Source: University of Waterloo
UW, three other universities work to restore Sri Lankan villages hit by tsunami
November 7, 2006
WATERLOO, Ont. (Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2006) -- The University of Waterloo and three other Canadian universities will work collaboratively with local partners to restore the economy and environment of six villages in Sri Lanka devastated by the tsunami of December 2004.
A $2-million project, entitled Environmental and Livelihood Restoration and Development in Tsunami-affected Coastal Areas of Sri Lanka, will be co-ordinated by the RESTORE consortium consisting of UW, University of Guelph, University of Manitoba and Queens University. With $1.75 million in funding from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and $195,000 in contributions from the four universities, the three-year project started in September.
The consortium will partner with Ruhuna University, located in Matara, Eastern University in Batticaloa and Southeastern University in Akkaraipattu. The Sri Lankan partners represent the three major socio-cultural and religious sectors of the country -- the Sinhalese, Tamil and Muslim cultures. Additional partners will include non-government organizations and government agencies in the country.
"This project is a fine example of our commitment to environmental health and sustainability on a global scale," said Deep Saini, dean of the faculty of environmental studies. "It brings into focus the four themes of our faculty, which are environmental decision-making and governance; environmental informatics; biophysical processes, such as ecosystem remediation; and community planning, design, infrastructure and development."
David Wood, a research associate professor of international initiatives in the faculty, said the proposal results from a collaborative exercise involving all the partners. "It clearly demonstrates the commitment of our Sri Lankan partners to contribute fully and cooperatively to rebuilding the damaged environment and the devastated communities in the three very diverse regions," he said.
"The purpose of the project is to implement a multi-sectoral approach to environmental restoration, sustainable livelihoods and development, with full community input and participation in the specific tsunami-affected districts of Matara/Hambantota, Ampara and Batticaloa in Sri Lanka."
Wood added that the project will develop six villages into model villages showcasing a process of community development, which can be replicated in other tsunami-affected regions. The selection of the villages will be undertaken according to a set of criteria determined by project partners during a recent project planning mission in Matara.
The selected villages will join in community development initiatives to achieve the following objectives: Restore damaged and destroyed environmental assets, such as coral reefs, mangroves and other vegetation, lagoons and beaches. Restore traditional livelihoods and develop alternative livelihoods, especially linked to the coastal environment, including fisheries and tourism. Establish disaster resilient community infrastructure using appropriate design, technologies and materials. Build community-based institutional and human capacities for environmental management, sustainable livelihoods and community development. Develop community-based early warning and emergency response plans.
The tsunami that struck on Dec. 26, 2004 is considered the single most devastating natural disaster to hit Sri Lanka. More than 1,000 kms or 70 per cent of the island's coastline, covering 13 districts, were directly affected.
The tsunami killed approximately 35,000 people, destroyed more than 80,000 homes and 5,000 village industries and wrecked natural coastal features and ecosystems, such as coral reefs, mangroves, lagoons, inter-tidal zones and beaches.
Particularly vulnerable groups -- small-scale fisherman and farmers, local entrepreneurs and wage-workers dependent on coastal environmental assets -- had their livelihoods eliminated, causing greater poverty. It has been estimated that 443,000 persons were displaced by the tsunami.
The most significant environmental damage is coastal, especially the loss of fisheries and related habitats, damage to reefs and saline contamination of surface water, groundwater and soils.
Wood said that UW researchers will train local staff and faculty from academic partners, non-government organizations and government agencies. As well, they will develop demonstration projects related to environmental restoration, community development and geomatics (geographical data management).
"We will provide direct assistance in the establishment of GIS (Geographic Information Systems) and remote sensing capabilities at Ruhuna University," he said, adding that opportunities for graduate students to undertake their degree field work in Sri Lanka will be provided.
In May 2005, UW participated in a trip to Sri Lanka organized by World University Service of Canada, involving people from four other universities -- Guelph, Queen's, Trent and Manitoba. The mission resulted in a concept paper that was approved by CIDA for development as a full proposal. Late last year, Wood participated in a mission to Sri Lanka to develop the full proposal, which now has been funded.