Slow action leads to more poor, jobless
By Dilshani Samaraweera
More than a year after tsunami aid flooded the island, studies show
‘build back better’ will never happen unless some corrective
action is taken, fast.
“There has been some livelihood recovery but not much evidence
of ‘building back better’,” said Paul Steel, associate
fellow, Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) at a recent press briefing
to launch a report on tsunami recovery.
in Post Tsunami Sri Lanka: Building Back Better?’ is the second
IPS research report on tsunami recovery and is based on a stakeholder
workshop in December last year. The report shows that Sri Lanka’s
aspiration to ‘build back better’ could end up nothing
more than another catchy advertising jingle.
Over one year and millions of dollars of tsunami aid later, tsunami
victims are either as poor as they were before the tsunami, or worse
off. The aid dollars have not built a ladder to climb out of poverty.
majority of the people affected by the tsunami were poor before
the tsunami. Now, at most, they are back where they started,”
An estimated 150,000 people lost their jobs because of the tsunami.
A majority of these people have now found some type of employment.
But, notes the IPS report “incomes are generally lower than
Over Rs 12 billion ($ 126 million) was committed for livelihood
restoration and eight ministries and over 100 NGOs are trying to
help people return to work – but some have been left behind.
people will fall through the cracks ie, over 20,000 people are estimated
to be sick and injured after the tsunami. There are also those who
are too traumatised to work, or who need to care for others,”
says the IPS report.
Although some, like construction workers, increased their earnings
because of a tsunami housing boom, many others have not been able
to earn more, even when lost assets were replaced.
fact, a survey conducted six months after the tsunami, in six affected
districts – Ampara, Batticaloa, Galle, Hambantota, Jaffna
and Kalutara – indicates a trend showing the worse side. The
survey shows the emergence of a new group of people – those
people who do not have a regular source of income.
category of no-income families was particularly high in Hambantota
(49 percent) and Batticaloa (48 percent) and cuts across families
that fell within rich, middle income and poor categories, before
incomes of families had also dropped in the six districts.
“The number of families who earned a monthly income over and
above Rs 5,000 had dropped by 30-50 percent, with Jaffna district
recording the highest drop from 54.1 percent to 2.1 percent,”
says a paper by Ms Marit Haug and Mr Chamindra Weerackody.
The six-district study also found people were too lazy to work because
it’s easier to live off tsunami aid. “In almost all
the communities in which the study was conducted, laziness on the
part of people, particularly the male population, to engage in productive
activities, was reported,” says the report.
“Many are increasingly dependent on aid given, both in kind
and cash by aid agencies and are not willing to revert to their
former livelihoods. This state of apathy is partly attributed to
the trauma that people experienced after the tsunami,” says
study also notes increased alcoholism, neglect of children and increased
incidents of pregnancies among tsunami-affected families. These
behavioural changes, says the IPS report will add to economic hardships.
Tsunami affected micro-industries must get back to business for
these families to get off the aid-drip and become self-sustaining.
However, the tiny coastal businesses that produced coir, rope, carpets,
reed mats, fishery activities, and foods, or ran small pettikades
(box shops), are stuck in a low- value, low-income rut.
rebuilding, says the IPS, should target boosting these incomes,
if Sri Lanka is to ‘build back better’. Small businesses
need to be linked up with markets to add value to their produce
and to earn more. Input and support from Sri Lanka’s larger
companies are urgently needed to do so.
lost assets of these families may have been replaced but they don’t
understand how markets work. The NGOs also, for the most part, do
not have this type of knowledge. So there is a real role for the
private sector to play,” Steel said.
example, the largest beneficiaries from the low paid coir workers
are the blue chip companies,” notes the IPS report. “While
the private sector has been active in the relief phase of livelihood
restoration, there is a need to extend this by engaging corporate
social responsibility (CSR) in longer term livelihood recovery,”
the report continues.
grow, these informal domestic businesses need to come into the formal
economy. “We need to create links between the households,
companies, chambers of commerce and the banks, to link these household
businesses with the rest of the markets,” says Ms Haug.
to act fast
The IPS report highlights three areas that need immediate attention
for sustainable tsunami recovery, or to ‘build back better’
in any real sense.
Local government needs to play a stronger role: IPS notes that local
governments must do more to steer recovery from grass root level.
“Local governments, with households, private sector and other
agencies, need to drive local recovery and development,” it
said in a statement.
micro entrepreneurs more with the market: To climb out of a subsistence
existence, micro businesses need to produce more value added goods
that bring higher returns. “NGOs and others should encourage
and support households to produce higher value added products that
are demanded by the market. This requires more marketing and private
sector skills,” says the IPS statement.
fisheries management and investment is urgently needed : “There
is a real need for managing fish stocks, strengthening fisher groups
and investing in fishing infrastructure, such as harbours, especially
in the East where they were lacking even before the tsunami,”
the statement added.