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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, December 29, 2007

Highlights from Sri Jayewardenepura research symposium

The Island: 29/12/2007"

Research papers presented at the International Forestry Environment Symposium held recently organized by Department of Forestry and Environmental Science, University of Sri Jayewardenepura, Sri Lanka, highlighted many new channels of economic development some of which are listed below.

Usually rubber plantations are used for extraction of latex; but it has high carbon trading potential. Based on estimated models, high carbon content such as 47MT was achieved from rubber trees at the age of 23 years, which yields carbon benefits of 77,000 per hectare. .

Heavea rubber can be used for reducing greenhouse effect in several ways. Naturally producing latex in Heavea rubber trees absorb CO2 from the atmosphere. Due to the increasing number of seedlings to be planted per hectare, all the rubber growing countries can increase CO2 absorption. This would help to earn money for rubber growing countries under Kyoto protocol.

Rubber wood is used as firewood and chemically treated rubber wood can be used in furniture industry, reducing felling of forest tress. Rubber seed oil, after chemical modification is a proven replacement for diesel to be used for motor vehicles, reducing use of fossil fuels.

Japan Jabara a problematic aquatic weed in Sri Lanka has received scientific attention for Biological Control, as safe application of Herbicides is not possible. Scientists at University of Sri Jayewardenepura discovered that dry leaf powder of Gandapana trees could effectively be used for controlling the weed.

There is no specific drug or vaccine for the treatment or prevention from the dengue and chikunguina in the country. Therefore, controlling the vector is the best strategy for dengue control. A mosquito species scientifically named as Toxorhynchites splendens has been identified as a predator insect that can be used to control dengue and chikunguina mosquito larvae Aedes albopictus. This predator insect does not feed on blood and cannot act as vectors of the diseases.

A huge extent of forests in Sri Lanka has been fragmented and therefore animals have to live in the pereiphery and not inside the forests. The conditions inside a forest are different to the conditions on the edges of it. A remarkable disparity was discovered, in the abundance of the endemic and non-endemic small mammals between inside forests and forest edges. (VH)

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Boost spice production to improve rural economy

The Island: 29/12/2007" by S. B. Karalliyadda

The talk in the town and village today is the sky racketing cost of living and how the ordinary citizen can face this situation. No one talks about the prices of minor export crops that are freely available and easily grown in the villages. These crops played a vital role in our agrarian economy long before the introduction of plantations such as coffee tea cocoa etc. by the Britishers. The changes brought about by the introduction of a plantation economy had adverse effects to our religion-cultural and social value systems. The Waste Land Tax No. 19 of 1840, the Land Tax Act No. 5 of 1866 and the Grain Tax which was abolished by Governor Arther Havelock in 1892 were some of the Acts that changed the village agrarian economy. The prices of all minor export crops such as pepper, cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, cloves coffee etc; that are grown easily and less labour intensive also fetch high prices to boost the income of the average village farmer. Not only these export crops but also other agricultural produce such as tea, rubber and coconuts fetch the highest recorded price in the recent times. It should be remembered that over sixty percent of our population are rural and live in the villages. Eighty percent of them are poor and thirty percent live in abject poverty. Per capita income in the Western Province and Colombo District is higher than in any other Province or District in the Island. This may be due to the availability of infrastructure specially a good road network. If one can reminiscence the Districts that these crops grow it can be seen that except for the North and East in most other Districts spices are grown. The land has been blocked out and used for construction purposes. In the Districts of Matale, Kandy, Kegalla etc; where rubber cocoa and pepper are grown in abundance the production of these crops have become minimal thus affecting the income levels of the rural masses. Apart from reduction of the land area available for minor export crops, the available extent is infertile due to soil erosion, fragmentation, haphazard contour drains and other bad land management practices which has led to the degrading of the soil. There were Extension Workers from various Departments who liaise with the villager closely and advised him on laying contour drains, soil erosion, good practices to enhance their coops production etc; but unfortunately such extension services are not seen today. This should receive the special attention of the ‘Gama Neguma’ programme under Mahinda Chintanaya. What a government could do to improve the village economy is to create avenues to earn more income through agrarian and agricultural practices and get better prices for their village agriculture and export products. Taking industries to the villages and industrialisation of villages will have a deep impact on their cultural ethos and rid the value systems that bond the villager together. As Mahatma Gandhi said if the village perishes the whole county will perish as more than sixty percent of our country is rural. The net results of these lapses is that our contribution to the global market needs is less than 4%. It is observed that our cinnamon production which was 12336 MT in 2004 reduced to 11391 in 2006. Similarly 2478 MT of cloves exported in 2004, dropped to 2376 MT. Pepper recorded an increase of 7856 MT in 2006 from the level of 4851 MT in 2004 (Daily News 27.11.2007) It is reported that all cloves are exported to India. The SAFTA agreement allows a free entry of our products to India as against a 35% tariff from other exporting countries. India is the biggest buyer of our spices, but we cannot meet the demands of the Indian market and therefore they look to the markets of Indonesia and Madagascar to meet their demand. If we can increase our production we can enter the India market which means a better deal to our rural villager. Pepper is grown wild in our soil. It needs little or no attention. Unlike the ancient times where the produce was plucked from tree tops today the pepper wine could be grown in bushes making it easy for harvesting and minimising post harvest waste. The world trade in pepper is estimated to be MT around 200,000 to 250,000 mt and we can meet at least 8% of this. White pepper is a by- product which has a demand in tourist trade. The Department of Export Agriculture should embark on a field programme to grow spices in villages. Coffee which grows easily contributes to the rural economy. But the production that was 4371.1 MT in 1994 has come down to 105.7 MT in 2006. This may be because the average villager did not get a good price per kilo for his produce some time back. There is a record increase in the production of nutmeg from 646.3 MT in 1994 to 1515.0 MT in 2006 according to statics maintained by the Export Agriculture Department. Not only these export crops and other agriculture produce such as rubber tea and coconut fetch the highest recorded price in the reason times. Sri Lanka had been a country that attracted the Portuguese and Dutch for spice trading even before these European powers. History shows that our Sinhala Kings traded in spice with Arabian countries. Buwaneka Buhu 1 (1272-1284) who ruled from Dambadeniya had his Trade Representative in Egypt. His son Buwanekabahu 11 (1293-1302) who ruled from Kurunegala sent his Trade Team to negotiate spice trading with the King of Egypt and history records that this delegation met the King in Cairo in 1283. Such was our spice trade from the ancient days. It is up to the authorities in power to revive the cultivation of spices as in ancient time to give a boost to the slumber rural economy. (The writer is former Member of Parliament Kandy District)

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Friday, December 28, 2007

Microfinance a victim of own success? - report

Daily Mirror: 28/12/2007"

Washington D.C— Microloans to the poor around the world soared to 133 million last year, up from 13 million just nine years ago, according to a report released by the Microcredit Summit Campaign, an initiative of RESULTS Educational Fund.

The dramatic progress was also evident in the Campaign’s focus on loans to the very poor, those living on less than a US$1 a day, which reached 93 million families in 2006, just shy of the Campaign’s goal of reaching 100 million poorest. “We know that by today the 100 million poorest will have been reached,” Microcredit Summit Campaign Director Sam Daley-Harris said, “but we won’t be able to report those results until the 2007 data is collected, verified, and released at the end of 2008.”

The State of the Campaign Report 2007 singles out special praise for Jamii Bora: a microfinance organization in Kenya that started eight years ago with loans to 50 beggars and now reaches 170,000 savers and 60,000 borrowers. The groundbreaking institution started offering health insurance seven years ago when it realized that of those clients who struggled to repay their loans, 93 percent had the same challenge—a close family member in the hospital. “You can’t expect that anyone will let their child die because they have to pay their loan to Jamii Bora,” said the group’s founder Ingrid Munro, “so this was something that we had to solve.” As a result, Jamii Bora covers all in-hospital costs for one adult and four children by linking with mission hospitals. The total cost for the family of five is just 30 cents per week or US$12 per year. This year’s report, however, is the first to assess how the microfinance movement is in danger of becoming a victim of its own success. A tidal wave of commercial capital in recent years is now challenging the very principles on which the microfinance movement was built. The report discusses how Mexico-based microfinance institution Compartamos launched an IPO in April 2007, which netted some US$450 million for its initial investors and raised the company’s valuation to US$1.4 billion.

This was possible partially because of the microfinance institution’s high profits spurred by interest rates and other charges that top 100 percent a year.“I am shocked by the news,” said Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Muhammad Yunus reacting to the IPO. “Microcredit should be about helping the poor to get out of poverty by protecting them from the moneylenders, not creating new ones. A true microcredit organization must keep its interest rate as close to the cost-of-funds as possible. There is no justification for interest rates in the range of 100 percent. My own experience has convinced me that microcredit interest rates can be comfortably under the cost of funds plus ten percent, or plus fifteen percent at the most.’

Daley-Harris, the report’s author, challenges World Bank President Robert Zoellick to stop the Bank’s foot-dragging and invest more money into microcredit programs for the very poor. On October 3, 2007, 29 members of the U.S. House and Senate met with President Zoellick for over an hour to persuade him to get half of World Bank microfinance funds to families living on less than US$1 a day. Zoellick’s main promise to the members of Congress was to meet regularly for more discussion.

“While the World Bank talks,” Daley said, “26,500 children die each day from largely preventable malnutrition and disease and some 77 million children of primary- school age are not in school. Zoellick should agree to the requests from Congress, requests that his two predecessors received from more than 1,200 parliamentarians, to increase World Bank spending for microfinance; ensure that half of Bank spending on microfinance reaches the very poor, those living below US$1 a day; require the use of cost-effective poverty measurement tools to ensure compliance; and report annually on results.”

“The World Bank has a choice,” Daley-Harris says, summarizing the report. “Will it remain stuck in its stingy, Scrooge-like refusal to extend microcredit to the poorest families in the world or will it be transformed and give the gift of microfinance to the very poor thereby helping hundreds of millions of families find a dignified route out of poverty?”

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Thursday, December 27, 2007

3 Years On, Nations Remember Tsunami

The Academic: 26/12/2007"

Associated Press, Wed December 26, 2007 06:13 EST . CALANG, Indonesia - Survivors prayed at mosques and mass graves Wednesday to mark the third anniversary of the devastating Asian tsunami, while hundreds fled beaches as part of a drill to test an alert network established since the disaster.
The waves on Dec. 26, 2004, spawned by the mightiest earthquake in 40 years, killed around 230,000 people in 12 Indian Ocean countries, just under half of them in the Indonesian province of Aceh on Sumatra island.

Coastal communities in Sri Lanka and India lost some 45,000 people between them. The waves also crashed into tourist resorts in southern Thailand, killing more than 5,000, half of them foreign vacationers.

The disaster overwhelmed authorities in Aceh, where bodies littered devastated neighbourhoods for weeks. Most victims were never formally identified and tens of thousands were buried in mass graves.

Nur Aini lost her husband and one of her two children to the waves.

"We are praying for them today even though I don't know where they are buried," she said. "My remaining child still calls out for his father."

The disaster, one of the deadliest of the modern age, promoted a global outpouring of sympathy, with governments, individuals and corporations pledging more than $13 billion in aid.

In Aceh, more than 100,000 houses, scores of schools and hospitals and miles of roads have been rebuilt. Whilst there have been complaints of corruption and waste, most people involved in the reconstruction process say it has gone well.

"I hope we can turn a new page now and leave sadness, cries and tears behind us," Aceh Gov. Irwandi Yusuf told hundreds gathered at a prayer ceremony in the hard-hit town of Calang. "I hope one day we can pay our debt to the world by becoming a donor to other countries hit by disasters."

Thailand held ceremonies throughout the day along its white-sand southern beaches.

Survivors and families of victims were invited to Phuket's Patong beach, a popular strip of hotels and restaurants, to lay flowers in the sand. Chanting Buddhist monks were to light incense and lead an ecumenical prayer service.

The tsunami drill in Indonesia took place on the western tip of Java island close to the capital, Jakarta. It was attended by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and other top government officials.

Those taking part ran or walked around a mile inland after the siren sounded.

Foreign governments are helping Indonesia establish a countrywide network of buoys and high-tech communications equipment that would give coastal communities warning if there is a tsunami. The network is up and running in several regions of the country, but 20 more buoys are due to be launched in 2008.

Indonesia is frequently rocked by powerful earthquakes because of its position on the Pacific "Ring of Fire," an arc of volcanoes and tectonic fault lines encircling the Pacific Basin.

The observances came amid widespread flooding in parts of Indonesia. Heavy rains triggered landslides that killed dozens of people on Java island, though far from the scene of the tsunami and Wednesday's drill.

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Feature - South Sri Lanka moves on from tsunami, war curses north

ReliefWeb: 26/12/2007" By Simon Gardner

PERALIYA, Sri Lanka, Dec 26 (Reuters) - Sri Lankan housewife D.W. Leelawathi can still picture the 2004 tsunami as if it were yesterday, but three years on she and thousands like her are finally back in homes they can call their own and are moving on.

Standing among piles of sand, earth and rock in her front garden, the smell of fresh-cut wood still permeating the air as her new home nears completion, Leelawathi, 69, gestures to a nearby rail track, torn up as the tsunami swept away a passing train killing 1,270 people on board.

"The tsunami is not only in my dreams. Even in the daytime I feel as if it happened just yesterday, with so many bodies kept here," she said, pointing at a plot of grass next to her home. Two of her children were among the dead.

"But now our house is rebuilt," she said, standing in front of a 3-storey, 8-bedroom home her policeman son is building for her, partly funded by a 250,000-rupee ($2,300) grant.

The United Nations says nearly 100,000 families are now back in permanent shelter on the third anniversary of the worst natural disaster in memory, which left 35,000 people dead or missing in Sri Lanka and killed around 230,000 in total around the Indian Ocean rim.

But ever-deepening civil war between the Sri Lankan state and Tamil Tigers has hamstrung rebuilding work in the east and halted it in parts of the rebel-held north, where materials such as cement and steel rods have dried up because of a government ban.

Thousands of families in the war-ravaged north and east are still living in basic, temporary shelters with palm-frond roofs and corrugated metal sheet sides, their numbers swollen by others displaced by the war.


"Three years after the tsunami nearly 100,000 families, or around 80 percent of those affected by the disaster, are back living in totally new or repaired houses," said David Evans, chief technical adviser for UN Habitat in Sri Lanka.

"But the conflict has badly hampered or brought reconstruction work to a standstill in some parts of the north and east and another 21,000 houses are still required," he added. "So a big task still lies ahead in 2008 and progress in parts of the north will be impossible until the fighting stops."

In southern Sri Lanka, away from near-daily artillery duels and land and sea battles, it's a different story.

Ruined buildings still pepper the southern coastal drag, with vines and creepers steadily enveloping crumbling walls and piles of debris lying just where the tsunami left them: a random tiled kitchen unit here, a stranded doorway there.

"This land is for sale -- ideal for a holiday resort," reads one optimistic banner dangling from the remnants of one tsunami-flattened home in the southern village of Peraliya, where Leelawathi lives.

But unhindered by a war that is focused in the north, legions of donors were able to put up housing schemes and fund many self-build projects via grants, though still slowed by red tape and difficulties securing land to build on.

In the southern port town of Galle, the legendary cricket stadium finally came back to life this month, hosting a test match between England and Sri Lanka. Tourists are returning too.

Some residents are ignoring a government coastal exclusion zone, rebuilding right next to the beach in defiance of the risk of a repeat disaster.

Others are struggling, and say they have slipped through the cracks. They say grants available are not big enough.

"You can't build a house for 250,000 rupees," said 34-year--old Mohammad Naizer, who is slowly rebuilding his family home in Galle. Reinforcing metal rods poke out of the wonky concrete structure, which still has no facade, its interior visible to the outside world.

Rain drips through cracks between the new structure and a salvaged wing of his old house comprising a kitchen and a bedroom.

His two children, aged three and one, scamper around near-naked in the damp as his wife sits on a plastic chair in an empty open-air space that will one day be their sitting room. Naizer was once a gem polisher, but his machines were ruined in the tsunami and he now relies on odd jobs.

"No one helped me. It is very difficult to live in such conditions, five of us in one room," he said. "Because it is all open, sometimes animals come in, dogs ... snakes."

"It would be good if the government could provide a better house than this." (US$1 = 108.55 rupees)

(Editing by Roger Crabb and Sanjeev Miglani)

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Sri Lanka observes Tsunami anniversary

IRNA: 26/12/2007"

Third Tsunami anniversary is being observed as National Safety Day in Sri Lanka Wednesday.

The main commemorative function is being held at Ratnapura in southern Sri Lanka.

A special prayer meeting is also being held at Peraliya, south of Colombo where more than 1000 passengers were killed as their train was washed away by the giant waves three years ago, All India Radio reported.

The whole of the island nation went into silent prayers for three minutes in the morning as mark of respect to those who perished in tsunami.

The nature's fury had killed more about 40,000 people besides displacing 2.5 million in Sri Lanka, the worst affected country after Indonesia.

India was the first country to have rushed to help Sri Lanka when Tsunami hit the island.

Besides pledging dlrs 23 million as Tsunami relief, New Delhi had dispatched ship loads of food and relief materials to the Tsunami hit regions.

More than 1000 military and medical personnel from India worked day in and day out to help Sri Lanka recover from the tsunami shock.

In Indonesia Mass prayers as well as a major emergency Tsunami drill are being held in coastal Calang town in Aceh, province.

Archipelagic Indonesia was the nation worst hit by the earthquake- triggered tsunami, with some 168,000 lives claimed by the catastrophic walls of water that lashed Aceh province at the northern tip of Sumatra island.

The 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake was an undersea earthquake that occurred on December 26, 2004, with an epicenter off the west coast of Sumatra, Indonesia. The earthquake triggered a series of devastating Tsunamis along the coasts of most landmasses bordering the Indian Ocean, killing more than 225,000 people in eleven countries, and inundating coastal communities with waves up to 30 meters (100 feet).

This was the ninth-deadliest natural disaster in modern history.

Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, Thailand, and Myanmar were hardest hit.

With a magnitude of between 9.1 and 9.3, it is the second largest earthquake ever recorded on a seismograph.

This earthquake had the longest duration of faulting ever observed, between 8.3 and 10 minutes. It caused the entire planet to vibrate as much as 1 cm (0.5 inches) and triggered other earthquakes as far away as Alaska.

A Tsunami is a series of waves created when a body of water, such as an ocean, is rapidly displaced.

Earthquakes, mass movements above or below water, volcanic eruptions and other underwater explosions, landslides,underwater earthquakes, large meteoroid or asteroid impacts and testing with nuclear weapons at sea all have the potential to generate a tsunami.

The effects of a tsunami can range from unnoticeable to devastating.

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Coral mining made tsunami more destructive in Sri Lanka

ET: 26/12/2007"

The destruction wrought by the tsunami of Dec 25, 2004 on the southwestern coast of Sri Lanka would have been much less if successive governments had heeded Sir Arthur Clarke's persistent call to stop the mining of corals.

The British-born science writer and diving enthusiast, who had been living in Sri Lanka since 1956, was campaigning for coral reef protection and other matters relating to coastal preservation for long. But few in the island listened.

'He did create an awareness at the international level, but the message never percolated to the local level here in Sri Lanka,' said Vinod Moonesinghe, an environmental activist who had worked with the NGO 'Friends of the Earth.'

'The coral reefs from Akurela to Hikkaduwa were being mined for years to make lime which is used in the construction of buildings. The area had, in fact, become very famous for its lime. But the depletion of the corals had resulted in the killer waves lashing the shore with an unprecedented ferocity,' Moonesinghe told IANS on the third anniversary of the deadly tsunami..

In a place called Peraliya, 96 km south of Colombo, 1,500 people were killed in a matter of minutes, when the railway train in which they were traveling was struck by giant waves twice in quick succession. Peraliya town too lost heavily, with 2,500 dead and 450 families rendered homeless.

The battered, dented and rusted train quickly became a major tourist attraction, being the last vestige of the tsunami in the area, and the grimmest reminder of it.

'The corals in the 'coral garden' at Hikkaduwa and Akurela have survived the fury as they are better able to stand the waves than the species on land. And they continue to be a tourist attraction,' Moonesinghe said.

'The authorities must stop not only the mining of corals, as a matter of great urgency, but control the discharge of effluents from the beach hotels, that dot the coast,' he said.

The palm fringed coastline from Colombo to Galle has been a major tourist attraction, especially for Westerners looking for sun and sand. The place bristles with small and large lodges and hotels, several of them right on the shoreline.

Tsunami had induced some awareness of coastal management. The government had introduced a rule that there should be no construction within hundred metres of the shoreline. But the conservation measures are being implemented in a very 'desultory' manner, says Moonesinghe..

Over the years, the sea has eroded the southwestern coast greatly, and beaches are becoming scarce all along the Colombo-Galle road. In many places, the shoreline is barely a few yards away from the main road and rail line. And it is feared that due to global warming, erosion will only increase in the years to come, hitting tourism, which is already declining due to the war and the terrorist bombings.

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Two Nano technology institutions to be launched with private sector support

The Island: 27/12/2007"

The Ministry of Science and Technology has planned to launch two nano technology institutions next year as joint ventures with the private sector, the ministry said.
Under the project, two institutions, named NANCO and the Sri Lanka Institute of Nano Technology (SLINTEC) will be set up.

NANCO will be the holding company that will own the nano park proposed to be established in Homagama.

State of the art laboratories will come up in the park to facilitate private sector companies and other research institutions, the Ministry said yesterday.

SLINTEC, the research institute, will be a joint venture with the private sector. Private sector will invest 50% to set it up and this investment will decide on the salaries and other emoluments to the professionals who will join the institution.

It will conduct research programs directly focused on upgrading the industrial products, initially our main industrial exports. Any innovation of SLINTEC will be used by the private sector partners of the institute. The investment of the project is Rs. five billion.

"The major advantage Sri Lanka tend to gain in this new technology is the human resources we have," the Secretary to the Ministry A.N.R. Amarathunga was quoted as saying.

Some of the world's top nano scientists are Sri Lankans who will extend their support to the project. Professors Ravi Silva and Gihan Amarathunge will join from the beginning. Prof. Silva is due here by next month (January).

Prof. Silva is presently attached to the University of Surrey and is one members of the five member consultative committee of the UK government on nano technology. Prof. Amarathunge is in the University of Cambridge.

"Sri Lankan nano research will initially focus on industries such as apparel, rubber, ceramic, chemical products such as paints, activated carbon, mineral and herbal products which are the main industries in Sri Lanka.

Nanotechnology research will enable these industries to face the risk and compete globally. For instance our apparel industry is catering for high end niche markets and we are competing in quality and not in volume. Nano technology can be used to produce high quality apparel products. In rubber industry too we can add more value to our rubber products, the Ministry said.

Nano technology is a vast area and can be applied in every industry, Amaratunga said. The private companies that will join the project are MAS Holdings, Brandix, Jinasena, Dialog and Sri Lanka Telecom. Some countries have agreed to technically support the project.

Some universities and research institutes have already started training scientists in nano science. SLINTEC will be initially located at Biyagama and later shifted to the nano park in Homagama. once the construction work is completed, which will take around two years," he said.

"This is the first time the corporate private sector will collaborate with the government in research and development.

Nanotechnology is a new breakthrough in science and if we grab the opportunities at the very beginning the country will benefit immensely. We missed the industrial revolution, electronic revolution, bio revolution and the IT revolution.

Many developing countries successfully utilised these technologies in their economic development.

Our objective is to be a leader or at least an equal partner in nano research, Amaratunga said.

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The Infrastructure for Development in an Agrarian Economy: The Sri Lankan Model that helps both producer and consumer

The Island: 27/12/2007" by Dr Garvin Karunaratne

The Cost of Living in Sri Lanka is soaring and the government is trying its level best to control the situation. The top priority given to this task is evident from the high powered committees appointed under the leadership of the President and the Prime Minister.

In the 1950s and 1960s, Sri Lanka established the infrastructure that could help farmers and small industrial entrepreneurs move from subsistence to commercial production. Those facilities comprised the Department for Development of Agricultural Marketing, the Paddy Marketing Board, the Cooperative Wholesale Establishment and the Small Industries Department. True, they ran at a loss but they made possible the achievement of self-sufficiency, reducing imports to a bare minimum, generating employment, providing consumer goods at reasonable prices to urban populations and also saving hard earned foreign exchange.

The most prominent IMF dictate in its Structural Adjustment Programme was that all the loss incurring public ventures should be abolished or privatized. Governments were stupid enough to do as the IMF said. No one argued with the IMF to point out that our development infrastructure helped both the consumer and the producer, helped the achievement of self sufficiency, avoided imports, etc. In the case of India and Bangladesh the Governments argued with the IMF and did not dismantle their developmental infrastructure. India and Bangladesh have stood to gain from their policy.

It is no wonder that in Sri Lanka the cost of living is soaring today and all attempts so far have failed to control it. Producers stopped producing for the market as they could not find fair prices for their produce. From 1996 to 1998, I worked on my small farm at Kadawata but could not sell the bananas I produced. The prices offered by the shops and restaurants were so low that I stopped cultivation. This is what happened to all producers. They stopped producing we had to depend on imports. Now we import oranges from India, apples from Australia and the US and this list is endless. Instead of finding employment for our farmers and wealth for our people we create employment for fruit and vegetable growers in many foreign countries.

Is there any concerted effort to produce oranges in our orange belt at Bibile , Moneragala and Wellassa? I know of this orange belt, because I have been there and when I was in charge of the Triploi Market, I handled lorry loads of oranges daily. We are now trying to plant sugar cane there! Sri Lanka got caught in the import-and-sell dictate of the IMF. The World Bank and the IMF would willingly allow loans to be used for imports. As Prof. Joseph Stiglitz has said the IMF does not care about our national interest. Its interest is to bolster the economies of the developed countries that control the IMF.

The aim of this paper is to detail the developmental infrastructure that Sri Lanka once had. I speak from sheer experience as my first appointment was as an Assistant Commissioner in the Department for Development of Agricultural Marketing. I covered the Vegetable, Fruit and Egg Marketing Scheme for five years and the Guaranteed Paddy Purchasing Scheme for over a decade. Later, I covered the Small Industries schemes for a total of five years, of which one year was spent as Deputy Director of Small Industries, in charge of private sector small industries.

The Department for the Development of Agricultural Marketing was established during the Second World War, when there was a severe shortage of essential food in the conurbation.

The Centre of the Vegetable , Fruit and Egg Purchasing Scheme was at the Tripoli Market, at the Maradana Goodshed. The staff comprised two Assistant Commissioners (I was one of them in 1957) and a number of Marketing Officers. Our task was to have close surveillance over the availability of vegetables and fruits in the Colombo market, study the quantities available, identify the items in short supply, fix prices at which the vegetables were to be purchased at the purchasing units of the Department established in all producing areas. In case of certain items in short supply like cabbage, carrots, red pumpkin, pineapple, oranges, eggs, floor prices were fixed, at which the Department would buy everything offered by producers. The aim was to avoid imports and to keep the urban populations served with goods at cheap rates. In addition, the Department also sent mobile purchasing units to the major fairs in the island like Embilipitiya, Welimada, where producers brought their crop for sale. The goods purchased were packed and despatched overnight by rail and lorry to the Tripoli Market. At Tripoli Market the goods were accepted, graded and despatched immediately to the Shops in the towns and also supplied to the hospitals. The sale prices were fixed at a level below the current sale prices in the shops. The prices were determined in such a way that neither losses nor huge profits were made.

The picture of the Marketing Department would be incomplete without reference to the Assistant Commissioner’s Conference held on about the tenth day of every month. Every Vegetable and Fruit Purchasing Depot as well as every Fair Price Shop had to compile a Profit and Loss for the earlier month and the Assistant Commissioner was pulled up if he had either incurred a loss of over 10% or secured a profit of over 10%. We were criticised for fixing too high a price for purchasing at the Fairs causing a loss or in fixing too high a price for selling to consumers causing a profit. It was a balancing act. This was a Scheme of Commissioner Basset. His place was taken over by Mr B. L. W. Fernando, a Chartered Accountant of few words but firm and smart in action. We shuddered in trepidation as his eyes scanned the Profit and Loss Accounts we submitted. It took a bare second for him to spot errors. He would warn us sternly but it was all forgotten, when he hosted us to dinner at his home at the end of the Conference. We had to be on our toes every minute and he effectively controlled all activities.

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Wednesday, December 26, 2007

New challenges in post-tsunami reconstruction

Daily News: 26/12/2007"

An army of workers rebuilds a cement plant once strewn with dead bodies.

A four-lane highway slowly takes shape along a coast shattered by giant waves. Roof tiles on new houses and schools glint in the tropical sun.

After the tsunami struck three years ago Wednesday, taking 230,000 lives in 12 Indian Ocean countries from East Africa to Indonesia, the world pledged some US$13.6 billion (?9.5 billion) to house and feed survivors and to rebuild devastated coasts.

Now the assistance is drying up and the recipients are facing the challenge of standing up unaided.

The results of three years of reconstruction are visible along the coast of Indonesia's Aceh province, the region hit hardest by the Dec. 26 disaster.

Some of those involved are calling it a model of post-disaster reconstruction. "The developments on the ground are very pleasing," said Kuntoro Mangkusubroto, the head of the government reconstruction agency. "I would say we are around 80 per cent complete." Some fear a hard landing when major reconstruction work comes to an end around mid-2008.

The aid that has built roads, schools and more than 100,000 homes has also powered local economies. Aid agencies hired thousands of construction workers, rented homes and offices, employed drivers and translators and patronized restaurants and hotels.

The massive injection of money boosted the largely agriculture-based economy in Aceh, home to 4.2 million people. Cars and motorcycles jam the provincial capital of Banda Aceh. Hotels, cafes and shops seem to be going up on every corner. "This is dangerous, it is like a bubble," said Zainul Arifin, the head of Aceh's investment board.

Like many, he earned thousands of U.S. dollars renting his house to a Western aid agency. "When the United Nations and the aid groups leave, we have to be ready with new livelihoods." None of that diminishes the progress made to date.More than US$2 billion has been spent in Thailand to rebuild the southern coast, where beach resorts were badly damaged and 8,000 people died.

Almost all the work is complete, said Bundit Theveethivarak, director of disaster mitigation at the Interior Ministry.

In Sri Lanka, the second hardest-hit country, "the picture is pretty good," said David Evans, a U.N. official there. Some reconstruction has been hampered by fighting between the government and the LTTE. Indonesia has had an added benefit: The tsunami jolted the government and a rebel movement in Aceh into signing a peace after decades of war that killed 15,000 people.

By April 2009, when the reconstruction agency's mandate officially ends, Indonesia expects to have spent US$8 billion in Aceh, US$1.9 billion more than the estimated cost of repairs. The extra funds will enable the province to "build back better," according to the reconstruction agency.

For example, the four-lane highway, funded mainly by the U.S. government, is replacing a two-lane coastal road that in some places was completely washed away. In central Banda Aceh, workers are laying wide sidewalks, something rarely seen elsewhere in Indonesia. With so much money sloshing around, some was wasted.

About 20 percent of the new homes in some areas are empty. People who did not need homes gladly accepted them when they were offered for free.

Complaints of poor quality abound, and some homes still do not have plumbing and electricity.

Aid agencies and the Government acknowledge the problems, saying that with hundreds of thousands left homeless after the tsunami, they were under intense pressure to build as many homes as they could, and do so quickly.

Mangkusubroto said next year would be "about filling in the gaps" in housing. There have been kickbacks and bid-rigging, but the widespread corruption many feared was held in check by strict auditing, officials and aid workers said.

With aid agencies winding down operations or already gone, attention is shifting to attracting private investment to create jobs. But so far only one major foreign company, France-based Lafarge SA, is making a significant investment, spending US$90 million to rebuild the seaside cement factory in Lhoknga, just outside Banda Aceh.

About 200 local workers, supervised by Chinese engineers, are pulling out what cannot be fixed and rebuilding the rest.

The facility, sandwiched between a surf-lashed beach and limestone cliffs, is also getting a new 32-megawatt power plant. An Irish firm announced a plan last year to turn the island of Sabang off northern Aceh into a shipping hub, but squabbling among local politicians has delayed the project, according to Sabang officials.

The island sits at the entrance to the Malacca Strait, a strategic waterway through which many of the world's container ships pass.

The plan envisions ships unloading their wares onto smaller boats at Sabang for regional distribution, a role played by Singapore today.

The concerns for potential investors mirror those throughout Indonesia: an absence of clear laws, creaky infrastructure, uncertainty over land ownership and copious red tape.

"Investors are sniffing around, which is a good sign, but there's some way to go yet," said David Lawrence, the head of a World Bank agency tasked with helping the province attracting investment.


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Tsunami rebuilding nearing completion

Daily News: 26/12/2007" By MOHAMMED NAALIR

The tsunami rehabilitation effort is nearing completion with the Government and donor agencies being able to resettle more than 80 per cent of the victims and reconstruct most of the damaged infrastructure.

The December 26, 2004 tsunami killed nearly 40,000 people and rendered one million homeless in Sri Lanka. Only Indonesia had more casualties. Sri Lanka received US$ 1.13 billion from donor countries and agencies after the tsunami for reconstruction and the Government also poured in billions of rupees.

The Government has resettled over 80 per cent of the tsunami victims within three years all over the country under the tsunami resettlement and rehabilitation programme, Coordinating Director to the President on Post Tsunami Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Affairs Shanthi Fernando said.

Nearly 8,865 families are staying in 58 welfare camps throughout the country. They too will be resettled as the construction of 21,889 housing units is progressing fast. Compensation to construct a house for a tsunami victim family has been increased from Rs 500,000 to Rs. 700,000.

About 97 per cent of the partly damaged houses and 62 per cent of the fully damaged houses in seven districts have been completed. The reconstruction programme in the North and East is likely to take some more time.

Figures for December 2007, provided by the Reconstruction and Development Agency (RADA), show that some 99,552 houses had been provided up to December this year out of the initial requirement of 117,372 units in the 13 districts that were affected.

Nearly all of the hospitals destroyed by the tsunami have been fully rebuilt and more than 100 schools have been re-opened.

The tsunami of 2004 damaged approximately 1,200 km of roads along the coast. The rehabilitation of the nearly 114 Km of tsunami-damaged southern coastal road to Matara has been completed.

The World Bank provided US$33 million (40 per cent in grant and 60 per cent in credit) for the reconstruction.

Overall, the total expended on some 710 projects in the 13 tsunami-affected districts has so far been US$ 633.8 million.

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Acute shortage of houses for tsunami affected-TISL

The Island: 26/12/2007" by Zacki Jabbar

"Government projects misleading picture of ground realities"

While the country today marks the third anniversary of the 2004 tsunami, Transparency International Sri Lanka (TISL) says government claims of having rebuilt more than the number of houses damaged or destroyed by the deadly tidal wave was a "misleading picture of ground realities."

Media Minister Anura Priyadharashana Yapa claimed last week that the government was way ahead in terms of tsunami reconstruction and more houses will be built in the New Year.

The government claims that 99,497 houses have been completed, exceeding the total requirement of 98,525 houses, but there is an acute shortage of houses in the Eastern province TISL said." For example, in Muttur only 422 houses were built through donor and owner driven housing construction programs in place of 1249 houses destroyed. Thus, government statistics represent a misleading picture of ground realities. It should guarantee and respect the right to housing of the affected North and East communities."

The TISL’s rebuttal of government claims, follows the World Bank’s contention that about 15,000 families are still without permanent houses, three years after the Tsunami struck, killing 40,000 Sri Lankans, injuring 15,000 and displacing over a million in the biggest ever disaster the country has experienced.

Dissatisfaction among residents of newly built houses was common particularly in the South. In most cases poor quality houses or culturally and environmentally insensitive constructions challenge the healthy occupancy of the houses. Such defects should be rectified as when pointed out, it said.

"Certain Tsunami affected districts which obtained political patronage through highly influential politicians, received a disproportionate influx of aid. Political interference in selecting beneficiaries was a common complaint. This caused acute delays in occupying certain housing schemes where prolonged disputes continued between affected communities and officials."

The entire reconstruction process lacked an inherent system for survivors and beneficiaries to access information. People living in new schemes were given no information about financial expenditure and at times plans and legal documents of title of their new facilities. It is a legitimate expectation of the beneficiaries to seek information as to the process of building and financial cost of their house. However, few in the community were privy to such information, TISL said.

"The State has a duty to collate and document all the issues which made it challenging to realize the desired objectives of the reconstruction process. This is a rare opportunity for not only assuring a positive recovery process but also prepare against any future catastrophe", it added.

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Rs. 53 billion of disbursed tsunami funds missing – TISL

The Island: 26/12/2007" by Zacki Jabbar

Over Rs.53 billion of disbursed tsunami donor funds has gone missing,Transperancy International Sri Lanka(TISL) said yesterday.

Implementing agencies were given Rs 122.2 billion but they are unable to account for Rs 53.6 billion of that money, the transparency watchdog said.

"While certain officials are reluctant to divulge information,there were some responsible bodies which implied that the government had utilized the funds for other purposes."

Donors initially committed Rs 241.5 billion but did not disburse the entire amount since project deadlines were not met,TISL said."Some of them withdrew from their commitment after paying the first instalment,because they were not satisfied with the progress of certain projects."

The first year Tsunami Report was issued jointly by the Sri Lankan government and development partners (multi-lateral donors, international financial authorities, bilateral and other donors and civil society).However the second year report appears to be issued under the hand of the Sri Lankan government,TISL observed.

"The Ministries of Finance,Reconstruction, Resettlement and Rehabilitation, Urban Development, Food,Health and Foreign Affairs collaborated with the donors in obtaining funds and their subsequent disbursement.Hence it is the duty of these ministries to declare the current status of financial information to the people.Although there was a supervisory body called ‘Centre for National Operation’ under the President’s scrutiny,its role is unclear."

The overall picture on finances is ambiguous and left for speculation since there is no audit report after 2005,it added.

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Tsunami development: TISL alleges govt. giving misleading picture

Daily Mirror: 26/12/2007"

Transparency International yesterday accused the government of giving a misleading picture of the ground realities of the tsunami development with the completion of three years of the tsunami disaster.
“TISL reiterates the duty of the Sri Lankan Government to guarantee and respect the right to housing of the affected communities in the North and the East, as the government statistics represent a misleading picture of ground realities,” the TISL said in a statement.

Last week, the government announced that 99,497 houses had been completed for Tsunami victims countrywide, exceeding the total requirement of 98,525 houses three years after the Tsunami catastrophe.

“There is an acute shortage of houses in the Eastern province of the country. For example, in Muttur only 422 houses were built through donor and owner driven housing construction programmes in place of 1249 houses destroyed,” the TISL said.

It also said that it was common to find a general level of dissatisfaction among the residents of newly built houses, particularly in the South.

It charged that the entire reconstruction process was lacking an inherent system for the survivors and beneficiaries to access information. People living in new schemes were given no information about financial expenditure and at times plans and legal documents of title of their new facilities. “It is a legitimate expectation on the part of the beneficiaries to seek information as to the process of building and financial cost of their house. However, few in the community were privy to such information,” it said.

The TISL also claimed that there were a number of systemic issues in various sectors which hindered the effective implementation of the recovery process. For example, “it is common to find allegations of bribery and corruption against Grama Sevaka Officers and Fisheries Inspectors who played a key role in both immediate relief and the subsequent reconstruction process at the ground level.”

The TISL urged the relevant government ministries to identify such systemic issues which fall within their purview and to derive remedial measures. “One such remedial measure TISL suggests, is for the incorporation of anti-corruption education into the initial Grama Seva officer training programs conducted by the Ministry of Public Administration,” it added.(SJ)

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Tuesday, December 25, 2007

'Haves' to have more

Lanka E News: 24/12/2007"

Houses have been reconstructed double the need in tsunami ravaged Hambanthota district while around 8865 families still languish in around 100 refugee camps country wide.

The number of houses damaged in Hambanthota district is 3193. The number of houses built anew is 6391, five more than double the need. Therefore there is an excess of 3198 houses.

These facts were revealed at the Government press briefing held today at the Information Department to clarify the situation of tsunami reconstructions. The media persons who came to take part in the press conference had to get the auditorium opened by themselves. Finally, the press briefing was commenced on 10.45 AM on the persuasion of the media men.

No Minister was present at the press conference handled by a lady officer of the Presidential Secretariat, the District Secretaries of the tsunami affected districts and Ministry officials. Therefore, there was no one to answer the queries on political nature.

Hambanthota District Secretary R.M.D.B. Meegaskumbura responding to a question from Lanka-e-News on construction of excess houses in Hambanthota district said that 2378 of the excess houses were provided to the extended families of the tsunami affected and 820 houses were given to low income families whose livelihoods were affected indirectly due to tsunami.

The District Secretary admitted that some houses were not up to the standards and investigations have commenced in this regard.

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Living under the shadow of tsunami in Sri Lanka


THREE years ago on December 26, tsunami struck Sri Lanka. Not many people knew the word, tsunami, then. A joke that was doing the rounds even before the country could come to terms with the worst catastrophe in its annals said it all.

It went like this: An aide to our then prime minister told him, “Sir, tsunami has come to Sri Lanka.” The premier, who thought it was an unannounced visit by a dignitary from Japan, Sri Lanka’s biggest donor, responded by saying, “rush a welcome party to the airport”.

Black humour apart, today every Sri Lankan is familiar with the word. Every school-going child knows what tsunami is and how it happens. Since December 26, 2004, Sri Lankans have become ultra-sensitive to earthquakes, especially when they take place near Indonesia. It was a 9.0 magnitude earthquake near Sumatra, Indonesia that devastated Sri Lanka on that fateful day, killing some 35,000 people and rendering more than half a million people homeless.

Television channels and round-the-clock FM radio stations report news of even small tremors taking place in the seas off Indonesia with comments from state geologists. In September this year, the Meteorology Department issued a tsunami warning in the wake of a massive earthquake measuring 8.2 on the Richter scale in the seas off Indonesia around 6.30 pm (Sri Lanka time). We all relived the horror as the authorities warned us that tsunami waves could hit us around 8 pm (local time). Police and armed forces were rushed to the coastal areas to warn people and urge them to find shelter in buildings on high grounds. Within minutes, the coastal belt across Sri Lanka was deserted. The people carrying transistor radios and flocking near television sets awaited the all-clear signal. It came two hours later. The people were relieved and felt their prayers had been answered. The incident underscored not only Sri Lanka’s status as a tsunami-threatened country but our eternal vigilance and our preparedness. It is true when nature roars with anger, we are helpless. If another tsunami comes, there can be material damage, but lives will be saved.

Yet some people in Sri Lanka live with the fear of another tsunami. They still show reluctance to spend long holidays at resorts along the golden beaches of the scenic south. But a visit to the coastal belt that was affected by the Boxing Day tsunami will make us conclude that the area looks more prosperous than it was before December 2004. Instead of clay or wooden huts with thatched roofs, there are houses with walls made of bricks and roofs made of asbestos sheets. The roads, the hospitals and the schools are certainly better than before. Tsunami is a blessing in disguise to many.

In Hambantota, the southern home base of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, the tsunami was a double-blessing. The terror waves destroyed or damaged only about 3,000 houses there, but records show that some 6,000 houses have been built with tsunami aid. In other areas in the south, due to lack of proper coordination, some families have got two houses while in some areas, especially the worst-hit areas in the eastern province, many people are still living in camps. In a Muslim town in the eastern Ampara district, the damaged hospital has not been rebuilt. People use a makeshift hospital operating from a dilapidated government building. The security situation and the lack of political power have made the worst-hit people the least beneficiaries of the tsunami aid.

Not much is known about tsunami-reconstruction work in areas under rebel control in Sri Lanka’s north and northeast. The Tamil Tigers, who were then observing a ceasefire with the government forces, wanted a share of the tsunami aid. The then government, though reluctant at the beginning, agreed to a mechanism proposed by donor nations to share the tsunami aid. But subsequent to a petition to the Supreme Court, the mechanism was ruled unconstitutional. The Tamil Rehabilitation Organisation, a pro-LTTE charity which was engaged in tsunami rehabilitation projects, was banned by the United States and Sri Lanka recently and its assets were frozen, on charges that the group was raising funds for the LTTE.

According to statistics, of the US $ 3.1 billion the international community had pledged Sri Lanka, only US$ 1.7 billion had come. A senior state official in charge of tsunami funds told a private television channel on Sunday that of the US$ 1.7 billion only US$ 1.1 billion had been accounted for, raising questions over missing millions. The government says that 80 per cent of all tsunami reconstruction work has been completed and boasts its record as a major success. Its claim, however, does not offer a fig leaf to cover its shame — the failure to make use of the opportunity the tsunami offered to unite the people of Sri Lanka.

As the tsunami wreaked havoc on December 26, 2004, soldiers and Tamil Tigers helped one another. In the sombre mood that prevailed for months after the tsunami, we realised that the pangs of human suffering knew no racial, ethnic or religious boundaries. That was perhaps the only time in the post-independence Sri Lanka, we felt we were united. But we squandered the opportunity. Once again bigotry and communalism dominate politics of Sri Lanka. Should we wait for another catastrophe to happen to strike unity?

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Sri Lanka tsunami survivors still struggle to recover

LBO: 25/12/2007"

Graft and renewed fighting has blocked relief to Sri Lanka's tsunami survivors with less than a fifth of money pledged properly accounted for three years later, according to watchdogs.

Sri Lanka's government claims success in rebuilding homes destroyed by the disaster, but international agencies say big problems remain.

Huge amounts of foreign cash that poured in did not reach its intended destination.

While the authorities claim they built more houses than required, many people still live in makeshift dwellings for reasons ranging from poor building standards to fighting in areas where the new homes are located.

"I don't know where the aid money was spent, but we are still living in this wooden house," said Nalini de Soysa, 53, while standing outside her single room house in Galle 112 kilometres (72 miles) south of Colombo.

Some 31,000 people died and one million were left homeless after the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami. Sri Lanka said it got 3.2 billion dollars in foreign aid pledges to rebuild the devastated coastlines.

But out of the promised money only 1.2 billion dollars was actually received, the government says.

From that only 634 million dollars -- less than 20 percent of the original amount pledged -- was spent by the end of November, according to Transparency International, an international watchdog on corruption.

"It has been virtually impossible to find out what happened to the cash," said Rukshana Nanayakkara, Sri Lanka's deputy executive director of the anti-graft organisation.

An initial government audit in the first year of reconstruction found that less than 13 percent of the aid had been spent, but there has been no formal examination of accounts since.

More than 350 tsunami survivors have complained to the graft-buster this year, with allegations made against local and international aid agencies.

"There has been no proper accounts kept on the money and we believe only a fraction of aid trickled down to the real victims," said Nanayakkara.

While 8,865 people still remain in temporary shelters, official figures show that 119,092 houses had been built. In theory, that number is 20,000 more houses than needed.

While there is an excess of supply in the island's Sinhalese-majority south, people in the conflict-hit north and east, dominated by minority Tamils and Muslims, remain in makeshift shelters.

Fighting between government troops and Tamil Tigers escalated in December 2005 making tsunami reconstruction even more difficult.

"Progress has been slow in the north and east and reconstruction activities have been stalled in some areas of the north due to the escalated conflict," said the World Bank's Toshiaki Keicho.

The International Labour Organisation, meanwhile, said Sri Lanka's tsunami housing programme "cannot be considered to be completed", as many of the new settlements lack access to roads, water, electricity and basic health services.

The government, however, claims success.

"Sri Lanka has performed a tremendous job in its relief, rehabilitation and re-settlement process, with an overall 80 percent success," media minister Anura Priyadarshana Yapa said.

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SRI LANKA: Mixed fortunes at large post-tsunami housing project

IRIN: 24/12/2007"

There is no lack of ceremonial plaques at Siribopura, Sri Lanka’s largest tsunami housing site, 240km south of the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo.

The over 1,500 houses on the 240-hectare site - funded by donors - are a mixture of the good and the bad: some are well kept and others are coming off their foundations. There are new houses, some still sturdy, while others are falling down.

At the eastern corner of Siribopura lies Hungama, one of the first housing projects, constructed in July 2005 by the Sri Lanka-Hungary Friendship Association. Of the over 100 two-room houses that were originally planned, work began on at least 60 of them. Today, they lie in various stages of completion due to a dispute between the funders and the contractors.

Only one house, which sits right at the front, is occupied - by R. Jinton and his family of eight. “I am not a tsunami survivor, I got this house from a politician because I have a disability,” he told IRIN. “People don’t want to live in these houses because they are so bad,” Jinton said.

Upali Wijesinghe’s house in another section has a roof, unlike most in Hungama. “It leaks sometimes,” he told IRIN, pointing at the roof, “but it is OK.” The two-room house had been donated by CARE International. “It is better than nothing,” said Wijesinghe.

CARE is still building houses for tsunami-affected families, Nick Osborne, CARE International country head, told IRIN, and expects to construct about 1,800 in total. Osborne said CARE had worked closely with the government and is “satisfied that the quality of the houses are up to the required standard”. He added that CARE has a unit that beneficiaries can contact if their houses need repairs.

Wijesinghe is satisfied with his home and the relief he received after the tsunami. “Without the help, I would have had to move where my in-laws live,” he said. “With no money, the only thing I could have built would have been a `cadjun’ hut (small shack made of dried coconut leaves).”

However, Mohamed Zarook, who lives nearby in a house constructed with funds contributed by people in California, has very few good things to say about his own two-bedroom house.

“The roof leaks and will fly away if the wind is strong enough,” he told IRIN looking grimly at the clay-tile roof. “And an adult can creep through the gap between the walls and the roof.”

Zarook, who lost two children in the tsunami, requested a better house in the same complex, but has yet to hear from the authorities. “We came here because this is what was given,” he said. “I could not keep my family in a tent forever.”

Tsu-chi Foundation

Most residents at Siribopura say the 920 houses built by the Tsu-chi Foundation, a Taiwanese Buddhist charity, are the best. “That is what I want,” Zarook said looking across the road at the Tsu-chi houses.

But those lucky enough to get one, like I. Sadareen and Zarim Bahaman, have their own complaints. Top of the list is water. “We get water here once every four or five days and we have to fill up,” Sadareen said. Each house is provided with a water tank, but the Tsu-chi houses are located on high ground which limits water flow. Some Tsu-chi residents also told IRIN the material used for the doors and the door frames are of inadequate quality.


Complaints regarding the quality of housing were common nationwide among tsunami-affected recipients, according to a recent study by the Asian Development Bank Institute. Over 60 percent of all the new occupants surveyed found the amenities, including electricity, water, transport and primary education worse than before the tsunami. Over 40 percent felt the same about the quality of their new homes, according to the ADB discussion paper, Economic Challenges of Post-Tsunami Reconstruction in Sri Lanka, released in August 2007.

Many residents at Siriboupra are also disappointed with the sanitation facilities. Zarook said he had to readjust the door frame because his family found the toilet space too small. Others like the Bahamans, who have larger families, fear the pits will overflow. “It will be very tricky after a while when the pits are fuller and the rains come,” Bahaman’s wife told IRIN.


Most of the site’s occupants have also constructed make-shift kitchen areas at the back of their homes as the houses do not have sufficient vents for them to cook with firewood.

“There were claims that people’s lifestyles were not taken into consideration when designing the new houses,” the ADB paper said of the island-wide housing reconstruction effort. “For instance, the percentage of households using expensive sources of fuel for cooking, such as gas and electricity, increased,” it said, “primarily because many of the new houses did not include a kitchen with a chimney to allow use of firewood for cooking.”

The Reconstruction and Development Agency (RADA), the government body that oversaw reconstruction, said maintenance and amenities were now the responsibility of the occupants.

Title deeds

The latter, however, would feel more compelled to take care of the new houses and their surroundings if they held legal deeds to them. “We only have a piece of paper that says we got this or that house,” Zarook said.

“There is a procedure in place to hand over the deeds at the relevant divisional secretariats,” Ramesh Selliah, director of housing at RADA, told IRIN. Three years after the tsunami, 1,000 new owners out of some 70,000 nationwide have received their deeds, according to RADA.

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SRI LANKA: Post-tsunami recovery a success for most but not all

IRIN: 24/12/2007"

Sri Lanka poured millions of dollars in foreign aid into tsunami relief since December 2004, but three years later, some survivors still languish in welfare shelters while others live in new settlements lacking basic facilities.

Government spokesman and Information Minister Anura Priyadharshana Yapa said on 20 December that Sri Lanka had forged ahead in tsunami rebuilding. “In contrast to other tsunami devastated countries, the Sri Lanka government has performed a tremendous job in its relief, rehabilitation and resettlement process with an overall 80 percent success,” he said.

But as non-governmental organisations (NGOs) wind up their tsunami recovery operations after funding housing, livelihood and infrastructure projects, rights organisations charge that some houses and boats that were built in a hurry are already falling apart and some resettlement sites lack roads, water and electricity.

With donor aid for tsunami projects ending, the crunch will be to find funding for much needed housing and infrastructure projects not yet completed or started.

According to Transparency International Sri Lanka, which has tracked tsunami aid and criticised the lack of accountability, foreign aid disbursements to the government amounted to US$1.13 billion (commitments were US$2.23 billion).

Of this, the total expended on some 710 projects in the 13 tsunami-affected districts has thus far been $633.8 million.

Shacks, poor facilities

At a tsunami shelter in Lunawa, a suburb of the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo, the worst thing for the 93 families living there is having to share a single toilet.

“This is how we have been living from the start. Now, even the door of the toilet is falling off,” said M. D. Gunadasa, a fisherman who has been staying in the congested camp since the tsunami.

In the east coast town of Kalmunai in Ampara District, M. Raheema waits in her tiny shack at the Jiffrey welfare centre for water to start flowing through the tap. “We have one water tank for the whole camp and most of the time the supply is cut,” she complained.

Gunadasa and Raheema and their relatives are among some 8,865 families, mostly involved in fishing, who, due to acute land shortage in Colombo and near the sea in Ampara District, have not been given access to permanent housing and remain confined to makeshift shacks with scant facilities.

“Some are refusing to move out, while some have failed to secure suitable blocks of land, especially in Colombo,” Information Minister Yapa said.

The government offered survivors in Colombo and Ampara Rs 250,000 (about $2,500) to buy their own land anywhere they wished. But the government grant is inadequate to cover escalating land prices around Colombo and in Ampara District

Housing programme 85 percent complete

Figures for December 2007, provided by the government’s Reconstruction and Development Agency (RADA), show that some 99,552 houses had been provided up to December this year out of the initial requirement of 117,372 units in the 13 districts that were affected.

With 85 percent of the housing programme complete, tsunami housing reconstruction is “a success story”, according to David Evans of UN-HABITAT, the UN’s lead support agency in post-tsunami reconstruction.

Much tsunami rebuilding in the southern and western coastal areas proceeded smoothly and has contributed to the sector’s high performance rate, Evans said, despite constraints such as inaccurate beneficiary lists, the long-standing conflict, allegations of corruption in housing allocation and some donor agencies not fulfilling pledges.

In the north, however, where hostilities between government troops and Tamil Tiger separatists have escalated since December 2005, reconstruction has been slow. According to RADA, only 39 percent of the housing programme was completed in the north by October 2007.

Houses alone not enough

But just providing houses is not always the solution. A report released by the International Labour Organization (ILO) in May 2007 entitled Survey on Post-Tsunami Settlements of Sri Lanka [INSERT LINK http://www.ilo.org/public/english/region/asro/colombo/] studied 117 new settlements. It found that about 1,250 houses built by donors remained vacant because of lack of security, infrastructure and limited income generating opportunities.

“More than 400 new housing settlements were created when families were moved from the beach areas to new locations further inland,” explained Evans. “Many of these settlements require major infrastructure, water, sanitation, electricity, drainage and access roads, before they can be considered complete and long-term sustainable habitats.”

He pointed out that the government departments responsible for infrastructure would require significant support next year if they are to complete the required work needed at these settlements.

Shoddy construction standards

Some NGOs also charge that in the rush to provide permanent shelters and boats, construction was often unsupervised and below standard.

“In a recent survey we did, we found that the walls of new houses are already cracking and there are gaps between the roofs and the walls,” said Herman Kumara, convener of the National Fisheries Solidarity Movement, a local NGO. His organisation has also had complaints about boats not being seaworthy because of substandard manufacture, he said.

Rukshana Nanayakkara, deputy executive director of Transparency International Sri Lanka, pointed out that the economic opportunities created in the recovery process pushed accountability standards into the background.

“The boom in the construction industry, together with the need to expedite the reconstruction process, was linked to the hiring of inefficient contractors. Their unprofessional and profit-oriented approach to both management and quality of work was in most cases reflected in the final product,” he said.

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Sri Lanka needs more money for tsunami house re-building: WB

Daily Mirror: 25/12/2007"

The World Bank says Sri Lanka needs more money to re-build houses destroyed in the 2004 December tsunami, and its program is lagging behind in the island's war-ravaged areas.

World Bank says its program has helped restore the livelihoods of around 100,000 families and re-build 44,000 damaged houses.

"Together, the program has benefited directly more than 300,000 people," the World Bank said in a statement.

The Banks says as of March 2007 when the first part of the program ended, about 97 percent of the partly damaged houses and 62 percent of the fully damaged houses in seven districts have been completed.

"The remaining houses are under various stages of completion," the bank said.

"The reconstruction program in the North and East is likely to take some more time due to the ongoing conflict-related issues."

World Bank says there are still about 15,000 families in need of permanent housing primarily landless families, but with only 8 million of the original funding remaining, more money is needed.

Despite the "overall differential spatial and community impacts" World Bank says its International Development Association (IDA), funded Tsunami Emergency Reconstruction Program (TERP) has been satisfactory.

The World Bank has given 150 million dollars through two IDA (the bank's concessionary window) credit and is also running a 25 million dollar grant program from the International Federation of Red Cross (IFRC) for housing reconstruction.

An 'owner driven' housing program has received 65 million US dollars, livelihood support 34 million dollars, roads 33 million dollars, health 8 million dollars and capacity building 5 million.

"The World Bank’s support to Sri Lanka after the tsunami of December 26, 2004, was to mitigate the immediate suffering; assist people to regain their livelihoods; restore basic services to the affected population; and initiate the recovery and reconstruction process," the World Bank said.

So far 142 million of the funds have been disbursed. In addition to dwelling as livelihoods about 114 kilometers of the main coastal road from Kalutara to Matara has been completed.

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Sunday, December 23, 2007

Tsunami billions still at sea

Sunday Times: 23/12/2007" By Madhushala Senaratne

~ Thousands of victims stranded three years after catastrophe

As Sri Lanka marks the third anniversary of the catastrophic 2004 tsunami, it has come to light that only US$ 1.7 billion of the US$ 3.1 billion pledged by foreign donors has been received. As a result of the shortage of funds and other reasons, thousands are still living in makeshift camps while rehabilitation work has been delayed.

According to Nation Building Ministry figures, there was a shortfall of US dollars 1.4 billion as against the money pledged for tsunami rehabilitation and related projects. Some of the agencies and governments had disbursed almost all the funds they pledged or were on the verge of keeping to their commitments, but others were lagging far behind. The money was pledged from more than 480 organisations.

Of its total commitment of US$ 150 million, the World Bank had disbursed US$ 142 million while the UNICEF had dispersed its full commitment of US$ 42. 3 million. The USAID which had committed $ 115 million had disbursed $ 68 million. NORAD which pledged $ 1.2 million had disbursed $ 607,992.

At least 19,791 housing units still remain to be completed for those hit by the tsunami while in some cases there were people who received more than two houses due to uncoordinated distribution. “Of the estimated 117,483 houses required, 85% of the work has been completed while the remaining would be completed by end of June next year,” the ministry’s tsunami housing projects director, Ramesh Selliah said.

Although 100% of the work has been completed in the Southern province, about 88% has been completed in the East, Mr. Selliah said. He said thousands were still living in temporary camps and were reluctant to move. He said the construction of houses in the northern and eastern areas was slower mainly due to the fighting in the areas.

Batticaloa’s Additional District Secretary K. Mahesan, said reconstruction work in areas such as Vakarai was put on hold due to heavy fighting in the region and the subsequent displacement of thousands of civilians worsened the situation. “However, over 90% of the required houses in the Batticaloa district have been completed”, he said. In addition, much of the work in Ampara has also been completed.

However, maintaining an estimate cost for a house is becoming increasingly difficult with the rise in prices of materials such as cement, according to Sritharan Sylvester, Director of Caritas which handles human and economic development issues in the East. Limited funds, donors moving out of the East and the rainy season were adding to their woes, he said. In President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s homebase of Hambantota a total of 6,391 houses have been rebuilt and families resettled. This is in excess of the 3193 houses that were directly affected or damaged. “The houses built in excess are now occupied by the indirectly affected people such as renters, sub families and extended families,” Hambantota District Secretariat tsunami work chief Mahinda Manawadu, said.

But, some of the housing projects have been completed halfway and abandoned. The construction of 200 houses in Ichallampattu in Trincomalee undertaken by World Vision Lanka was stopped due to the conflict in the area. However, its National Director Yu Hwa Li said that they would resume work once stability is restored in the area.Meanwhile, a senior official of the Tsunami Education Rehabilitation Monitor (TERM) said that of the 183 schools identified as directly damaged, 100 have been rebuild so far. Work on the rebuilding of some 40 schools in the Jaffna, Mullaitivu, Kilinochchi, Trincomalee and Batticaloa has been put on hold due to security reasons while the work on the remaining 40 schools is to be finished next year, he said.

Certain projects implemented by the Japanese government in the East had also been delayed due to the prevailing security conditions. “Although much of the work has been completed, including the reconstruction of Japan-Sri Lanka friendship villages in Trincomalee and Ampara, we faced many difficulties especially with regard to transportation of goods and equipment,”, the Japanese embassy’s second secretary Yasuhiro Watanabe said.

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Tsunami reconstruction: 100,572 houses completed

The Island: 23/12/2007" by Lakshmi de Silva

Sri Lanka has completed a major part of the reconstruction of tsunami-affected houses successfully. The loans for housing were given using World Bank funds and the housing projects were implemented by the District Secretaries of the affected areas, Chairperson, Reconstruction and Development Agency Shanthi Fernando told Sunday Island yesterday.

She said the total number of houses needed to be built for the tsunami affected people was 117,372 and the number of houses completed as at December 20 was 100,572. There were, however, 57,000 temporary shelters by the end of 2006 but now only 8,865 remained.

The latest number of houses completed in the Southern Province was 38,000, Western Province 2300, Eastern Province 53,400, Northern Province 6,500 and North Western Province 74, she noted. "By the end of 2006 the number of houses completed was 71,000 indicating that the progress made in 2007 was very satisfactory".

"Three years ago, when the tsunami caused devastation we did not have the mechanism to face the problem of construction of such vast number of houses at a rapid pace. Human resources too were lacking. The RADA only coordinated the reconstruction process, but government district officials and certain NGO's took up the challenges though there were many shortcomings, she said.

Though there were a large number of philanthropists who rushed to help the affected people they too did not know where they could help with the funds they had brought. Therefore, there could have been unavoidable problems even in the reconstruction of houses or other measures of relief given to the affected people, the Chairperson said.

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Frustration abound among tsunami victims of Sri Lanka

OneWorld: 23/12/2007"

The giant Buddha statue at Pereliya sea. The noise of the waves slapping the shoreline is broken only occasionally by the sound of passing vehicles on the nearby highway.

The village, 90 km south of the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo, has returned to its former anonymity after the December 26, 2004 tsunami when giant waves crashed ashore and the international media flowed in right behind.

A south-bound train, filled with passengers from Colombo - and scores of others who climbed aboard in a panic seeking refuge from the first huge waves - was quickly derailed, just near the Buddha. The train was flipped over repeatedly by the waves at around 9 am.

The exact casualty figures from the train wreck have never been confirmed, but at least 1,500 died when the eight carriages and locomotive were tossed around like matchboxes.

The painful images of the train and the grief-stricken community were beamed repeatedly around the world. However, Pereliya’s 15 minutes of media attention has long since past.

“There is no point in talking about what happened, the waves came and went back,” R.K. Malith, who works in a coir pit making twine from coconut hemp opposite the giant Buddha, told IRIN. “We got something, others got more, now it is the past,” he said, and quickly waded away to collect coconut husks.

The building where the coir mill now operates was a house constructed after the tsunami with funds from two Sri Lankan expatriates, Mangala and Ruwani Rathnasinghe from Pupakara, New Zealand. No one lives in the building with its windows nailed shut and the toilet pit overflowing. Malith told IRIN the house construction was of such poor quality and the toilet pit so inadequate that the structure was never used as a home.


As the massive post-tsunami reconstruction effort gradually winds down, a general sense of apathy and disillusionment pervades the aid beneficiaries along the southern coast, according to multiple interviews in the region.

Aid workers understand the frustrations. “There has been a disconnect between intended efforts and what has actually materialised,” Maria Kristensen, Donor Participation team leader for ActionAid in Sri Lanka, told IRIN. “Costs have gone up, there have been other bottlenecks, adding to difficulties in project completion,” she said.

Sri Lanka’s annual inflation rate of 17.7% has aggravated the situation, creating budgetary shortfalls on projects, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said in a report released on December 10.

At beneficiary level, questions remain as to what happened to the massive amounts pledged. “There was so much money, but where did it go?” Ravi Wijesinghe, 17-year old boy, from Hambantota district in the deep south, asked IRIN. “We have a house, but my father still does not have a job. He was promised one.”

No jobs

The Wijesinghes now live in a fairly large two-bedroom house in Siribopura, Hamabantota district. It was donated by CARE International.

“We have a house, but my father has no job. How is he going to feed us and pay for care and repairs of our home? We have no money for such things,” he said.

Some beneficiaries just receiving relief are disappointed that it has taken so long and is insufficient. A.G. Priyarathana of Wakwella, in Galle district, told IRIN he was pleased to have received seeds, fertilizer and barbed wire from Caritas, a Catholic charity, but worried that it was not enough to cover his losses. “Even though we have recovered now,” he said, “we already lost at least one year of farming, if not more.”

Damian Arasakularatne, the head of Caritas in southern Sri Lanka, told IRIN the agency had been providing assistance to the village since the tsunami, but this was now winding down. “There are other problems that we need to look at and others who need our help.”

ActionAid’s Kristensen believes that some of the criticism is due to assistance not meeting beneficiary needs. “There have been instances where it is a supply-led operation rather than a demand led one,” she said.

Some success claimed

For its part, the Reconstruction and Development Agency (RADA), the main body that oversaw the reconstruction effort on behalf of the government, claims some success in tsunami reconstruction. RADA has now wound down most of its operations and in March 2007 released, jointly with the International Labour Organisation (ILO), a survey stating that over 80% of the over 100,000 new houses were on track to be completed by the end of 2007 and 90% of the affected families had returned to earning an income two years after the tsunami.

Sugala Kumarie, coordinator of the Peoples’ Planning Commission, a Sri Lankan non-governmental body funded by ActionAid, told IRIN: “Sometimes all we hear are the frustrations of the people,” and she fears that numbers alone will not be enough to convince the angry coastal inhabitants.

“The third anniversary of the tsunami is getting closer and they feel the attention of the world is not here any more. The problem is that no one is looking at these frustrations and they are very real.”

Source: IRIN

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