami. "But in other ways, it is very... pleasant."

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Friday, July 21, 2006

Micro Finance Institutions Act - Will it really help the poor?

Daily Mirror: 21/07/2006"

Alleviation of poverty is one of the prime objectives of the Government. No Government could solve this national issue on their own. It is a collective responsibility of all sectors, including Private, Non-Government and the Civil Society. It has been accepted universally that Micro Financing is an effective tool towards eradication of poverty. During the last century, a considerable number of Institutions such as Cooperatives, Non-Governmental Organizations and Village Level Groups had been in the forefront in this sector. These Institutions and informal groups had delivered a commendable service particularly to the non-bankable poor. We have now reached a stage where the attitudes of the Government and the Public need to be further improved towards these Grass Roots Institutions.

Microfinance Institutions Act, intended to be implemented by the Non-Banking Supervision Department of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka seems to be one of the key milestones towards the development of Micro Finance. Incorporation of this Act has been in prgress during the last one and half years with very little participation from the Microfinance Practitioners and the Civil Society. Even though it is going to directly affect positively or negatively on these Institutions, as well as on the grass roots Community, it is commendable, even at a later stage, the officials have decided to consult the Civil Society. Within a short period, some of the key Microfinance Organizations managed to initiate a discussion amongst 25 Organizations to discus the impact of the proposed Microfinance Institutions Act, and to propose a joint list of comments in order to improve the content of the Act. Those Institutions are; SEEDS (Gte) Ltd, Lak Jaya Micro Finance, Ceylinco Grameen, PLAN- Sri Lanka, STROMM Foundation, GTZ, Sewa Finance, SAPSRI, BRAC- Sri Lanka, SEWA Lanka Foundation, World Vision, District Women’s Development Federation, Hambanthota, Women’s Development Centre, Kandy, Arthacharya Foundation, ECLOF, and Sri Lanka Business Development Centre. The suggestions made as a group to the Non Bank Supervision Department of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka are as follows,

1. The Act has specified a minimum Core Capital or Net Asset amount for National District and Divisional Secretary levels. It is suggested to have some flexibility by allowing the Director, Non-Banking Supervision to take decisions regarding the minimum core capital or net asset levels. This is because, if it is being specified in the Act, any amendment will need an amendment to the Act which wil be a long and difficult process.

2. The Act provides powers to examine other than the applicant, Holding Company, Substitute Company, Associate Company or any other Company. It is suggested to omit the Associate Company or any other Company from the list.

3 It is suggested that smaller MFIs having a Core Capital/Net Assets less than Rs. 1.0 million, not be subject to regulation, unless such MFIs mobilize deposits.

4. Microfinance Institutions Act indicates appointing agents by the Director, Non- Bank Supervision Department of Central Bank and District Secretaries have been suggested as Agents. The participants’ opinion is to appoint a separate set of Officers directly responsible to the Director, Non- Bank Supervision Department of Central Bank.

5. It is the universally accepted in principle that the interest ceilings are detrimental to the Microfinance Sector. All internationally accepted best practices guidelines, including CEGAP clearly mentions that it is important to establish interest rates which cover all costs of the delivery Institutions. The proposed Act indicates that the authorities have the power to control the interest rates. The common consensus of the Practitioners and other Opinion Leaders are to delete the above clause.

6. Co-operative Societies are governed by the Co-operative Societies Act, and have its regulatory standards. It would be a confusing issue for the Co-operative Societies to abide by two laws. Therefore, it is suggested not to cover Co-operative Societies under the proposed Microfinance Institutions Act.

7. According to the views of the Practitioners, it is important to set agreed Auditing Standards for Microfinance Institutions. This will be helpful for the Audit Firms to conduct standard audits in Micro Finance operations.

8. The Act suggests that, audited Financial Statements should be submitted within four months after each Financial Year. Due to the large number of transactions and the grass roots outreach, it is a difficult task to provide Audited Financial Statements within a short period. Therefore it is suggested to increase the period from 4 months to 6 months.

9. The proposed Act indicates that only “Qualified Auditors” should be used. It is suggested that, it be made a mandatory requirement for only the national level Micro Finance Institutions to use “Qualified Auditors”. But for the Regional and Divisional Microfinance Institutions, to allow “Partly Qualified Auditors” to conduct the same function, which will reduce the cost burden on small Micro Finance Institutions.

In addition to the above suggestions, the Practitioners and Opinion Leaders have suggested the following inclusions,

1. The Act should provide Microfinance Institutions, the authority to accept not only Cash Grants, but Material Grants as well.

2. To incorporate powers for the Micro Finance Institutions to operate Micro Leasing Facilities up to a maximum of Rs.1.0 million, Micro Insurance Schemes and Pawning facilities.

We strongly believe that, responsible Officials in the Government and the Central Bank of Sri Lanka will seriously consider these important suggestions. It is the responsibility of all concerned to ensure that, the incoming Act will facilitate and promote Micro Finance in Sri Lanka rather than being a hindrance to the grass roots development.

(Lanka Microfinance Network)

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Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Indonesia's second tsunami disaster shows need for warning system

Lanka Academic: 18/07/2006" ANTHONY DEUTSCH - Associated Press Writer -

Sri Lanka - has yet to install its own system, but relies on warnings sent by the Pacific center, which is based in Hawaii, and a similar institution in Japan, a tsunami official there said.
The plan calls for the information to passed to villages via phone or the national media. Most Buddhist shrines, Hindu temples and Muslim mosques along Sri Lanka - 's coast have had sirens fitted to them to help spread the word, the official said.


Associated Press reporter Chris Brummitt contributed to this report from Jakarta.

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Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Tsunami kills at least 262 on Java island

AP: 18/07/2006" By IRWAN FIRDAUS, Associated Press Writer

PANGANDARAN, Indonesia - A tsunami crashed into beach resorts and fishing villages on Java island Monday, killing at least 262 people and leaving more than 160 missing after bulletins failed to reach the region because no warning system was in place.

The Java coastal area was spared by the devastating Asian tsunami of 2004, but many residents recognized the danger when they saw the sea recede.

Frantic tourists and villagers shouted "
Tsunami! Tsunami!" as the wave more than 6 feet high approached. Some climbed trees or fled to higher ground to escape while others crowded into inland mosques to pray.

At least 23,000 people fled their homes, either because they were destroyed or in fear of another tsunami, Dudi Junaidi, an official at an emergency coordination post in the worst-hit area of Pangandaran on Java's southern coast, said Tuesday.

"We saw a big wall of black water. I ran with my son in my arms when I looked back, the waves were at our house, they destroyed our house," said Ita Anita, who was on the beach with her 11-month-old child and other relatives. "The water knocked me down, my son slipped out of my hands and was taken by the water."

Anita, 20, and her husband live 30 feet from the beach in Pangandaran, a resort popular with tourists. Also on the beach were her son, mother, sister, brother, nephews. All except her mother are missing.

She said a series of large waves as tall as coconut trees came and then the water began to recede.

"When the wave receded, there was total panic. Everybody was looking for everybody," Anita said from her hospital bed at the Pangandaran medical clinic. She said she was swept inland by the wave into a rice paddy, tossed around and dragged across asphalt before she managed to climb to safety on the roof of a house.

Early Tuesday, desperate villagers and soldiers dug through destroyed homes and hotels looking for survivors as the death toll rose to at least 262.

Junaidi said at least 172 people were killed and 85 others were missing in the Panganderan area. He said a Pakistani national, a Swedish national and a Dutch national were among the dead, but did not give their genders. Most of the victims were believed to be Indonesians.

In nearby Cilacap district, at least 77 were killed and more than 70 others were missing, said central Java police chief Dody Sumantiawan. Thirteen others died elsewhere along the coast, officials and el-Shinta radio station reported.

"I don't mind losing any of my property, but please God return my son," said Basril, as he and wife tearfully searched though mounds of debris pile up on the beach at Pangandaran.

Nearby, the body of a woman lay on the beach, covered with a mat.

Regional agencies had warned that a 7.7-magnitude earthquake that struck 150 miles off Indonesia's southern coast was strong enough to create a tsunami on Java. But there was no warning system for those on the southern coast.

The waves sent boats, cars and motorbikes crashing into resorts and fishing villages. Houses and restaurants were flattened along a 110-mile stretch of the densely populated island's southern coast.

Jan Boeken, from Antwerp, Belgium, said he was sitting at a bar when his waiter started screaming.

"I looked back at the beach and saw a big wall of thundering black water coming toward us," said the 53-year-old, who escaped with minor cuts to the head and knees. "I ran, but I got trapped in the kitchen, I couldn't get out. I got hit in the body by debris and my lungs filled with water."

A witness told el-Shinta he saw the ocean withdraw 1,500 feet from the beach a half-hour before the powerful wave smashed ashore, a typical phenomenon before a tsunami.

"I could see fish jumping around on the ocean floor," Miswan said.

Witnesses said the wave came several hundred yards inland in some places. Buildings sit close to the beach in Pangandaran.

Pedi Mulyadi, a 43-year-old food vendor, said he was waiting on the beach for customers when the wave struck, killing his wife, Ratini, 33. The pair were clinging to one another when they were swallowed by the torrent of water and pulled 300 feet inland, he said.

"Then we were hit, I think by a piece of wood," Mulyadi said. "When the water finally pulled away, she was dead. Oh my God, my wife is gone, just like that."

Roads were blocked and power cut to much of the area. Damage and casualties were reported at several places along the 110 miles of beach affected, officials and media reports said.

"All the houses are destroyed along the beach," one woman, Teti, told el-Shinta radio. "Small hotels are destroyed and at least one restaurant was washed away."

Indonesia has installed a warning system across much of Sumatra island but not on Java. The government has been planning to extend the warning system there by 2007.

Java was hit seven weeks ago by a 6.3-magnitude earthquake that killed more than 5,800 people, but was spared by the 2004 tsunami that killed 216,000 people, nearly half of them in Indonesia's Aceh province.

Chris Goldfinger, an earthquake expert at the College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences at Oregon State University, said Monday's quake was probably not related to the 2004 tsunami though some of the tremors in the region since then were related.

The May earthquake did not affect the part of the island hit by Monday's tsunami, which was spawned by a quake that struck deep beneath the Indian Ocean 150 miles southwest of Java's coast.

The quake struck at 3:24 p.m., causing tall buildings to sway hundreds of miles away in the capital, Jakarta. The strength of the temblor was revised upward from magnitude 7.1 after a review by a seismologist, the U.S. Geological Survey said. The quake was followed by a series of powerful aftershocks.

After the quake, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center and Japan's Meteorological Agency issued warnings saying there could be a tsunami in the Indian Ocean. The tsunami struck Java about an hour after the quake and its effects could be felt as far as Bali island and near Australia's Coco Islands.

Indonesia is on the so-called Pacific "Ring of Fire," an arc of volcanoes and fault lines encircling the Pacific Basin.

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Sunday, July 16, 2006

International tsunami study highlights inequalities in aid spending

Sunday Times: 16/07/2006"

A major independent evaluation published last week has called for a fairer system of funding emergencies so that all those affected can escape suffering and death and rebuild their lives. This is essential given the rise in natural disasters the world is facing.

The Tsunami Evaluation Coalition (TEC), an international multi-agency effort to enhance humanitarian aid, in its study applauded the public for their record-breaking donations to the 2004 Asian tsunami, while highlighting how this enormous influx of funds revealed discrepancies in how aid money is raised and spent.

A total of at least US$ 13.5 billion was raised, US$ 5.5 billion from the general public, amounting to over US $7,100 for every affected person. This contrasts starkly to only US$3 per head spent on someone affected by the 2004 floods in Bangladesh.

The TEC report revealed that emergency relief is not given only on the basis of need, but in response to political pressures and what aid agencies believe may be popular with the donating public. The report calls for independent monitoring of governments to make their funding systems impartial, flexible, transparent and in line with the principles of good donorship.

John Telford, Lead Author of the TEC report, says: “The high-profile coverage of the tsunami led to the largest and fastest funded response ever. But the glare of public attention pressurised agencies to spend quickly and visibly, often causing them to neglect formal needs assessments and under-estimate the complexity of post-disaster recovery.” Other global emergencies not benefiting from as much media coverage receive a fraction of the funding:

“The gross inequity in funding for different emergencies is evident in people reduced to half-rations in Sudan in the face of increasing malnutrition, while Iraq and Afghanistan continue to get generous funding,” adds Telford.

The report presents an appeal to donor governments for more consistent donations and support prior to disasters to help states in high-risk zones reduce risk and respond better when emergencies strike.

It calls on international agencies not to by-pass but to work through and improve the capacity of local structures already in place when affected countries are overstretched in a disaster.

Local affected people and their neighbours saved virtually every life that was to be saved in the tsunami before international rescue teams arrived. Telford says: “While aid agencies are recognised for providing affected populations with the security they needed to begin planning what do next, they need to involve them in the management of the response. This is particularly important when emergency relief priorities rapidly change to those of rebuilding and re-establishing livelihoods.

The importance of this change and frequent poor performance in meeting people’s longer term priorities is reflected in many findings and several recommendations in the report.”

The TEC report also urges governments to fund international organisations to improve personnel, coordination and quality control between emergencies. While these may be ‘invisible’ investments, Telford highlights their importance: “The scale and frequency of modern emergencies is on the rise and the quality, capacity and regulation of the international relief system is currently inadequate to support this.

The public should also not think that their responsibility ends once they have handed over a cheque.

Insisting on independent regulation and transparent reporting will go a long way to ensuring that agencies maintain the professional standards they have set for themselves.”

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