By Cheranka Mendis
The European Union has injected Euro 60 million (around Rs. 10 billion) in a four-year Support to District Development Program (SDDP) that was initiated in June this year, to support four war affected districts of the country.
EU Sri Lanka Delegation Head of Operations Willy Vandenberge yesterday told the Daily FT that the program hopes to boost economic and social development in Ampara, Vavuniya, Mannar and Batticaloa Districts. “This is a project for development cooperation and is between the Government of Sri Lanka and the EU.”
Speaking on the sidelines of an awareness raising information campaign organised by the EU in collaboration with Sri Lanka Foundation, Vandenberge asserted that the SDDP was research based and had a six month research and data gathering period which would end this year.
The EU is currently working in partnership with Government Agents in the four districts and with the UN Agencies to prepare for its actual implementation early next year.
“The reason why we chose the particular districts is because these are the areas that suffered most from the war,” he said.
Even though the growth recorded in the north and east is impressive, according to Central Bank statistics, it is still a far cry from the comforts of development of the Western Province. Vandenberge stated that through SDDP the aim was not only to provide social services and small infrastructure, but also to encourage the SME sector to get the economy going. “We are mainly focusing on institutional strengthening since the capacities of the people on the ground level are still below form. The intention is to implement higher standards which would ensure sustainability of our work beyond the four-year period,” he said.
The EU is also supporting the country through its seventh research and technological Framework Program (FP7), which was initiated in 2007. While the seven-year program comes to an end next year, three institutions, namely the Ministry of Health, University of Kelaniya and International Water Management Institute, are benefited through six projects operated under the framework.
Worth a total of Euro 54 billion, the EU’s main instrument for funding research activities, technological development and demonstration projects, FP7 is the wealthiest research program in the world.
“It links up to the ‘Mahinda Chinthana’ priority of moving towards a knowledge-based society, which is a very important tool for a country,” Vandenberge expressed. “While the SDDP program is more towards supporting institutional rural development, this takes on a bigger picture and is more ambitious than the former. The participants of the programs have a different profile even though they complement each other.”
He estimated that some EUR 2-3 million had come into the country through the FP7 programs. Successful areas of cooperation in Sri Lanka for the projects mainly cover environment and health.
“It is a program that has been designed for mutual benefits on equal partnership. Here we want to bring top level scientists together and make them work in research areas of common interest, be it water management, agriculture, or top technology in the area of forensic, nanotechnology, or nuclear cooperation, for safety purposes.”
Since the existing program is coming to an end next year, the EU is now working on FP8, which would be in operation from 2014 to 2020.
“For this, we hope to see stronger participation from Sri Lankans,” he acknowledged. “This is not to say Sri Lanka is not up to mark, but to know and assure that the country has more potential to work strongly on board.”
The awareness campaign was attended by senior professors, former vice chancellors and deans of various faculties, and senior research officers from national and international bodies, as well as independent researchers.
EU to India Delegation Science and Technology Analyst Dr. Indraneel Ghose presented the possibilities for international cooperation on EU FP7 at the event.