Rebuilding Sri Lanka after
the Boxing day disaster
By Ajith Nivard Cabraal
It's time for us Sri Lankans to focus on how to rebuild,
revitalize and reconstruct this battered nation. At such a time,
we must remind ourselves that the responsibility of re-building
this country does not necessarily rest with the President, government,
military and Task Forces alone. This landmass of 65,525 sq. km called
Sri Lanka is our country too. We all have a stake. We all have voices
and resources. This is therefore the best time for us to examine
how best to put our shoulders to the wheel to get the nation on
has been almost impossible for successive Sri Lankan governments
to enforce coast conservation measures or to implement the existing
laws for the protection of the coral reefs in the vicinity of the
shore lines, due to the stiff resistance from people and politicians
of the areas.
all know that many political problems would have arisen, if anyone
dared attempt to clear the vast number of sub-standard houses that
had been illegally and/or ill-advisedly built in close proximity
to the country's coast line. But today, the tsunami has, while causing
great misery, "cleared" these areas and we finally have
a great chance to re-locate the many thousands of our people in
proper and safe housing, and utilize the coastal areas in a planned
manner with proper provision being made for highways, roads, railtracks,
communication lines, community facilities, etc., whilst also ensuring
that the existing coral reefs are not destroyed any further. At
the same time, we also have the wonderful opportunity to completely
revitalize our fishing industry to bring it on par with international
fisheries habours could be re-designed and re-built to accommodate
large ocean-going fishing trawlers, and fish canning factories.
The industry could also work towards replacing the lost and damaged
fishing boats with bigger, safer and more sophisticated fishing
trawlers, gear and equipment.
should expect 2005 to be a tough year for Sri Lanka's economy. A
suitable rehabilitation and reconstruction program would consume
huge sums of money over the next 2 to 3 years, and it is unlikely
that international aid and grants alone would be sufficient to meet
the requirements. At the same time, the banking, leasing, insurance,
transport, retail and tourism sectors would probably suffer a few
setbacks as a direct consequence of the tsunami damage.
setbacks would necessarily be reflected in reduced earnings and
slower growth in many companies, which twin factors would obviously
exert a lot of pressure on government revenues, balance of payments
and other fiscal measures. These challenges would of course, need
strong, bold and clear responses by the government to cleverly manage
the changing economic circumstances, and the success of the entire
revival effort would, to a great extent, hinge on these responses
of the government. Rebuild we must. So, if we are to rebuild to
international standards, what should we do? Within the next few
weeks, the macro-level master plans must be made to lay out the
new roads, railway tracks, communication lines, bridges and townships.
is imperative that these be designed with an eye on the Year 2,100
rather than just re-tracing the pre 26th December 2004 status. Town
planners with a vision for the future should be engaged to design
these new cities, roads and other developments. Thereafter, engineers
who would take into consideration the challenges of the 3rd millennium,
while skillfully using the new energy sources such as wind, wave
and solar power, should be entrusted with the re-building and re-construction
the meantime, financial experts with a flair for creating innovative
funding schemes and having the ability and energy to develop exciting
new financial instruments to obtain the required funds should be
entrusted with the task of finding the required funds.
the end of the day the best of schemes would fail miserably unless
the funds needed to implement such plans and programs are not found.
It is in that light, that we should examine our current options
to source and generate the substantial funds needed for the ambitious
development programs that are likely to be proposed by the planners
over the next few weeks.
should, at this stage be encouraged by the manner in which the international
community is responding to what has been described as a truly global
disaster in modern history. There have been a series of magnanimous
gestures on the part of governments and individuals alike, which
is indeed heart-warming. But, as we all know, the coverage in CNN
and BBC about the tsunami damage would soon give way to other world
must realize that thereafter, it would be difficult for us and for
our region to sustain the interest and the co-operation of the international
community. A few days ago, I listened to a comment made by the UN
Secretary General, Kofi Annan where he reminded the world that pledges
made by donors in the past have not always materialized. So, it
is clear that if we want to obtain long term international support
and assistance, we need to do so quickly, while the disaster is
still fresh in the minds of all concerned.
so, what should we do to secure the required funding needed for
the re-building exercise? Firstly, we should subtlety but clearly
bring it to the notice of the international community that the funds
pledged by them so far is quite insignificant in terms of the scale
of the disaster and the capacity of those countries to provide assistance.
to the most optimistic estimates and projections, Sri Lanka is not
likely to benefit by more than US $ 1,000 million as aid and/or
relief and/or development assistance. Most of such aid/relief/assistance
may also be committed or granted in the form of technical assistance
or disaster relief according to the donors' own agendas and hence
the actual benefit to Sri Lanka on a long term basis, may not be
as much as we are now made to believe.
be if we all read Graham Hancock's "Lords of Poverty",
we will understand this better. Further, if the current tsunami
pledges are viewed in the context of (say), the US government's
initial allocation for "Operation Iraq" which was US$
78,000 million, it would be very clear that the amount pledged for
this largely Asian disaster is a mere fraction of what was appropriated
for the Iraqi operation. Already, Pope John Paul, President George
Bush, Prime Minister Anthony Blair, and many other world leaders
have identified the 26/12 Tsunami as one of the worst and horrifying
global tragedies. If so let the "cash" at least to some
extent match the "words".
is not to say that we do not appreciate and value what the world
community has pledged and done so far. The genuine feelings of love
and compassion of our human brothers and sisters world wide, has
been wonderful. In fact I was greatly touched by an Eisenhower Fellow
colleague of mine a few days ago. Who not only offered monetary
assistance to rebuild the affected areas but also offered to adopt
a Sri Lankan child who has been orphaned as a result of the tsunami!
While we should value and admire these extraordinary human qualities
displayed by foreign Governments, NGO's and individuals, we should
nevertheless also carry out a gentle but focused appeal for more
assistance towards the re-building effort while backing such requests
with clear plans, cost estimates, and other project details.
Sri Lanka should ask for at least a partial write-off of her foreign
debt. At present, Sri Lanka's foreign debt exceeds US$ 10,600 million,
while the annual interest payments amount to approximately US$ 230
that basis, the interest and capital repayments consume a huge proportion
of the government's revenue leaving very little resources for the
much needed development work. In order to financially withstand
the devastation of the tsunami and to gather the strength to face
the massive development challenge in it's aftermath, Sri Lanka would
now need to break free of one of the most debilitating influences
strangulating the country in the form of this large foreign debt.
country should therefore request from the donor community, that
all interest payments due for the next 5 years be cancelled on the
basis of a government undertaking that the funds so saved would
be strictly diverted to rebuilding work.
the same time, Sri Lanka should lobby for the write-off at least
50% of the foreign debt so that as a nation, we would be more "bankable",
and able to enjoy better cash flows which would surely propel the
country to embark on an accelerated re-building exercise.
Sri Lanka should use whatever media opportunities that arise now
as a result of the international media interest, to promote new
investment into the country. We should make use of the connections
that are now being developed, and media publicity that we now enjoy
at no cost, to project a positive image and persuade the international
community to invest in Sri Lanka in due course and thereby benefit
by the many advantages that Sri Lanka could offer. In this context,
once the development projects have been identified in a master plan
that should be drawn up soon, projects based on the "build
operate own" or "build operate transfer" models should
be made known to international financiers and contractors so that
Joint Venture Partners and other Strategic Alliances to undertake
such rebuilding work is promoted and processed quickly and efficiently.
the past 2,000 years, our history has recorded several natural disasters.
However, the 26/12 Tsunami may arguably be the worst disaster ever
experienced by us. Whilst we would have to acknowledge that this
unprecedented disaster has placed our country and its economy under
grave stress and strain, we should also be astute and intelligent
enough to understand that this disaster has also provided us with
many opportunities hitherto not available to us, which we should
be smart enough to make use of. If we succeed in such endeavours
we would, as a nation emerge as a strong mature country which can
proudly take its rightful place in the league of nations.