(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Post-tsunami recovery a success for most but not all

Fisherman M .D. Gunadasa who has lived at the Lunawa camp, near the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo, since the 2004 Asian tsunami destroyed his beachfront home says he has pleaded endlessly with the authorities for a permanent house.
Christine Jayasinghe/IRIN

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. 

Photo: Christine Jayasinghe/IRIN
Makeshift shacks stand cheek by jowl at the Lunawa camp, one of several sheltering tsunami survivors close to the capital Colombo.

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.

Photo: Christine Jayasinghe/IRIN
Tsunami survivor Margret Fernando has set up a small fruit stand at the Lunawa camp, close to the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo. Her family is one of 93 living in the cramped shelter for the third straight year.

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 [www.ilo.org] 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.

Photo: Christine Jayasinghe/IRIN
Tsunami survivor Margret Fernando has set up a small fruit stand at the Lunawa camp, close to the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo. Her family is one of 93 living in the cramped shelter for the third straight year.

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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