Thursday, April 27, 2006

American Corner info centre established

An Information Centre (Library) of the Embassy of the United States of America, called American Corner, has been established at the South Eastern University of Sri Lanka in Oluvil.

A gift of the American Government, the Centre materialized from the efforts of the Vice Chancellor of the University, Dr. A.G. Hussain Ismail, and was declared open at a ribbon-cutting ceremony by James F. Entwistle, Charge d'Affairs of the US Embassy. Public Affairs Officer Phillip A. Fryne, Cultural Affairs Officer Angela L.Gemza, and Director of Information Deepali Talagala were also present.

The Corner will provide, and routinely update, print and electronic collections on themes related to: business, economics, law, politics, American studies, English as a second language (ESL), and more. The American Information Resource Centre, along with the Library of the South Eastern University of Sri Lanka, will also select and purchase new books, periodicals, and electronic publications for inclusion in the American Corners Collection.

This facility will provide work stations for accessing the American Corner?s' electronic collections and the internet, viewing stations for its video collections, a photocopier, and resources for maintaining the collections and equipment. The US Embassy, working with Library's, will also provide training to the staff of the library overseeing the operations of the American Corner, so as to ensure their continual professional growth.

At the conclusion of the ceremony, and in memory of their visit to the University, the Vice Chancellor, Dr. Hussain Ismail, presented mementos to the Charge d?'Affairs and his team. This was followed by the signing of the memorandum of understanding (MOU).

Speaking at this occasion, Charge d'Affairs Entwistle said that the Corner would strengthen the relationship between the people of Sri Lanka and the Unites States. Dr. Isamil thanked the Charge d'Affairs and the Government of the USA for their generosity and assured them that this gift would serve the entire population of the region. Acting Librarian M.M. Rifaudeen proposed the vote of thanks.Above: Charge d'Affairs of the US Embassy, James F. Entwistle, and Vice-Chancellor of the South Eastern University of Sri Lanka, Dr. A.G. Hussain Ismail, sign the MOU prior to opening "American Corner".

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Introduction to CASP Activities

Tsunami- and conflict-ravaged Ampara District is to have its plan for rebuilding (the Master Plan) developed by the Canadian Agro-Sustainability Partnership (CASP). This work follows the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) by the Government of Sri Lanka and CASP. CASP’s main office in the town of Ampara, and its sub offices in Kalmunai and Akkaraipattu, are staffed by local experts who are engaged in collecting information for this project while working under the guidance of the CASP Executive and international consultants from Canada and beyond.

Environmental specialists from Lewis HMJ Consultants Inc. of Canada, Ray Halsey (President/Director) and Tom Hartz (Environmental Services Manager), along with CASP's local Environmental Specialist, MAC Najeeb, have toured some of the most affected areas of Ampara District to ascertain the environmental challenges to be faced and to get some first-hand information on the current situation (e.g. the system used by the general public in certain areas whereby garbage is simply dumped and burned outside). Meanwhile, CASP's Gender Specialist, Marnie Girvan, along with Dr. Anuzsiya Senathirajah, a lecturer from the Southeastern University of Sri Lanka, met with prominent women in the District in an effort to fully understand issues related to gender and the specific difficulties women are facing. Similarly, local specialists in Agriculture, Fisheries, and other sectors are in the field collecting other information that will go into the preparation of the Ampara District Master Plan.

In preparation for the production of the Rebuild Ampara video, CASP's Vice-President of Communication & Technology, Jeff MacAthur, visited almost all the tsunami-affected areas in the District, from Periya Neelavanai to Arugam Bay, and conducted interviews with people from a variety of sectors and backgrounds. Accompanied by the Rebuild Ampara Communications Team, which includes local media personalities MA Phakurdeen and MIM Anwar, video recordings were taken with tsunami-affected villagers, fishermen, teachers, businessmen, community leaders, and others. These will be assembled into the Rebuild Ampara video, which will provide an overview of the current situation and is scheduled to be released in May 2006.

CASP's activities are ongoing under the supervision of CASP President, Douglas MacArthur, and (in his absence) CASP Project Management Director, Victor Petrescu. CASP welcomes input from other organizations, and our blog readers are invited to post comments here or contact us directly.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Aid is not without its challenges

Immediately after tsunami, aid from governments and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) from around the world, in the form of food, shelter, clothing, and medicine, poured into Sri Lanka.

However, this assistance was not without its challenges. Items donated by NGOs were sometimes simply resold in Sri Lanka at greatly reduced prices, causing much concern in the local business community. In terms of housing, over a year has passed since the tsunami and there are still very few permanent shelters provided to the tsunami victims and many people remain in temporary shelters.

Local fishermen say that many of the fishing boats supplied to them by NGOs are of poor quality and cannot be used in the sea. While they had been using 15-25 horsepower outboard motors prior to the tsunami, they have now been provided with 10 horsepower and less powerful engines which cannot be used in rough seas on the coast of Ampara District. There are also difficulties with some donated nets and other equipment.

Local farmers suffered heavy losses because of the increased cost of production due to high labour rates and equipment shortages. Because NGOs paid such high prices for Sri Lankan labour, as well as renting most of the tractors (previously used in the paddy fields) for road work and clearing rubble at exorbitant rates, the local farmers also had to pay the rates given by NGOs, which greatly inflated the cost of paddy production.

Surplus stocks of rice brought into Sri Lanka also kept the paddy (rice) price very low. At times, local farmers were unable to sell their produce even at lesser prices as no one was ready to purchase their paddy, so the Government bought a portion of the crop produced in Ampara District at guaranteed prices and stacked them in government paddy stores. The effect of bringing surplus rice and flour into the country is still felt. Paddy harvesting season is now in progress in Ampara District and the farmers are worried that there is no one to purchase their produce. Adding to the difficulties, the government is not in a position to purchase the entire paddy produced in the District because all of its stores are filled with paddy purchased in the previous year.

Regardless of these complications, the Sri Lankan people remain deeply grateful and obliged to those around the world who provided so much assistance in such a difficult time. It is CASP's hope that further efforts to improve communications and increase coordination amongst the many groups in the area will help to address these types of challenges.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Housing problems even with new buffer zone

The Sri Lanka government enforced the 200 metre buffer zone area rule soon after the tsunami, and discouraged tsunami victims to reconstruct or repair their damaged or destroyed houses in that area. The government has since given grants to repair and reconstruct houses, and some NGOs have constructed houses, only for those living outside this zone - leaving out the victims living within the buffer zone.

The government of Sri Lanka has now relaxed this rule and has established 65 metres as the new buffer zone area. Before, and even now, some of the tsunami-affected people within this zone are still living with their relations. Still others are living in temporary shelters constructed by NGOs on private lands and occupied by individuals only on the condition that they would vacate these properties within a period of about one year.

Although the government has reduced the buffer zone area to 65 metres, the people within 65-200 metre zone are now finding it difficult to rebuild their own houses without assistance from the government. Additionally, many INGOS are currently engaged in constructing houses for those living outside the 200 metre zone and they have little money left with to start building houses for the most severely affected tsunami victims living within the 65-200 metre this zone.

More than one year and three months has passed since the tsunami, and it is a pity no permanent houses have been constructed or provided to the victims within 65-200 metre buffer zone. Tsunami-affected individuals provided the following comments during our visits to temporary shelters:
  • We do not have houses for ourselves and permanent dwelling is a problem for us. Being in temporary shelters we cannot do anything. To do sewing, or rear birds and animals, one should have a permanent house and land. We don't have any of those here.

  • No one is looking after us now. Government paid us Rs. 5,000/- every month, and that too has now been stopped.

  • It is difficult to live without income. We need money to buy milk powder to feed our infants. We cannot be involved in any self-employment in this condition.

  • Living in temporary shelter with tin sheets roof is an agony. Very often we get sick, and so too our little children, due to the scorching heat inside temporary shelters.

  • Our school was damaged in the tsunami and is now functioning in temporary shelters far away. It is difficult for our children to walk this distance and they are not attending school now.

  • We do not know when we will get permanent houses.

  • We, at times, feel it better to have died in tsunami rather than living in this condition.

Monday, April 03, 2006

CASP opens Akkaraipattu office

The Canadian Agro-Sustainability Partnership (CASP) held opening ceremonies for its new Rebuild Ampara project office in Akkaraipattu on April 1st. This office is situated along the Akkaraipattu-Kalmunai Main Trunk Road and is now in full operation.

Mr. Victor Petrescu, CASP's Project Co-director, and his partner, Ms. Cristina Dan, organized and attended the function to mark this occasion. They were received by the Akkaraipattu staff on arrival, with Ms. Deepah welcoming Ms. Dan with a bouquet of flowers.

The office was declared open by Mr. Petrescu's cutting of the ribbon. There was also the traditional lighting of the oil lamps, as it is the usual practice of the Hindus and Buddhists in this area to light oil lamps at all functions or to start anything new. This is a symbol of the hope for prosperity and success, like the flames of the oil lamp that light up everything forever. Mr. Petrescu delivered a message to the staff and others about working together with dedication and honesty to obtain CASP's objectives for Ampara District. Gender Specialist Dr. Anuziya Senathirajah and Manager Vijitha Imbuldeniya also gave short speeches.

Others in attendance at this simple ceremony included: Kalmunai Manager Ifthi Mirza, Consultant MIM Sadath, Communication and Community Participation Specialists MIMS Anwar & MA Phakurdeen, Gender Specialist Mrs. Thilaka Pathmanathan, Technology Specialist Asanka, Landlord Representative A. Samsudeen, and Research Assistant Ms. Deepah and her family members.