The first day in Batticaloa

Posted Thursday December 18, 2014 by Hazel Durbridge

The first day I was just thrown in to meetings, starting at Oxfam, then meeting the GA (like the Chief Exec in a District Council), then a meeting with the chamber of commerce and 3 envoys from the world bank who were on a fact finding mission checking up on their investment, then a quarterly meeting of all the NGOs and govt. departments chaired by the guy who ran the LTTE and didn’t get splatted, but swopped sides and became a government minister for resettlement.

Immediate impressions are that democracy is alive and well in Batti – 2 main indicators – the poorest province and the most disaster prone province including mini cyclones and herds of rampaging elephants. The last meeting was held in a UN style chamber with little microphones at each table and everyone was reporting in and debating, including a good few women. I had a young guy on secondment from the UN interpreting for me.

Batticaloa seems to be at a significant turning point. They have had a huge amount of foreign investment post conflict and post tsunami, although to their credit they have worked through local people. I was the only white face in a room of 70+. Some of that investment has been sustainable (they are especially proud of their co-ordination mechanisms) some of it lost in an abyss – like bicycles given to rural children to improve school attendance which were subsumed in the family economy and had no impact on their child’s attendance. But the place is on the up – tourism is growing faster than they can train people to offer services, dairy farming (though malnourished families in the interior are selling the nutritious fresh milk to buy powder for their children which they prefer). There are plans to build a huge bird sanctuary funded by UDA (urban development authority – I must look that one up).

They all seem to think I am uber knowledgeable and important at the moment, but that’s OK if it opens doors to information and co-operation. I’ll work through people and I will certainly not be pretending to know things I don’t. The signs are looking good that they will work me hard which will be a tonic for my brain cells and if I am stimulated and learning all the time the months will pass quickly, not that I want to wish my life away, but I don’t want to feel bored and lonely.

It took me over an hour to walk home the first day. Friday I tried out my very light, complete with lights and lock and good tyres, second hand bike that Upali supervised buying with me. It’s not my comfort zone and I am a bit wobbly, but cycling and no alcohol is going to do wonders for my muscle tone and interior well-being. I can also do the journey on a totally flat road surface in 25 minutes so no contest really.

 

Housing

25,000 houses were destroyed or damaged in the Tsunami. The huge influx of international funding post the disaster has meant that all families affected have now been rehoused. There is an issue in Kallady where the families based on the promontory were relocated at Palameenmadu in an area known as the Swiss Village. Because of the geographic layout of the area with the lagoon, these families could not get back to Kallady to fish or pursue their livelihoods easily. What has since happened is that the houses have been abandoned or are being gradually dismantled as they relocate back on the promontory.

The remaining housing shortage is now in the western border areas of the district that were badly affected during the civil war. 15.8% of families are headed by women. At the same time 53% of families are below the poverty line. Approximately 20.7% of families are living without affordable houses in the district.

Issues, Challenges and Opportunities

The Housing Department has benefited from and continues to benefit from international funding, from UMCO, UN Habitat, Indian Aid and Heritas.

Batticaloa District Development Plan DRAFT 2013

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