A new World Bank report has said that there is no scientific and consultative basis for the government`s proposed coastal tsunami buffer zones and that the social and environmental impacts of the resultant massive displacement of people had not been adequately considered.
The report, prepared for the forthcoming Sri Lanka Development Forum, also said that the government had not consulted the affected communities well enough nor kept them adequately briefed on the proposed changes that affect their lives and livelihood.
The government`s `no-development` 100-metre and 200-metre buffer zones on the coast prohibits new buildings and reconstruction in areas hit by the tsunami and has generated protests from affected people.
However, the World Bank has acknowledged that there is wide consensus that a buffer zone may be necessary to reduce potential coastal risks. It suggested that a better approach for dealing with risk issues linked to the tsunami and avoiding unwarranted disruption of people`s lives could be to implement the Coastal Zone Management Plan, while specifying better construction standards for reconstruction within the coastal zone.
In 1997, the Coast Conservation Department (CCD) developed a Coastal Zone Management Plan through a consultative process, taking into account multiple coastal risks and proposed setbacks depending on local conditions. The setbacks proposed by the CCD range from 25 metres to 125 metres depending on the risks.
This plan has been approved by the government but implementation has been weak, the World Bank said. The proposed new buffer zone policy would result in over 60 percent of the damaged houses -- about 70,000 -- in the coastal belt requiring relocation outside the buffer zone.
`Since the coastal belt is densely populated, particularly in the south, identifying suitable land for relocation in close proximity to the sea has caused delays in starting housing reconstruction,` said the report, which has been distributed among key organizations and diplomats.
In Jaffna and Ampara, the narrow width of these districts may require relocation at a considerable distance from the coast which may have adverse social consequences, the World Bank pointed out. `Some lands identified will be very expensive to develop since no infrastructure and services are available,` it said.
Furthermore, the social and environmental impacts of massive relocation programmes have yet to be addressed by the government, it said. It also said that local authorities are often unclear about the national policies concerning key issues such as the housing allowance for destroyed and partially destroyed units, and the eligibility criteria for cash payments to affected persons.
`An effective information exchange strategy is needed that both informs and also gets feedback from the public in general and the affected people in particular about the different initiatives being carried out by government and the various development partners,` the World Bank said.
`This strategy should include regular briefing of communities on progress in recovery plans as well as consultations on ways to improve their performance.` Early feedback on implementation issues arising from visits to affected districts suggests there is an urgent need for clear national policy direction from the top, systematic co-ordination of all efforts affecting the district, a sound information base of needs, an effective dialogue and feedback mechanism with affected communities, adequate recurrent budget allocation to the districts to implement programmes and decentralizing implementation as far as possible.
The report said many NGOs and private foundations are currently operating in an uncoordinated manner in providing livelihood support and housing resulting in `inappropriate targeting` of beneficiaries. There are about 200 local and international NGOs and private donors along with 30 bilateral and multilateral donor agencies involved in reconstruction activities.
This, coupled with the government`s weak implementation capacity and the large financial flows that need to be channelled to affected areas, has made the rebuilding task challenging, the World Bank said.