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SRI LANKA'S FUTURE HOUSING NEED

by Dr. Tilak S. Fernando reporting from Colombo
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On 26 December 2004 Tsunami struck the coastal zone, embracing Sri Lanka's 24% of its land area, which is inhabited by 42% of its population with 80% of its located hotels. The official estimated figures of the damage to dwellings have now been drawn up, and the experts predict that Sri Lanka needs to build 140,000 new houses per year annually for the next 25 years. Sri Lanka's annual capacity to build new houses is set at only 40,000, out of which up to 95% is executed by the private sector. It is now established that Tsunami has destroyed 90,260 houses making an overall shortfall of houses at 520,260. Prior to this natural devastation 430,000 had been destroyed by the ethnic conflict over the years.

United Nations Assessment Survey in 2003 identified the house building requirement as 430,626, focussing particularly on 'basic housing units in the North and East and border areas to accommodate the displaced". The latest Sri Lankan government regulation stipulates a 100 meter distance from the sea to erect a dwelling. This will entrap 750, 000 people under this regulation which is about 4% of the Sri Lanka's population making a further demand for an additional 250,000 houses to be relocated inland to settle these people.

Sri Lanka's current population of 18.7 million is expected to reach up to 23 million by 2030. Taking into account dwellings which do not currently meet up to the required specific standards and those illegally constructed, the actual requirement for new houses will be pushed up to 3.5 million making a total of 8.7 million houses and additional 86,000 hectares of new land.

All these boil down to the fact that a new opportunity has emerged from the ravages of Tsunami to re-model a new and a modern Sri Lanka. According to Dr. Krishan Deheregoda, Chairman, Real Estate Exchange (Pvt) Ltd (REEL), a government owned company, a master plan for the development of the country was unveiled by the Urban Development Authority (UDA) in 2002 which is another Government Agency. After the Tsunami, this plan has been unveiled on 26 January 2005 with minor modifications for Matara. A further plan for Hambantota and Galle will be unveiled in the very near future.

The second most densely populated area in Sri Lanka is the Central Province which occupies 8.5 of the country's land mass with a population of 15%. North Western Province occupies 11.9% of the land mass holding 11% of its population. 51% of the Colombo population lives in slums and shanties. Experts say "The need is to relocate these slums and shanty dwellers into strategic reservations within Colombo City" and the REEL will sell this land for development from squatters.

The public funds from institutions such the World Bank and ICRC which have pledged US$7 million for post Tsunami reconstruction work with US$2 million from private funds are believed to make the external pledges to come close to the internal estimates.

The present general consensus in the country is that a decentralised approach is very essential to ensure accountability, whilst recognising the importance of civil society's right to monitor the use of such monies are two key factors needed to ensure the effective utilisation of Tsunami aid. The Transparency International Sri Lanka, a branch of the Transparency International, Germany, a respected NGO in Germany that acts as a watchdog over public accounts has claimed that so far the 'government financial accountability system was inefficient, parliamentary oversight was weak due to lack of committees, while other committees sit in camera and the Auditor General's Department (AGD) too was ineffective as it is part of the Executive.

However the government sources say that all monies have been allocated to each donor country and set plans have been given to them to go ahead with the construction work in the very near future.



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