Almost two and a half years on and the reconstruction of Sri Lanka's shattered coastline remains a daunting task, with the job of rebuilding over 100,000 houses set to continue beyond 2007. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies is playing its part by supporting the reconstruction of almost 26,000 homes. But meeting this challenge has required new approaches and the forging of new alliances with other organizations.
In most cases reconstruction led by home-owners themselves has proved to be more economical and faster than using building contractors. Recognizing this, the International Federation and the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society has joined forces with UNHABITAT to create the Community Recovery and Reconstruction Partnership (The Partnership).
The Partnership represents a unique alliance of international organizations working closely together to deliver a 60.5 million Swiss franc ($50 million USD/ €36.7 million) package of financial, organizational and technical support to help more than 10,000 families to rebuild their own homes.
Seven Red Cross Societies are funding The Partnership. The International Federation is coordinating the overall programme while the Sri Lanka Red Cross is mobilizing communities through its network of district offices. UN-HABITAT brings its extensive experience in owner-driven housing and community development and the World Bank/IDA is providing expertise in running the large-scale grants disbursement programme through the local banking system. The government is taking responsibility for beneficiary verification and is disbursing funds directly into peoples' bank accounts.
"The Partnership moves way beyond the traditional approach taken by the Red Cross to post disaster reconstruction programmes", explains Al Panico, the International Federation's head of delegation in Sri Lanka. "We aren't just focused on bricks and mortar. We've developed Community Development Councils which give families ownership and responsibility over their own recovery. The aim is to leave behind strong, sustainable communities. This is the main reason that we decided to partner with UN-HABITAT who have developed a tried and tested approach."
In the southern district of Matara, the French and Belgian Red Cross Societies are funding local NGO, the Solideal Loadstar Rehabilitation Trust, to build over 150 new homes. It was an obvious match. Loadstar is a local organization with Belgian affiliations. They had the construction experience and manpower on the ground to get the job done quickly and efficiently. The Belgian Red Cross had the funding as well as ongoing construction projects in other parts of the District.
Further north in Trincomalee District the Swiss and Austrian Red Cross Societies took a slightly different approach. They joined forces with Swiss Development Cooperation, Swiss Solidarity and HEKS, a Swiss church organization, to form the Swiss Development Consortium which has helped over 3,000 families to rebuild their homes. The rebuilding effort is being led by individual households who are receiving grants and technical support through the Consortium.
The International Federation has also made significant commitments to help restore and develop the water supply infrastructure along Sri Lanka's coastal belt. Nineteen major projects amounting to 40 million Swiss francs ($33 million USD/ €24.25 million) are currently underway in cooperation with the government's National Water Supply and Drainage Board (NWSDB).
One of these projects involves the construction of a brand new water supply and treatment plant together with a water tower and pipeline network that will deliver clean drinking water to more than 9,000 households in Pottuvil, in the eastern district of Ampara. Until now the residents of Pottuvil have relied upon hand-dug household wells for washing, cooking and eating. The area bore the full force of the tsunami which contaminated most of the wells leaving the Red Cross with the job of tankering in fresh water for the local population until local water quality improved. Seasonal droughts also pose a threat with well water becoming increasingly salty as groundwater levels are depleted.
Because of the high costs involved, the two year construction project involves the collaboration of USAID, the NWSDB and five separate Red Cross partners. USAID is constructing the production and treatment plant with funding for the water tower and pipeline network being provided by the American, German and Irish Red Cross Societies. The German Red Cross is assuming responsibility for the overall management of the project and the Irish Red Cross is providing a delegate to supervise construction in the field. The International Federation and the Sri Lanka Red Cross developed the project and are acting as the main link with the NWSDB at central and district levels.
"This is a huge project that draws upon the collective expertise and resources of Red Cross partners, the government and USAID," explains Fidel Pena, the International Federation's water and sanitation coordinator. "Good coordination at every level will be essential between all the partners to make sure that the different stages of the project come together at the right time."
Partnerships have not only been forged in response to the tsunami. The resurgence of the conflict in the North and East of Sri Lanka has led to a working alliance between Red Cross partners and the UN that is helping to provide regular food rations to almost 100,000 internally displaced people. The Sri Lanka Red Cross together with the German Red Cross and the Hong Kong branch of the Red Cross Society of China has been actively involved in the World Food Programme's (WFP) food distribution programme in Batticaloa district which began last September when the conflict intensified around the town of Vaharai.
"It's a high impact project that has been well coordinated between all the agencies. The situation is very changeable but good cooperation amongst all the partners has meant that we've been able to adapt the programme accordingly," says Tim Hibbert, Country Coordinator of the Hong Kong Red Cross.
Everyone has a role to play. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has stepped in to contribute to shortages in the food pipeline and is involved in coordination and security clearance. The Sri Lanka Red Cross provides the manpower to help with distributions, WFP provides the food and the German and Hong Kong Red Cross provide funding, transportation and logistics infrastructure. On average, Red Cross volunteers have been carrying out more than 100 food distributions each month.
"The direction that we've taken in Sri Lanka has set the tone for future large-scale relief and recovery operations", explains Al Panico. "The sheer scale of the challenge here has meant that we've had to combine our experience and expertise with the strengths of other organizations. This has not only been a valuable learning experience - it's helped us to deliver better services to the vulnerable communities that we are working with."