ASSISTANCE: In several coastal hamlets in Sri Lanka the tide has turned for potters, batik designers and other entrepreneurs whose small-scale businesses were hit hard by the December 2004 tsunami.
Their trades are bouncing back and incomes increasing thanks to some post-tsunami assistance from developing countries.
Pottery makers at Puwakdandawa in Hambantota District and batik artists in Balapitiya in Galle District were among tsunami-stricken people in five Asian countries who received funds, to restore damaged and lost equipment and for the purchase of raw materials, from the UN Development Programme’s South-South Grants Facility (SSGF).
“Almost all the beneficiaries now earn much more than they used to because we have helped them develop their businesses and find new markets,” said Sunethra Marasinghe, whose non-governmental organisation (NGO) was one of the local agencies which channelled the small grants to beneficiaries.
She said the results are tangible with small businessmen and women earning Rs 4,000 to Rs 7,000 (US$40-70) a month, a marked increase over the average Rs 2,500 (US$25) they were making prior to the disaster.
After the tsunami, 11 countries - Algeria, Benin, Brazil, China, Comoros, Egypt, Jamaica, Samoa, Trinidad and Tobago, Tuvalu and Venezuela - contributed $3.5 million to the SSGF which channels assistance through local NGOs to resuscitate the devastated coastal communities.
“The idea of southern nations supporting other southern nations has been discussed for close to three decades in several UN fora,” observed Shireen Samarasuriya, national coordinator of the Global Environment Facility/Small Grants Programme, Sri Lanka, which administered the SSGF.
“It was only after the 2004 catastrophe that this concept of southern solidarity became a ground reality.”
So far, the fund has supported some 132 communities in India, Indonesia, the Maldives, Thailand and Sri Lanka. Grants of $4,000-5,000 were given to regional NGOs for disbursement to almost 34,000 people, with Thailand accounting for almost half the number of beneficiaries.
“It is really inspirational to see how a small amount of money, if managed well, can be used effectively,” said UN Resident Coordinator for Sri Lanka Neil Buhne addressing delegates from the five nations who met here last week to pool their experience in putting the small grants to use.
They were treated to a display of Sinhalese dances performed by young adults who had lost family members in the tsunami. SSGF funds were provided for drama therapy workshops and training programmes in music and the performing arts conducted by the Abhina Foundation, a local NGO.
In Sri Lanka, which received the largest share of funding from the SSGF at $550,000, some 4,800 residents benefited directly from SSGF assistance.
The contribution from this non-traditional source represents a small percentage of the foreign aid that poured in after the disaster.
The Sri Lankan government’s December 2006 report released two years after the tsunami said the country received $3.4 billion in overseas pledges for tsunami projects from traditional bilateral and multilateral donor countries and agencies - of which $2.99 billion was actually committed.
The government itself funded 32 percent of the recovery cost through loans.
Despite its modest volume, the SSGF aid revitalised a wide range of enterprises including those involved in marketing and financing, business skills and literacy training, and developing small infrastructure such as schools and playgrounds.
Marasinghe’s NGO, the Human and Environment Development Foundation, has helped some 92 people in the south coast towns of Dickwella, Tangalle and Matara not just by disbursing grants but also by helping them start up and operate community organisations which provide easy credit facilities to members.
Kapila de Silva of Mithuru Mithuro, another local NGO which has provided financial support through the SSGF to some 45 families in the Galle District involved in fisheries and tourism, the two most hard-hit sectors, said: “The revolving loan funds are managed entirely by the members and so are run very efficiently. Whenever members need money, it is much easier for them to get it from the CBO (community-based organisation) than to go to a bank.”