Resettle with care
THERE is no doubt that the reconstruction of tsunami destroyed homes
should commence fast. As fast as possible. Especially now that so much
is committed to the country's reconstruction effort.
But in this haste to make sure that people have a roof over their
heads, it is easy to ignore various concerns, especially environmental
ones, that could have long term adverse impacts on the resettled
communities and the country as a whole.
For example, why is the buffer area of Lahugala National Park being
cleared to resettle displaced people from areas of the Eastern coast. In
the Ampara district, where land surely is more plentiful than in most
tsunami affected areas, there has to be better suited land than a buffer
zone of a National Park which is famous for elephants.
This area is one that has relatively little human-elephant conflict
at present due to the low density of human population. But if hundreds
of people begin living in the boundaries of the park, conflict would be
Villagers have observed that the cleared area is frequented by herds
already and certain sections of the displaced population have refused to
move into homes built here.
A tsunami may come once in a hundred years, but to have to live with
the daily threat of elephants is another matter altogether, one woman
had complained to a social worker in the area.
Similar problems beset many of the chosen relocation sites. Although
some resettlement areas are over 300 acres, there is no time to do
detailed environmental assessments of all the sites spread in 13
Environmentalists and activist NGOs too do not wish to make a loud
hue and cry over the non-compliance of normal procedure since the
situation is quite out-of-the ordinary. No one wants to look like they
are standing in the path of smooth relocation.
Hence it was good to learn that the CEA, even belatedly, issued
guidelines for housing projects with special attention to the large
scale resettlement projects that will commence soon.
The first guideline is to avoid critically sensitive areas
(environmentally) which are protected or at least identified as
important including marshes, flood plains, steep areas or those with
poorly drained saline soils. The guidelines also specify areas that
could be contaminated with liquid or solid waste. Filled lands (past
dump sites) etc.
The CEA issues specific guidelines on drainage and storm water
management, soil erosion control and stabilization. An interesting and
relevant guideline that has been stipulated is to ensure that top soil
removed in construction areas is stripped and stored for future use and
not illegally removed from the site.
Specifications for waste water disposal and solid waste disposal look
at treating waste water and construction waste, and especially deal with
discharging wastes to water bodies and marginal lands. Good practices
like composting barrels in every new house and waste streamlining by
sorting are recommended for sites.
'The guidelines also look at house/ building design and sourcing
construction material. House designs should look at maximizing material
use and minimising environmentally unfriendly materials like sand and
indigenous wood. Adapt layouts to suit natural patterns the guidelines
advocate - and avoid rigid, grid-like housing layout designs.
Also, the CEA encourages organisations involved in rebuilding to
study traditions and customs involved in house building and incorporate
them into the design and the process - so that the project is more
While the guidelines are timely and very appropriate for general use
of all those planning and implementing housing projects in
tsunami-affected areas, there needs to be some kind of legal spine,
upholding these recommendations and ensuring that they are adhered to at
every given possibility.
It would be useful if TAFRENs new environmental unit takes upon
itself to disseminate these guidelines to all actors in the
reconstruction process as well as all donors, local authorities and such
and institute a monitoring mechanism to avoid any obvious flouting of