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Cablegate: Sri Lanka - Earthquake and Tsunamis:

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.




E.O. 12958: N/A


1. Organizations involved in the transitional
shelter sector continue to encounter obstacles to
shelter construction. These obstacles include the
lack of available materials, specifically timber,
on the local market; delays in the Government of
Sri Lanka's (GOSL) allocation and identification of
suitable land for the construction of transitional
shelters; reluctance of tsunami-affected residents
to engage in reconstruction or accept transitional
shelters due to fear of losing GOSL entitlements
for damaged property; and the application of value
added taxes on the purchase of local materials
(VAT). Some organizations involved in the shelter
sector have been unable to begin the construction
of transitional shelters and others have ceased
their shelter programs due to a lack of available
materials. As of March 30, USAID/Office of U.S.
Foreign Disaster Assistance's (OFDA) implementing
partners have constructed 1,224 transitional
shelters in Sri Lanka, and according to the U.N.
High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), as of March
31, a total of 7,747 transitional shelters have
been built on the island. Figures vary on the
number of total shelters required with GOSL
estimates ranging from 38,588 to 41,474 shelters.
UNHCR reports that 68,000 transitional shelters
have been pledged. End summary.

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Donor Coordination Meeting

2. On March 29, the USAID/Disaster Assistance
Response Team (DART) Information Officer and the
USAID/Colombo Humanitarian Assistance Program
Manager (HAPM) attended a donor coordination
meeting in Colombo. In attendance were
representatives from the Canadian International
Development Agency (CIDA), Australian High
Commission, European Commission, U.N. High
Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), French Embassy,
and German Technical Cooperation Agency (GTZ). At
this meeting the Senior Shelter Coordinator for
UNHCR gave a presentation on the status of the
transitional shelter sector in Sri Lanka.

3. The UNHCR representative stated that currently
30 percent of public buildings are still occupied
by internally displaced persons (IDPs), and there
has been an increase in the number of host
families, as people have started to move from self-
settled camps and tents and to reside with host
families. In addition, people have started
returning to their own land as the level of fear
present in the aftermath of the tsunami has
4. However, the UNHCR representative reported that
reconstruction has not been occurring as tsunami-
affected families are worried about GOSL
entitlements for damaged and partially damaged
houses. The GOSL policy is to provide 250,000 Sri
Lankan rupees to families whose homes are more than
40 percent destroyed and 100,000 Sri Lankan rupees
to families whose homes are less than 40 percent
destroyed. However, the pace of GOSL damage
assessments and classifications, managed by the
Task Force for Rebuilding the Nation (TAFREN) has
been slow, and many families are worried that if
non-governmental organizations (NGOs) assist them
with reconstruction and rebuilding, they will lose
their GOSL entitlements. [Note. TAFREN is one of
the three task forces set up by the President of
Sri Lanka. It will handle issues pertaining to
permanent housing and infrastructure
rehabilitation. End Note.]
5. In addition, according to the UNHCR Shelter
Coordinator, another serious obstacle in the
shelter sector is the lack of available
construction materials, specifically timber, on the
local market to construct transitional shelters.
To alleviate this shortage, Oxfam-Australia has
donated 30,000 cubic feet of timber that is en
route by ship from Australia; however, this timber
will not arrive until May. Due to the shortage of
materials locally, many organizations involved in
the shelter sector are importing products from
China and Pakistan, but most of these materials
will also not arrive in Sri Lanka until May. The
UNHCR representative noted that many international
NGOs have local NGOs as implementing partners, and
until now, the local NGOs have been able to procure
materials on the island; however, now there is no
available timber on the market for these NGOs to
procure. The UNHCR representative anticipated that
there will be significant construction of
transitional shelters in May and June, but the
timeline for the construction of these transitional
shelters is now more than six months due to the
lack of available materials.

--------------------------------------------- --
Task Force on Relief (TAFOR) and TAFREN Meeting
--------------------------------------------- --

6. On March 29, the GOSL called a meeting of
TAFOR, which handles issues related to IDPs and
their needs, and TAFREN, along with key
multilateral and bilateral donors, to discuss how
plans for the construction of transitional shelters
may be expedited given the upcoming monsoon season
and the associated health risks to the population.
[Note: The monsoon season is from May to July in
southwestern Sri Lanka and November to January in
northeastern Sri Lanka. End Note.] Meeting
attendees included officials from the Urban
Development Authority, Ministry of Finance, World
Bank, Asia Development Bank, U.N. Development
Program (UNDP), UNHCR, and USAID.

7. Meeting participants discussed the following

1) the need to update current figures on the
number of housing units damaged due to the tsunami
and how many transitional and permanent shelters
have been constructed to date;
2) problems related to displaced populations
staying in substandard tents that were provided
early in the relief response;
3) whether to focus energies on providing
improvements to emergency shelter (such as tents
and basic temporary structures) or whether to
proceed further with transitional shelters;
4) existing obstacles to the completion of
pledged transitional shelter units such as the lack
of construction supplies in Sri Lanka, the
application of duties and VAT, and constraints to
allocating land at the district levels;
5) multi-lateral donors and U.N. organizations
stressed concerns about the lack of clear and
consistent information that is available to tsunami-
affected populations regarding their entitlements
for shelter and other financial assistance. This
is a major problem as some people are hesitant to
accept transitional shelter as they fear they will
lose their entitlement to permanent housing

8. No major decisions were taken by the GOSL
representatives regarding these issues; however,
TAFOR and TAFREN representatives agreed to work in
close consultation with each other on shelter
issues and to place staff members in each other's
organizations to facilitate daily direct
communications. The head of TAFOR also agreed to
examine the issue of communicating entitlements to
the public and to work toward standardizing

--------------------------------------------- ------
Status of USAID/OFDA implementing partners' shelter
--------------------------------------------- ------

9. During the week of March 28, a USAID/Colombo
Foreign Service National (FSN) assisting the
USAID/DART spoke with representatives of CHF
International, GOAL, Catholic Relief Services
(CRS), and Shelter for Life (SFL) to discuss the
status of their shelter programs and any problems
or obstacles these organizations may have
encountered. As of March 30, USAID/OFDA's
implementing partners have completed 1,224
transitional shelters. To date, CHF has completed
190 transitional shelters in Galle and Matara in
southern Sri Lanka, and 416 transitional shelters
are currently under construction. As of March 20,
CRS has constructed 792 transitional shelters in
Batticaloa and Ampara in eastern Sri Lanka.

10. In GOAL's original proposal to USAID/OFDA, the
organization planned to construct 2,000
transitional shelters; however, GOAL now plans to
build 1,180 transitional shelters and provide 820
shelter packages. [Note: Shelter packages include
tools and materials for reconstruction. End Note.]
To date, GOAL has constructed 242 transitional
shelters in Matara, Hambantota, and Ampara
districts, and 104 transitional shelters are
currently under construction. GOAL has also
identified 822 sites to build transitional shelters
in these three districts.

11. A GOAL representative stated that the major
constraint to the construction of shelters in
Ampara District has been land allocation and the
size of the plots allotted. GOAL plans to work
with local partners to increase its capacity to
produce shelters. GOAL started transitional
shelter construction in Matara three weeks ago, and
in Hambantota, the shelter program is on schedule
for completion. GOAL is examining the first
shelters it constructed in Hambantota, at a cost of
USD 320, to make small improvements and construct
small kitchens to bring them in line with the
higher specifications of those transitional
shelters that were constructed later at an average
cost of USD 420, per GOSL guidelines.
12. GOAL reported that it is necessary for TAFREN
to provide some clarity regarding their assistance
package and entitlements to host families and to
those residents whose homes were damaged.
According to GOAL, since the GOSL has been slow in
conducting these damage assessments and reimbursing
those families with damaged homes, there is
currently considerable confusion in the field
regarding this issue, and GOAL's assistance program
to families whose homes were damaged by the tsunami
has all but ceased. GOAL reported that residents
do not know when their homes will be assessed or by
whom, and as a result many residents are hesitant
to begin reconstruction work.
13. SFL is currently awaiting VAT clearance from
the GOSL in order to commence their shelter
program. Initially SFL planned to construct 285
transitional shelters in Trincomalee in
northeastern Sri Lanka and cleared land to begin
work. In Ampara, SFL planned to construct between
1,000 and 1,200 transitional shelters. However,
according to SFL, the unit cost per transitional
shelter has increased from USD 350 to USD 450, and
this may limit SFL's ability to construct the
planned number of shelters. In the coming days,
SFL plans to sign Memoranda of Understanding (MOU)
will local authorities to begin work, but actual
construction and the purchase of materials will
only begin once they have received the VAT
clearance. Upon receipt of the VAT clearance, SFL
plans to build 285 transitional shelters within
three weeks in Trincomalee. [Note: SFL planned to
procure USD 800,000 worth of construction materials
locally; however, they are being asked to pay more
than USD 120,000 in VAT. There are no clear
procedures for the organization to obtain
reimbursement of this tax. USAID/Colombo has
sought to address this issue with the Ministry of
Finance with little success, and the U.S.
Ambassador has now sent a letter to the President
requesting action on this issue. End Note. ]
Shelter Sector Meeting

14. On March 31, the USAID/DART IO and
USAID/Colombo HAPM attended a shelter sector
meeting at the Transitional Accommodation Project
(TAP) that included organizations operating in the
shelter sector as well as Sri Lankan government
officials. According to the UNHCR Senior Shelter
Coordinator, as of March 31, 7,747 transitional
shelters have been constructed and 5,375
transitional shelters are currently under
construction in Sri Lanka. TAP reports that
between 9,033 and 10,415 shelters have been
According to divisional secretaries, 38,588
transitional shelters are required; however, the
Sri Lankan Census Department reports that 41,474
transitional shelters are necessary. UNHCR
reported that to date, 68,000 transitional shelters
have been pledged. The UNHCR representative noted
that it is difficult to provide an exact figure for
the number of transitional shelters required or
those that have been completed because there are
discrepancies between the numbers provided by UNHCR
and those provided by TAP. Currently, GOSL,
Government Agents (GA), and NGOs are all using
different methods to determine the transitional
shelter needs. UNHCR obtains its numbers from
organizations that participate in shelter meetings
at the district level, and often there is not full
attendance at these meetings. Thus, the UNHCR
representative noted, its numbers are often lower
than TAP's. Additionally, TAP often includes the
number of emergency shelters that have been
constructed in their transitional shelter
estimates, which accounts for the reason that TAP's
estimates for the number of completed transitional
shelters are often higher than UNHCR's estimates.
[Note: Given the different methods used to compile
shelter figures, it is difficult to obtain a
concrete figure regarding the number of shelters
completed and the number of shelters required. End

15. At the shelter meeting, several NGOs voiced
various concerns about obstacles they have
encountered in transitional shelter construction.
USAID/OFDA implementing partner CHF stated that in
Galle and Matara, there is a sense of desperation
and urgency for shelters to be constructed before
the monsoon season, and CHF has encountered
pressure by the local government at the district
level to build shelters without consideration for
longer-term issues. CHF stated that the district
government officials are so anxious to quickly
construct transitional shelters that they do not
consider whether beneficiaries are involved in the
process, water and sanitation issues, and standards
of construction. CHF noted that district level
officials often do not take into account that these
transitional shelters may be used for a year or
two, and problems such as overcrowding and lack of
drainage will be acute problems if not addressed at
the outset. The Sri Lankan government officials
agreed that it was necessary to remember to
consider the long-term implications of hasty
construction. The CHF representative stated that
he had heard that TAP officials would be present at
the divisional level to advise local government
officials, and the GOSL officials present at the
meeting stated that TAP officials are currently
operating in most districts.

16. The CHF representative also stated that
because of the political pressure placed on
divisional secretaries, these officials are often
being forced to choose between NGOs with many years
of experience in the shelter sector who take the
position that transitional shelters cannot be built
in haste and should involve beneficiaries, and
those other agencies who do not have any background
in shelter but who advise the divisional
secretaries that they can build shelters quickly.

Faced with this choice, the divisional secretaries
often choose the latter.

17. Sri Lankan government officials agreed that
guidance is necessary at the divisional level, and
UNHCR noted that in many cases, those shelters that
were built poorly and too quickly now must be
upgraded and improved. [Note: CHF is engaged in a
clean-up exercise and is upgrading those shelters
that were constructed improperly. End Note.] The
UNHCR representative pointed out that two years
after Hurricane Mitch, 80 percent of those affected
by the hurricane in Central America were still
living in transitional shelters. Meeting
participants agreed that GAs and divisional
secretaries need to understand the nature of

transitional shelter and expectations, and TAP must
assist in delivering this message.

18. The lack of construction materials,
specifically timber, was also discussed. The CHF
representative stated that many agencies are
stopping their shelter programs due to the lack of
timber. Organizations have also tried to obtain
timber from districts other than the areas in which
they are working; however, they have encountered
logistical problems transporting the timber to
their areas of operation. Oxfam- Great Britain is
considering the use of plywood as a substitute for
timber, and TAP has been examining different
materials, such as plywood sheets, as an

19. The Oxfam-Australia representative stated that
in early March, Oxfam requested that all
organizations submit their timber requirements to
the organization. Oxfam-Australia then determined
that the demand for timber was between 12,000 and
13,000 cubic meters of timber. The Oxfam-Australia
representative reported that this shipment of
timber will arrive from Australia in approximately
seven weeks.

20. Another issue leading to a delay in the
construction of transitional shelters is the fact
that the GOSL has not identified land for the
construction of these transitional shelters. The
CHF representative stated that there is a lack of
coordination between the district and divisional
level, and often the same areas that TAP has
designated for transitional shelter have been
designated for permanent structures. Additionally,
the CHF representative reported that in Galle and
Matara, the GOSL is examining leasing land from
private owners for the construction of temporary
shelters. [Note: This option may pose a problem in
the future as the private owners have been advised
by the GOSL that the land will only be leased for
one year. If permanent shelters are not available
after one year, the beneficiary will be forced to
move again and will be without shelter. The GOSL
officials at the shelter meeting are examining this
issue. End Note.]


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