Last Updated: Thursday, 17 April 2014, 10:10 GMT

Sri Lanka: Resettled IDPs rebuilding livelihoods

Publisher Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN)
Publication Date 19 May 2008
Cite as Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), Sri Lanka: Resettled IDPs rebuilding livelihoods, 19 May 2008, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4832c180c.html [accessed 17 April 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
COLOMBO, 19 May 2008 (IRIN) - Tharmalingam Sudarshan, a farmer, returned to his home in Vavunathivu town, Batticaloa District, in eastern Sri Lanka in July 2007, having fled the area for three months due to conflict between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and government forces. He found his house destroyed by elephants, his belongings looted and his farmland fallow.

A UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) project helped him test the soil to choose the best crops and provided him with seeds and fertiliser. The new crops have just come in and are keeping his family fed and providing a small profit from the sale of the surplus, as well as giving him a stock of seeds for the next harvest.

"I have been working hard to cultivate my land," Sudarshan said, "and that has kept my mind off my worries."

For thousands of Sri Lankans such as Sudarshan, the return home after months in welfare camps can be traumatic when they discover their livelihoods lost, houses damaged or destroyed and possessions looted, and are left with little or no resources to restore their shattered lives, said FAO's National Project Officer (Agriculture) Thevarajah Vaigunthan.

Some 42,000 families in the eastern Batticaloa District were displaced in March 2007 and 140,000 in all from August 2006.

Targeting farmers and fishermen

With the government promoting the return of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Batticaloa, some UN agencies and other aid organisations are focusing on livelihood projects that can give returnee families a source of food and income.

Two projects initiated by the FAO and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) target farmers and fishermen and hold out hope of long-term benefit to some 6,000 people who fled their homes last year.

Under a US $44,390 project funded by Spain, the FAO began in March 2008 providing seed paddy, pulse grains, vegetable seed, fertiliser and poultry to 5,265 farmers in Batticaloa West in Batticaloa District and Eachchilampattu in Trincomalee District.

"We had a high demand from returnees and the project did not have enough funds to cover everyone who was in need. But at least we have made a start," said FAO's Vaigunthan.

The agency targets small farmers rather than large landowners, and is helping them to produce enough food for their families and, perhaps, even a small surplus. Restoring livelihoods has also been a valuable coping mechanism during a tough period when their incomes were often non-existent and obtaining sufficient food was a challenge, Vaigunthan said.

Technical assistance

Technical assistance is given by FAO to improve agricultural techniques, ascertain the best crops to plant and keeping poultry. FAO also provides seeds and pesticides.

The ICRC runs a complementary project for fishermen. The $95,592 project stocked four freshwater reservoirs in Batticaloa District in 2008 with 400,000 fingerlings of seven types of fish.

As the fish grow and spawn, the objective is to get more than 480 fishermen back to work in Vaharai and Pattipalai towns in Batticaloa District.

Sellan Thangeswaran, who is engaged in fresh water and lagoon fishing, fled an upsurge in violence in 2006 and returned to his home in Mathurankernikulam town in April 2007.

"Before I was displaced, I was able to support my wife and daughter with the earnings I took home from fishing. Being displaced changed my life because I lost everything I had used for my fishing activities." He said he had received assistance from several humanitarian agencies. "I was able to buy a net and start fishing again," Thangeswaran said, although, "I will not be able to fish from the reservoir for a while, until the newly introduced fingerlings have time to grow". Nonetheless, he said, "I am hopeful for the future."

The beneficiaries will start fishing in the four reservoirs six months after the restocking, said Massimiliano Cartura, the economic security delegate of the ICRC office in Batticaloa District. The FAO has distributed 128 canoes and 481 kits with three different types of nets so that the fishermen can operate in other water sources in the interim.

"Their economic situation should start to improve immediately because of the donation of technical equipment, but, of course, the peak will be reached when the reservoirs are ready to be harvested," Cartura told IRIN.

Under the ICRC project, the government's Fisheries Department also trained 90 people in making and maintaining nets and in the theoretical aspects of freshwater fishing to help the community fish without damaging eco-systems or stock levels.

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