In the wake of development and natural disasters, the country has witnessed many relocation projects which are most often involuntary. Speaking to the Daily Mirror, Senior Lecturer in Sociology, University of Colombo and researcher, Dr. Nishara Fernando elaborates on adopting a long term people-centred relocation policy, in which beneficiaries should be made partners.
he Mahaweli hydro-electricity power generation and irrigation programme resulted in mass displacement and relocation in the 1980s. More than 700,000 people, who constituted 5% of the country’s population at that time were to be relocated in less than six years under the accelerated Mahaweli Development and Irrigation Programme. Since then there had been many instances of relocation as means of urban development and disaster risk reduction strategy. Most of these recent examples entail involuntary relocation where communities are left with little or no choices in terms
A long term process
“Relocation is a long term process but sadly in our system government officials and policy makers do not treat this as a process but merely an ad hoc venture,” points out Dr. Nishara Fernando. The Senior Lecturer who has published several notable research papers including a PhD dissertation on the subject, illustrates that relocation also calls for close monitoring of the relocated communities. Ideally it requires nearly five years of monitoring he says. “But it does not happen here. Take for example the tsunami displaced. Today we find certain housing schemes with less than 50% of the originally relocated families. Some have either returned to their original places of living despite vulnerabilities or rented or sold those plots although illegal,” points out Fernando whose research papers such as ‘Returning to the coast 10 years after the tsunami: Involuntary relocation, case study of Galle Sri Lanka’ further discloses.
The tsunami of 2004, as the sociologist explains was a shock for the country and as government officials and implementers argue, nobody was prepared for it and decision was taken to redesign the buffer zone with the objective of minimizing casualties from future tsunamis. “The rationale was that those who live close to the sea are exposed to the coastal hazards of the sea and at the same time relocation envisaged improving the economic and social conditions of these vulnerable communities in their new places of abode. Although good motives governed relocation, there was frustration among most of the tsunami-displaced due to the distance from the city they were used to. There was also the issue of the non-availability of state-owned lands close to the city for the donors to construct settlements.”
"Dr. Fernando notes, ‘the Sri Lankan past experience suggests that relocation projects have not been guided by common guidelines other than project specific guidelines which resulted in some successes and failures. These outcomes, no doubt, stress the need for having proper guidelines."
Uprooting a community
The Oxford dictionary defines relocation as “move to a new place to live” (Oxford Dictionary, 1995:1161) and resettlement as “settle again in new or former place” (Oxford Dictionary, 1995:1170). “Moving to a new place is inevitable in relocation unlike in resettlement, and in case of involuntary or forced relocation which is either development-induced or a disaster risk prevention strategy, a whole spectrum of socio-psychological issues arise, the reason why we urge the concept to be treated as a streamlined process,” explains the scholar who adds that in case of relocated communities, it is a long term process to adapt to new socio-economic environments. Citing tsunami-induced relocations, he says, “unlike Galle which is multi-religious and a very cosmopolitan setting, a place like Akmeemana is dominated by one particular caste. Although people may not be very open about this sensitive and hidden social factor, caste consciousness is very much existent in settings like this and we have to expect conflicts between host and relocated communities.” Relocation as he explains further means ‘uprooting social and economic conditions’ which often resulting in those relocated escaping to their earlier dwellings. “We are not talking about a homogenous lot here. There are vulnerable groups of people who have difficulties in coping with the situation. They need more assistance and more time. They always try to move out, to escape. Hence we first need to identify this group and have proper guidelines in place to minimize relocation failures.”
Relocation is a long term process but sadly in our system government officials and policy makers do not treat this as a process but merely an ad hoc venture
Dr. Nishara Fernando
In his conference paper titled, Bridging the missing gap: people centered policy guidelines to minimize relocation failures: Case of Sri Lanka (2013) Dr. Fernando notes, ‘the Sri Lankan past experience suggests that relocation projects have not been guided by common guidelines other than project specific guidelines which resulted in some successes and failures. These outcomes, no doubt, stress the need for having proper guidelines.’ The proposed guidelines are presented in three stages of the relocation process: prior to displacement (Pre-relocation), immediately after relocation and two years after relocation. The paper presents several objectives of the policy guidelines:
1.To devise a mechanism that would enable the communities to successfully cope with various risks and stresses generated as a result of the shock of involuntary relocation and the relocation process.
2.To make the prospective ‘relocatees’ aware of the relocation process (or stages of relocation) with a time frame agreed upon to complete the successful relocation process by affected persons and implementing agencies.
3.To make the relocation process participatory, transparent and accountable.
4.To assist particularly the most vulnerable groups (female headed households, hidden female headed households, households with disabled, chronically ill members, poor households) to be successfully adapted to the new location, restore their livelihoods in order to improve their living standards. The programme should ensure that the displaced people improve or at least restore their previous standard of living.
5.To ensure the people affected due to involuntary relocation programmes to be promptly compensated. Also make awareness among the people about the process for redressing their grievances to facilitate easy access and quick response to resolve issues.
Making relocatees partners of the process is imperative says the researcher who reiterates the importance of educating them on the process and moving forward with them. “The authorities should accommodate their concerns in the process thereby championing a people-centred relocation mechanism. Why many relocation programmes fail is because there is no sense of belonging fostered in the relocates in them.” Participation therefore should be a prerequisite as it is ‘an essential provision for the prospective occupants of the house to make decisions on site selection, design, material, labour etc. one hand and also enhances the transparency
In 2000, a plan was drafted to develop the area through the ‘Lunawa Environmental Improvement and Community Development Project’ (LEI & CDP) with financial support of the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) as an extension to the Colombo Flood Control and Environmental Improvement Project (GCFC & EIP) assisted by the Government of Japan. Under the LEI and CDP, unplanned settlements around the Lunawa lagoon were to be converted into a more eco-friendly and planned settlement. The project had the overall objective of improving the living conditions of people in Lunawa catchment in North and South by mitigating the flood damage through an integrated programme of improvement of urban drainage and canal systems. The project included compulsory involuntary resettlement of populations and it is the first project that translated Sri Lanka’s National Involuntary Resettlement Policy into practice.
The affected households were given three options under the project: to settle in four relocation sites prepared by the project with all basic infrastructure such as access to roads, water supply, electricity and sewerage facilities, to settle in lands purchased by project affected persons (self-relocation) or to settle in the original site after regularizing the plots (on-site resettlement) (UN-HABITAT, 2009). “Two perch land plots were given to each relocated household from a selected settlement in addition to the Rs. 400,000 (in four installments) to construct their houses. The beneficiaries had the opportunity of constructing their own houses according to their needs and wishes. This project can be taken a home-grown relocation model as beneficiaries were made partners of the whole process,” asserts Fernando who also notes that in the case of the recent example of the Southern expressway, although it was involuntary, displaced families were well compensated, properly monitored and less issues were reported compared to other relocation projects.
"Making relocatees partners of the process is imperative says the researcher who reiterates the importance of educating them on the process and moving forward with them."
Among the arguments mooted against relocation are the loss of employment for those employed largely in the informal sector and activating early warning systems in case of a natural catastrophe. “The issue is over 50% of Colombo’s prime land is occupied by illegal settlers. Although they claim to have lived on these plots, some of the land comes within the flood preventive buffer zone. In case of early warning systems in tsunami and other natural disaster prone areas, there is a question of reliability of these warning systems especially in the night.” Although relocating in areas closer to the original place of dwelling is the ideal situation, the availability of state-owned land becomes an issue points out Fernando who elaborates on the importance of pre-relocation awareness especially in the event of relocating into flats. “These are 13-14 storeyed buildings and living them is a novel experience for them for which they need preparation.”
The host community should be involved in the relocation process as a strategy to ease any tensions and conflicts between host and relocated communities and this will make the relocated communities to have smooth integration with the host community, observes the researcher in his paper, Bridging the missing gap: people centred policy guidelines to minimize relocation failures: Case of Sri Lanka (2013). Both relocated communities and host community should have access to common property resources and common infrastructure facilities used by host community prior to relocation and new common infrastructure facilities built in new relocation settlements, it illustrates further. It also urges the Provincial Councils and local authorities along with the Divisional and District Secretariats through their grass-roots level Officers, the Grama Niladharis (Village level Administrative Officer), Social Service Officer, Samurdhi Officer etc. to play a proactive role in the relocation process from the very inception of the planning stage. “Relocation in the absence of proper guidelines should be a secondary trauma for communities,” observes Fernando who laments that before politics of relocation and economical concerns, the social aspect of the process is undermined. “Unless this issue is seriously brought under the spotlight, we will have settlements without beneficiaries in them.”