Sri Lanka -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1
THE INDIAN OCEAN ISLAND OF Sri Lanka has made slow but steady progress since the opening of its economy in 1977 and the start of an official cease-fire ending a two-decade civil war in 2002.
The progress, however, has not brought the expected benefits to the poor. More than four million people are estimated to live below the poverty line with about half a million people residing in slums and shanties.
The internal conflict continues to smolder and prevent the effective implementation of poverty alleviation policies. Development was also set back by the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004 which left at least 640,000 homeless. The country is recovering from the latter, but the security situation frequently suffers setbacks. An upsurge in violence in 2006 displaced some 200,000 people, according to the United Nations.
Sri Lanka is highly rural; only about one-in-five people live in towns and cities. People in the countryside lack not so much houses as access to infrastructure such as water, sanitation, electricity, communication and roads. The poor in the rural areas often live in makeshift shacks constructed of mud and discarded materials that offer scant protection from insects, snakes and other wildlife. Children living in these unsafe structures − which are damp, moldy and need constant maintenance − are often sick.
Shelter conditions for urban dwellers are not much better. In the capital, Colombo, an influx of rural workers seeking jobs has created slums. The average floor space of a slum house in Colombo is 20 sq. m. Overcrowding is common. Typically, slum residents lack legal rights to the land they occupy. The United Nations cites a shortage of affordable low-cost housing for low-income people as one of the reasons for the growth of the shanty settlements.
To address poverty housing, Sri Lankan government has two major initiatives – the Million Houses Program and Urban Basic Services Program. These use community-based organizations to leverage local participation in shelter and infrastructure improvements. The government has also granted tenure to slum residents and increased investment in infrastructure. Still, much more needs to be done.
By 2010, the country is expected to face an overall shortage some 650,000 homes, excluding those for families affected by the tsunami. By then, about half of the population is expected to be living in urban slums.
Habitat for Humanity is among the non-governmental organizations contributing to the efforts to improve housing in Sri Lanka. Since 1994, Habitat for Humanity Sri Lanka has been working through affiliates and has helped build more than 8,800 houses in all its various programs. Habitat is probably the country’s largest home builder after the government. To extend its reach, affiliates are giving way to Habitat Resource Center that support satellite centers and individual projects in four regions.
Affiliate Anuradhapura pioneered Habitat’s housing microfinance Save & Build model in 2000. This sees groups of about 12 families saving toward the cost of one core house. When that amount is reached, Habitat matches their efforts in the form of an interest-free loan to build two more houses, thus allowing three houses to be built. The cycle repeats until each group member has a core house. Loan repayments are recycled into a fund to help even more savings groups.
The two-room core house covers about 24 sq. m. Under the Building in Stages model, once the initial mortgage is repaid, a second section − either a third room or a verandah − is added to the house, increasing the size to 32 sq. m. To reduce construction costs, savings group members make bricks as well as gather raw materials.
In addition, Habitat houses are kept affordable through the help of volunteer labor. In two years from January 2005, HFH Sri Lanka hosted approximately 1,000 volunteers including 30 regular Global Village teams at Save & Build sites and 52 teams at tsunami reconstruction sites.
Among those who helped in tsunami builds were specialist construction teams, and 40 corporate teams sent by UK-based Charity Challenge in partnership with HFH Great Britain. Habitat has also hosted volunteers from corporations such as Swiss bank Credit Suisse, and British companies such as financial market data provider Reuters, business services company Serco, and banking and insurance group HBOS.
Aiding Habitat’s work in Sri Lanka are partners such as non-governmental organizations World Concern, World Vision, Heifer International and Christian Aid, bilateral development cooperation agency United States Agency for International Development, and various church groups. Corporate partnerships with German chemical company BASF and well-known American TV talk show host Oprah Winfrey’s Angel Network have boosted the post-tsunami rebuilding program.
• In September 2007, HFH Sri Lanka signed a memorandum of understanding with Sarvodaya Economic Enterprise Development Services, a local microfinance institution, to serve about 400 families in the Monaragala and Anuradhapura districts. The project involves incremental building and house renovations.
• In mid-2007, Habitat marked the 2,000th house built for tsunami-affected families, in Samagiwatte village, Dangedera, in southern Galle.
• HFH Sri Lanka organized a one-day expert panel discussion on poverty housing indicators in Colombo in end-March 2007. Among the participants were representatives from UN-HABITAT, Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions, Tearfund and Sri Lanka’s National Housing Development Authority.
• Thirty houses in the Nick Jayanetti Village were dedicated in February 2007 for families affected by the tsunami. The houses in Bambarenda village, Dikwella, Galle, were built with funds raised by a Sri Lanka-born, US-based bank executive and friends.
• In mid-November 2006, Habitat completed a 150-house tsunami recovery project funded by US talk show star Oprah Winfrey’s Angel Network in Arugam Bay on the east coast.
• On Citigroup’s Global Community Day in November 2006, 53 volunteers from the banking group’s local office helped to build three houses in the southern coastal village of Nantota, Kosgoda, Galle.
• A 12-member team from the US Embassy and the United States Agency for International Development helped Habitat staff to build two houses in November 2006 in Wattala/Ja-Ela, north of Colombo.
• Habitat celebrated the 1,000th tsunami-affected family housed in Wenamulla, Ambalangoda, Galle in August 2006.
• In May 2006, Habitat completed a 196-house project in Mandana, Tirrukkovil, in tsunami-hit Ampara district in the east. The project was funded by chemical company BASF.
• HFH Sri Lanka was ranked “Best NGO” by recipients of tsunami aid in Sri Lanka in a study conducted by San Francisco’s Fritz Institute; the award was made in December 2005.
Population: 20.9 million (July 2007 est.)
Area: 65,610 sq. km.
Ethnic groups: Sinhalese 73.8%, Sri Lankan Moors 7.2%, Indian Tamil 4.6%, Sri Lankan Tamil 3.9%, other 0.5%, unspecified 10% (2001 census provisional data)
Languages: Sinhala (official/ national language) 74%, Tamil (national language) 18%, others 8%; English used in government and by about 10% of the population
Religions: Buddhist 69.1%, Muslim 7.6%, Hindu 7.1%, Christian 6.2%, unspecified 10% (2001 census provisional data)