A controversial buffer zone that banned re-building of homes of Sri Lankan victims near the coast after the December 2004 tsunami has forced fisher folk out of their traditional livelihood, a survey has found.
A survey by the International Labour Organization has found that 45 per cent of fisher families who have been resettled five kilometers away from the coast have had to change their livelihoods.
The widest buffer zones were seen in the East of the country.
The agriculture and the private sector services and its workers increased in those areas.
"As you know the houses that were affected in the coastal belt were mostly of fishermen. So 80 percent of the people who were settled in these areas were from the fishing community," Mazahim Hanifa, a livelihood recovery advisor of an ILO-run project told a forum in Colombo.
"But now it has come down to 60 percent in terms of fisheries because of change of locations. Now they are far from the sea and they can’t practice what they did before."
The sample survey was conducted among new post-tsunami settlements. More than 30,000 people lost their lives in the devastating tsunami.
Many victims who were financially stronger, including shopkeepers and tourist hotel operators defied the buffer zone bans and went ahead with re-building their lives without state-sanctioned assistance.
At the time critics pointed out that people settle in coastal areas because of economic opportunities and state buffer zone rules which were imposed arbitrarily without tsunami inundation maps were neither fair nor logical.
The controversial buffer zones were described by some critics as a convenient method to clear valuable coastal land of 'undesirables'; most of whom did not have legal title to the land they lived in.
The earlier strict rules were later relaxed in some areas.
The ILO survey was a part of the Income Recovery Technical Assistant Program, run in Sri Lanka after the tsunami.
"ILO along with RADA [a state reconstruction agency] planned this study in December 2006 and the design was to look at the settlements that have come up," Hanifa said.
"According to UN habitat information there were 775 settlements to come up by RADA. It's data base had only 355 registered at that time - that is in November 2006 - of which only 177 were completed."
The overall study found that before the tsunami, around seven percent of those in the sample were agricultural employees.
After resettlement it had increased to 28 per cent.
The number of private sector workers also increased from 7 to 14 percent after the tsunami.
Fisher folk have changed their primary source of revenue generation depending on the distance of the new settlements from the coast.
The settlements at distances of two to five kilometers from the coast have changed their livelihoods by around 13 per cent.
Fishermen who have been settled over five kilometers away have changed their working patterns by as much as 45 per cent.
The people who are continuing to live in coastal belt between zero to two kilometers have only changed their livelihoods by a smaller percentage of around 12, the survey found.
The researchers say the figures could vary significantly from district to district as the Eastern coastal line’s buffer zone is larger than the southern coastal line.
The fishermen of the Eastern and North-Eastern Provinces would have changed their livelihoods in bigger numbers.
The survey found another two percent of people who are working as temporary employees in non-governmental organizations were those whose livelihood had improved above the traditional sectors.
In the post-tsunami period, 84 international and local charities and other organizations came forward to help victims.
The ILO has now closed its own income and technical assistance project.
Though the project is closed the ILO believes that more has to be done to brighten the victims’ lives.
"My key message to you is that we should not look back," Tine Staermose, head of ILO in Sri Lanka said.
"But there is urgent need to look around us not only look forward. There are still many challenges out there in the field of livelihoods that need urgent attention."