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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2554

Sri Lanka: Conflict zones lag behind in housing reconstruction

Colombo, 20 June, (IRIN): Siribopura rises up from nowhere. Amidst the parched shrub in Hambantota District, southern Sri Lanka, all of a sudden neat rows of houses appear as if laid down with precision by a giant conveyor belt.

Five kilometers from the coast, Siribopura ("beautiful town" in Sinhalese) is something of a success story in the massive post-tsunami reconstruction effort in Sri Lanka. It is an entirely new township covering 240 hectares, with its own preschool, town hall and other amenities, symbolizing the country's resilience. Located in what was formerly a crossing ground for elephants, it was built by a number of donors and private organizations. Most of the over 1,600 housing units are already occupied.

But like many post-tsunami reconstruction projects, Siribopura faces some teething problems.

One is the intrusion of wild life, says Kusum Priyadarshani, a resident of Siribopuro. "In the night, wild elephants and boars sometimes come here and it can be dangerous," she said. "The rubbish dump near the houses is now an added attraction for them, particularly to the wandering pachyderms."

Access to clean water

Water, however, is an even bigger concern. "We hardly get water, and the little that we get is unclean," Priyadarshani, who worries about the health of her six-month old infant, told IRIN.

Providing clean water at tsunami reconstruction sites throughout the country is not easy or cheap, according to relief workers. "It is a very expensive problem, taking resources, planning and time," says Patrick Fuller, communications coordinator of the International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC).

The IFRC has undertaken to build 26,000 new houses throughout Sri Lanka, and, according to Fuller, access to water has become a major problem, especially in housing sites distant from the coast.

But even with their criticisms, Siribopura residents can feel happy when they compare housing reconstruction in the south of the country to that in the conflict areas of the north and east. In the south, there has been little lag in the reconstruction process for permanent houses, and it can boast a completion rate of over 80 percent, according to data provided by the Reconstruction and Development Agency (RADA), the government body overseeing reconstruction.

Housing reconstruction data

Increasing violence in the north and east since late 2005 has brought the reconstruction effort pretty much to a standstill. In Ampara District only 958 of the 5,273 houses assigned to donors have been rebuilt, according to RADA. In Killinochchi District, which is under the control of the Tamil Tigers, it is 143 out of 990. In Trincomalee District, it is 712 out of 4,951 and in Batticaloa District, 839 houses out of 3,587.

Compare that to the south where in Galle District 2,453 out of 4,535 have been completed; in Kaultara District, 1,158 out of 2,871; and in Hambantota District, 3,476 out of 5,273, reports RADA. Only Matara District in the south shows a serious lag with only 381 out of 2,888 units complete.

"Working in the northeast has not been easy for many agencies under the prevailing conditions," Ramesh Selliah, director of housing at RADA told IRIN. "It is very difficult to predict anything there." Whilst he said he was confident that by the end of the year 85 percent of the permanent housing requirements for the tsunami-displaced could be met in the rest of country, he was more pessimistic about reconstruction progress in the volatile northern and eastern regions of the country.

Less funding for north and east

The north and east sustained 60 per cent of the tsunami damage but the two areas have not received commensurate funding for reconstruction - in part because of disruption caused by the conflict.

For example, a December 2006 second-year assessment RADA report notes: "Ampara sustained 24 per cent of the overall tsunami housing damage. Had there been perfect equity, Ampara would have received 24 percent of the committed specified funds, US$97.4 million. Instead it received 14 percent, or $58 million,"

The conflict has impeded reconstruction efforts in the north and east on various levels, says IFRC's Patrick Fuller. "Access has been a big problem," he said . "It is very difficult to transport supplies to Vanni [under the control of the Tamil Tigers] and Jaffna; there is some work being done, but not much."

The current volatile climate has forced the IFRC to revert to promoting more owner-driven reconstruction, although the relative calm currently in the east may provide a chance to accelerate reconstruction there.

"Things may get better, but we still don't have access to some sites in Vaharai," Fuller said. At least 1,112 houses are to be built in coastal Vaharai in Batticaloa District. The former Tamil Tiger stronghold came under government control in January 2007. Thus far, only 325 permanent homes for tsunami victims have been completed there, according to the Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies (CHA).

"We are looking at reassessing the reconstruction effort in the northeast and making changes in the next few months," RADA's Ramesh Selliah said. He estimated that over 13,000 temporary shelters in the north and east are still housing over 50,000 tsunami survivors.

Time, however, is at a premium in the north and east where temporary shelters are turning permanent, according to ActionAid, which supported a recent study tour of the region. "Not even 12 per cent of fully-damaged houses in the north have been completed and only around 26 per cent in the east," its latest report Voices from the Field said.

- Asian Tribune -

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