Sri Lanka: Helping communities to build a sustainable future
By Patrick Fuller, International Federation Communications Coordinator in Sri Lanka
For the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies - getting families back into permanent houses has been the primary focus of tsunami recovery efforts. But while a house brings stability and security it doesn’t necessarily improve the economic status of the family living there. Early on the Red Cross Red Crescent recognized the importance of taking a holistic approach to the reconstruction process by integrating livelihoods support programmes with most of its housing projects.
“Thousands of people are moving into new resettlement areas. And these sites can be up to 15 kms away from their original homes which may seriously affect peoples ability to continue with their traditional livelihoods activities,” explains Nimal Silva, livelihoods programme officer with the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society.
In Batticaloa district the British Red Cross has a well established livelihoods programme in Kayankerney where over 300 families have already been re-housed. The first step was the formation of a 12 member ‘village development committee’ to act as the main link with the community. Cash grants were then provided to 269 individuals who were free to choose how they spent the funds.
Almost half have bought fishing equipment whilst others are investing in goat rearing, poultry or small scale agriculture. The committee also received funding to be spent on income generating projects and the profits are ploughed back into sustainable projects that support the wider community such as saplings for a fruit orchard which is currently being planted on five acres of land provided by the government.
“We have given the committee training in areas such as book-keeping, planning and leadership skills,” explains Elamma Varughese, livelihoods delegate with the British Red Cross. “Now they are expanding into community based disaster management and first aid training and are hoping to register with the government as a community based organization.”
The Irish Red Cross has adopted a similar approach at their construction site close by in Puthukudiyerupu where over 100 homes are being built. In the first phase of the project cash grants and livelihoods equipment were distributed to almost 250 households in the area. Sixty year old V. Ponnachi spent her cash grant on a pair of goats which she plans to start breeding from. She also had money enough to start her own kitchen garden. Although she had never kept goats before, the Irish Red Cross has organized animal husbandy training through the local offices of the Department of Agriculture.
“We’re now shifting towards a facilitation role, focusing more on social mobilization,” explains Nazbar Khan, senior livelihoods delegate with the Irish Red Cross. According to Khan, this process will include training some people to help members of the community to develop business plans and help them get access to credit through micro-finance institutions.
The social impact on existing communities is often overlooked when new resettlement sites are planned. In the southern district of Matara the International Federation is working in three locations on projects that have been designed to include tsunami affected families moving into their new homes as well as families already living in the host community.
“Social tensions can easily develop between new settlers and the resident population,” explains Marc Fumeaux, livelihoods coordinator with the International Federation. “By spreading our support we are working to reduce those risks by helping the communities to integrate.”
The Red Cross Red Crescent has played a role in helping to establish local committees which identify community needs and develop projects that benefit everyone. One recent project has been a community library set up in the premises of the local temple in Talalla village. The community saw this as an urgent need, given that children had to travel for several hours each day to access material at the nearest library in Matara town. The village carpenter was commissioned to make all of the required furniture and within the first month membership of the library swelled to over 100. The Red Cross Red Crescent also helped to set up a revolving fund where members are charged a small fee which goes towards the purchase of new books.
The community has further plans. Another project is a weekly trading post, or pola as it is commonly known in Sinhalese. People come to buy and sell vegetables produced in the village, which generates profits and saves on bus fares to the town. The project has proven highly successful and the pola is set to expand.