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Post-tsunami jobs increase, incomes decline

The Livelihoods Division at the Reconstruction and Development Agency (RADA) - the main government arm overseeing employment in the aftermath of the tsunami in Sri Lanka - is claiming great success.

“We have recorded a success rate of 90 per cent and soon all our work will finish,” Ranjith Abeyagunawardena, a RADA consultant said.

Nonetheless, many of those who have gone back to work are now earning far less than they did prior to the disaster, particularly in the northern and eastern parts of the country.

Recovery rates picked up rapidly in 2006 with better targeting of allocations and resources, according to the latest Needs Assessment Survey for Income Recovery, published by RADA and the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in March 2007.

“There is an overall recovery rate of 90 per cent which means that 90 per cent of families who were earning an income before the tsunami are earning an income now,” according to the RADA/ILO survey. The remaining 10 percent of households rely on income from non-work sources, according to the report.

An estimated 200,000 jobs were lost to the tsunami and US$416 million had been pledged by the government and international and national agencies to restart livelihoods.

All but seven of the 301 hotels damaged by the tsunami will be back in business this tourist season.

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Commerce, agriculture, fishing on the rebound

Over 75 per cent of the 23,449 acres of agriculture land damaged by the tsunami has been desalinized, cleared of tsunami debris and is under cultivation again, according to the RADA report. In the commercial sector, a total of 57,862 loans and grants valued at $200 million were disbursed by the Central Bank and the National Development Trust Fund to 16,500 business enterprises.

The fishing sector, which accounted for most of the job losses, has rebounded and now the overall catch is back to 70 percent of pre-tsunami harvest levels. Most of the small boats that had been destroyed have now been replaced, although more than 120 large-tonnage, deep-fishing boats still need to be replaced.

“Overall the recovery has been a success story, that is what the data is suggesting,” Doekle Wielinga, Chief Technical Adviser of the Income Recovery Programme at ILO in Colombo told IRIN, “but there are disparities especially between the south and the north”.

Recovery slower in north and east

Due to the continuing conflict, full livelihood restoration is difficult in the north and east. “We could not even work in the northeast last year,” RADA’s Abeyagunawardena said. “It was impossible.”

The ILO/RADA survey reports that while in the south more than 80 per cent of all tsunami-affected households were back to their normal employment, in the north and east, the figures were somewhat lower. Projects to generate livelihoods have been disrupted, particularly in Jaffna District where only 38 percent of households were back to their pre-tsunami employment.

Photo: Amantha Perera/IRIN
In the southern districts of Sri Lanka, the building of permanent housing for tsunami victims has proceeded far faster than that for those in the conflict zones of the North and East of the country
Like many other humanitarian agencies, the Australian Red Cross had to suspend six tsunami-related projects in Jaffna last year, including livelihoods assistance, when beneficiaries fled their homes and the security situation turned volatile. “The security situation in the north of Sri Lanka makes it impossible for our aid workers to visit the communities. Many people who were recipients of our projects have relocated,” Barry Armstrong, coordinator for the Australian Red Cross in Sri Lanka, said in a 25 June press release.

“Even now 45 per cent of the tsunami-affected rely on non-work income sources in Jaffna,” ILO’s Wielinga said. Restrictions placed on fishing and the lack of mobility has impacted the fishing sector, not just in Jaffna District, but all the way down to Batticaloa and Ampara districts.

A job, but simply not enough income

The RADA/ILO survey points out that even those who have regained some kind of income earning capacity in Jaffna and other areas of the north and east are simply not earning enough. It found that 73 percent of the families surveyed in Jaffna were earning less than $20 (Rs 2,000) per month.

Even in the rest of the country, earning capacities remain below pre-tsunami levels. “Eighty-one per cent of respondents said the income they earn now is less than the income they earned before the tsunami,” the survey stated.

''There is an overall recovery rate of 90 per cent which means that 90 per cent of families who were earning an income before the tsunami are earning an income now.''

Over 30 percent said they were now earning only between $20 and $50 (Rs 2,000 to 5,000) per month, while 41 percent said they earned over $50 per month. Most of those who said they were earning less were engaged in fisheries, small businesses or manual labour.

Some of the tsunami victims who were resettled to permanent housing projects some distance from the coast have found it particularly hard to regain their jobs - this includes fishermen and those who had other employment. Priyantha Hewage a 45-year-old, former grocer from Matara District in southern Sri Lanka is one such case. He moved to a permanent housing project in Miriswatte Division but has found it hard to find work in such a remote location.

“Today I survive doing odd jobs. Sometimes when I travel to Colombo, I earn Rs 300 to Rs 400 by doing gardening for the people living in big bungalows,” Hewage told IRIN.

The real challenge for job creation is in the north and east, however, because of the continuing conflict and because so many internally displaced people are now being resettled and have few immediate livelihood options. With RADA apparently downsizing, the effort to nurture job creation will lie increasingly with international and national agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). “At the moment,” laments RADA’s Ranjith Abeyagunawardena, “NGOs and other relief agencies still find it very hard to work in those regions.”


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