Ilankai Tamil Sangam

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Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

Security for Normalcy

by Daily FT, Colombo, March 26, 2011

Estimates say that as much as one-third of the northern population may be unemployed with over 3,000 graduates among them. The Point Pedro Development Institute in Jaffna estimates unemployment to be above 20% in the north, underemployment to be at least another 30%, and that almost half the work force in these areas survives on occasional employment, earning less than $ 1 per day.

HE challenges of resettlement and rehabilitation in the north and east exist to a large scale based on unavailability and lack of sustainable employment.
An article published in IRIN points out that the cash-for-work programmes that are initiated by the Government and World Bank are in fact creating problems in the long term. They allege that there is insufficient funding for resettled people to gain permanent jobs and many find that they cannot find long-term employment after the cash-for-work programmes are completed.

Not only do these programmes not give market rate salaries, they also discourage people from starting self-employment and reduce labour mobility by establishing an artificial environment for a limited period of time.

With little labour intensive investment reaching the area, the people are forced to revert to their traditional livelihoods or scrape together the US$ 220 given by the Government to resettling families to start up tea shops. Those living in the interior cannot enjoy even this meagre life. As of end 2010, a total of 76,000 families had registered with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) to receive these grants, intended to help in building temporary living quarters, for a total of about $ 7 million. The effectiveness of these programmes is uncertain, with many vulnerable people still left to fend for themselves.

Estimates say that as much as one-third of the northern population may be unemployed with over 3,000 graduates among them. The Point Pedro Development Institute in Jaffna estimates unemployment to be above 20% in the north, underemployment to be at least another 30%, and that almost half the work force in these areas survives on occasional employment, earning less than $ 1 per day.

The World Bank observes that one way to generate meaningful employment in former conflict-affected regions is to employ labour-intensive – or what the International Labour Organisation calls labour-based – technologies in rehabilitation/reconstruction of infrastructure including roads, houses, public buildings. However, this might result in more expense being incurred by the projects and it is doubtful whether those giving the grants or loans for rebuilding will be willing to adjust their conditions to such a proposal.  

These are grave statistics. The floods that swept through the east a few months ago have not helped matters, with estimates that around 97% of the Batticaloa harvest was adversely affected. In addition 70,000 acres of paddy land had to be abandoned due to deposits of sand in the region. The farmers of these areas are struggling to repay their loans and agriculture officials have requested the Central Bank to allow an adjusted repayment schedule. They have also requested the granting of special loans for the Yala season. The latter is crucial for recovery and preventing price escalations towards the latter part of the year.

Cabinet on Wednesday approved Rs. 1 billion to repair 793 schools damaged by floods. Forty-two national schools are among then and a staggering 586 of these are in the Eastern Province. This clearly shows that the recovery has not been as swift as politicians would like us to believe. Admittedly, this is a problem that goes beyond the sole control of the Government and requires organisations and private sector among other stakeholders to lend a helping hand. Community-focused employment programmes that take the problems of each group into consideration are needed so that security is provided to normalise lives.