Sri Lanka

USAID Field Report Sri Lanka May 2005

Program Description

USAID's Office of Transition Initiatives (USAID/OTI) program in Sri Lanka aims to generate greater support for a negotiated peace settlement to end the island nation's longstanding internal conflict. To accomplish this, USAID/OTI seeks: to mobilize and link peace constituencies through support for inclusive, collaborative-action planning in strategic communities; to increase understanding on key transition issues and to change attitudes through information dissemination, advocacy, dialogue and debate; and to capitalize on key windows of opportunity to generate momentum for a resumption of the peace process that has been on hold since April 2004.

Working with local nongovernmental organizations, informal community groups, media entities, and local government officials, USAID/OTI attempts to identify and support critical initiatives that move the country along the continuum from war to peace. Development Alternatives Inc. implements the $14.8 million small-grants program and manages USAID/OTI offices in Colombo, Trincomalee, Ampara and Matara.

Since the program began in March 2003, USAID/OTI has cleared 390 small grants worth approximately $10.7 million.

Country Situation

President poised to sign proposed joint mechanism for tsunami relief - The debate over a proposed joint mechanism for distribution of tsunami relief funds in government-controlled areas and Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) sections of the North and East intensified as President Chandrika Kumaratunga made clear her intent to sign such an agreement with the Tamil Tigers. The Marxist-nationalist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) has threatened to walk out of the coalition government if the president signs, and the Sinhalese nationalist Jathika Hela Urumaya, which has nine Buddhist monks in Parliament, also has mounted fierce opposition to the agreement. The JVP's departure from the government would result in a hamstrung Parliament. Should the opposition initiate a no-confidence motion, this could lead to a new general election. The president's approval of a joint mechanism also would have a significant impact on stalled peace talks, given that to date only the opposition United National Party has entered into a written agreement of any sort with the LTTE. International donors who pledged $4 billion in aid for tsunami recovery at a mid-May conference in Kandy made it clear that disbursement of the funds was contingent on progress in the peace process, with a joint mechanism viewed as a positive step.

Coastal buffer zone remains controversial - Government officials involved in tsunami recovery have acknowledged problems associated with enforcement of the coastal-buffer-zone policy prohibiting housing reconstruction within 100 meters of the sea in the South and 200 meters in the East. Uncertainty over the issue continues to slow the pace of building permanent housing. In the South, most of the tsunami-displaced residents remaining in camps are those whose damaged or destroyed houses are within the buffer zone. The government is continuing to acquire land for resettlement and has made some payments to those willing to rebuild farther inland. Tsunami-displaced Sri Lankans in general continue to voice their frustration about lack of consultation with the government on the location and type of housing to be provided.

Eastern Province hampered by strikes and continued tensions - The placement of a four-foot statue of Buddha at a busy intersection in the center of the multi-ethnic Trincomalee town on the east coast resulted in a series of general strikes, and a significant increase in government military presence. A strike by an LTTE-backed Tamil citizens' group, from May 17 through May 21, threatened to expand throughout the entire North and East. A court ruling called for removal of the statue, as well as other "unauthorized" statues on Urban Council-owned property in Trincomalee - several Hindu shrines included - by June 2. At month's end, the statue of Buddha was surrounded by government troops, sandbag bunkers and barbed wire. Buddhist monks held a sit-in at the base of the statue to protest the plans to remove it. There were several reported incidents in town of related violence, resulting in at least one civilian killed and five others injured.

In Batticaloa, farther down the coast, one civilian was killed and 10 people, including three police officers and five soldiers, were injured as police and security forces tried to prevent a mob from storming a checkpoint. The killing led to a pro-LTTE strike the following day. Demonstrations, tire burning and roadblocks occurred in Tamil coastal villages of the multi-ethnic Ampara district as well as Batticaloa town.

USAID/OTI Highlights

A. Narrative Summary

OTI cleared nine new grants during the reporting period with an estimated total value of $406,889.

Two of four new grants from the Ampara office will support collaborative-action planning in the multi-ethnic community of Central Camp, a flashpoint for communal violence during the long ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka. These grants will rehabilitate a community center and hospital that serve as shared resources for Muslims, Tamils and Sinhalese. Another grant will mobilize a broad cross-section of citizens and government officials in Batticaloa and provide heavy equipment to clean up the lagoon, restoring livelihoods to fishing families affected by the tsunami. The fourth Ampara grant seeks to manage tensions between tsunami-affected and non-affected communities through street dramas, emphasizing shared challenges and collaborative responses, performed by a youth troupe with which OTI has worked in the past.

One of three new grants from the Trincomalee office will support a multi-ethnic fishing society, a member of the government cooperative network, to facilitate consultations with tsunami-affected communities. Two other newly approved activities will provide in-kind materials and mobilize volunteer youths to supervise the reconstruction of the Trincomalee bus stand, a focal point of this tsunami-affected town, and facilitate collaborative-action planning in a Sinhalese community at the northern end of the district that has re-established economic and social links with neighboring Tamil and Muslim communities, as well as with local government officials in Trincomalee town.

The office in the capital of Colombo remained engaged with start-up support and handover procedures for the newly established office in Matara, which is not yet fully staffed. One of two new grants will rehabilitate an internal road network in a tsunami-affected division of Matara, raising awareness through community workshops about local prioritization of resources. The other Colombo-based grant will support a media and advocacy campaign on the cost of war. It will target an estimated 1 million pilgrims expected to travel in June to the ancient Sinhalese Buddhist capital of Anuradhapura, where skepticism about a political solution to the Sri Lankan conflict is high.

B. Grant Activity Summary - March 2003 through May 2005

Focus Area
Grants Cleared in May 2005
Estimated Budget for Cleared Grants May 2005
Total Grants Cleared Since March 2003
Total Estimated Budget for Cleared Grants Since March 2003
Civil Society Organization Support
$ 207,846
Civil-Military Relations
$ 209,369
Community Impact Activities
Conflict Management
$ 50,947
$ 808,307
Election Processes
$ 10,845
Ex-Combatant Reintegration
$ 72,226
Justice/Human Rights
$ 109,915
$ 42,886
$ 920,968
Mine Action
$ 2,198
Transparency/Good Governance
$ 231,188

C. Indicators of Success

Youths continue to be a catalyst for peace committees - OTI's support for a youth-driven, post-tsunami cleanup activity has stimulated further expansion - and replication -- of a peace committee that has become a model of inter-communal problem-solving. The peace committee in Mutur was formed in 2001, composed of one key individual from each of 13 educational zones in the division, in an effort to reduce ethnic clashes and racial disharmony between Tamils and Muslims. Local government and security-force officials credit the committee with playing a key role in minimizing the communal instability that was commonplace throughout the country's conflict. Through the OTI-funded debris-clearing grant, Muslim and Tamil youths within the Mutur peace committee mobilized other young Sri Lankans - including youths from the predominantly Sinhalese Seruwila Division, which is separated from the sea by the Mutur Division - to help clean up the tsunami-devastated Mutur coastline. The relationships formed and the level of civic responsibility developed have continued, resulting in youth membership within the Mutur peace committee mushrooming to 1,000 and prompting the community leaders and youth activists in Seruwila to establish a peace committee of their own - with the Mutur committee as their model. The role of youths in re-establishing communication and cooperation between the divisions after two decades of conflict bodes well for the future.

English language training and building peace - The relationship between youth unemployment and social unrest in Sri Lanka is long and clear. In the Southern Province district of Hambantota, lack of proficiency in English has deprived many area youths - including university graduates -- of economic and educational opportunities. The sense of deprivation and frustration, manipulated by populist politics, has proven to be a dangerous mix. OTI, in collaboration with the Hambantota District Chamber of Commerce, supported 600 unemployed youths in a six-month English-language training program that was not only designed to provide them with marketable communication skills but also to promote tolerance and understanding among the Sinhalese and Muslims who make up most of the district's population. By using innovative textbooks, course work and debates, students explored issues related to their multi-ethnic country's culture and conflict. The cross-cultural sharing of norms and values in English has proven to be a double benefit: having a peace-building impact while improving prospects for employment.

D. Program Appraisal

May was a transition month for OTI Sri Lanka. The process of training staff in the new Matara office, and handover of responsibilities from Colombo-based staff, slowed grant development in that region. Program staff in all four field offices continued to identify opportunities to use the tsunami recovery process to generate momentum for renewed peace negotiations between the government and LTTE. Significant energy was devoted by OTI Colombo-based staff to the development of a Performance Measurement Plan for the USAID Mission's current development strategy. The arrival mid-month of OTI's full-time monitoring and evaluation specialist contributed greatly to this process; the specialist also began developing district-based focus groups for media message pre-testing and post-campaign evaluation.


In June, USAID/OTI Sri Lanka will:

  • Further refine OTI's Performance Measurement Plan, fine-tune district-based focus groups for evaluating media initiatives, and establish baselines and mechanisms for ongoing data collection.

  • Identify opportunities to facilitate dialogue among citizens' groups and religious leaders in the polarized community of Trincomalee.

  • Explore means of educating the public on the contents of the controversial joint mechanism for tsunami relief.

  • Finalize handover of grant development and implementation from Colombo-based staff to staff at the new Matara office.

  • Clarify programmatic direction at a quarterly meeting for all program staff, scheduled for mid-month.

For further information, please contact:

In Washington, D.C.: Rachel Wax, Asia and Near East Program Manager, 202-712-1243,