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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. 

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Sri Lanka: New houses for some tsunami survivors, dashed hopes for others

ReliefWeb: KINNIYA, 8 October 2007 (IRIN) -

A lone woman shielding herself from the scorching sun with a tattered umbrella accosted two community workers from a local non-governmental organisation (NGO) as they left their office in the village of Kinniya in Trincomalee District, eastern Sri Lanka, last week.

"My family did not get a house," the woman, a survivor of the 26 December 2004 Asian tsunami, cried. "We have been waiting for so long and we have nowhere to stay." She said she had expected to be contacted by an aid agency or the government but no one had ever done so.
One of the community workers told her she should have approached them earlier: their organisation no longer had money to fund housing projects such as hers. On receiving this news, the distraught woman's face registered her waning hope.

Her tale is echoed by some 391 families who have yet to receive houses in Kinniya, around 14 percent of those who either completely lost their homes or were left with partially ruined houses in the worst affected area in Trincomalee District.

According to UN-HABITAT (the UN Human Settlements Programme), the UN's lead agency in post-tsunami reconstruction, at least 76 percent of the country's total tsunami housing requirements have now been met, with a little over 92,200 houses having been built in the 12 coastal districts hit by the disaster.

In Trincomalee, after the tsunami, the total requirement for rebuilding houses stood at 10,325 of which 6,081 have now been completed and 1,844 are in progress.

"There is a shortfall in housing at present and UN-HABITAT's task is to identify these problems, highlight them and support government and donors to address them," said David Evans, chief technical adviser at the agency's Coordination Project on Permanent Housing. "Some of the needs should be direct tsunami reconstruction while others will inevitably fall into longer-term development needs."

More funding needed

UN-HABITAT figures show the government's post-tsunami housing reconstruction sector still needs about US$83 million to provide the remaining survivors with outright grants to build houses, for reconstruction of damaged houses and to fund the purchase of land where necessary. The figure could be scaled down considerably, says Evans, if verification audits, which are currently taking place, were to find that many families on the list are in fact ineligible.
How families will react to being told they have been removed from the eligibility list is also a matter of concern.

For the community workers who had earlier been confronted by the woman still desperate for a house, their ordeal was only just beginning. A more raucous reception awaited them when they went to inspect the status of a beneficiary who had received money from their organisation to set up a small tea shop on the beach.


Seeing them approach, a woman from a neighbouring shack yelled that she had made repeated requests for help, but had been turned down. The dispute soon attracted other angry tsunami survivors who hurled abuse and threats at the social workers, giving vent to their discontent at having been left off housing lists compiled by various organisations.

"It is to be expected," said Judy Devadawson, president of the Women and Child Care Organisation (WACCO), a Trincomalee-based NGO. "They are frustrated with having to wait in temporary shelters for so long. They are angry with both the government and NGOs."
Money for tsunami reconstruction is drying up, pointed out Devadawson, and funds are being diverted to other needy segments of the population, such as those who have borne the brunt of increased fighting between government troops and Tamil Tiger separatists.

Tempers are frayed in Kinniya, a fishing area close to Koddiyar Bay. As the annual monsoon season approaches, residents continue to live for the third year running in cramped, temporary huts. Life, they say, now seems unbearable.

Many who have yet to receive new housing have left their tin-roofed shacks in welfare camps inland to return to the sites of their destroyed coastal homes, where tsunami alerts send them scurrying inland again and again, said Devadawson.

Some fearful, others happy

Not everyone in the small town is unhappy, however. After having lived in a welfare centre for two years, A. Navendra is pleased her family recently moved into a new house, financed by the government and WACCO, in a settlement some distance from the beach.

It is already beginning to feel like home with small shoots of peanut plants greening her yard. "Our old house stood very close to the sea and it is a blessing to now be able to live here without fear," she said.

But for others who have received new houses, the trauma they underwent is still too fresh in their minds. "Every time I open the window, all I can see and hear is the sea," said M.K. Saheera. "I am ill all the time, I cannot eat, I cannot even think properly." Her donor-financed house, put up just outside the government's no-build 75-metre buffer zone, has its windows closed and doors padlocked.

The previous day an earthquake off the Indonesian coast had sent thousands of Sri Lankans running out of their homes near the sea. Saheera had hurried with her family to her husband's ancestral property inland. She is adamant that she will not return to her new house.

A selection of IRIN reports are posted on ReliefWeb. Find more IRIN news and analysis at http://www.irinnews.org

Une sélection d'articles d'IRIN sont publiés sur ReliefWeb. Trouvez d'autres articles et analyses d'IRIN sur http://www.irinnews.org

This article does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. Refer to the IRIN copyright page for conditions of use.

Cet article ne reflète pas nécessairement les vues des Nations Unies. Voir IRIN droits d'auteur pour les conditions d'utilisation.

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Employability of agriculture, engineering and science graduates

Daily News: 09/10/2007" by Dr. P.R.M.P Dilrukshi and Dr. Seetha I Wickremasinghe,

Manpower planning is an important issue, which aims at development, utilisation, improvement and preservation of the knowledge stock of human resources.

The main purpose or advantage of manpower planning is that it enables the concerned authorities to identify the critical areas of shortage and/or the inefficient usage of already available labour force. This in turn will help taking corrective measures in advance, to prevent the surplus or the shortage of skilled manpower.

The contribution of scientific and technical manpower to the socio- economic growth and development has been well acknowledged by most of the fast developing countries.
This has been possible through the effective utilization of scientific and technical manpower in the productive activities via incorporation of the latest science and technological advancements. The task of production of specialized manpower in Science and Technology areas is usually undertaken by the university system of a particular country.

In Sri Lanka, the present university system comprises 15 universities. According to the UGC Statistics 2004, the Government had spent a total of 2.61 percent of GNP (~ Rs. million 40,203) on education for the year 2003. The expenditure on University education was 0.42 percent of GNP, which was about Rs. million 6,497. Therefore, it is critical that the resources spent on higher education must be effectively utilised.

It further highlights the fact that the university curricular must be designed in such a way that the educated people produced by these institutions will have prospective candidature in the present day job market.

Regular investigation on the current needs and trends in the S&T labour market becomes important at this juncture and this could be facilitated by conducting regular labour market surveys or graduate tracer studies.

The results of such surveys and the indicators so developed will enable the relevant authorities to be aware of the demand and supply of S&T manpower in the country, to identify the gaps between the two, and also to note the trend of the job market according to various fields of S&T graduates.

Such data will also help them to take suitable action well in advance to equip the undergraduates with modern knowledge required for the fast development trends in the world.
At the same time, the relevant authorities must also recognize that proper S&T manpower planning has a vital effect on uplifting the country's economy.

The shortage of the S&T work force will disrupt the development plans in the country and at the same time, the over-production of manpower in a particular field will create a surplus causing unemployment or underemployment of the S&T graduates.

This, in turn, will lead to the Brain Drain of qualified manpower from the country to other developed countries where they are well utilised and paid.

The unemployment or underemployment of youth in the country, on the other hand, can lead to serious social unrest and related problems. Therefore, the demand and supply of graduates will have to be well balanced by careful monitoring of the labour market in the field of science and Technology.

Recognising the importance of above issue, the National Science Foundation (NSF) under the directive of the Ministry of Science and Technology initiated a series of studies to investigate the employment status of graduates in the fields of agriculture, engineering and science.

The study series first started in the year 2001. The first survey investigated the employment status of graduates passed out during the period of 1998-1999.

A subsequent study was conducted in 2003 for the graduates passed out in the years 2000 and 2001, which was followed by the third survey in year 2004 for graduates passed out in year 2002. The fourth survey conducted in 2005 was to trace the graduates who passed out from the national universities in year 2003.

The main objectives of these consecutive surveys were to investigate the occupational status after one year of graduation, the absorption pattern to the labour market in accordance with the degree and the specialized area, and finally the obstacles faced by the S&T graduates in finding a suitable employment in the country. The occupational status recorded after one year of graduation Employment rate recorded in the year 2005 (93 percent) was the highest employment rate recorded within the past five years.

The obvious reason for this higher rate was the present government policy in recruiting forty thousand graduates to the government service. The lowest employment rate was recorded for S&T graduates in the year 2003 (61 percent). Accordingly, the unemployment rate was higher in year 2003 recording 31percent rate. The lowest unemployment rate was recorded in year 2005 (4.5 percent).

Interestingly, it is noted that the self-employed graduates were very low in number among the S&T graduates. However, this number appears to be increased when there is a high unemployment rate and it was also noted that most of these self-employed graduates were involved in private tuition as tutors until they find a suitable employment.

The number of graduates involved in further education or registered for higher degrees has increased steadily from 2001-2004 (3.5 percent in 2001 to 5.5 percent in 2004). However, this has suddenly dropped to 1.5percent in 2005 with the incidence of increased employment rate in this particular year (Table 1). Table 1: The occupational status of S&T graduates during the
past five years (1999-2005)

Employment status 2001 2003 2004 2005
Year graduated 1998/1999 2000/2001 2002 2003
Employed 78.0 61.0 71.5 92.9
Engaged in further education only 3.0 3.6 5.5 1.5
Self-employed 1.0 2.3 3.3 1.1
Unemployed 14.6 30.5 19.7 4.5
Not Specified 3.4 2.6 - -
Total 100 100 100 100

The occupational status of graduates according to different degree programmes The results of these studies also indicated that the employment rates of different degree programmes vary. Generally, a higher employment rate was recorded for the engineering graduates.
The employment rate of Agriculture and Science graduates varied considerably within the years surveyed. In 2003, there was a noticeable decline in the employment rate regardless of the graduate degree programme.

In 2005, high employment rate was recorded in all the degree fields due to the government policy adopted to recruit 40,000 graduates to the government employment. This reduced the unemployment rate of graduates, a clear record of 19percent in 2004 which further dropped to 4.5 percent in 2005.

The employment rate recorded showed variations in different specialized areas in different degrees. The B.Sc. agriculture graduates have opportunities to specialize in different subject areas within the field of agriculture. Given below are some of the common areas in which the graduates are specialized and their employment rates recorded in the years surveyed.

When looking at the employment rate of graduates of different disciplines, it is difficult to arrive at any definite conclusion with the data presented in 2005, since most of these graduates are employed as "graduate trainees" under the government recruitment scheme.

However, by looking at the data in 2004 and 2003 surveys we can say that the graduates specialized in the areas of Agriculture Biology, Crop Science, Soil Science and Agriculture Engineering had low employment rate.

According to the results, it was observed that the lowest employment rate was recorded for the graduates who specialized in the area of Earth Resources and Mining followed by the field of Chemical and Process Engineering.

The Electronic and Telecommunication field also had a low employment rate in the year 2003, but has increased in the years 2004 and 2005. This may be due to the expansion of the telecommunication field, especially the mobile phone sector in the country.

Though a higher rate of demand was recorded for the graduates specialized in the textile and clothing technology sector in 2003 in the country, it had declined to some extent in 2004, but again had increased in 2005.

The Science graduates are of two types. Some undergraduates read their degree only for three years and obtain B.Sc. general degree while some start a special degree course after the first year or the second year in the selected area and obtain a B.Sc. special degree after spending 4 years in the university. The job opportunities for these two types of degrees vary considerably.
The graduates specialized in the areas such as Computer Science, Statistics, and Industrial Management have a high demand in the job market. The graduates specialized in the areas such as Chemistry, Physics and Botany also have a good demand in the job market.

The graduates specialized in some subjects areas such as Geology, Zoology, etc., has less opportunities in the job market than other areas. There are several other subject areas viz., Pharmacy, Biotechnology, Molecular Biology etc., that are not mentioned in figures in this report due to the fact that the number of students specialized in these areas are still low compared to others.

However, it should also be mentioned, that even though the number of graduates specialized in these subjects areas was low, there is still a low demand for them in the labour market in the country.

According to the responses received, only 50percent got relevant local employments though the areas of Biotechnology and Molecular Biology have a big demand in the modern world. It is noted that more than 50percent of the graduates in these areas are employed as the academics in the universities or working as Research Assistants mainly in the universities.

This shows that the industrial sector in the country has still not moved into the areas like Biotechnology and Molecular Biology in Sri Lanka in the expected manner.

Therefore, the relevant authorities may seriously consider creating job opportunities in these fields in collaboration with the industrial sector, which is one challenge that needs immediate attention. This situation will otherwise lead to aggravate the external Brain Drain.

Sector of Employment

The sector of employment was categorized as government, semi-government, private and other Non government organization (NGOs). When looking at the sector of employment during the years surveyed, it can clearly be seen that in 1999 (59.6 percent) and 2005 (64 percent) a higher number of graduates were employed in the public sector (government and semi-government sector) employments.

Generally, most of the fresh graduates were employed in the junior management level (42 percent) and non-executive level (39 percent) jobs.

A few mentioned that they worked in the middle management and senior management level jobs, of which it was noted that many were engineering graduates while other graduates had been already employed when they read for the degrees with study leave or no pay leave.
When considering the sector of employment, there is a distinct difference. A moderately higher proportion of the graduates was attached to the government sector and employed in the non-executive level (53 percent), while a higher proportion (78 percent) of graduates were employed in the executive level in the private sector.

When considering the gender of the employed graduates and their management level, it was noted that a higher proportion (~70 percent) of employed graduates in the executive capacity were males, especially in the private sector.

Salary level of the graduates

In regard to the salaries earned by graduates of different degrees, most of the (55 percent) B.Sc. agriculture graduates earned salaries between Rs.10,001-15,000 in year 2005 while 50 percent of B.Sc. general science graduates also earned a salary between Rs.10,001-15,000.

Only about 24 percent of B.Sc. special science graduates earn salary between Rs. 10,001-15,000 while another 24percent earned between Rs. 15,000-20,000. B.Sc. engineering graduates earn more than the other graduates and 30percent of them earns between Rs. 15,001-30,000 while 30percent earns a salary above Rs.30,000.

Obstacles faced by the S&T graduates in finding employments

When finding an employment, the biggest obstacle faced by them is the lack of experience or professional qualifications sought by the employers.

The graduates stated that in general, it was very difficult to find employments in the areas they were qualified. The inadequate knowledge in English, IT, management and administration etc., also was a disadvantage in finding jobs. There seems to be a bias to some extent in regard to schools attended, universities passed out from, age, gender, etc.., when finding better employments.

To overcome these obstacles, a few recommendations are mentioned below based on the suggestions made by S&T graduates who responded to these surveys, non-responded graduates who were interviewed, perceptions of employers of S&T graduates and finally, the observations of the research team.

The relevant authorities of the university S&T education may consider diversification of education system taking the following in to consideration.

i. Introduce new methodologies to enhance skills in written and spoken English as well as knowledge in information technology.

It will be also useful to offer short optional courses in the areas such as science and research management, business administration, public relations etc. This approach will help the S&T graduates in getting familiar with the office environments and also to face challenges in relation to their future employments.

ii. Change from the classroom type teaching techniques to more practical and self learning approaches. Opportunities must be explored for S&T undergraduates to follow short-term training programmes in the industrial sector or in the public sector institutions.

This will help them to improve their managerial skills. It is emphasized here that some universities (i.e. Universities of Colombo, Peradeniya and Sabaragamuwa etc.,) have already taken measures to provide industrial training to undergraduates and the students find it very useful and advantageous in finding employments after graduation.

It will also help them to meet prospective employers, especially in the private sector.

iii. Introduce career guidance programmes by liaising with relevant authorities in the early years of the undergraduates and eventually, they will be aware of what is expected from them in the job market.

iv. Prepare undergraduates, through various approaches, to perform well at the interviews for jobs, especially at a time that they have to compete with the graduates having foreign degrees.
Many employers of S&T graduates were of the view that local graduates have a very good subject knowledge but they are less prepared to the competitive job market (i.e. to face challenges, reluctance to be independent, not much involved in extra curricular activities, poor skills in spoken and written in English, and no adequate knowledge in IT, etc..)

v. Provide adequate opportunities to the university academic staff to under go necessary training and update their knowledge in the new directions that have a high demand for guiding the S&T undergraduates.

Finally, it may be emphasized, that the study series clearly indicated that the S&T graduate employment rate generally depends on the government policies adopted on the recruitment for jobs from time to time. Strengthening and expansion of employment opportunities for the S&T graduates in the private sector becomes most important at this juncture.

(The writers are of the Science and Technology Policy Research Division, National Science Foundation, Colombo 7)

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Sunday, October 07, 2007

Will you buy my ‘flowers’?

Sunday Times: 07/10/2007"

This is not a worry for Renuka Priyadarshini, 33, in marketing the “Bim-Mal” (mushrooms) she grows in the darkened little shed in her own backyard in Lunuwilawatte, Galle.

Renuka, a mother of two boys aged eight and three, not only runs the thriving self-employment cultivation of mushrooms to augment the family income, but also looks after home and hearth.

Learning the art of mushroom cultivation through an NGO programme for the empowerment of women, Renuka has been in business for nearly 10 years, selling blooming mushrooms packeted well with label and all. A packet is priced at Rs. 30, but soon she may have to increase it to Rs. 35 because the price of the raw materials keeps rising, she admits.

Renuka makes the process seem easy. She puts together a mixture of wood and rice shavings, triposha, ground Mung (green gram), adds magnesium and calcium carbonate and water and then packs it into a barrel and for two-and-a-half hours bakes it with steam.

When the mixture comes out, she lets it cool for 24 hours, sows the mushroom seeds she buys from the “import office” in Galle, packs it into small “polythene baskets” and stacks them in the darkened room. “It needs to be dark for the Bim-Mal to flower,” she explains, proudly showing the “flowers” of her labour.

After 28 days, the harvesting can begin, with the mushrooms being cut when they bloom and along with them the layer which has yielded them, continuing until no mixture is left. “There is a big demand from the shops close by,” Renuka smiles, adding that every 28-day cycle she harvests about 1,000 polythene baskets, earning around Rs. 500 a day.

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Microfinance rescues people at the bottom

Sunday Times: 07/10/2007

A top banker called on the commercial banks to downscale to the ‘Bottom of the Pyramid’ for sustainable economic development – sustenance of the poor and stressed the great importance of banking with the poor.

The plea was made by Chandula Abeywickrema, Deputy General Manager, Banking and Network Management, HNB during a presentation at the recently held Annual Convention of the Association of Professional Bankers, Sri Lanka.

He said “Commercial Banks can successfully down scale its operations for a sustainable microfinance programme and an objective for motivation is core to successful microfinance operations.’

In remarks of the presentation sent to the media by the bank, he said he was convinced that banks could profit from grassroots level banking and called upon the banks to design such products as deposits, micro insurance, etc in conformity with the income and employment characteristics of the rural villagers.

Micro finance should no longer be considered as marginal or niche market. The poor should be considered as valued clients of the financial system of the country where financial institutions would provide them permanent financial services, considered to be at the bottom of the pyramid, though there could be challenges for the financial institutions of maintaining millions of small accounts rather than a few large accounts of the wealthy, he said.

But the significance of loyalty and repayment of loans regularly in time are features that should not be ignored, which indicates that the poor values these services, he added.

He said that traditionally banks in this country derive 80 percent of their income from a 20-percent segment of corporate, high networth, large and medium scale commercial enterprises.
These banks face the challenge of either maintaining or increasing the size of the share of the market in a volatile economy like Sri Lanka.The competition among the 12 foreign banks and 11 domestic banks to win over the profitable segment of this business has led to a reduction in customer loyalty to any particular bank.

He urged the banks to create attractive opportunities for the majority 80 percent and look beyond the Western Province, in dispelling the economic vacuum and to bring economic revival to the now considered marginalized 80 percent, making the ‘Bottom of the Pyramid’ more viable.

Citing some examples Abeywickrema pointed out that the strengthening of this 80 percent could only be possible if the income generation capacity or the purchasing power of the poor is enhanced.

Citigroup, HNB successAbeywickrema gave details of the successes in a micro financing project HNB handled with the assistance of the global giant CitiBank, considered to be the largest financial services company in the world, and BRI Indonesia.

In 1973, HNB started rural village uplifting programme at Debara-ara-wewa and in 1979 it commenced SME lending. This Gami Pubuduwa microfinance portfolio today is Rs 2 billion catering to 15,000 clients in 106 microfinance units throughout the country with a NPA rate of below 5 percent.

“Overall, during the past 17 years loans amounting to Rs 4 billion have been provided to 75,000 BOP customers,” he said.One of the most difficult places in banking – mobilizing rural poor in Jaffna - stands as an example as the bank has financed 146 entrepreneurs in Arali, Moolai, Mathagal and Pandeterrippu villages in Jaffna.

Migrant workersHe said that though many banks have shown much interest in Migrant Workers Remittances (MWR) as a key business opportunity, their movement is slow in financial inclusion for migrant workers.

He said that migrant workers globally constitute a significant economic entity which needs the attention of the commercial banks, not only for money transfer and remittance but also in the financial inclusion in savings, micro finance and micro insurance.

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