Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka: Creating an oasis for tsunami survivors

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SEENIMODERA, 24 May 2007 (IRIN) - Trudging up a steep slope laden with buckets of water was not what the residents of a new settlement for tsunami survivors in southern Sri Lanka expected to be doing when they moved in several months ago.

For the 250 disaster-stricken families living on a bleak, windswept hillside in Seenimodera in the Hambantota District, daily treks to a borehole over a kilometre away took some of the gloss off moving into their new homes.

The last straw was when they discovered that the turbid water they were queuing up for hours to collect had high iron content and was making their children ill. Residents had to pool their meagre resources to hire bowsers to bring potable water or wait to fill up on rain water.

"We were on the verge of leaving the place, even though we had been given a new house," confided M. M. Piyadasa, a fisherman from the nearby town of Tangalle who saw the tsunami demolish his seafront house leaving only the paved floor slabs. "My family could not have stayed here for much longer if we were not given water."

"It was a really difficult situation," added his wife, Damayanthi. "My two daughters and I were scared to return to our old home and rebuild it. Even the well there could not be used because it was contaminated with sea water."

Now, however, with non-governmental organisations (NGOs) stepping in to construct a tube well, set up a chlorinating plant and lay pipes, taps at the new settlement are gushing with water, and courtyards are lush with foliage and edible plants such as papaya, banana and green chillies.

Funded by the Australian Red Cross (ARC), the Rs 62 million (about US$620,000) project supplies treated water to Malgampura, Koswatta and Koskurutawa, three settlements built on highland allocated by the government for resettling tsunami victims who lost their homes.

Storage tower

The 100-cubic metre storage tower also provides piped water to the nearby village of Morketeriya, which escaped the tsunami but has benefited from subsequent development in the district.

"The entire project can supply water to about 600 houses," said Pretesh Shah, an engineer who supervised the project from its inception in October 2005 to February 2007 as the ARC's water and sanitation delegate. "We have even installed supplementary water pumps and filters so that there will be a continuous supply to these houses if there is a breakdown."

This far-sighted approach saw the ARC also constructing the supply network with imported polyethylene pipes which are "durable and maintenance-free for at least 50 years," according to Shah.

Helping the ARC implement the project are the Sri Lanka Red Cross and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies working alongside the state-owned National Water Supply and Drainage Board (NWSDB).

Challenges

The government's main tsunami recovery agency, the Reconstruction and Development Agency (RADA), admits that constraints still hamper the provision of infrastructure facilities such as roads, water and sanitation services and electricity to newly-constructed settlements.

"Restoration of water sanitation facilities faces a number of challenges, including developing infrastructure for new settlements and ensuring sustainable maintenance of emergency water sanitation provision," says RADA in its latest assessment released in December 2006.

Like many other tsunami-affected sectors, RADA estimates that water and sanitation rehabilitation faces a shortfall in funding of some US$35 million out of a projected total cost of $200 million.

Water tax

At Seenimodera village, the residents have rallied together for the long-term maintenance of the water supply facility. Their 11-member community-based organisation (CBO) will begin levying a water tax soon, after meters are installed in each of the houses.

It will also explore the possibility of generating additional income by selling surplus supplies to neighbouring villages.

"We have already collected Rs 400,000 [about $4,000] by charging a small fee from each household to buy the meters and install them," said the CBO's treasurer Upul Baduge. "The extra money will be used for repairs and for recurring costs." The NWSDB has trained members to take over the plant's technical and administrative operations so that the community will manage the project when the ARC leaves in a year.

A little over 35,000 people died and over 500,000 families were made homeless in the devastation left by the 26 December 2004 tsunami. Largely funded by foreign bilateral and multilateral aid, the $2.4 billion recovery and reconstruction programme in Sri Lanka has international and local NGOs supporting government agencies in rebuilding communities and providing livelihoods.

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