Colombo Floods 2016

The South West Monsoon  hit Sri Lanka hard in 2016. The heavy rains have resulted in landslides in Kegalle and flooding in Colombo  for example, which have displaced more than 300,000 across the island with at least 58 left dead and a further 130 missing. 
Now in 2017 the monsoon season has been accompanied by large scale flooding and mudslides which have left 202 dead and 600,000 people displaced. The areas around Rathnapura and Kalutara have been badly affected but, Matara in the south of the island has also suffered serious flooding. In all the floods and landslides have destroyed 1,735 houses and damaged 9,432 while 146 schools were also damaged –
Predictably, for some it all turns out to be the government’s fault; but it isn’t.

Climate change in South Asia is a reality and one of the outcomes is that rainfall will become less predictable and the frequency of extreme rainfall events is set to increase. Sri Lanka needs to brace itself for more events like this, and do you know what? In the short run there isn’t much anyone can do about it.

The 2016 flood; what happened?

May is statistically the start of the South West Monsoon in Sri Lanka and brings rain to the South and West of the country.

As any A level geographer will tell you  (putting it simply);  the South West monsoon season is the result of a seasonal reversal in wind direction, from North East ( off the landmass) to South West (off the ocean)

This year the Indian sub-continent ( and also Sri Lanka) has been suffering big time from heatwaves which have seen the temperatures soar above 40 deg C. for weeks on end. High land temperatures vis-a-vis the ocean, create an air pressure imbalance; lower air pressure over the land higher over the ocean, an creates an airflow from the Indian Ocean on to the land masses of Sri Lanka and India. The bigger the difference in temperature and air pressure between the two the stronger the inflow of air towards the continent. Warm wet air rising over the landmass = rain.

Figure3

typical SWM situation; credit: one data.edu

But this year the monsoon has arrived with a vengeance

Why the heavy rain?

So we already have a set up whereby the winds are coming from the South-West.. from the warm ocean surface. However, you have to factor in a low pressure system that formed in the Indian Ocean to the East of the island and developed into a tropical storm which has moved northwards towards India. As it developed it set up a strong inflow of “wet” air coming off the Indian Ocean and the Island land mass forced that wet air upwards, leading to torrential rain. So this is just a sketch to give the reader an idea of what is going on, where the winds are coming from.

IMG_0833

 

image_1463542469-f07ac6cb02

satellite image of the depression

so the depression is the white blob of cloud north of Sri Lanka.It is now moving North -East. What you have to imagine is that the air flow is inward/upward and anti-clockwise reaching way back into the western Indian Ocean; those thicker cloud elements suggest more rain to come!

A note on depressions for the uninitiated

a low pressure system or depression creates an inflow of air in a broadly anti-clockwise spiral. Warm air heated from below rises.. the warmer the air the faster and higher it rises. As it rises it cools, condenses and produces cloud and rain.

4857328

here we are interested in the diagram on the right; credit the britishgeographer

The Indian Ocean this time of year is warm in any case; but I read that the surface ocean temperature may be around 31deg C. which is way above where it should be, and that is only likely to make things worse.

Nb; This isn’t a local effect however as some seem to think, but related to global circulation patterns

So in this case very warm moist air spirals upwards. As air condenses to form water droplets it releases heat back into the rising air.. it fuels more uplift.. clouds reach up higher into the atmosphere resulting in the formation of cumulus clouds stretching high up towards the tropopause. As a rule of thumb the stronger the uplift the lower the air pressure and with it the stronger the inflow of surface winds at the base of the depression.

The net result; torrential rainfall, strong winds and violent thunderstorms.

Flooding in Colombo

According to some, the construction of the large lakes such as the Diyawanna lakes and the improvements to the canals and drainage systems was supposed to mean that Colombo would not suffer any more from floods like the 2011 flood. Maybe this was wishful thinking, however.

Colombo district will always be vulnerable to flash flooding because:

  • large areas are low lying; no more than 5 metres above sea
  • the land gradient is slight so water has nowhere to drain away
  • large areas are urbanised which reduces infiltration, and exacerbates surface flow
  • Rivers like the Kelani river flow off the west flanks of the central highlands which have been receiving high levels of precipitation. That flood water is eventually going to end up on the lowland. Colombo sits on the natural flood plain of the Kelani Ganga and the river does periodically what rivers do.. it floods especially when it is choked with sediment washing done from the central uplands.

srilanka-map

  • on top of this heavy rainfall and intense thunderstorms are common occurrences in the Colombo district

This does seem to be an extreme event, however. Over 300mm of rain fell right across the catshment, both in the upper and lower reaches ( as much as could be expected in a month)  Intense rainfall on to an urban surface had nowhere to go.

The Kelani Hydrograph

a hydrograph plots the way rivers react to an intense rainfall event. I found this one which is taken from the 2005 flood. What you can see is that the river reacts quite quickly to rainfall events.. less than 24 hours it seems:

kelani hydrograph

Points to note:

    • very steep rising limb
    • short time lag from peak rainfall to peak discharge
    • high volume of peak flow
    • gentle falling limb; flow is still high3 days later

If you study the Kelani valley in the hills where it rises you can see why it will flood downstream

Dhammika Heenpalla creative commons

credit: Dhammika Heenpalla

  • the valley is steep sided which would accelerate rainfall into the channel as surface flow and throughflow
  • the slopes are long and locally rainfall is high so a large amount of rainfall will end up in the channel very quickly
  • there is no flood plain for flood water to spread over
  • so all the floodwater is penned up in the valley unable to escape; instead thundering down to the lowland plains to the west.
Impact

It’s too early to assess the damage caused by the landslides and flooding across the island. What we do know is that over 200 families are missing  with 58 pronounced dead following landslides in the central uplands that engulfed 3 villages.

Across the island upwards of 300,000 people have been rendered temporarily homeless. The cost in terms of damage to property will become clearer as time passes. In the meantime a huge relief operation is swinging into place with the Sri Lankan armed forces at the forefront of rescue and relief efforts.

Who will be shouldering the cost?

  • More than likely the lower middle and low income groups whose homes have been engulfed or inundated.
  • In Colombo, those living in unofficial shelters next to the Kelani river, those in the low lying suburbs around Colombo;

and it is just worth thinking about what it means for a family to see their home flooded, their possessions ruined; and in the main these are families who cannot easily bear the cost of putting there home back together

Imi's housec3a63a24f545cd193e22afeebf0a38bb

My friend Imi’s house; this is the reality of flooding: putting her mother’s house back together will take way more money than they have; life is set to be difficult for sometime to come and what you need to do is multiply that by 300,000 to get an idea of what this means for a small island like Sri Lanka

We might “study” this as a hazard event BUT let’s also remember that this is very much a human tragedy.

For some stark video footage check out http://www.sundaytimes.lk  the online page and scroll down the front page to the video links.

Last thought

As with the UK a couple of years ago, when we get an extreme weather event it is almost “de rigeur” to blame the authorities for not anticipating the event and protecting against it. It seems it always has to be someone’s fault. The same appears to be happening in Sri Lanka. I saw a Sunday Times.lk  opinion piece asking; ‘why is this happening again?” Well unfortunately that is nature for you. What did people expect? That the government could simply tell the rain to go away?

Point is that we live in an increasingly hazardous world which we do not control and cannot always predict. If we choose to live in areas which can become vulnerable to hazards such as flooding and landslides we need to accept that when these extreme events occur we are at risk. That doesn’t mean that efforts should not be made to moderate the impact of these events

Given that the outcome of climate change may well mean an increase in extreme weather events (among other things) a question that might be asked is what is being done to moderate the impacts of future events

  • The meteorological department based in Colombo is already on the case; a great deal of research is already underway on a range of issue related to weather and climate and is well worth checking out: try this out: http://www.meteo.gov.lk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=47&Itemid=200&lang=en
  • But the met office need access to much more powerful computing power and technology if the aim is to improve the forecasts
  • So knowledge is the first step but then it comes down to what the government intend to do with that knowledge. The danger could be that in the rush for economic development planning for an increasingly hazardous environment may not be a high priority.. that would be a mistake.

So what might need to be done.

  1. Seems to me  understanding where the flood water comes from is a starting point. Does the Kelani River need for its banks to be raised higher?
  2. Is there a need for engineering solutions to control/impound water in the central highlands in the event of high rainfall as for instance the Los Angeles river in southern California so that Western Province is less at risk?
  3. Can anything be done to increase the flow of floodwater from drains and canals to the sea?
  4. In the highlands is it time to re-forest the slopes of the hills to stabilise them and reduce the landslide hazard? Should geological surveys be undertaken to identify and map areas of high vulnerability
  5. Should people be moved away from dangerous locations?

All basic stuff isn’t it but that’s where the thinking needs to go; its an old saying but prevention is much better than a cure and in the long run less expensive.

The point is that this type of extreme event will happen again and again; all the predictions point in that direction. What the government needs to do now is put in place a coherent disaster management plan, with a senior minister at the helm to co-ordinate rescue and recovery and possibly to take control away from ineffective and self seeking officials and politicians who have shown that they are not up to the task.

In the follow on article i will be looking at  the relief effort, the declaration of flood areas as high security zones  and what can be done to help mitigate against future floods.

Just published; have a look also at this from CEPA

http://groundviews.org/2016/05/19/sri-lanka-floods-2016-avoiding-the-mistakes-of-2004/?platform=hootsuite

 

 

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Rehousing the poor in Colombo; repeating the mistakes?

 

Slum clearance using compulsory purchase orders in 1950’s and 60’s Britain’s forced the urban poor out of their inner city homes  and into Hi-Rise apartment blocks .. a disastrous social experiment that went badly wrong. The recent forced evictions of the urban poor from their homes in Colombo is an uncomfortable echo of a policy that failed in the UK. Is it going to go wrong for Sri Lanka as well?

 A note on the UK experience

Slum clearance was very much a thing of the “50’s and “60’s. The target was inner city deprivation and local authorities used CDA acts and compulsory purchase (enforced eviction) to clear away poor quality inner city slums and, in many cases relocate the residents to large urban and suburban estates dominated by Hi-Rise apartment complexes.

The first of these tower blocks arrived in 1954 – housing  people forced out of their homes by law and made homeless by slum clearances.

What the residents of the inner city wanted was improvement to their properties; hot water, central heating, inside toilets, repairs, repainting and so on.

What they got were the “houses in the sky”  sometimes located well away from where they used to live. The old communities were broken up. Tower blocks became a focus for high levels of urban deprivation. The estates became synonymous with social breakdown, crime, drugs, litter and graffiti. Those who could, moved away and the tower blocks became beset with entrenched social problems:

  •  lone parents with little education and poor parenting skills,
  • child neglect,
  • domestic violence
  • low educational attainment and high levels of truancy
  • unemployment
  • poor relationships with the police.

inner city estate

The Haygate Estate in London; credit Andrew Sides

And where are these estates now? Many including the one above are now demolished and in their place low rise homes that people prefer to live in. Urban planning has recognised its mistakes and turned a full circle

new hulme

Hulme Manchester; credit John Lord

At the same time (in other parts Manchester for example) inner city housing  has been replaced by commercial and residential developments; not for the poor (they have been squeezed out to the periphery in places like Wythenshawe) but for those with money and a taste for city living. This is just one example; the Ancoats redevelopment on the eastern side of Manchester ; a place for the young upwardly mobile middle classes..(worth a google)

JS69450571

credit; skyscrapercity.com

Hindsight is a beneficial thing, of course. Although not available to the UK planners of the 1950’s is it an experience other countries could learn from?

The Colombo experience

Colombo doesn’t have large expanses of squatter settlement. What it does have is around 50% of its population living in underserved settlements scattered around the city. They are not all the same in terms of quality.. some are very poor but most have been improved in some way or other.

Most residents living in them are on lower incomes, and they  work close by or commute the relatively short distance into the city.

What they wanted for their homes probably was for basic services to be installed or improved in their settlements (see A profile of underserved settlements in Colombo) but for some, especially those who could not prove, or didn’t have title to the land their homes were built on they got something much different; although maybe not that much different from what happened to the UK urban poor 50 years previously.

The UDA policy.

In 2011 the government of the day embarked on a radical programme to rehouse the urban poor in Colombo.

The Plan

The plan was/is to re-house 70,000 slum dwellers in tower block complexes on 10 large sites around the city. In doing so the worst of the underserved settlements would be demolished and land freed up for commercial development.

What was on offer?

Phase One Urban Regeneration: Summary 2011 – 2015; involved

  •  70,000 USS households identified for resettlement
  • relocation of 68,000 households
  • 20 development sites around the city
  • units to contain flush toilets and showers, separate living and sleeping spaces, electricity
  • guaranteed ownership and title to land
  • household to remit money as lease/purchase .

The rent depends on the number of bedrooms; typically  between 4000 and 6000 rupees per month. Although seemingly low, for poor families who had previously paid nothing at all this amount is  considered by many to be too high.

images

A government housing project at Dematagoda on the east of the city

The  costs of the scheme were borne by Urban Development Authority  and property developers who would be given access the freed up land. To quote:

once the families were evicted… “60% of the lands currently under the urban sector shelters (USS), can be released to the urban real estate development market.. (the land) is liberated and disposed for the private sector based housing and/or urban development projects; (DBSJeyeraj.com)

To some this equates to a simple land grab, not too dissimilar to what happened in the UK.

On the one hand this was backed up by an offer of compensation to those who were to be displaced BUT for those who did not want to move they faced enforced eviction from their homes at the hands of the army special forces and the civil authorities.

What was the justification for rehousing the poor?
  • flood protection;

Colombo was for years prone to flooding. It is true that unofficial squatter settlements alongside the many canals added to the rubbish and debris already in the canals but this alone was never the cause of flooding. Heavy rainfall on a low lying, flat urban catchment, poorly maintained drains and storm water channels, and consequently nowhere for the water to go were much more significant factors. The flood hazard is now efficiently managed but by using a number of large lakes around the city which act as flood storage during the wet seasons.

  • city beautification

One of the key ambitions of the Rajapakse government was to develop Colombo as “The Garden City of South Asia”  and in doing so to improve the quality of there environment and help rebrand the city as an attractive place for investment.  ( see Progress but who is it for? ) A great deal of good work was completed in this respect in and around the city and the previous administration deserve credit for what they have achieved. But, for sure, the underserved settlements did not fit into this scheme; and slum clearance was the order of the day. The U.D.A. classified over 26,000 homes as slums in order to justify its demolition and resettlement programme;

Yet according to the Census of Population and Housing 2011; ,out of the 555,926 housing units in the Colombo District, only 7979 housing units fall under the category of “hut/shanty”. Of this, only 3691 housing units come under the Colombo DS Division.

  • uplifting the lives of the urban poor

For the very poorest there is not doubt that the government built residential blocks offered a real uplift in terms of living conditions, security, living space and sanitary arrangements. But the urban poor are NOT a homogenous group, nor are the underserved settlements all of the same uniform low quality.  (  see A profile of underserved settlements in Colombo ) Many were not living in conditions of total squalor..and many didn’t want to be rehoused. Over nearly four decades many residents have painstakingly invested in improving their homes. What they wanted was for services improved to their existing settlements.

For example, an on site of survey  homes  in the district of Borella prior to enforced eviction showed them to be  well-built—many with more than one floor—neatly painted and furnished with well appointed kitchens, bathrooms and toilets..

  • the families did not have title to the land their homes were built on; they were illegal

according to the CPA report published in 2015

“While some communities did or do occupy State Land, a fair percentage of households occupy private land that they have owned for generations and have the legal documents to prove it. However, is evident that not all communities are illegal occupants and in fact hold deeds dating back several decades. What most of them do have in common is that they all occupy commercially valuable land in the heart of Colombo”  and “even those who did not have full title also had a number of rights that accrued to them under the law of the land.”

The report goes on to say: “legal illiteracy of the affected communities meant that most residents gave up the land without realising that due process was not being followed and resigned themselves to the reality that they were no match for military intimidation.”

Problems ?

Taking all of that into consideration the fact is that a large number of families have ended up in the apartment blocks and what is depressing is that the litany of problems we saw develop with the tower blocks in the UK over 50 years is already emerging in Sri Lanka.

The common assumption that the apartments were gifted free to the poor is way off track.

  • those being evicted have to pay over a million rupees to the state over the next 20 years, including more than 1 lakh  (100,000 rupees) within the first 3 months,  irrespective of whether people have the deeds to their previous dwellings or not.
  • The majority are yet to be given deeds to their apartments and there are restrictions on selling, renting and mortgaging the apartments, which means that a source of financial security has been taken away from them.

and the residents have many issues:

  1. Lack of Space: Each apartment is around 400 square feet and many of those who were relocated had houses that were twice as big and with space for more than one family.The ‘one apartment per house’ policy also resulted in some apartments where there are up to 14 people or more and that some families have been forced to live on rent, elsewhere simply due to lack of space.
  2. Cost of Utility bills: residents complain of irregular electricity bills and of very high charges for water; for example people who used to pay less than Rs 200 a month for water in their previous homes were now being given bills of Rs 5000 per month, and for some, even higher than Rs 10,000.
  3. Many residents have been used to carrying on their livelihoods form home. However, the lack of space is an issue as those who took on catering jobs, made large amounts of food items per day or did tailoring work for example, say that they just don’t have the space required. Many women say they can no longer engage in their previous work.
  4. Moving also meant that for many they now have to commute from the outskirts of Colombo back into the city centre. For a poor family even the cost of 10 or more bus journeys a week is too much.
  5. Children now live much further from their school. Some have had to change school. Some no longer attend school, and the pre school infants no longer have the choice their parents once could have expected.
  6. Many complain about the poor lighting and ventilation, the emergence of graffiti and the poor standard of maintenance; lifts which are slow or break down for example.

Possibly worst of all is the  break down of community cohesion. This again from the CPA report 2015

In the relocation process, there appears to be a deliberate attempt to break up the communities as communities are not allocated apartments adjacent to one another on the same floor. Apartments are allocated randomly which means that families from the same community are now living floors apart most often, and for some, buildings apart. This has meant a significant change in their every day routines – for instance securing childcare for households where both parents work. Given that the new apartments are quite a distance away from the schools, families have had to arrange transport to drop and pick up their children or accompany the children themselves, arrange for after school care at a relative’s or neighbour’s house- all of which incur expenses they did not have to bear in their previous accommodation.

The outcome is that residents don’t act as a community; no-one seems to have a sense of engagement with or responsibility for their surroundings. The informal controls that keep everyone in check are no longer in place. All of which is depressingly similar to the experience of the urban working class in the UK during the second half of the twentieth century.

The tower block estates in the UK and elsewhere were never a success, quite the reverse.They may have even contributed to the polarisation UK society. Many certainly became “no go” areas during the latter part of the last century. Whether the Colombo estates (for that is what they are) will go the same way remains to be seen.

Progress is coming for Sri lanka, and not before time , but the question remains; who is it for?

Recommended Reading: http://www.cpalanka.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/High-rise-living_report-FINAL.pdf

 

 

 

 

A profile of underserved settlements in Colombo

When it comes to developing world cities, Colombo is one example of a city that does not fit the usual text book models; no massive sprawling slums on the periphery of the city, no rampant in migration to the city and very few houses which could be classed as extremely poor.

 So terms like “squatter settlement” and “shanty” don’t really apply to Colombo.

A better term for low income settlements might be Underserved Settlements or USS; and underserved is a term that applies to the houses of the urban poor wherever you go.

Text book examples are helpful up to a point, but what students get are generalisations. What students need is hard facts from real examples, whilst understanding that what they see is the result of a set of circumstances which is some ways is unique to a particular country.

This is the first of two short articles looking at the situation of the urban poor in Colombo Sri Lanka. It focusses on the nature of the underserved settlements. Most of the information is taken from a report by the NGO Sevanatha ( featured in an earlier article )

Brief History  

According to the first census of population in 1871 the city Colombo had a population of just under 99,000. By 1911 this had risen to just under 200,000 and it rose steadily throughout the 20th century  at rates between 1.5% and 3 %.  It now stands at 642000. ( The Colombo district is of course much larger with the 2012 census putting the population at just short of 2,310,000.)

There was never a period of explosive growth or in migration.

According to the literature underserved settlements ( USS) in Colombo date back to the time of colonial rule when the British brought in workers from surrounding rural areas, and from India, to work in offices, factories and the port itself.

They were housed in Northern Colombo mainly in rented accommodation. These areas in what we will later call district 1 became a focus for new migrants entering the city. Over time the supply of housing began to lag behind the demand and so as the low income population continued to grow people began to encroach on marginal areas such as canal banks, along railway lines, in marshy areas and abandoned paddy fields.

Land was also set aside for new settlements in the East and South of the city.  For various reasons these settlements were never provided with basic urban services so jsut as with the USS in District 1 they remained lacking in basic service provision and that is the way things have remained.

Over the years there have been a number of improvement schemes. Even so, it is thought that around 50% of the population of Colombo city can still be classed as low income living in underserved settlements.

Sevanatha ; the survey

The NGO Sevanatha undertook a detailed survey in 2012 of all the USS in Colombo. In order to do that, the city was divided into a number of districts; see map below.

district map

Map 1: Enumeration Districts

Researchers from Sevanatha then visited all the USS in the various districts located them on a map and used a scoring system based on a range of poverty/deprivation indicators to classify settlements into one of 4 groups; see table below:

Score % Assessment Category Priority level
> 41 Extreme poor settlement needs immediate attention 1
41-60 underserved; needs improvement 2
61-80 upgraded; but can still be improved 3
< 81 fully upgraded 4
  • priority in this case means priority for improvement

and these are the types levels of service provision we are talking about

Priority 1: unauthorized settlement; houses are temporary, self built, lack of all basic services; water, electricity, individual toilets, proper access roads. In this case the railway line is the only access point. Typically there would be around 100 houses and 134 families living here.

d06-sri3-480

photo 1; railway settlement

Priority 2: this is an underserved settlement. Most of the community have freehold status. Around 75% of the houses are permanent; built with brick/cement block with tiled roofs. Most will have electricity but water supply, individual toilets/bathrooms will be lacking. There will br no connection to the main sewage system.. no proper access or internal road. Typically ther might be 50 families living here.

j09-sri1-480

photo 2

Priority 3; This is an upgraded settlement and it is much bigger; maybe 1500 houses and 3000 families and a population of around 6000. The land is owned by a government agency (National Housing Development Agency). The residents all have permits to live here. nearly all houses are of permanent construction; 80% will have electricity, and water meters and some of the inner roads will be paved. Many will have their own bathrooms.

type 3

photo 3

Priority 4: these are fully upgraded and are probably similar to lower middle class housing elsewhere in the city in terms of electricity supply, water connection, connection to the mains drainage, good standard access and inner access roads. These are often the oldest and most established USS in the city. This one has been in existence for over 30 years.

type 4 improved

photo 4

Low income housing  in Colombo

There are currently 1735 USS in Colombo, the majority of which are small; the following are the main points to note

  • 22% – under 10 houses
  • 32% – 10 – 20 houses
  • 30% – 21 – 60 houses
  • so 84% of USS have 60 houses or less;
  • only 5% of USS have more than 100 houses

When you look at the distribution of the settlements on map 2 below you can see that they are scattered throughout the city; however,

USS map

  1. there is a clustering of settlements in the north of the city  District 1, 2a and towards the Eastern boundary Districts 3 and 4
  2. Districts 1 and 2a hold 72 of the population and 74% of the USS
  3. there is a secondary cluster towards the South East District 4
  4. The western central area is relatively free of  USS District 2b and District 5
The data
  1. Settlement categories by district

Settlement Categories as a % of the total

Area Location total .houses Ex poor underserved upgraded full upgrade % total
1 North 382 0.8 10.7 51.0 37.4 22
2a Central 522 0.2 2.3 43.1 54.4 30
2b Central 376 0.3 5.6 75.0 19.1 22
3 Borella 264 0.4 6.1 56.4 37.1 15
4 East 131 0 3.8 56.5 39.7 8
5 West 60 0 13.3 31.7 55.0 3
total 0.3 5.9 54.4 39.3 100
  • So most settlements have been upgraded to some degree. Only 0.3% are the lowest level; priority 1.
  • The only district with significant numbers of priority 2 settlements  is district 1; the north of the city
  • Fully upgraded USS are similar to lower middle income households. if those are excluded the number of USS reduces down to 1053
  1. Land ownership in the USS   breaks down as follows
  • owned by occupants:             40%
  • owned by govt:                      32%
  • owned by CMDC                    16%
  • privately owned                      7%
  • unclear                                    5%
  • 22% possess user permit
  • 43% own the freehold
  • overall it is estimated that 57% of occupants do not enjoy security of tenure
  1. Housing conditions

more than 84% are classified as permanent

  1. Water/Toilets/Sewage
  • overall 41% of settlements have to make do with common toilets
  • 8% have no toilet facilities
  • 33% of USS have n0 metered water connection
  • 33% either use common facilities or rely on outside sources
  • 5% of communities are in need of safe drinking water and levels of service are rated as a serious problem in 8% of USS
  • 28%  of settlements of USS have serious problems in respect of safe disposal of sewage; only 50% are connected to the city’s sewage network
  1. Electricity supply

 most USS (98%) have electricity connection so not really an issue, BUT lack of street lighting is an issue for 34% of USS communities

  1. Garbage collection

15% of USS report irregular or no collection

author’s note: not sure how reliable this figure is; It is quite common to see mounds of garbage in the USS and there have been problems with garbage collection city wide over the last few years.

  1. Road conditions in settlements
  • 40 % have well maintained tarred roads/pavements with good width access
  • 41% have poorly maintained tarred roads
  • 19% do not have tarred roads
  • adequate drainage is non existent on 83% of internal roads leading to local flash flooding and waterlogging of internal roads

8.  Income levels

  • in only 22% of USS do the majority of households earn more than 20000 lkr (lkr is the sri lankan rupee; 200 to £)
  • in 50% of USS  2/3rds of households earn less than 20,000 lkr
  • overall monthly income in 63% of USS communities is rated as inadequate
  • in the majority of USS less than 10% are in receipt of samurdhi payments; (a kind of state welfare benefit forthe low income/unemployed)
  • in 15% of USS more than 50% of households are single parent households

Other points

  •  community based organisations do not exist in 83% of USS
  • 86% of USS don’t not have community centres
  • community savings programmes are only available in 8% of settlements;
  • there are only 23 setllements where more than 75% of households are engaged in community savings
  • 31% of USS are classified as being in high risk/vunerabilty situations.. particularly flash flooding
  • more than 60% of USS are in the municip[al rate paying category

what this means is that residents are not organised or empowered to negotiate with local or national government agencies to improve service provision and living conditions.

What do USS residents identify as issues and problems

  • need for connection to city sewage network
  • need for private toilets
  • lack of play spaces for children
  • 20% feel social environment could be better
  • 49% feel level of services is inadequate
  • common view is that there is no consultation with residents where major redevelopment schemes are concerned
  • low status and lack of legal identity of the USS makes it hard to enrol children in schools, getting service connections e.g. power and obtaining state benefits
  • where rehousing is concerned, 28% favour on site low rise development, and most wanted any future housing developmentt to take place within their USS

The view of Sevenatha is that these communities need to become  organised and therefore empowered, and to that end this NGO works with local communities to equip them to improve their local environments; see Sevanatha the work of an NGO

Conclusions

If you want to understand the nature of low income settlements in the developing world you need to understand that the conditions in which they grew up in each major city is to some degree unique. That makes generalisations about  low income settlements of limited value.

Most of the urban poor in Colombo have solved the basic need: shelter. Not only that, in many cases they have gone much further in terms of improving their individual homes although this has taken them a fair amount of time to acquire the funds to do it. This is a pattern you see across the developing world.

What has been lacking in Colombo is any real drive by the authorities to support the efforts of the USS residents by adding in mains water supply, connections to the sewage network, and improving access and internal roads.

Once again the residents have realised that they have to do this themselves which is why the efforts of  Sevanatha and the women’s cooperative bank  (see earlier article) have gained traction

next up:

The government response has been different.

I was around in the 1960’s in the UK when comprehensive redevelopment and slum clearance brought in the hi rise urban council estates.. and we maybe can reflect on how (un)successful that was..think of Hulme in Manchester, (thankfully now bulldozed away) for example.

Sadly the authorities in Colombo seem bent on making the same errors..so the next article is all about the current rehousing scheme or enforced resettlement depending on your point of view.. what, where, how and the likely impacts.

 

 

Megapolis Colombo: the drive to create a new Global City

In an earlier post I looked at how Colombo was attempting to rebrand itself with the dual aims of becoming:

  1. The garden city of south Asia
  2. A world city

That was 2013 under initiatives led by the previous government. It is fair to say that a lot of good things were accomplished by the last government, and if you walk or drive around Colombo today you can see that a great deal has improved as a result. What is also noticeable, however, is that two of the keystone developments; Port City and The Lotus Tower, have ground to a halt.

Why? Well change of governments mean, quite often, a change in direction.

In 2014 a new president was elected and along with that the restoration of parliamentary, and after a year where not much has happened the Prime Minister Ranil Wickermasinghe, and the main government party the UNP have launched an ambitious new plan Megapolis which takes the concept of creating a global city much further than the original plan. Port City and the Lotus Tower project are to remain but the Megapolis plan promises much more.

But first.. what is a World City? How does a city, like Colombo, become a world city?

Well there are many links you can access to help you work that one out. I picked up this one from City Metric but there are many others; New Geography is also a good link;

The characteristics required to qualify for this label are simple enough: it’s all about (sorry, this is a horrible word) “connectedness”. To be a world city, you need

I like the Wikipedia definition because it is easy to understand and helps you evaluate a city quickly. So to be a world city, Colombo ideally needs to match the following;

  1. A variety of international financial services,notably in finance, insurance, real estate, banking, accountancy, and marketing
  2. Headquarters of several multinational corporations
  3. The existence of financial headquarters, a stock exchange and major financial institutions
  4. Domination of the trade and economy of a large surrounding area
  5. Major manufacturing centres with port and container facilities
  6. Considerable decision-making power on a daily basis and at a global level
  7. Centres of new ideas and innovation in business, economics, culture and politics
  8. Centres of media and communications for global networks
  9. Dominance of the national region with great international significance
  10. High percentage of residents employed in the services sector and information sector
  11. High-quality educational institutions, including renowned universities, international student attendance and research facilities
  12. Multi-functional infrastructure offering some of the best legal, medical and entertainment facilities in the country
How many of the above does Colombo score yes to?

1, 3, 4, 5 (yes to Port but major manufacturing?) 7 maybe, 9 partially, 10; no doubt some will argue for more but ranked against Singapore, KL, Hong Kong Colombo has a way to go.

Which is where the Megapolis plan comes in.

Setting the scene

Before the troubles Sri Lanka was set to emerge as possibly the leading player in the South Asian economic zone. Ok so 40 years on it has a lot of ground to make up BUT Sri Lanka has a lot going for it;

  • Location; look at where Sri Lanka is located; slap bang in the middle of the main trade routes around southern Asia; both maritime and airborne,and much better located than any of its Indian neighbours.

indian-ocean-sea-routes

source: chellaney.net

  • workforce; Sri Lanka has a skilled and literate workforce
  • education; the island also can boast high levels of education; the literally rate is 98%, one of the highest in Asia
  • strong entrepreneurial culture
  • key institutions in place: stock exchange, strong central bank
  • increasing political stability

The Megapolis plan aims to build on these strengths

Megapolis; the concept and plan

The plan is to create a large modern conurbation with Colombo at the core.

Within the grand plan focus is on modernization of the city and decentralization of industry to satellite towns plus zoning of activity; so creating major secondary growth poles.

In all 10 “mega projects” are planned covering transport, water supply, power supply waste management and housing together with zoning of development

Cost                             $20 billion

Time Scale                  30 years

  • Tourism hubs at Negombo and Avissawella
  • Industry Hubs at Mirigama and Homagama
  • Aero/Maritime hub; Colombo – Katanayake in the north; global transport and logistics and trading Centre
  • CBD growth which will incorporate Port City; international trade, finance commercial devt, high end residential devt and tourism
  • A science and technology hub to the east of Colombo at Malabe and further out at Homagama

images-1

source; daily news.lk

and for Colombo  the proposal includes

  • business centres in the financial districts around Pettah,
  • a cruise centre,
  • a marina and waterfront promenade, which will eventually be developed into a harbour front district.
  • The project also includes a recreation and entertainment district around Beira Lake
  • a shopping complex district around Slave Island.

Unknown

source: Sunday Times.lk

Why

  1. Megapolis is envisaged as a focus for economic growth for the country: a growth pole if you like, with the benefits of growth trickling down to the rest of the country
  2. To deal with major problems eg congestion, movement, waste management, power supply,
  3. It will provide the wholesale modernization of infrastructure needed to create a “global” city;

The key goal is to transform the entire Western Province by:

  1. improving/developing essential infrastructure, such as ICT, transportation, communication, power and energy
  2. creating “the most exciting and liveable cosmopolitan modern city with an all inclusive development plan spanning more than three decades.”

According to the project details, the proposal also includes a comprehensive plan to address the shelter needs for Colombo’s shanty-dwellers. A multi-storied housing complex for both low and middle-income families has been proposed with the assistance of experienced architects and town planners of a Singaporean firm named CESMA. ( sounds a lot like the Singaporean HDB developments ) This is Bukit Batok public housing in Singapore. Is this the future for the urban middle/lower income groups in Colombo?

Bukit Batok Public Housing Singapore; credit Wikipedia
photo credit Wikipedia

 

The initial plan maps out a detailed long-term development project estimated for a population of two million.

The Smart City

The WRMP does not end with improvements of conventional physical connectivity but will encompass making the cities within the region, Smart – Digitally Smart.

The aim is to  bring Colombo into the 21st century; big time by providing business and the community with;

  • Smart parking,
  • an integrated transport system,
  • real-time traffic information and management,
  • smart power grids to provide the necessary amount of electricity depending on the demand, which will increase the efficiency of utilization,
  • smart street lighting,
  • smart city maintenance and many other modern technology-related characteristics will be incorporated by primarily the enterprises, which will operate or provide services within the WRMP area.

Obstacles

But there are significant obstacles to overcome

  • Funding; it is easy to say it will be funded by Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) but harder to pull it in, and at what cost both in terms of economic and political independence?
  • Planning framework strikes me as still being quite weak on skills and expertise; there is a major need for investment in training the next generation of town planners
  • Much of construction technology will have to be imported along with the hardware and possibly skilled labour
  • Political stability is not guaranteed: there is a strong opposition which still attracts significant support and which could  get back into power: so all of this could change. If so would this be discouraging for potential FDI?
  • Culture/attitudes maybe will need working on; corruption and a grindingly slow bureaucracy  at all levels are still an issue.. will put off potential investors?
  • Education and skills levels in the country need to be upgraded especially in IT, finance and so on
  • The country has lost significant numbers of skilled and educated  people to Canada, Australia, UK and Europe; can they be persuaded to return?
Implementation

The implementation of this flagship project is to be entrusted to a newly formed ministry backed by a  professional team of Sri Lankan advisers and supported by government legislation.

The Colombo Port City Project,  The Lotus Tower and the commercial developments along the Galle Face frontage (Colombo One) are already in place. (see earlier blog) and it is hoped that this will attract a large number of foreign investors to buy, lease or rent the business and residential facilities to be created under this Colombo Port City Development.

So many of the original developments proposed by the previous government have been assimilated into this plan and will give the project a useful “kick start”.

There is no doubt that Sri Lanka has the potential to become a major transport hub and financial centre but questions remain:

Final Questions
  1. Will it ever happen, or is it as one newspaper put it, just another pipe dream? A sure sign of intent would be for the Port City development to recommence but as yet that isn’t happening.
  2. Exactly who will benefit; will the 50% of Colombo’s population even notice any real difference apart from being relocated to high rise apartments. Or is this a development scheme to benefit the wealthy and well placed?
  3. And what about the rest of the country; exactly how will it benefit? How will the benefits of economic growth pan out for the other provinces? In the UK we have seen how damaging the dominance of London is to the rest of the country. Will Colombo just become another primate city dwarfing the rest of the country and will that lead to another round of migration to the city region? If so how will Colombo cope?

Welcome to Geo Sri Lanka: case studies for A level geographers

Hi, my name is Phil Brighty. The title for the blog Geosrilanka comes from the fact that I lived and worked in Colombo  for nearly 7 years, and came to really love the country and its people. You will find case studies focussed on geographical  issues in a developing country: Sri Lanka. Up until recently South Asia has been a neglected are for study; however, it is a rich area for study geographically and,  just as importantly, offers new material for students. As a teacher I was always on the lookout  to get away from the same old examples everyone uses…which is why I set up this blog. I hope you find the case studies useful.

List of articles; click on this link to see the full range of  articles

Dengue in Sri Lanka:  Dengue fever in Sri Lanka is reaching epidemic proportions: check out the latest Dengue update.

Apart from Geosrilanka I write mainly for for GeoFactsheets.. However, I have also published in The Geographical Review, and Geofile Online.

Before that I was Head of Geography at The Sixth Form College Colchester and then was based at Colombo International School as HOD and Head of Secondary School. In the past I have been an A level examiner for OCR, AQA and also an examiner for IB diploma geography.

 Fieldwork in Sri Lanka;

Sri Lanka is a great place to undertake fieldwork for A level geography..most places are accessible and value for money; plus for students it can be the trip of a lifetime because with careful planning they get to experience what regular tourists never can:

If you are interested click on the live link above to find out more..

Feedback; would love to have some

What would be interesting to know is how people are using the case studies..are students being referred to the site? are teachers using them in class or as research and prep for lessons?

The blogs are very much summaries of often large numbers of links, websites etc. If anyone wants to know more, wants help with resources, especially with Sri Lanka in mind, then I would be happy to respond.

There is an opportunity to comment so do send comments in and I will put them up.

Stop Press: Just added

Making sense of the Sri Lankan monsoon

Dengue Update; dengue cases could top 150,000 this year!

Colombo Garbage Dump Collapse

The Indian Ocean Monsoon part 1: is the monsoon becoming less predictable?

Plus 2 articles have been updated

Dengue Update

Challenges ahead for the Sri Lankan Garment Industry

more… 

Next Up: 

The Monsoon, Drought and Global Warming in Sri Lanka; prospects and problems

 

Colombo; progress but who is it for?

Colombo is modernising fast, and many would argue ; not before time.  In 2010 although the Sri Lankan economy started to grow rapidly in economic terms at least Colombo was not pulling its weight.

A lack of inward investment was the main cause and the reasons for that were fairly obvious. The image of Colombo was a negative one. Colombo was a city:

  •  prone to flooding,
  • suffering increasing levels of traffic congestion and chronic air pollution;
  • with garbage choked waterways
  • with high levels of deprivation and relative poverty often focussed on the pockets of underserved settlements you can still find all over the Colombo
  •  that looked “down at heel” and in need of a major makeover
  •  that seemingly went to bed by 8pm
  • with a very limited home domestic market and a small tourist base

and of course this was a country still emerging from a brutal period internal conflict.

Contrast this with the glitz of the major Asian cities; KL, Singapore and Hong Kong and it isn’t hard to see why  foreign companies were not too keen to come to Colombo given a commercial environment typified by an out of date and unattractive  commercial environment a shortage of land, and lack of modern business facilities in the city.

Garden city

Not surprising then that the last government saw the need to “rebrand” Colombo as it embarked on a major regeneration exercise, post 2010.

This is what Gotabaya Rajapakse had to say in  2013:

The focus is on developing clean, green, people friendly cities and towns that will foster an efficient working environment and a relaxed living environment….conducive for knowledge workers and other professionals to live and work in Sri Lanka. (who) expect to maintain a high quality of life for themselves and their families…. it is also extremely important from the perspective of attracting Foreign Direct Investment.”

Out of this was borne the concept of The Garden City of South Asia with its emphasis on greening the city, opening up urban spaces and creating high quality recreation spaces such as at Waters Edge.

z_p-18-Restaurants-01-1

7-copy

pics taken from Sunday Observer

A lot of good came from this.

  1. Flooding ( a regular problem) has been brought under control and the cities drains and spillways have been improved.
  2. Canal sides have been cleared of the sprawling and messy underserved settlements and the rubbish that piled up within them. Beira Lake has also been cleaned up.
  3. Garbage collection improved and the environment generally got a lot better. Colombo in 2014 was a lot cleaner city than London that’s for sure.
  4. The city has at last got properly paved sidewalks; there is even a degree of traffic taming in some parts of the city.
  5. Ugly walls have been knocked down and the city space is opening up.
  6. Major landscaping along the Diyawanna river,  at Waters Edge and in other locations around the city make for high grade recreation space that everyone can use.
  7. City nightlife is on the up; The Dutch Hospital complex and the multiplex cinemas, bars and up market eating places are evidence of growing investment in leisure within the Sri Lankan community.
  8. Many beautiful old historic buildings have been restored to their original glory; none better than the town hall and the old auditor general’s building.
  9. Independence Square is an attractive urban area used by many and Viharamadhevi Park has been turned into a beautiful open space.

IMG_4222-600x400-1

credit: YAMU

So there are many positives and the plans go far beyond the simple environmental uplift the city has enjoyed.

Projects

Ambitious projects like Port City, The Lotus Tower, Krrish Square, the Galle Front Shangri La development  are planned to shoot Colombo into the 21st Century.

note; you can find videos of all of these on U tube via google

The image of Colombo as a vibrant modern city is one that has been promoted; and why not after so many years of hardship?

Clearly government policies are driving this development  but there are other forces at play.

  • you could argue that there is  an emerging middle class with more money to spend and the ambition to live in a more modern city
  • at the same time we live in a global world; TV and the cinema, facebook contacts with friends and relatives living abroad, and holidays abroad; all of that serves to make people aware of what the cities of Singapore, KL and Hong Kong have to offer.. and they want to have a slice of that.. all of which is quite understandable.

However, the major force at work is commercial pressure.

As I wrote at the top of the article  the government believed in 2013 that Colombo needed to attract a great deal more inward investment.

The idea goes.. attract in investment (mainly from abroad) which will drive up tourism, and possibly increase the presence of multi national companies, retail chains and the like locating to Colombo..the development will open up business opportunities, and create jobs which will trickle down to the rest of the city  in terms of jobs and per capita income; everyone benefits.

But do they really or is it a few well placed individuals and foreign corporations who will take most of the rewards from whatever growth occurs?

True, everyone in Colombo benefits from better roads/pavements, more green spaces and a cleaner environment but how relevant are the proposed commercial developments in downtown Colombo to the average joe?

The fact is that around 50% of the Colombo population is on low incomes; the average urban income ( which takes into account all the high earners in the city) is only just over Rs 60,000 whilst outgoings are around Rs 50,000 and that is with at least 2 and maybe more in the family working. (In fact the median income; the most common income, is just Rs 30,400 per month)

So  once rent/ food etc are taken into account what else is left and how many visits to enjoy the high life in Colombo can you make? ( see 2012/13 Household Income and Expenditure Survey)

Port City is justifiably a source of some national pride even among the lower income groups BUT how relevant to them is Port City and all the other developments in downtown Colombo?

Port City (if it ever gets finished) is not really for Sri Lankans is it? The only low income people in Port City will be the tuk and taxi drivers or the housemaids. the same goes for all the hotel developments; This is also true of the new shops and restaurants in the old Auditor General’s building close by Independence Square. They are lovely buildings but how many local people can afford to visit the shops and restaurants there? They are for tourists both business and recreational; something for them to spend their money on.

So is it a case of two Colombo’s are being created: one for the rich, mainly wealthy foreigners and one for the rest?

Not that Colombo is alone in this regard. It is pretty much the same in all the world’s major cities.

Forced evictions; the ugly face of beautification

Commercial pressures were also behind the forced evictions of large numbers of families from the underserved settlements under the guise of urban regeneration and beautification. In all it was planned to evict 65,000 families; around a quarter of a million people and relocate them in high rise blocks like this one:

Mihindu_Sethpura_mega_housing_20131118_06p2

this from the Centre for Policy Alternatives second report:

The rush to relocate communities to high-rise apartments was not done with the uplifting of people’s lives foremost in mind, but with the intention of freeing up property with high commercial value. What made the Urban Regeneration Project of the Urban Development Authority more problematic was the means used to acquire land. Military force, intimidation and harassment were used to evict people from their homes and the process did not follow Sri Lanka’s laws related to land acquisition.

Communities… face many hardships. Residents are forced to pay Rs 1 million for the apartments over a period of 20 – 30 years. They are yet to be given deeds to their apartments and there are restrictions on selling, renting and mortgaging the apartments, which means that a source of financial security has been taken away from them.

Winners and losers

A common concept that has been used in geography over many years is that  whenever economic/commercial development takes place there will be winners and losers.

If London is anything to go by the future for Colombo’s lower income groups is bleak. Ongoing development will most likely result in soaring land values; the lower income groups will be priced out of the city and forced to the edge of the city from where they will face an expensive commute back into the city to their place of work. Central London has already been bought up by rich foreign investors who in some cases have bought property with no real intention of living in it; just an investment. The average worker can’t afford to live in London now. Prices in restaurants and bars are obscene in some cases.. and so it goes on.

The accepted view (at least amongst governments and politicians ) is that the capital city drives the economy. London has become a monster dominating the whole of the UK; London is not a place for Londoners these days. Colombo will go the same way.

Note 1

The drive to Singapore style development has taken a step further with the launch of the government’s Megapolis plan. This is really an extension of the Port City, Skyscraper City concept mentioned before in this article. It is a grandiose plan; you can check it out via the Sunday Times (Lanka) report at http://www.sundaytimes.lk/110918/News/nws_19.html

Initial thoughts:

  • It relies totally on foreign direct investment; so where is it going to come from and with what strings attached?
  • how much of the existing architectural heritage will be retained?
  • What will happen to Slave Island and Pettah? I am betting those vibrant multi-cultural communities will be broken up and their residents forcibly evicted
  • what will we be left with? Singapore glitters but it is soulless..is that really what Sri Lankans want..
  • how if anything will it change the lives of the majority urban poor/middle income groups.. who will only be able to afford to stand and stare
  • how much of any growth will trickle down to the Sri lankan people?

Colombo is a fascinating, and in places, beautiful city but much of it will be buried by this project and in terms of the country as a whole I wonder what real good it will bring.

How relevant will Colombo really be to people in the rest of the country? Are the policy makers in ganger of creating 2  countries: Colombo and the rest?

Finally will Colombo become such a magnet for growth and development that it becomes a true primate city dominating every aspect of Sri Lankan economic life and what effect will that have on the rest of the country?

Note 2

There is another view of city life though which is worth a look; check out the vision of Jan Gehl on U tube who believes that city growth and regeneration needs to be organised around the needs of people as much as economic priorities.

 

Sevanatha; a case study of an NGO

 A SRI LANKAN SUCCESS STORY


What kind of development programme works?

There is  a lot of discussion around this question; should it be top down or bottom up? I guess that at the end of the day it has to be about what works and what is sustainable.

Governments in many developed world countries are involved in the financing of expensive development projects in Africa, South Asia and South America, but the effectiveness and relevance of these projects is quite often questioned, as are the motives behind the giving. Do these expensive top down projects really work? Do they really meet the needs of the populations of developing countries and are they sustainable?

Development programmes not only need to be relevant to the needs of local people they also should be acceptable. To ensure that is the case local people need to be listened to and they need to be involved in all aspects of the decision making process; identification of need, planning and implementation. Without that the key criteria of relevance and acceptability are unlikely to be met.

One organisation which does make a difference is a Sri Lankan NGO: Sevanatha. Founded 25 years ago it works with local communities at grass roots level to bring about change to the lives of the urban poor.

Sevanatha:   Meeting the needs of local people:

01

http://www.sevanatha.org.lk/

Earlier in the year I paid a visit to Sevanatha a small NGO based in Colombo, Sri Lanka; this is their story.

Vision and Mission

” To be a dynamic change agent for transforming the lives of urban and rural poor to be self reliant and empowered members in the Sri Lankan society. ” and “to revitalize and enhance the capacities and creativity of urban and rural poor in Sri Lanka. “

Background

There is no significant rural to urban migration flow in Sri Lanka and there are no large areas of squatter settlement in Colombo BUT there are a significant number of people living in under served settlements or USS for short. Most of these settlements have been in place for a long time. In the USS the main problems are:

  • no security of tenure
  • poor or non-existent services; eg. legal electric supply, clean water supply, inside toilets, made up roadways
  • poor sanitation, polluted ditches and canals, garbage strewn
  • overcrowding
  • poor personal security
  • low incomes

One such area is Seevalipura

 IMG_0236

photo credit : phil brighty

Seevalipura is the biggest underserved settlement in Colombo. It houses 300 families and roughly 15000 people. The settlement which is on the eastern edge of Colombo dates back to the 1930’s when migrants from rural areas came to Colombo to work in the expanding industries around the capital. Government provision of housing could not keep pace with population growth and so informal squatter settlement grew up. In !984/6 Seevalipura was declared a special project area and electricity and water supply were brought in. Even so the area has remained poor; very much a working class neighbourhood with low income and poverty the main threat to local people.

notice

  • narrow streets
  • high density building
  • paved road surface
  • power provided

The area is clean quite neat and well tended, but it might not always have been like this. The reason for the improvements you see comes down to the amount of pressure that the local people were able to exert on Colombo Municipal Council. For neighbourhoods to be able to do this, to feel confident enough to do this the people living in them have to become communities with a common interest and purpose. That is where an NGO like Sevanatha comes in.

What does Sevanatha do?

Don’t assume that the local people living in the USS are happy with their situation or don’t want to see improvements to their environment; they do. The problem is how to go about getting the changes they want. That is where Sevanatha fits in. It doesn’t fund projects directly, although it does provide “seed” money for a limited number of exemplar projects.

Instead the focus is on providing advice and support to local people to organise themselves so that they feel empowered to make their case to the municipal authorities.. So representatives from Sevanatha work with locally elected community leaders to identify projects which the community see as necessary. Emphasis is placed upon;

  • organisation of local people
  • increasing the capability of the community leaders through training, workshops and education
  • helping to develop both hard and soft skills within the settlement; eg building and construction, negotiation with council officials, management of contracts, representation at municipal council meetings, understanding of recycling, environmental management.
  • building self confidence

In this way people in the community become empowered, they are encouraged to take responsibilty and to make the key decisions and this type of approach is sustainable because:

  1. local people are involved
  2. they get the projects that they want
  3. the work (often carried out by members of the community) is cheaper
  4. and better quality
  5. the USS aren’t reliant on external funding
  6. they manage the links they build with their local councils  and are not dependent upon outside help

The projects themselves are often quite small scale; like the building of this toilet block for example. The thing is that the locals were consulted and this is what THEY wanted. Why did they want it? Well because before it was a latrine, not connected to the main sewer system, it was not cleaned the units had no doors. There was minimal privacy and securtity especially for girls and younger women. What they wanted was modern connected toilets, with lockable doors. In the scale of things this is not a big project; but then devlopment doesn’t have to be.

IMG_0226

photo credit phil brighty

It may not look much but it is fully plumbed in, the doors lock, the units get cleaned regularly and everyone feels more comfortable using them now.

This paved area in another small USS may not look much but again it was better than  the muddy track that was there before. Again it was what the locals wanted not something that was foisted upon them.

IMG_0229

photo credit; phil brighty

in another project local people are involved in recycling dry waste particularly for compost which has formed the basis of a company MEC pvt ltd. Check this out http://www.sevanatha.org.lk/ongoing-project-community-based-solid-waste-management.html

What that does is show local people how they can acquire business skills whilst creating a greener environment.

For the full list of projects Sevanatha is involved with check out http://www.sevanatha.org.lk/ongoing-projects.html

Final thought

For me the key question is; does this NGO make a lasting and significant difference to the lives of the people and to the local environment? Sevanatha does this on both fronts not least because, instead of throwing money at a problem and wandering off to the next problem area; they work with local people they create the conditions for sustainable development in the community and they stick around to monitor its success. Money isn’t wasted on expensive 4 x 4 cars, high salaries and apartments for ex-pats or expensive education for the ex pat children (as it was in the post tsunami era). In fact money isn’t wasted at all. What they do though is they help people harvest the skills within the community and put them to good use.

Sevanatha is not  glamorous and doesn’t make a big noise about itself BUT it ought to be celebrated for what it does in its quiet and effective way. Maybe the big NGO’s could take a leaf from the Sevanatha book.

For more details of Sevanatha and what it does go to http://www.sevanatha.org.lk

Funding and Partnerships

  • Sevanatha is funded by Homeless International which is currently supporting SEVANATHA to implement a project funded by UK Aids; UNESCAP, The Asian Coalition for housing rights
  • Sevanatha is partners with a wide range of organisations including: Citynet Yokohama, The Women’s Co-operative Bank in Colombo and local municipal councils across Sri Lanka