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January 19, 2005

In Sri Lanka an estimated one million people have been displaced. Habitat affiliates in Galle and Batticaloa, on the east and southern sides of the island, plus others north and south of the capital Colombo on the west coast, were directly affected.

The exact number of Habitat homeowners killed or left homeless is still hard to determine. Many affiliate staff and volunteers were personally affected by the tsunami and focused their rescue and reconstruction efforts close to home. Initial indications are, for example, that at least 24 Habitat families need rehousing in Batticaloa. The affiliate manages 99 Habitat home partners and numerous savings groups in communities south of the city. Of the 99 homes, four were destroyed and one damaged in Kallaru, some 30 kilometers away. At least seven destroyed and six damaged in and around Thirukovil, 55 kilometers beyond.

Rebuilding of Habitat homes has commenced in some instances in Batticaloa and Galle. (The first five were due to begin in Galle on Tuesday). These are mainly rebuilding on existing foundations that are deemed secure. Where possible, they utilize undamaged blocks, tiles and other materials. However, the majority of constructions and the materials will be new. Meanwhile, in Batticaloa, some 300 families – most of them non-Habitat families – have applied for a new home with the affiliate. A second inland site, covering one-and-a-half acres, has been donated by a Habitat supporter; the first donor provided a two-acre site where at least 45 homes can be built. The affiliate’s existing building and training center is producing 3,600 concrete blocks a day.

Overall, HFH Sri Lanka is part of a collaborative response from C-Net, an alliance of ten Christian-based NGOs. Other alliance members are Christian Children Fund of Canada, Christian Reform World Commission on Relief, LEADS, Mennonite Central Committee, World Concern, World Vision, Shelter for Life, Y-Gro and ZOA.

Initially the aim is to build 20,000 core houses and to move 100,000 people out of displaced people camps. HFH Sri Lanka is the largest homebuilder in the country after the government and may well be directly responsible for at least 10,000 of these.

Implementing a comprehensive response depends on government. The tentative policy is to prevent housing within 300 meters of the affected coastline. This seems to imply that affected homeowners (including Habitat homeowners) cannot repair or rebuild on site. It is not clear how plots further inland will be acquired.

A large amount of money is flowing into Sri Lanka. The World Bank is reported to be committing US$260 million that could see each of the 130,000 displaced families given US$2,000 for a house. The money would be deposited into government-opened individual bank accounts. Such an amount would build larger houses than those proposed by HFH Sri Lanka. It is not clear how the money would be monitored once families receive it or how the families would be expected to actually build.

HFH Sri Lanka is proposing “core” houses comprising a permanent structure with roofing, a single room with a verandah or covered living/work space with a 250 sq.ft. footprint. It would include basic sanitary facilities. In a second building phase as funds become available, another room could be added later to enlarge the home. The construction-only costs for each basic shelter would be about up to US$500.

HFH Sri Lanka plans to create disaster response technical or building and training centers in four locations, to ensure long-term sustainability for any reconstruction project.

More than US$2 million may be available to finance this first phase in HFH Sri Lanka. Local businesses in Sri Lanka and foreign companies have pledged as much as US$750,000. Overseas donors, many of them Sri Lankan expatriates in Europe and North America, are also making pledges. Habitat for Humanity is expecting to match funds for some aspects of the construction.