SRI LANKA: Renewed fighting delays reconstruction in north and east
Three years after the tsunami devastated Sri Lanka, the island’s eastern and northern districts which were hardest hit, lag far behind southern areas in post-tsunami recovery.
The rest of the country is showing impressive results, according to officials at the Reconstruction and Development Agency (RADA), who say over 90 percent of the intended new houses have been constructed. But reconstruction in the north and east has been delayed significantly by ongoing violence between government forces and the Tamil Tigers which began anew in December 2005.
Ramesh Selliah, director of housing at RADA, told IRIN that housing reconstruction efforts in the rest of the island could be completed by mid-2008, the end of RADA’s tenure. He, however, was reluctant to give a time frame for completion of the work in the north and east.
“It might take some time in the north and east where there have been delays,” he said.
By May 2007, of the 19,700 new houses slated to be built in the six districts in the north and east, only 4,400, or 22 percent had been completed, according to RADA figures. In contrast, in the three worst hit districts in the south, Hambantota, Matara and Galle, over 60 percent of the houses had been completed by mid 2007.
Despite suffering over 60 percent of deaths and displacements from the tsunami, according to the Post Tsunami Recovery and Reconstruction report compiled by the Sri Lankan government and its donor partners in 2006 December, the rebuilding effort in the north and east has suffered greatly due to the eruption of conflict and resulting restrictions and security fears.
Some areas like the northern Jaffna Peninsula and the Tamil Tiger-controlled areas in the north face severe transport restrictions that have brought reconstruction work to a complete standstill in some instances, according to Muttukrishna Sarvananthan, a Colombo-based economist who specialises on the conflict areas.
“Naturally, with the intensification of the conflict, tsunami reconstruction has been put on the back burner,” he told IRIN. “Mullaithivu District [which is controlled by the Tamil Tigers] is lagging behind all other districts, but very little information is available about the actual situation,” Sarvananthan said. “I know for sure that housing construction for tsunami victims in Mullaithivu has come to a complete halt since the closure of the A9 [highway] in August 2006.”
“The reconstruction programme in the north and east is likely to take some more time due to the ongoing conflict-related issues,” the World Bank said in its latest update on tsunami reconstruction.
The effects of the slowdown in the reconstruction effort are not limited to housing only, as reports filed by agencies show.
World Vision found glaring income disparities between the south and the east in its Tsunami Response Final Report. “Incomes in the south are now higher than pre-tsunami levels, whereas in the east incomes have dropped 25 percent lower than pre-tsunami levels,” it said.
At least in the east, with relative calm returning in mid-2007, some of the suspended projects have restarted. However, the opposite is true in the north where the conflict has intensified.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Crescent Societies (IFRC), the single largest funder of new housing construction, said programmes in the north still remain in limbo due to the fighting.
“In the north of the country, the vast majority of IFRC operations have already been suspended and it is difficult to prepare future operations in the current political and military climate,” the IFRC said in its Federation-wide Tsunami Semi-annual Report on Sri Lanka released in December.
The situation is unlikely to improve any time soon, according to Bhavani Fonseka, a senior researcher at the Colombo based think-tank, the Centre for Policy Alternatives.
“It is very difficult to predict anything in the northeast, given what occurred in the last year; it will not change overnight, it is hard to give a time frame when things will improve,” she told IRIN.
Leading industrialist disgusted with Govt’s apathetic attitude
A leading organic food manufacturer and exporter, Bio Foods [PVT] Ltd., complains a number of government agencies do not attend to solve entrepreneurs’ grievances to smooth their manufacturing processes.
At present the company maintains good growth and it is the only company which received the world’s first Fair Trade Registered Processor and Exporter of Organic Spices award and wants to be the best in its field in South East Asia.
The company produces value-added products in green and black tea, spices, herbs, curry powder, desiccated coconut, cashew, treacle, juggery and coconut oil. These products are exported to selected overseas buyers in Europe and Asia, paying a premium with part of it going to farmers and producers in the country for their social welfare.
Chairman and the Managing Director of the Bio Foods [PVT] Ltd., Eco Foods [PVT] Ltd. and Biodynamic [PVT] Ltd Dr. Sarath Ranaweera said that his company has made complaints to all responsible government authorities, but the authorities maintain a deafening silence to his complaints.
At present, the company suffers lack of infrastructure at its factory located in Seethavalley Estate, Nillabe, in the Central Province. The other companies manufacture value added organic teas, spices and herbs for the export market, mainly to European countries. The Chairman said his plan was to earn Rs. 500 millions as turnover. These projects daily generate additional employment to a large number of people in the area and also a large number of small farmers in the district will be greatly benefited.
"Our manufacturing plants and the processing units are located in this estate (Seethavalley) and the lack of telecommunication facilities, motorable roads, proper commuter services and other basic infrastructure," he said.
The company has made written complaints to the Ministry of Industrial Development, the BOI, Sri Lanka Telecom, Regional Transport Board and also made frequent verbal complaints to the area ministers and the top level government officials.
"So far we have only received only written responses from those ministries, but our requests are still on hold and the company has to face obstacles, despite which the company exports large stocks of organic food products," he said with an air of resignation.
"We took our problems to Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake, but sad to say, the problems have worsened and production will be affected in the long run," he woefully lamented.
According to the BOI, it involves itself with industrialists’ problems to find positive solutions. However, that does not seem to be so with this company, as far as I can see.
Bio Foods’ James Valley Organic Tea Factory was recently awarded the one star rating of the Ceylon Quality Certificate under the Quality Management System of the Sri Lanka Tea Board. Value addition at Bio Foods is 90 per cent with raw materials coming from nearby fields while Rs 2.3 million is spent annually on international certification.