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.