Reconstruction and resettlement in the Northern Province
S B Divaratne Secretary of the Presidential Task Force for Resettlement, Development and Security in the Northern Province
“Sri Lanka despite many challenges is in the process of chartering a new course to transform the Northern region from conflict to stability and from stability to prosperity”
It is indeed a pleasure and an honour to be with you and to address this most distinguished audience on a subject which is most important to our country, the Reconstruction and Resettlement of the Northern Province. As you know, Sri Lanka from time to time experienced catastrophes that resulted in civilians being displaced, but faced the consequences of each one of those bravely; and dealt with the ensuing challenges of resettlement and reconstruction. There were many instances but the Tsunami that struck to our country in 2004 brought forward the country’s ability to cope with disasters and challenges. Now the most recent experience that I would like to be termed ‘the Sri Lankan success story’ is what took place in the aftermath of the biggest operations launched by the Security Forces in May 2009. That ended 30 years of armed conflict in the country with the LTTE.
There were nearly 300,000 displaced families after the Humanitarian Operation and the challenges that had to be faced by the country are as follows: establishment and handling of reception centres, administration of a vast number of IDPs, establishment and management of relief villages called the Welfare Villages, identification of LTTE cardres who were mingling with the IDPs, clear the territory which had been held by the LTTE for nearly three decades and the implementation of the master plan for the immediate resettlement and rehabilitation of the Northern region. They were the challenges that we had to face. And having had nearly 300,000 IDP’s and considering the real security threat accommodating the IDPs in relief villages was the most efficient and safest option available to the country. Keeping the IDPs in one place, which would provide all basic facilities was conceptualised as the number of civilians who were fleeing the LTTE areas had increased since 2008. An area called Menik Farm was selected to locate all these relief villages. If one wants to read the full account of how we managed the facilities that were available in the Welfare Village I invite you to read the report that was published by the Presidential Task Force on Sri Lanka’s Humanitarian Efforts which is available in the Defence website.
One of the major elements of this master plan was to launch a 180 day programme to facilitate an immediate resettlement process.
Having accommodated them in the welfare centres the most difficult task was to make immediate arrangements to resettle the IDPs in their places of origin. His Excellency the President of our country appointed a Presidential Task Force for Resettlement, Development and Security in the Northern Province under a very Senior Minister Hon Basil Rajapaksa to immediately workout the programme for rapid resettlement and reconstruction of the Northern Province. The mission given to the Task Force was to formulate a strategic framework for revitalising the Northern Province and implement the rapid resettlement programme.
This resettlement process that we adopted in Sri Lanka was not an ad hoc thing it was well planned and well focused and these are the policies. The resettlement policy envisaged: the resettlement process is voluntary and not forced resettlement; that the IDPs should be resettled in their original places of habitation. Then the process should be dignified and safe in terms of International Humanitarian Law; that the Sri Lankan Army to be an active partner in the resettlement process; that it involves informed choice of the displaced family through the facilitation of go and see visits. These were the important elements of the resettlement policy. Then His Excellency the President the Presidential Task Force adopted the three branched approach for working out an efficient resettlement programme. The approach consisted of:Provide relief and humanitarian assistance; Restore basic facilities prior to the resettlement because most of the basic infrastructure was devastated as a result of this on going war; To establish and immediately set upon the early recovery process and finally, to develop much needed development infrastructure.
These were the elements of the approach that was adopted by the Presidential Task Force and all these under this approach was named as ‘Uthuru Wasanthaya‘ the spring of the Northern Province. One of the major elements of this master plan was to launch a 180 day programme to facilitate an immediate resettlement process. The objectives of this 180 day programme was to identify the priorities through well coordinated plans, enlisting the support of line ministries and all the external agencies, the UN system and the INGOs working at the time in Sri Lanka to create a conducive environment before the resettlement took place then plan out the different phases of resettlement.
What were the challenges that we had to face in our process of resettlement? Number one was de-mining number, two was the restoration of basic facilities. I must be thankful to the Sri Lanka Army for taking the leading role and it was well assisted by foreign funded NGOs and INGOs. One of the most difficult tasks and one of the constraints that we had to face is that Sri Lanka did not have any machines for de-mining so the Government had to embark upon the procurement of equipment from other countries at a huge investment and we had to airlift them; and 19 of such machines had to be air lifted to do the de-mining process as quickly as possible.
Then the restoration of basic infrastructure, we had to appoint separate teams to assess the damage and also find out the funds that are required to do these restorations of basic facilities. There again we had a problem of heavy machinery. We had to import a large volume of machinery from the Government of China. I’m thankful to the Government of China for that generous contribution; and having done all that we started the resettlement while the IDPs were in the villages. We took data in respect of all IDPs as to where they came from and these particulars were checked, verified by the respective Divisional Secretaries and District Secretaries. His Excellency the President’s direction to the teams was that this must see a better place when they are resettled and a resettlement package was planned and designed to cover the most urgent needs of the resettled families. Each and every family was given a welfare resettlement package, which consisted of one year dry rations, shelter grant of 25,000 rupees given by the UNHCR, land preparation cost of 4,000 rupees per family, then non food relief items, additional non food relief items of mosquito nets and jerry cans, hygiene packs, tool kits, provision of seed paddy that is for two persons of a family for two months for two acres, roofing sheets and cement bags. Here, we must be thankful to the Government of India for having provided all necessary quantities of roofing sheets at a rate of 12 numbers per family and also cement bags.
Then the next challenge that we had to face was temporary shelters. That was a very critical issue and no Government in the world can guarantee or can provide houses for its citizens. It is a very difficult task but what was possible and what was done by the Government was to support them to construct temporary shelters and subsequently support repairs and construction of semi permanent houses. Our aim was to develop an economic base for the IDPs from the inception of the resettlement with the hope of enhancing livelihood activities that would enable them to put up their houses. Then the next phase of the above programme was the early recovery phase that was to provide them assistance to recommence their economic activities and we gave them many facilities particularly for agriculture, home gardening, inland and lagoon fishing and various other support services for them to immediately start paddy cultivation. In the Northern Province the main source of livelihood of the people is paddy cultivation; there are about 180,000 acres of cultivable paddy land, which were not cultivated and were abandoned. We took immediate action to clear all these lands with the support of the Sri Lanka Army and at the moment almost 98 percent of such land has been cleared.
The Northern Province had just emerged from devastation with the hope of transforming it into a region of hope and regeneration.
Then having done that the other element of our resettlement process was the reconstruction process in terms of the reconstruction of infrastructure. The Government of Sri Lanka up to now has committed nearly USD 2.5 billion for this massive investment, which includes roads, railway and supply of electricity, supply of water, and various other economic and social infrastructure. When you talk about the road network all rural, provincial and national roads are being rehabilitated and the total investment is about 75,000 million rupees. The rehabilitation of the railway net work as the Secretary Defence said for which the Government of India has given us the necessary finances its about USD 650 million and the four lines - and three lines have almost commenced operations - and all these three lines will be completed by 2013. We have power supply and as you know the two districts of the Northern Province did not have power and electricity for almost 30 years. In Killinochchi and Mullativu we took immediate action to restore power supply. At the moment we have been able to supply more than 30 percent of electrification to both these districts, at a heavy investment of 13.2 billion rupees.
Water supply; in the Jaffna peninsula particularly the biggest problem is water. The Government undertook various projects to provide and to develop the water services and there is a project under the ADB assistance that is to relieve the water problem in Jaffna district. There are almost nine projects that are being implemented to provide water and sanitation to the entire districts of the Northern region.
Then health, as you know the investment for upgrading health services is massive it’s about almost ten billion rupees that includes renovation, reconstruction and equipment. Out of all the social infrastructure I would say the biggest investment is in the health sector and we see the result now when you take the infant mortality rate, the malnutrition rates that prevail in the Northern Province is almost on par with the Sri Lankan standards.
Then education. There are 1,020 schools in Jaffna the northern region and many of them were devastated. They didn’t have roofs and we took immediate action with the support of all these international organisations to rehabilitate the schools and out of 1020 schools 920 schools are now functioning with a student population of 260,587 and a teacher cardre of 13,967. We give prominent emphasis to education and health because that is what the Northern people need. Not anything else. The construction of permanent houses, we have a programme to construct 78,150 houses of which 27, 983 permanent houses have been built. Of course 20,000 have been built by the Government of Sri Lanka and they have got a very generous contribution from the Government of India to build 50,000 houses for which we are grateful to the Government of India.
Then agriculture and irrigation, we made a massive investment for that. Having cleared all the abandoned paddy lands, having given them nearly 500 tractors and all the agriculture equipment that were needed because all these equipment were destroyed during the Humanitarian Operation. We helped provide them with all the necessary inputs, which included seed paddy, fertilizer, for all three seasons and with all this we were able to start the cultivation immediately after 2009 with the reap season. We can now see the result. Paddy production of the Northern region is 143,579 MT in 2009 and 2010 but this season in 2010 and 2011 it has been shot up to 212,722 MT that shows the result of the services the input facilities that were given to the farmers. The state banks and the private banks have already moved into these emerging regions there are more than 20 banks, both state and private banks are in operation and they have according to the latest reports given more than five billion concessionary loans for these farmer families for various purposes and that was the most promising contribution by the banking sector.
And to conclude I would like to give the driving factors for this success. There are several reasons for the success of this immediate resettlement programme. Number one is the unwavering commitment of His Excellency the President the leader of our country and number two is the astute guidance given by the Chairman of the Task Force Hon Basil Rajapaksa who constantly steered and monitored the development particularly the reconstruction. Then the yeoman service given by the Sri Lanka Army. Professional services that were according to the Presidential Task Force and the Sri Lanka Army and also the support given by the donor community. In fact we have received nearly USD 437 million from all UN agencies and we are thankful to all donors for the assistance.
I wish to say that the reconstruction of the Northern Province after more than three decades of destruction is indeed a challenging task. The Northern Province had just emerged from devastation with the hope of transforming into a region of hope and regeneration. The Government has made an enormous investment nearly USD 3.2 billion for rebuilding the Northern Province. It is observed that the people of the Northern Province are satisfied with the achievements of the on gong efforts for reconstruction of the Northern Province. Sri Lanka despite many challenges is in the process of chartering a new course to transform the Northern region from conflict to stability and from stability to prosperity. The Presidential Task Force headed by its Chairman Hon Basil Rajapaksa as the Minister of Economic Development in his spearheading all the reconstruction activities and his guidance and constant supervision has been instrumental in fulfilling this enormous task. The efforts of the Government in rebuilding the Northern region are based on the principles embodied in the Mahinda Chinthanaya the policy statement of His Excellency the President of our country. The Mahinda Chinthanaya refers to an integrated society consisting of one country one law; and the programme for the Northern development is driven by this concept. We have gained many impressive gains and we would continue with these gains and try to win the confidence of the international community. Those who are here with us I’m sure having listened to this volume of development work will take this message forward. Next year there wont be any single person to be resettled and we will deliver on the task that we are confronted today.