Banking on solutions - A real-time evaluation of UNHCR's shelter grant programme for returning displaced people in northern Sri Lanka
1. "I locked the door of my house, put the key in my pocket and left the area as quickly as I could," explains Singaram, a Sri Lankan Tamil originating from Adampan in the north-west of the island. "When I left with my family we didn't really know when we would be able to come back or what we would find when we got here."
2. Formerly a successful rice farmer, Singaram and his family abandoned their house early in 2008, as the Sri Lankan Army (SLA) launched an offensive against the rebel forces of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eeelam (LTTE). He returned three weeks ago to find that his home, once a sturdy and spacious residence, is now in ruins, demolished by a bomb and stripped of all its fixtures and furniture. Just visible on a piece of charred and crumbling brickwork that remains intact is the Tamil name that Singaram painted on his house when he built it. Poignantly, it reads 'Shanti Illam', or 'Peace for All'.
3. Singaram and his family are just some of the 300,000 people who were displaced in the final phase of fighting between the army and the LTTE, a 26-year conflict that came to a definitive end on 20 May 2009, with victory for the SLA. Initially transferred to the area of Menik Farm and other closed camps in northern Sri Lanka, where they were confined for several months, many of the displaced people are now going back to their places of origin or taking up residence with family members in other locations.
4. UNHCR has played an important role in the resettlement process, monitoring their welfare, providing them with essential relief items and distributing a shelter grant of 25,000 rupees (around $220) to each household, so that they could repair and reconstruct their shattered homes.
5. In order to assess and enhance the effectiveness of this initiative, UNHCR's Policy Development and Evaluation Service (PDES) has undertaken a real-time evaluation of the shelter grant programme, at the request of UNHCR's Branch Office in Colombo and Regional Bureau for Asia and the Pacific (RBAP) in Geneva. The evaluation builds on a series of reviews of UNHCR return and reintegration operations conducted by PDES, and on recent work examining the use of cash grants in the voluntary repatriation and reintegration of refugees.1
6. The real-time evaluation was undertaken by two PDES staff members, Jeff Crisp and Vicky Tennant (principal drafter of this report) and by Andreas Graf of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), which has developed particular expertise in the area of cash grants.2 The evaluation team visited Sri Lanka from 5 to 20January 2010, visiting Colombo, Vavuniya (including the Menik Farm camps), Kilinochchi, Mannar and Jaffna.
7. In the course of its mission, the team undertook extensive interviews with displaced and other people, local traders, central and local government officials, as well as personnel from UN agencies, other humanitarian organizations and the Bank of Ceylon. The majority of the team's time was spent in IDP return areas, although UN security restrictions linked to the mine clearance and verification process meant that the team's ability to access areas beyond the main roads was limited.
8. Prior to its departure from Sri Lanka, the team held wrap-up meetings with government and UNHCR officials, all of whom are thanked for their excellent cooperation in the organization of the mission. On returning to Geneva, the team provided debriefings to RBAP and other members of senior management.
9. The evaluation was conducted at a time when the situation in northern Sri Lanka was rapidly evolving. This report presents the situation at the time of writing, in mid February 2010. Unless otherwise stated, the statistics quoted are based on data consolidated by the UNHCR office in Colombo and cover the period to 5th February 2010.