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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, February 05, 2005

Sri Lanka 2005 Post-tsunami recovery program - Preliminary damage and needs assessment

ReliefWeb: Document Preview: Sri Lanka 2005 Post-tsunami recovery program - Preliminary damage and needs assessment: "At the request of the Government of Sri Lankan (GOSL), a joint mission comprising of staff from the Asian Development Bank (ADB), Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC), and the World Bank initiated a joint assessment of the damage caused by the December 26, 2004 tsunami." The Full Report

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Friday, February 04, 2005

ICE/ ASCE teams visit Sri Lanka - Role of Expats

The full Daily Mirror story (Feb 04 2005): Sent in to Serving SL blog by Mano Philips,
Engineers to discuss post-tsunami challenge. A team of senior engineers from the Sri Lanka Association of Civil Engineering (SLAICE) , and the American Society of Civil Engineers recently visited tsunami affected areas in the South and East of SriLanka SLAICE Secretary Ranjit Thabrew said that following the fact finding tour to the tsunami affected areas the visiting engineers from UK and USA are scheduled to meet the officers of the Institution of Engineer, Sri Lanka (IESL) and The Sri Lanka Association of the Institute of Civil Engineers, UK (SLAICE) today(February 4) at 5.00 p.m. at IESL Head Office. Topics for Discussion with ICE & ASCE Delegation by SLAICE/IESL include the proposal to set up a DisasterManagement Centre (For evaluation and mitigating Landslides, Cyclones, Monsoons and Tsunami); seek ICE and ASCE support to set up such center and provide training; ICE & ASCE to provide Honorary Consultancy/Construction Support (Ideally from Sri Lankan Professionals living abroad) to work with SriLankan Professionals; ICE & ASCE to provide the services of experienced and skilled Trainers to train craftsmen and mid-level engineers. Mr. Thabrew said Vocational Skills Ministry under theguidance of SLAICE, Chairman, Prof. Dayantha Wijeyesekera has already launched a scheme to train 1000 craftsmen in masonry, plumbing and electrical installations, providing one month’s intensive training followed by three months on-the-job training. Preference to be given to applicants from tsunamiaffected areas. The meeting will also discuss provision of free technology transfer as and when requested; assisting to develop a Code of Practice to cope with ‘Disaster Mitigation” Since there is a shortage of building materials for reconstruction work, ICE & ASCE will explore assistance on De-Salination Equipment for harvestings and from the Sea, suggest new and cheap Technologyfor construction materials (As alternative for traditional materials such as bricks etc) and arrange to supply of construction Equipment & Materials onconcessionary basis.

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Thursday, February 03, 2005

Will Sri Lanka ever become a developed nation by R. G. Rubasinghe

I went through the web resource sites and it is very impressive that people are so concerned about the nation. However when you come down to the real situation in Sri Lanka I wonder if all this information will ever be used. One month after the disaster, a majority of the affected have not been served yet. The money is not the problem. Huge amounts of donations have been received. According to the today's newspapers the government admits that only 30% has been served up to now. The majority of the afected are still in the same pathetic condition. In addition there is another trend building up. People have started committing suicide due to the lack of counseling. The authorities responsible for this are fighting amongst each other as to who should get the blame. Though people are talking a lot about this nothing has happened up to now.
We are thinking about architectural aspect of the housing project but the Sir Lankan politicians are still fighting each other over the decision about the 100 m zone. I am sure they will have a parliamentary debate on this issue. Nobody cares but the displaced victims that have to wait in relief camps. Schools have been reopened. I have met several principles from some of the schools in the affected areas and they say that they have not been instructed about any counseling programmes or such measure for those students who have either lost their parents, relatives or their belongings. Government officers are fighting amongst each other on the time they get to spend with the politicians to get points for their next promotion. These are few things that came to my mind at this time. I don't know what we could do as this is the typical Sri Lankan way of doing things. But I wonder if we as responsiible citizen who have benefited from the common mans tax money can and should tolerate this scenario any more?

I have heard a nice story: After the tsunami the priministers of several affected countries visited Sakraya. First PM of India meets him and asks, how long it will it take for his country to be a developed nation ? Sakraya explains that it will take at least 50 years and Manamohan Singh starts to cry as he will not be alive to see this. Thailand PM learns from Sakraya that it will take 200 years to develop his country. He starts to cry saying not even him but his grand children too will not be able to see the developed Thailand. Finally the Sri Lnakan PM asks the same question and all of a sudden Sakrya starts to cry. Our PM asks the sakraya why is he crying. Sakraya says in very sad mood that even he, the Sakraya, will not see a developed Lanka during his life time.

Though the above story is a joke, I right now feel that it is 100% true. If we all keep silent even sakraya will not see a developed Sri Lanka. So I will invite everybody to take a look at the actual situation in the country and do something. I do not know what.
By R. G. Rubasinghe

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S.Lanka donors put tsunami damage at 4.4 pct of GDP

Reuters AlertNet - S.Lanka donors put tsunami damage at 4.4 pct of GDP: "COLOMBO, Feb 2 (Reuters) - Economic damage to Sri Lanka from the tsunami equalled 4.4 percent of gross domestic product, with $1.5 billion needed for recovery and reconstruction efforts, the World Bank said on Wednesday, citing a survey by aid donors." More

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Is constructing three-storey buildings the answer?

Is constructing three-storey buildings the answer? , by Hiran Miskin, LankaWeb News: "At a time of such devastating loss of lives and property there are many whom individually, or through NGOs, or at Government level are trying to help the affected, by building housing units for them or by creating a buffer zone where nothing could be built in future. Prohibiting reconstruction of destroyed homes within 100 - 300 metres of the sea is a very questionable thing to. It could be viewed as an attempt to arrange the pattern of ones existence against ones will. The Government may say that it is done for the fishermen's own good. But are they being quite honest?
The idea of constructing three-storey buildings for the fishermen too is an attempt to re-arrange a pattern of existence. Is there anyway that we could find a more humane solution when finding shelter to all those who have lost everything in the Tsunami? To provide them with a kind housing that could offer both shelter and community? In Sri Lanka alone over 120,000 houses have been either completely destroyed or partially damaged as a result of the tsunami. Plans are already underway for the Government to provide three-storey buildings to house people who have no houses. The Government has also said that they may consider providing land for those who prefer to have single houses and has promised to bear the cost. A sad fact is that a vast majority of the Sri Lankan population today is either "mis-housed, ill-housed, or unhoused." In Sri Lanka less than five percent of the population could afford to seek the services of an architect. It is at a time like this that we need the proper counsel of the architects. What is their position on this issue?
Architecture for Humanity is one organization that is trying to make a difference about such conditions existing in the other parts of the world. Another is www.worldchanging.com, an organization and website covering "tools, models and ideas for building a better future." These two organizations and many other NGOs have launched a reconstruction appeal to help the victims of the Tsunami. Another group of people who are willing to pass their know-how, free of charge to anyone who wants to make use of it in reconstruction activities, is the National Engineering Research and Development Center (NERD) in Sri Lanka. They came up with cost-effective housing plans to rebuild structures damaged by the Tsunami.
Though we are very appreciative of all these measures, they do not really speak of an unmet need for proper kind of houses and other smaller projects in the affected communities. What I am referring to here is about creation of houses that would help build the communities and personal family lives, than construction of mid-rise housing units. As I have stated previously, the present government seems to be more interested in providing multi-storeyed buildings more than the creation of individual houses.
Unlike construction of mid to high-rise units, which is focused only upon the economic aspect of things, creation of proper individual houses is the only way that we could truly help these affected people. The homes that we provide for these people should be of the earth and it should create the framework for personal and family life. The government should first listen to their concerns. It should form partnerships with local groups who employ local labour and utilize local construction techniques to build single houses. If the donor groups too could listen to these people when working with those affected? This would help the funds to be kept within the community, helping to create micro-economies for those trying to escape this disaster. This is the most cost-effective way of rebuilding.
If the Sri Lankan Design Community could provide proper house designs, it will make a difference as to how and where these people will live, how they will eat, sleep and socialize. Such a gesture from the design community will help utilize the given funds to extend beyond simple dwellings to create real communities enabling life to grow, rebuild and renew. Two recent studies by the Central Bank of Sri Lanka and the World Bank provide a glimpse into the deepening social inequality and the continuing deterioration of living standards for the majority of the population. Most of those affected are amongst the poorest 20 percent of the population in Sri Lanka.As per the report, some 12.5 percent of the population in Sri Lanka still lives in houses made of wattle and daub. These are huts with few, if any, facilities. Over 60 percent of people have no access to piped water. Nearly 23 percent do not have sanitary toilet facilities and about 6 percent do not have any toilet facilities what so ever.
This is not taking into account the main districts under the control of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in the North and East of the island. If we could provide these people with adobe houses or houses made of wattle and daub, that are of proper design, with the basic utilities and infra-structure, that is a hundred times more preferable than building them apartment buildings. The huts that the 12.5 percent of the population in Sri Lanka still live are roughly 10 ft x 20 ft. This is a rectangular hut that is divided in two - one part covered only on three sides forming an enclosed veranda. If one really analyzes this village lifestyle, and how their day-to-day life takes place, one will find that it is a heaven for them compared to a life in a mid-rise unit.
Those of us who could truly understand the simple lifestyle of the villagers lived in a simple hut with a slanting roof, thatched with grass and straw are few. The floor of those huts is made smooth with mud and clay over which a coating of cow-dung was applied. It will have only one room and cooking is done under the eave. Their out-house is located approximately 100ft away. Very few of the houses would have a pot latrine attached to the house. Could you recollect the feeling of comfort experienced in spending time in such huts? Have you ever spent a day of your life under an extended eave of such a hut that is used for sitting on, sleeping and dining? If the collective mindset is for constructing three-storey buildings to house people in the affected areas, I must say that we are in the midst of a housing crisis. We should tread very carefully when we try to change a people's way of life, age-old culture and livelihood.
As I have said at the outset, the Sri Lankan population today is either "mis-housed, ill-housed, or unhoused." Will the design community rise up to this challenge of correcting this wrong even in a small way? Here they have been given that opportunity? Who will rise up to it and who will exploit this situation without any thought of listening to these peoples real needs are yet to see.''

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LankaWeb News In a move towards what he described as “transparency and accountability”, South East of England MEP Nirj Deva this week suggested pioneering reforms to the way international aid is delivered to the worst affected areas. Leaning on his experience as a long-standing Member of the European Parliament’s International Development Committee, Deva, who witnessed the Asian tsunami said: “It is clear that we currently have a problem with the way humanitarian aid and assistance is distributed. “All too often the money donated by individuals and Governments simply disappears down a black hole of theft and bureaucracy with no way for decision makers or the public to keep tabs on projects. “These problems can not be solved by waiving a magic wand, but they can be solved by the click of a button. “It is vital that we set up as soon as possible a web-based system accessible to all, and updated regularly by teams of data entry people. This would report exactly how much money has been paid into each country, to which sectors the money has been allocated, and for which project within each sector the money is being drawn down. “By putting such information into the hands of the general public, Government officials and aid workers, we would also be able to include up-to-date photographs of school projects, railway lines and other facilities provided by funding from charities and Government bodies. “In this way the people who donated the funds will, for the first time in history, be able to see exactly what is happening to their money. Countries affected by the Tsunami crisis such as Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Thailand all have internet and telephone capacities to support such a system. “What I am suggesting is no more and no less than what the commercial and financial sectors around the world are already doing. It is, put simply, what is expected in all major projects from global banking transactions, airline bookings to the global daily sales of hamburgers!”
Deva has written to the Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan outlining his proposals in detail, as well as obtaining firm commitments from Transparency International Chief Executive David Nussbaum to oversee the integrity of any system implemented.
Contact: Daniel Hamilton on 44 (0)7810 785924 & office@nirjdeva.com

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Ground Situation Report by Ajit Cooray

A current situation report by Ajit Cooray can be found by following this link. He has covered the route:

Valachchenai, Chenkaladi, Batticaloa, Kattankudi, Paddirippu, Kalmunai, Karative, Sammanthurai & Ampara

Hambantota, Tangalle, Matara, Galle, Ambalangoda, Beruwala, & Kalutara

Report by Ajit Cooray

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Need Help: Getting on the same page

A couple of days ago I posted some information about a group of dedicated volunteers working on providing intellectual resources for planned and organized relief and re-construction efforts in Sri Lanka. Their work is reported and coordinated through the website GeoLanka.net( We have contacted them and are currently working out the details on how we should pool all our resources together and work towards a common goal of grass-root development, poverty alleviation and post-Tsunami relief and reconstruction. We are sure there are many other individuals and groups working on similar ideas. To make all these efforts more effective and coordinated we feel that it is important to get them all on the same page. As a first step towards this we are currently collecting a list of such organizations and people and their contact details. Hence it will be a great help if you could make available this information to any body that is interested and would let us know of their contact details or websites. You can mail these details to me at mugalan@gmail.com. We appreciate your interest in serving the people of Sri Lanka.

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Wednesday, February 02, 2005

ReliefWeb; IOM press briefing notes

ReliefWeb; IOM press briefing notes 1 Feb 2005:: "With more than 500,000 people still homeless in Sri Lanka after the December 2004 tsunami, IOM Director General, Brunson McKinley, has stressed the need for villages and communities to be re-built quickly if people are to recover both physically and psychologically from the disaster. "

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Economic Policy in Sri Lanka

Economic Policy in Sri Lanka : Book Review, HindustanTimes.com: "The book brings together contributions by 23 economists and social scientists, who discuss the evolution of Sri Lanka's economic policies over the years, the ideology governing the evolution, the debates on policy, and key economic issues in contemporary Sri Lanka. Edited by Saman Kelegama, Executive Director, Institute of Policy Studies in Colombo, the book stands as a good reference material for other developing countries as well. For instance, most of the developing nations blame the public sector units for spoiling the economic broth! Author JB Kelegama in his article, The Importance of the Public Sector in Economic Development, aptly reasons out why the PSU is a white elephant."

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Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Dealing with the Tsunami

Dealing with the Tsunami by Lareef Zubair: "I had got to Sri Lanka one week after the disaster. A country of 20 million which was in dire straits had organized itself (not the government, not the NGO's) to bury, care for, feed, shelter, nurse, the dead and the surviving. No one died of starvation. The doubling of deaths due to epidemics that WHO warned of did not come to pass. But it was also clear that the relief efforts needed coordination, better targetting and there needed to be a better way to link those who wanted to help with those who could use the help. In addition, there was a great need for credible scientific information of new hazards, threats and of ways to deal with the Tsunami's aftermath. It was to the tasks of helping organize, provide credible scientific information and actual relief that I applied myself."

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Resources for Relief and Reconstruction after the Tsunami in Sri Lanka

Resources for Relief and Reconstruction after the Tsunami in Sri Lanka: "This website was put together by scientists, engineers and professionals to assist with relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction operations in Sri Lanka after the Tsunami of the 26th of December. Given the vast scale of the disaster, many efforts are needed and we seek to support work by organizations of all types. We provide topical information, updates on the evolving situation on the ground, requests for assistance, offers of assistance, networking tools and information on organizations that are involved in relief particularly small community based organizations. We provide a GIS based interactive mapping tool that can help contextualize relief work spatially. We have also developed in tandem, a website ( http://recoverlanka.net/) that contains background information on Sri Lanka, weather and climate, disaster management, health and important maps. Please use this site to request for assistance and to offer assistance. Please help to disseminate this site. "

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Peoples Bank launches microfinance website with German support

TamilNet: 31.01.05 : " The People's Bank, through its German-supported Rural Banking Innovations Project (RBIP), has launched a website on sustainable microfinance for rehabilitation of tsunami affected areas, said a press release issued by the Colombo office of the German Technical Cooperation (GTZ). The website, which can be accessed at www.microfinance.lk is intended to be a bridge between microfinance practitioners and donors, who need to work in unison in order to support the affected regions and their entrepreneurs, the Press Release noted."

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Coastal Greenbelt Project launched

Sri Lanka, 1 - 28 - 2005: Coastal Greenbelt Project launched: "Termed the Coastal Greenbelt Project, it is intended to facilitate future redevelopment programs on a planned and environmentally friendly basis, conforming to coast conservation and environmental protection standards. "

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Monday, January 31, 2005

Fetishism of the foreign

Online edition of Sunday Observer - Business: "There is no dearth of patriots. Browse through any newspaper or media bulletin. You could spot several leads where the patriots figure prominently. Everybody talks about the nation, building the nation, resurrecting the nation etc., etc. 'National' is a common prefix. Paradoxically, however, there is also preference for the foreign. Whether it is toothpaste, soap or sanitary towels the Number One choice among many, especially the city folk is for foreign brands. Take any consumer item variety, the rush is for the foreign stuff. Locally produced stuff is considered to be below par, at best mediocre. Take education. The craze is for International schools and the foreign syllabi. Take language. English is revered as the lingua franca. Those who could smatter a few English words and phrases could lord over the less fortunate vernacular mouthed populace. In this age of the knowledge society they could even outclass the literati if the latter is swabhasha educated. "

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Take decisions on case by case basis - Japanese expert

Online edition of Sunday Observer - Business: "'It was only three months from the disaster we began recovery and rehabilitation plans and after six months we were working on reconstruction and rebirth plans', he said. He also said that reconstruction and rebirth plans which included strengthening of the economy and rehabilitation programs had been drawn up only for three years and government assistance was stopped at the end of proposed period. "

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Fishermen resist Sri Lanka's plan to put them inland

Fishermen resist Sri Lanka's plan to put them inland: "'The type of housing that will be designed -- apartments or small cabanas -- will definitely be more modern than what they're used to, and that's what our team of architects and engineers are putting together.' The government is driven to modernize in part as a way to use the approximately $1.5 billion in reconstruction funds Sri Lanka has been promised by international donors. Local corporations, which have been involved in distributing relief to survivors, are also pushing for this option, said Niranjan de Soysa, a private- sector project manager who is assisting De Mel. 'Why beat around the bush: The profit motive is behind the corporate sector's involvement,' de Soysa said. 'That's their modus operandi. ... They know there'll be plenty of opportunity for them to make money here, especially in construction.' "

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Fishermen raise concerns on post-tsunami housing

Boston.com / News / World / Asia / Fishermen raise concerns on post-tsunami housing: "But it is not clear that cement and steel apartments built one mile inland are the most appropriate housing for Sri Lankan fishermen who have traditionally lived in leafy settlements by coconut groves on the seafront. 'Their community life is structured completely differently, and it'd be an alien way of life for them,' said Azra Jafferjee, an economist at the Center for Poverty Analysis in Colombo. 'You can't transplant someone who's lived -- even if in a shanty -- in a place they're used to just coming out of their door and chatting with their neighbors, into an apartment block, where they're completely removed from that kind of personal contact.' Though Jafferjee said the government's goal to move people away from the sea is understandable, she suggested that the government and aid agencies consult closely with local communities."

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