Uplifting socioeconomic sustainability in Mullaitivu

Friday, 29 November 2013 10:52 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

By Sarah Hannan Visiting the district where the three-decade brutal civil war saw its end gave me mixed feelings. Though it is now safe to travel to the north with no concerns about being caught in crossfire, visiting the post-conflict zone and witnessing the hardship faced by the resettling communities was a harsh reality check.   The road network has developed rapidly during the past four years and one can witness the construction of houses in the district; there is a visible boom in farming, livestock and start-up businesses, etc. However, much groundwork needs to be done to establish normalcy in the region in terms of uplifting lifestyles by implementing and creating awareness on legislation, vocational training, facilitating safe drinking water and sanitation facilities, and developing infrastructure while establishing socioeconomic stability. In an attempt to improve the livelihood of breadwinners, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Sri Lanka Red Cross society (SLRC) launched several projects in the last 10 months and the Daily FT had the opportunity of visiting some of their beneficiaries in the Mullaitivu District last week.     Economic Recovery Program ICRC Economic Security Program Manager M.S.M. Kamil gave a brief introduction about the program and the eligibility criteria of the beneficiaries: “The International Committee of the Red Cross along and the Sri Lanka Red Cross society this year initiated the Economic Recovery Program (ERP) with the guidance of the Ministry of Rehabilitation and Prison Reforms. The SLRC monitors the beneficiaries and assists the ICRC with the selection of beneficiaries and the ICRC handles technical training and funding for the project. Between January and September 2013 we have implemented 650 projects in the Mullaitivu District where the beneficiaries are predominantly women-headed households and disabled persons. Among them there are 44 rehabilitated ex-combatants and 10 families where the former breadwinner is a missing person.” According to Kamil, the Divisional Secretariat and the Provincial Council assisted the SLRC and ICRC to reach to the needy families. The needs of the community were analysed and applications were called in, where the applicants had to also come up with a business plan for their start-up businesses. After receiving the applications, a Household Economic Assessment was carried out to justify the eligibility for grants. Unlike many funded projects, beneficiaries have to sign an agreement with the SLRC and the ICRC and once they have started up their business, the ERP officers visit them to monitor their progress. The program has so far assisted returnees to re-start their livelihoods in the sectors of farming (paddy, vegetable, and fruits), livestock management, fisheries, small enterprises and self employment. The farmers do face a couple of drawbacks in the region: Buying power is more, hence farmers settle for any rate the buyer decides to pay. The lack of awareness on market rates for bulk quantities is visible. Lack of vocational training on marketing, cash flow management and communication sets the farmer in a difficult condition to recover the investments within a stipulated period and reach the target market segments. Lack of knowledge in legislation has led to polygamy, estrangements and teen marriages. Funds from the housing projects are released in three to four phases and require the benefactor to stick to the given floor plan, which leads the benefactor to fall into debt to complete the house as no alterations can be done i.e. reducing the number of bedrooms to complete the house by using the total fund that is allocated. Seasonal droughts and floods have a major impact on the yields.       Case study #1 S. Yogeswaree, a widow from Oddusuddan, lives with her son and her daughter is married and lives separately. Her husband and a son died during the war while another son went missing during the war in 2006. Since hers is a woman-headed household, Yogeswaree received a cash grant from which she purchased a cow and a calf and built a cattle shelter. She had also purchased seeds to cultivate in her farm. As we drove down the gravel road to meet Yogeswaree, we were greeted by a herd of cattle (a cow and five calves). In her compound, a temporary shelter is located on the right where the family first settled when they returned from the IDP camps. A framed photo of Yogeswaree’s dead son and the ID of her dead husband are placed on top of an altar for remembrance. We proceeded towards the recently-built house for which the family received funds from the Indian Housing Project. Yogeswaree toils in her farm to cultivate vegetables ranging from egg plant, red onions, peanuts and cassava and also keeps an eye on the herd. Recently she managed to sell her yield of 70kg of egg plant at the rate of Rs. 15 per kilogram. A heap of red onions had been pulled out a little too early as the weather was turning out to be unfavourable.       Case study #2 V. Selvarutnam’s left leg was injured when he was caught in crossfire and he has now returned to his home town, to run a textile shop at the flea market located in Puthukkudiyirippu. The cloth for the shop is bought from a wholesale store in Maharagama. Selvarutnam goes to Maharagama once or twice a month to purchase the clothes depending on the requirement. Selvarutnam and his wife have a daughter who is 10. Selvarutnam stated that the turnover during the festival season reaches Rs. 100,000 and the average profit reaches over Rs. 25,000 per month during festivals.       Case Study #3 T. Selvaranee first was employed at a vegetable shop in the Puthukkudiyirippu flea market and since September 2013 she has run her own vegetable shop in the same place while her previous employer’s shop is situated just opposite her space. Selvaranee has one daughter who recently got married and lives on her own. She lost her husband and son in 2009 during the last leg of the war when there was heavy shelling in the area. She has a turnover of Rs. 3,000 on a good day and earns a profit of about Rs. 300-400 per day.       Case Study #4 M. Ganesh is from Kilinochchi and is an amputee; he was injured during an air-raid and before that had injured his wrist. Ganesh after returning from the rehab was relocated to Puthukkudiyirippu and the ICRC provided him a cash grant to start up a fancy item shop in the Puthukkudiyirippu flea market. He had gotten married just a week ago. Ganesh is quite happy with his progress within the last few months. The shop was set up in May 2013 and Ganesh said that he runs a mobile fancy shop during the festivals and major rituals that occur in the nearby kovils and churches and makes a profit of Rs. 30,000 per month during peak time.       Case Study #5 R. Sumanthi is the proud owner of a retail shop down Wattapalai Road and earns a handsome amount as this is the only shop for the whole road. She was estranged from her husband during the displacement in 2009 and supports her 10-year-old son and looks after her bedridden mother. After receiving the cash grant from the ICRC, Sumanthi had added more items to her shop in May 2013. Asked whether she looks forward to her son continuing the business, Sumanthi stated that she hopes to see her son move on in life and says that apart from school she sends him to the priest who runs a mission close to the house. She has high hopes for him and wants her son to find a respectable job in the town.       Case Study #6 S. Engachelvi runs a tailor shop in her temporary shelter and due to the sweltering weather was fanning herself with her palms when we met. Her brother also lives with her and runs a retail shop as well. Engachelvi has had a vocal and hearing impairment since birth but the SLRC volunteers said that her daughter who is just 10 years old beautifully translates the conversations for her mother in sign language. At the time we visited her, the daughter had gone for extra tuition classes after school. Engachelvi stitches two items per day and earns a daily income that is sufficient to get her through the expenses of the day and send the daughter to school. She also took us to a workplace where a heap of coir was piled and the SLRC volunteers said that she was one of the three women who were trained and funded by JICA to craft coir rope.       Case Study #7 David Dinesh owns cattle and lives with his wife and four kids, aged 13, 10, five and one. Dinesh was injured when he was caught in crossfire during 2009 and is disabled. They returned to their home in August 2012 and before the battles struck the area, Dinesh used to own around 40 cattle. In May 2013 he received a cash grant to build a cattle-shed and purchase a cow and a calf and he then received further funds from a different agency, from which he purchased another cow and calf. The milk produced by the cow differs according to the maturity of the calf. David said that during the first few weeks they could milk around seven litres after the calf is fed but it has now reduced to three litres a day and a litre is sold at Rs. 50. Dinesh’s dilapidated house was a harsh reminder of the heavy shelling four years ago and empty shells that had surfaced during the rain were seen scattered in his compound.       Case Study #8 Arumugam Selvam, a rehabilitated leg amputee, returned to his home in August 2012. He lost his parents during the war and has two sisters who are married and live separately. At the time we visited, he had visitors and a child was running around the compound. Selvam’s leg had to be amputated after injuries sustained during the heavy shelling in 2009. In May 2013 he received a cash grant to build a shed to house poultry and purchased 50 egg chicks. Later on he received further funds from a different agency and bought another 50 egg chicks, but at the time we visited his poultry farm only 97 egg chicks had survived. The average yield of eggs per day is around 40 and an egg is sold at Rs. 14.       Case Study #9 M. Annayogeswaree is a widow resettled in her land in Manthuvil in 2012 and lives with her son who is 20 years old. She had given two of her daughters in marriage and they live separately. Annayogeswaree lost her husband due to the heavy shelling in 2009 in the area and is now supported by the ERP where she received a cash grant to build a cattle shed and purchase a cow and a calf in May 2013. She further received grants from another agency from which she managed to purchase another cow, which is pregnant at present. According to Annayogeswaree there is a huge demand for fresh milk and she said that she cannot cater to the rising demand as the amount of milk that is produced has gone down. However, she expects a rise in milk production after the other cow gives birth to her calf and expects a yield of six litres per day in the first few weeks. When we visited her she was herding her cattle back to their shed after the afternoon grazing.       Case Study #10 N. Alahamma, an estranged woman from Anandapuram, was busy shredding arecanuts with the assistance of her daughter. In a woman-headed household, she supports four members of her family, where two sons, one daughter and a grandson live in the land owned by them, which has a temporary shelter. Their home, which was damaged by the heavy shelling, is in a sorry state. However they still use the kitchen and there is a bed in the hallway. Bags of shredded arecanuts are stocked in the house as well. According to one of her sons, they use the temporary shelter during the rainy season as half of the roof of the house is missing. Alahamma purchases 50kg bags of arecanuts and shred them to be used for beeda. The family is fed from the earnings and she manages to save a small amount as well. Asked whether they have any plans to renovate their dilapidated house, Alhamma nods her head but it seems like she has not given much thought to the matter, occupied as she is with day-to-day life. Pix courtesy ICRC