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Returnees dream of new houses in the north

A war-damaged home in northern Sri Lanka. At least 160,000 houses need to be repaired or reconstructed in the Vanni
(Amantha Perera/IRIN)

More than two years after she fled her home and 16 months after the decades-long Sri Lankan civil war was declared over, Chandra Jayakumar has one wish.

"A house. That's all I want," the 31-year-old mother said from her family's makeshift shelter under a tarp. "We have been uprooted so many times. Nothing feels permanent. We have survived the worst. Now we want to live in peace."

As the Sri Lankan government and humanitarian agencies start to rebuild tens of thousands of homes in the former conflict zone in the north, many returnees such as Jayakumar hope to finally move out of makeshift shelters.

According to earlier UN estimates, 160,000 homes in the north need to be repaired or rebuilt.

Recent figures indicate almost 80,000 houses have been committed or are under construction by partners, including the Indian government, the World Bank-sponsored North East Housing Reconstruction Programme (NEHRP), the UN Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT), the UN Development Programme, Arbeiter-Samariter-Bund, Sarvodaya Economic Enterprise Development, Sri Lankan Red Cross, SEED, Community Trust Fund, Caritas and YGRO.

The Indian commitment of 50,000 permanent houses is the largest, with a technical team to support planning preparations already in the country.

Chance to build

When fighting between government forces and the now defeated Liberation Tamil Tiger Eelam (LTTE) intensified in late 2008, Jayakumar, her husband and baby fled their home in Darmapuram, a village in the Kilinochchi District, deep into Tiger-controlled areas. In the final months of the conflict - just before the government defeated the Tigers in May 2009 - the family crossed the frontlines behind government troops.

They spent more than a year at a government-run camp for displaced people before finally returning home. Jayakumar is now collecting documents and paperwork towards a government application for a homebuilding cash grant. "People who returned to their homes first have begun to construct. I am waiting for my chance," she said.

Her sentiment echoes across the north.

"That is the main need, we can't live in tents or tin sheds for ever," Kilinochchi resident Shanthini Daniel said.

Construction boom

Dozens of cement tile-making plants have sprung up, as well as stores selling construction material.

Shelter projects across the north include the following:

- The North East Housing Reconstruction Programme (NEHRP), the main government agency for housing, is handling an initial caseload of 10,000 houses.

- The Indian government has pledged to build 50,000 houses in the Vanni, the Indian High Commission in Sri Lanka has announced. 

- The World Bank has allocated funds to build 5,400 houses in Kilinochchi, about 3,000 of which were under construction or already completed as of August, said Raja Rehan Arshad, lead operations officer of the World Bank in South Asia.

- UN-HABITAT is building 4,000 houses in the Vanni. 

According to the latest statistics from mid-July, more than 3,200 houses had already been constructed or repaired, including more than 2,100 in Kilinochchi.

Under the NEHRP scheme each family can apply for a US$2,900 grant to build a 46 sqm house, comprising two rooms, a kitchen and a toilet.

Separately, each returning family is provided an emergency shelter cash grant of about $220 by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) to facilitate light repairs to partially damaged homes. But returnees have widely used the cash for basic needs, so extensive needs for urgent shelter support remain.

Under the UNHCR emergency shelter scheme, as of end-August more than 55,000 families had been given the grant.


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This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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