Reconstruction projects following the Sumatra earthquake and tsunami disaster

House built in the reconstruction aid program

Last March the Japanese Red Cross completed its housing aid projects for refugees in a war torn region in the northern Sri Lanka. It was the last in a series of aid programs supporting reconstruction that JRCS has offered in that region since the tsunami struck in December 2004. JRCS’ representative, Ms. Yukimi Kitamura, recently returned from the country, reported developments in the aid programs.

In Sri Lanka a variety of reconstruction projects have been implemented in most of the regions under the IFRC’s coordination in the aftermath of the tsunami . However in its northern region, where military conflicts had lasted for a quarter of a century between the Sri Lankan armed forces and Tamil separatist fighters, the unstable situations prevented international aid being provided to the victims. Moreover, as the battles intensified, the tsunami victims were forced to flee their home towns and were sent to shelters in other parts of the country.

Following the end of conflict in May 2009, a housing construction aid program for 2,500 displaced households was initiated under the management of the Sri Lanka Red Cross, IFRC and other sister Red Cross societies. As a member of the international coalition, JRCS had been taking an active role in many aid projects since the disaster and with these experiences, JRCS took initiatives on a housing construction project for 240 refugee households.

A plasterer working on stucco work

A plasterer working on stucco work

At the start of this project JRCS took a beneficiary oriented approach which was suited to the situation there. This entailed residents building their own homes and receiving financial support step by step, in line with the construction progress until completion. Since this method could save on construction costs of each house, this strategy was appreciated given the limited financial resources. With the money saved on labour costs allocated to support more beneficiaries. Another advantage of this method was that it afforded flexibility which enabled each household to tailor the building to suit the family’s size and personal preferences.

At the early stages of the housing project, inflated building material costs resulted in the residents having difficulty completing their homes. (Financial support was limited to the equivalent of 210,000 Yen per family). In order to help alleviate the situation JRCS local staff encouraged the residents and provided consulting services to maintain and develop the project. But later in the program the amount of financial support was increased and the use of funds could be diversified from not only being used for building costs, but also to raise the standard of living. The residents then could afford purchases which would allow them to improve their livelihood, such as cows, fertilizer and pumps. This allows them to make real progress in steadily putting their lives back in order.

Aid from Japan now in blossom

Training session using a life-saving board

Training session using a life-saving board

Three years have passed since the end of conflict but there are still many people in this region living in shelters or left homeless.

“We estimate that 160,000 families are still without homes” said Ms. Kitamura. With this in mind some citizens and the local staff feel mutual assistance between the residents should be promoted and encouraged more, in addition to a program of external aid. However the past and ongoing support from Japan is very much appreciated.

Among the JRCS’ various long term contributions to the reconstruction projects in Sri Lanka, the life-saving training programs in the Gam Paha district have become among the most popular and widely used in practice. JRCS has sent its instructors to disseminate their skills to the local communities.

“They have not only saved many lives but also contributed to develop a wide range of programs. The instructors made their own life saving boards, and transferred their life saving skills to local offices, companies and residents groups through training sessions” says Kitamura.

Long lasting aid from Japan has become more and more significant to the local communities through the various programs provided there.

As JRCS’s direct aid programs in Sri Lanka are now completed, the Sri Lanka Red Cross and IFRC will take over its role for future development.