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The role of nongovernment organizations in Sri Lanka

Austin Fernando

In developing countries, the words “people’s participation” are often viewed as a catch phrase more than a reality. But nongovernment organizations (NGOs) can help make them a reality by serving as catalysts and mobilizers in group formation and activity - as Sri Lanka’s Emergency Relief and Rehabilitation Program demonstrated. NGOs must be encouraged to play this role - partly, perhaps, through training in skills and management, partly through exposure to new experiences directed at changing NGO attitudes. The underlying goal should be to change NGOs from a charity and relief orientation to a development orientation.

In July 1983, violence broke out in Sri Lanka in the wake of conflict initiated by terrorist groups in the north. At first, about 125,000 people were displaced. With further violence in the north and east, the displaced population grew - at one point to about 800,000 - and to some extent migrated from one district to another, its situation aggravated by the efforts of security forces to quell violence. The loss in government assets has been assessed at US$500 million. Losses in revenue and produce probably cannot be assessed with accuracy.

Sri Lanka and India signed an accord in July 1987 and the international donor community responded to the government’s call for foreign aid for reconstruction and rehabilitation with pledges of up to US$493 million made at a Special Donor Group meeting held in Paris in December 1987. This aid was intended to strengthen the peace process and to rebuild affected areas to a state of normalcy.

The donors were basically prepared to work through existing government agencies, although a few - mainly Australia, Canada, Norway, Sweden, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) - were also interested in working through nongovernment organizations (NGOs). The total commitment to the NGOs from these countries and organizations was small except for Norway, the UK, and the Netherlands. (Dutch assistance has not yet been finalized, although some assistance has seeped to the affected areas through NGOs.)

NGOs have been used in Sri Lanka’s Emergency Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Program (ERRP) in several ways: through involvement in government-sponsored programs (for example, the Thrift and Credit Cooperative Societies’ involvement in housing); through independent NGO projects or programs (such as grassroots sanitation and nutrition programs); through support to the local NGO community by foreign donors and NGOs; and through activities involving cooperation between foreign and local NGOs. The legal framework in which NGOs function is less restrictive in Sri Lanka than in neighboring countries, so their freedom of action is more or less unlimited. Government policy on NGOs is said to be so positive that it “goes beyond noninterference to a policy of positive facilitation.”

Levels of NGO involvement

Broadly speaking, organizationally NGOs are involved in relief, rehabilitation, and reconstruction in Sri Lanka at the village, district or divisional, national, and international levels.

NGOs existed at the grassroots (village) level before 1983 and have by and large continued to function since - some more effectively and some less. Examples of local NGOs include the rural development societies (RDSs), women’s rural development societies (WRDSs), thrift and credit cooperative societies (TCCSs), dairy cooperative societies, funeral aid societies, school development societies, and hospital development societies.

Although sometimes dominated by rural elites or prone to factional politics, local NGOs are in a good position to help affected communities help themselves in reconstruction and rehabilitation activities. The important Multipurpose Cooperative Societies (MPCSs) - although politicized to some extent - have historically been the main suppliers of relief goods in disaster situations. One important NGO created by statute is the Gramodaya Mandalayas, in which almost all accepted NGOs in a village headman’s area are represented.

District or divisional NGOs are typically either new organizations that emerged after 1983 to meet specific relief needs in times of crisis, or NGOs that had existed before 1983 but whose main function or experience had not previously been in relief and development (for example, local Rotary Clubs or Young Men’s Hindu, Christian, or Buddhist Associations). These NGOs are usually better able to involve local communities and to operate cost-effectively than international NGOs.

National NGOs, sometimes with a provincial/district presence, typically have some relief and development expertise. Some, such as the Saukyadana Movement, concentrate on a specific sector - namely, health. Others, such as Sarvodaya or SEDEC, are involved in a wide range of activities such as community organization, income generation, health, and education. More experienced, trained personnel are found in national NGOs, sometimes funded by foreign sources.

Some international NGOs were working in Sri Lanka before 1983, but others began operations after 1983, to assist in relief, rehabilitation, and reconstruction. Some have specific sectoral mandates. Medicins Sans Frontieres, for example, has been providing professional health personnel to four hospitals in the northeast since 1987, besides helping UNHCR repatriate refugees from India. Others have geographical mandates agreed upon by mutual consultation among NGOs or by government requests and help in a range of activities, including housing, health, and income generation. Some, such as Redd Barna and CARE, are largely operational - that is, they run their own projects or programs with their own (mostly local) staff. Others, such as OXFAM, largely confine their role to supporting district and national NGOs through funding and training. Personnel in the international NGOs are better trained and more experienced than personnel in other NGOs.

Limitations of the NGOs

Certain characteristics of the NGOs limit their effectiveness in reconstruction and rehabilitation and these limits must be acknowledged. These limitations include local constituencies, a largely middle-class (male) leadership, an orientation toward relief and charity, financial weakness, and a somewhat diffused accountability.

Local constituencies. Some national or provincial NGOs have bravely tried to work with all communities, but many of the indigenous NGOs have focused on their own local constituencies. The international NGOs are at an advantage in terms of their relative ease of access to all communities, perceived neutrality, and acceptability to all parties in the conflict. Not that they have no bias at all, but accountability to their donors and attitudes in headquarters limit it.

Middle-class leadership. Typically leadership of many NGOs - except for grassroots organizations - is mainly in the hands of an elite. Officers of these organizations tend to be middle-class, middle-aged men - often retired government officials. In areas where such elite groups are scarce, NGOs are scarce too. There are good reasons why this is so. First, most donors - international NGOs, embassies, or High Commissions - need English-speaking counterparts to formulate proposals and prepare project reports. Retired public officials are not only more likely to have the time to take on this sort of voluntary work, but are more knowledgeable about government procedures - and are more likely to know which public doors to knock on or whom to approach to facilitate matters effectively. At a time of largely youthful conflict, donors are reassured by the “respectability” of such leaders. Further, Security Forces more readily give elite leaders access to affected communities.

So it is understandable why an elitist NGO leadership has emerged. In fact, with youths stirring up ethnic conflict, this elitism has been a blessing in disguise, ensuring the smooth execution of projects and programs. But it does mean that some NGOs have difficulty in effectively involving the poorer, more disadvantaged sections of the community in their own rehabilitation and reconstruction programs. Women, for example, who often bear the brunt of the conflict, are also often kept on the sidelines in NGO rehabilitation programs.

Several attempts have been made to establish NGO umbrella groups, to ease the donor agencies’ grant-processing burden and allow for better coordination. But in practice high-profile “super-NGO” bodies have proved vulnerable to pressures from terrorist groups.

A charity and relief orientation. For NGOs that became involved in response to the critical needs of refugees or displaced people, the initial emphasis was rightly on supplying such items as food, clothing, medicines, and drinking water to those affected. This pattern of handouts encouraged a “charity approach” in NGOs, and a “dependency syndrome” in beneficiaries. Understandably, both NGOs and beneficiaries have had problems switching to the slightly harder-nosed development approach that may be required in reconstruction. Because of the frequent need for relief work between 1983 and 1989, many NGOs are structured more for relief work than for longer-term reconstruction work, which requires involving the affected communities in planning and implementation. Relief operations are by their nature apt to be top-down and nonparticipatory. It is not easy to change from being a “giver” to being a “mobilizer” or “catalyst,” the role I believe NGOs could usefully play in reconstruction.

Financial weakness. Most of the indigenous NGOs have no regular source of income. They depend on local donations and grants from international donors for specific relief schemes or rehabilitation projects. Few receive regular financial support to pay their staff salaries and other running costs. Not surprisingly, they rely heavily on part-time voluntary workers and lack the time or staff for the more complex work of reconstruction. Limited funds prevent trained, qualified managerial personnel from getting involved with indigenous NGOs. Strengthening many of these NGOs through training and more regular funding is an obvious need.

Some local NGOs try to develop their capital assets and organizational infrastructure through reconstruction and rehabilitation projects, but because of their inability to pay competitive salaries, some of their most effective personnel leave for more lucrative positions in national or international NGOs that provide services to the ERRP. This higher pay has been possible because the NGOs have received donor assistance under the ERRP.

Accountability. The ethnic nature of the conflict in Sri Lanka affects the nature of NGO accountability. The smaller, relief-oriented, local NGOs are responsible and accountable to a limited community. Organizations such as the thrift and credit cooperatives are accountable to government functionaries as well, as expected by law. District and national NGOs are accountable to the management of foreign or local funding agencies and sometimes to government functionaries coordinating NGO rehabilitation and reconstruction activities. Foreign or international NGOs are accountable to the ministries with whom they register on arrival in Sri Lanka and to their headquarters and funding agencies.

A common feature of accountability was observed in the background in which the NGOs were functioning. With no parliamentarians in many of the affected areas, government officials became the sole authorities and representatives of the people. Their actions were guided by rules and regulations, and to some extent the NGOs were expected to be the medium through which the people’s voice and feelings were represented to government officialdom.

Part of the design of the ERRP was a District Reconstruction Coordinating Committee in which NGO representation was permitted. The designers had in mind the need for the views of affected groups to be reached through such NGO representation. Both government officials and NGOs had an unwritten accountability to such groups. Some conflict arose when more than one group of terrorists in a village, district, or province was interested in being heard and represented. At different times the NGOs were accountable to different groups who made inquiries about any diversion of funds.

Contributions of the NGOs

Despite these limitations, the NGOs have greatly helped in Sri Lanka’s relief and reconstruction program in the last seven years. Whenever there have been major outbreaks of violence or natural disasters such as floods or earthslips, NGOs have helped meet the immediate relief needs of the affected. In times of emergency, many indigenous NGOs - Sarvodaya, SEDEC, LEADS, and Saukyadana, to name a few - routinely tend the sick, remove the injured to hospital, and help install water and sanitation systems, among other activities.

NGOs have also filled gaps in government services when these have been interrupted by conflict. Medicins Sans Frontieres has provided doctors and nurses in severely understaffed hospitals in the north and east. Save the Children Fund’s (UK) training and support of rural health assistants has compensated for the shortage of government primary health care workers in many areas. CARE’S seed paddy production program has made up for shortages created by drought and interruption of the Agriculture Department’s regular programs.

NGOs have helped the government and UNHCR with the immediate resettlement of refugees and displaced people returning to their home areas. Sarvodaya, OXFAM, Redd Barna, and SCF (UK), among others, have helped speed up the rehabilitation process by providing temporary shelters, cleaning drinking water wells, and providing seeds, agricultural implements, fishing nets, and other items needed for resettlers to resume their occupations.

NGOs have also provided valuable assistance at times when the government could not easily move into affected areas (for example, providing food during the Vadamarachchi operation). They have supplemented government programs (for example, by upgrading housing and sanitation) and have supported families entitled to government benefits (such as widows entitled to death assistance).

How NGOs can help in reconstruction

Now that NGOs are involved in long-term rehabilitation and reconstruction, what roles can and should they play? Areas in which they can be particularly helpful include housing, income-generation programs, the most-affected persons scheme, small-scale reconstruction, vocational training, counseling and reconciliation services, and special assistance to women.


Under the ERRP’s Unified Assistance Scheme (UAS), formulated by the government, affected families with monthly incomes below Rs 700 are eligible for a grant of Rs 15,000 per house (about US$450). The National Housing Development Authority makes payments to beneficiaries at different stages of construction, although in some cases building materials donated by donor governments are supplied instead of money. In some areas beneficiaries have difficulty finding needed building materials such as bricks, tiles, and door and window frames. NGOs could help beneficiaries find or produce building materials. One possibility is to organize the salvaging of materials from debris, the collection of sand, or the operation of community brick kilns or carpentry workshops. Another possibility is to organize the community to make use of materials already available from donor governments. Some NGOs have already tried getting building materials to beneficiaries, or producing building materials in certain areas, but much more could be and has to be done.

Timber for building houses has been expensive and in short supply so there have been attempts to illicitly fell trees. Law enforcement on timber felling has been understandably weak and damage to the environment has been overlooked. NGOs and government authorities may have to educate the population on the dangers of this practice. Community forestry could be developed to prevent environmental degradation. It might be possible to mobilize women for this type of activity.

The Red Cross’s changing role

Jurg Vittani

The League of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies was founded in 1919 to coordinate international assistance for natural disasters. Increasingly its mandate has been extended to preventing disasters, including those resulting from human actions and degradation of the environment.

What is commonly called the “International Red Cross” is in fact a rather complicated federation of independent components that serve as auxiliaries to public authorities. The idea of the Red Cross was born on a battlefield. In 1859 Henry Dunant, a citizen of Geneva, was a chance witness of one of the bloodiest battles of the nineteenth century, near Solferino. Moved by the horrifying sights, he spontaneously organized help for hundreds of suffering soldiers. Back in Geneva, he wrote a book about his experiences, A Memory of Solferino, in which he suggested creating national relief societies that, in peacetime, would train voluntary members who would supplement the army medical services in wartime. Dunant also proposed that the wounded, and all those taking care of them, be regarded as neutral - even on the battlefield.

In 1863, specialists from 16 countries met in Geneva, adopted a resolution, and agreed on a founding charter defining the Red Cross’s functions and working methods. This led, in 1864, to the first “Geneva Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded in Armies in the Field.” Since then, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has brought protection and assistance in time of conflict, in all situations requiring a neutral intermediary.

The League of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies - the world federation of the 149 current National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies - is the second component of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. The League was founded after the first World War, in 1919, when everybody hoped that there would never be another war. Since its foundation, one of the League’s main tasks has been to coordinate international assistance for natural disasters. The League has coordinated more than 750 relief operations since 1919.

The changing nature of disasters

When the League’s Secretariat in Geneva receives an appeal for international assistance from a National Red Cross or Red Crescent Society in a disaster-stricken country, after an on-the-spot assessment of needs, it relays the resulting appeal to its member societies. They in turn respond with contributions in cash, kind, or services. On the average, in the last 10 years, the Secretariat has received an appeal for international assistance every 10 days. Out of more than 750 interventions in the past 71 years, more than 30 percent were for floods, and not quite 15 percent were for earthquakes, followed by drought-induced famine, typhoons or cyclones, and refugee operations.

The number of interventions because of environmental degradation has increased regularly in the last few decades. The League’s founding fathers would undoubtedly have referred to such events as “Acts of God.” Nowadays the League sees them increasingly as “Acts of Man”: the ruin of the environment, the destruction of forests, rapidly progressing desertification, and pollution of the atmosphere. Our environment is degenerating rapidly because of the technical revolution. The population explosion is also a problem. These are problems the League of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies cannot tackle. They are the tasks of government. The League’s principles and rules clearly state: “Prevention of disasters is first and foremost the responsibility of the public authorities.”

The changing role of NGOs

As the world’s largest humanitarian organization, with more than 250 million members and well-trained volunteers in 149 countries, the League and other nongovernment organizations (NGOs) can fulfill their role as auxiliaries to the authorities. As early as 1972, in Stockholm, in the first UN Conference on the Human Environment, the League - as spokesman for the NGOs in the plenary meeting - stressed the importance of timely and adequate assistance in natural disasters. Recommendation 18 from that conference is of particular importance to the League. It stresses the importance of observational systems and communication networks for disaster detection and warning - and particularly mentions close cooperation with NGOs.

In the late 1960s, with the aid of the Nordic Red Cross Societies, the League had already started to build a cyclone-warning network in what was formerly East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). In Cox’s Bazar - an area hit often by cyclones and one of the most densely populated areas in the world - the Red Cross built a radar cyclone-tracing station and equipped Red Cross first-aiders with transistor radios and alert equipment (such as sirens and fire rockets) with which they could warn people. So-called “killas” (artificial hills) were built, upon which people could take refuge from approaching tidal waves.

After a devastating typhoon in 1977 that left more than 10,000 dead, the Red Cross built cyclone shelters in Andhra Pradesh. Between cyclone seasons, they are used as community centers. If the typhoons that hit that region in 1990 (with wind speeds higher than those in 1977) caused far fewer victims, it is certainly because of the preventive measures that had been taken.

In several African countries, the Red Cross is still actively involved in tree-planting operations, to prevent increased desertification. Red Cross youth play a particularly active role in such activities, combining practical action with educational programs that stress the importance of a healthy environment for future generations. Last year the National Red Crescent Societies in North Africa actively helped public authorities fight locust invasions. In overcrowded refugee camps in Africa, where overcutting of fuelwood represents a serious environmental problem, the Red Cross has provided alternative forms of fuel and promoted the testing of solar energy. These tests have not yet provided a final solution to the problem. Let us hope that in the not-distant future technical developments will help stop the vicious circle that results in degradation of the natural environment.


The two main ERRP programs designed to help poorer affected groups generate incomes are the Productive Enterprise Grant (of Rs 4,000 for families with monthly family incomes below Rs 2,500 whose livelihood has been interrupted) and the Microenterprise Loan Scheme (under which government loans of up to a maximum of Rs 5,000 per borrower are available to district-level NGOs for onlending at 4 percent to affected people for income-generating schemes).

NGOs cannot directly handle the Productive Enterprise Grant (PEG), which goes directly to the beneficiary, but they can help beneficiaries prepare viable projects, initiate and organize group activities, purchase inputs, and market outputs. For instance, NGOs could help beneficiaries organize tractors or livestock for plowing in difficult areas, to maximize use of the PEG for agriculture (cattle herds were wiped out during the long conflict). They should be sure of enough supplies to make such a scheme manageable before participating. For activities such as fishing - which often cannot be done individually but requires joint participation for the purchase of boats, nets, and other equipment - NGOs can help mobilize and organize the fishermen or support existing fisheries cooperatives (people’s organizations). The NGO’s role should be that of a catalyst, not a provider.

Larger NGOs can also help with marketing - not by marketing produce themselves (for which they are usually not equipped), but by encouraging links with MPCSs and other local organizations and traders and by helping farmers and fishermen develop effective marketing strategies. To help compensate for the unpredictable, they could help organize manageable processing activities such as dry or salt fish production or paddy processing. In the Polonnaruwa district, MPCSs have fared extremely well in paddy processing. The added value gained by processing can be recycled to the affected population.

NGOs were slow in taking up the microenterprise loan scheme because of administrative difficulties and lack of expertise in project formulation. But now some local NGOs that have close contacts with national and international NGOs have come forward to participate in the scheme. With the changing attitude of donors such as the IDA - which, incidentally, funded this microenterprise loan scheme - toward using NGOs in rehabilitation, this opportunity to make the microenterprise loan scheme successful could be a starting point for more assistance, even in other fields of development.

The international and large NGOs could do more to strengthen and mobilize the smaller, grassroots NGOs to participate in the PEG and the microenterprise loan scheme. These smaller NGOs are more likely to be effective in getting people to participate in sustainable long-term reconstruction. Some work has already been done in this area. The Federation of Thrift and Credit Cooperatives Societies (TCCSs), for example, has sponsored and trained local TCCS branches, to revive effective credit mechanisms in affected areas. Priority must be given to credit management training. If operation of the loan scheme is unsuccessful, donors such as IDA who boldly ventured to try out the loan scheme through NGOs would be discouraged from doing so again. Also, this credit was meant to support youths who have given up education and job possibilities. Its failure would mean one more frustration to draw them back to the jungles. Every effort should be made to prevent that happening.

Learning from traditional responses

Charles Sykes

To improve communications and technology in disaster reduction strategies and sustainable development, NGOs and local groups should be involved in the planning and design of disaster mitigation programs and projects. Their knowledge of basic survival responses and practices - which multilateral and bilateral donors and northern NGOs have tended to ignore - should be the base for externally assisted disaster mitigation projects in the 1990s.

CARE was founded as a relief organization 43 years ago so North Americans could help the people of war-torn Europe, but its primary focus has long since shifted to development and relief in the low-income countries of Asia, Africa, and Central and Latin America. Support - under the banner of CARE-International - now comes from seven European and two Pacific countries as well as Canada and the United States.

Of the tens of thousands of nongovernment organizations (NGOs) in international and national development, few, if any, have as their primary purpose the prevention or mitigation of disasters. But an increasing number of NGOs are carrying out small to medium-size projects with a disaster mitigation dimension. Numerous projects focus, for example, on:

· Reforestation of fragile lands.
· Halting desertification.
· Erosion control.
· Improved housing in vulnerable areas.
· Hillside terracing.
· Introducing fuel-efficient stoves.
· Integrating agriculture and forestry practices.
· Road repair and maintenance.
· Immunization and oral rehydration.

Many of these projects address the inextricable link between disasters and natural resource depletion. The worst victims of this link are the environmental refugees from fragile lands, lands that have been severely depleted by overgrazing, fuel needs, and adverse climatic conditions.

One of the most challenging tasks of disaster mitigation for developing countries, NGOs, and multilateral and bilateral donors alike is how to fence off or protect ongoing development projects and programs during disasters. If development is viewed as a linear process and disasters as an interruption of that process, the challenge is clear: how can those resources be best used to shorten the interruption? More interesting, how do we best deploy relief resources to protect rehabilitation and development?

Most NGOs would probably look for answers to those two questions in the disaster-prone areas themselves, with the communities and people most likely to be affected. There, the first question we must ask is, what traditional forms of mutual aid and self-help are practiced in emergencies and under stress? Significant resources are available from the international community, but we have seldom assessed the resources made available by clan, tribe, kin, and community, which represent the first aid administered - well before external assistance arrives. With few exceptions, our first order of business in vulnerability reduction and mitigation is to learn from traditional responses and strengthen local capabilities.

In 1968, after severe flooding in the Chittagong district of what is now Bangladesh, CARE was engaged in a self-help housing reconstruction project using soil-stabilized blocks, working with local cooperatives. During floods, cyclones, and tidal bores, the home serves as a refuge for family, animals, and seeds for the next planting season. In the community motivation phase of the project, CARE prepared articles for the local newspaper to promote community support, and commissioned a local bard to set lyrics to music about the project and travel to local villages singing the praises of self-help housing. While the articles were being read by urban elites, the bard was far more successful in disseminating the message to the rural communities at the heart of the disaster.

Bangladesh was hit by devastating floods again in 1987 and 1988. This time, a Bangladeshi NGO, the Grameen Bank, responded with housing loans to its creditworthy borrowers, principally poor landless women. As a national development institution, the Grameen Bank’s purpose is to improve the conditions of the rural poor. By building housing loans into its menu of productive credits to the poor, the Grameen Bank has dramatically altered the conventional wisdom that improved housing is simply a highly inflationary component of social welfare. In a disaster-prone country such as Bangladesh, adequate housing protects both the family and its limited but critical productive assets. The Grameen Bank also provides preparatory housing loans for the purchase of the land on which the house is built. The Grameen Bank provides the institutional lending base for the poor to effectively participate in disaster mitigation at the most basic level. A good deal can be learned from the work of developing country NGOs, much of it applicable in more affluent countries.

During the famine in Ethiopia in 1985-86, CARE worked with Borana and Gabbra pastoralists in the Sidamo region to bring animal populations into balance with scarce water resources. Lengthy discussions with tribal leaders and careful analysis of available water resources convinced us that the affected pastoralists had already pared their herds back to a level consistent with declining water resources. This was not a new experience for the herdsmen. They recognized they all had to make sacrifices and had done just that, without external assistance or advice. CARE’S role then became one of supporting their wise decision by helping them rehabilitate wells, build ponds, boost calf production with improved fodder, acquire farm tools, and develop and market handicraft products.

More attention should be paid to training and education about disaster mitigation - that is, to translate science and technology into the vernacular. We must find out what traditional forms of self-help and mutual aid are practiced in times of stress and build on that knowledge. External assistance organizations must reevaluate their starting points. Local NGOs and communities in disaster-prone areas are too seldom consulted or involved in the planning and design of disaster mitigation programs and projects. Too often, they are simply “objectified,” thus ensuring responses and solutions that are not sustainable


Under the MAP scheme, families whose breadwinners have been killed in the conflict are eligible for assistance of up to Rs 50,000 per deceased breadwinner. NGOs have helped potential beneficiaries in some areas with the paperwork involved in filing claims. Few have been able to help widows use the money as productively as possible - despite the fact that some NGOs have provided some victims of conflict with the useful service of counseling, a service the government cannot provide. Combining the MAP and microenterprise project loan schemes could improve the long-range economic viability of many families. It is a pity this has not taken place as expected.


The ERRP allows communities plenty of scope for undertaking small-scale contracts - such as repairs to minor irrigation schemes, village roads, and small public buildings. Rather than leave small contracts to outside contractors, communities or groups could undertake these projects - possibly through existing organizations such as RDSs, cooperatives, and Gramodaya Mandalayas. This would ensure more accountability for the quality of the work and possibly earn profits for community organizations, allowing them to strengthen their operational and organizational capability. It may be necessary to provide technical assistance at the field level, but NGOs have a responsibility to be sure that the community or administration can take over such technical assistance when the NGO withdraws from operation.

It is possible for NGOs to organize groups that have benefited from PEG or MAP schemes. NGOs or government officials have not seriously considered the opportunities available under the Cooperative Law to mobilize the members to register a cooperative society or under the Companies Law to organize two people to float and register a company as a mechanism for long-term or permanent economic rehabilitation. Using and upgrading existing systems would be easier than creating new organizations. One advantage of organizing groups for local reconstruction projects is that the ERRP encourages the kind of income generation such projects would entail - in terms of carpentry, masonry, skilled and unskilled labor, and the like.


There is a great need for vocational training for many reasons. First, many vocationally trained personnel have deserted their vocations and conflict areas. Second, many youths who have returned to the mainstream lost between six and 10 years of their education, so they will not be qualified for public and private sector jobs requiring normal qualifications. Third, launching a rehabilitation and reconstruction program as large as the ERRP calls for skilled workers. Fourth, the ability to earn a decent living will tend to bind people to a normal life pattern, rather than to a return to militancy. Thus, the social benefits of vocational training cannot be underestimated.

Some NGOs have launched programs toward these ends. CARE has sponsored skill development in such areas as masonry and carpentry in the Northern Province, and the World University Services of Canada (WUSC) has a program in the Eastern Province to develop such vocational skills as typing and shorthand. It may be possible to combine these efforts with UNHCR programs run through the National Youth Service Council and the Department of Labor. Combining MAP and PEG assistance schemes with vocational training could really help the target groups that need training - and could be done using existing mechanisms.


The ERRP was designed partly to improve the assets, earning capacity, and quality of life of the affected population - to give affected families an opportunity to have better homes and access to better drinking water, sanitation, and health services. Hardest hit in the conflict were women, children, and the poor - as conditions for women were not good even before the conflict.

NGOs - especially established local and international NGOs - could be supportive of women. They could help women-based organizations make more credit available to women and educate them about women’s rights, population control, sanitation, general and special production technologies, and how to prevent environmental degradation. They should improve access to training and help raise awareness of the problems women might face. Some NGOs have already taken the initiative: SCF (UK) in sanitation and health, WUSC in vocational training, and OXFAM in agricultural programs. These efforts should be accelerated. NGOs should seize this opportunity to chip away at male dominance of development and to strengthen women’s role in it. The government should help but NGOs could play an enormous role in improving women’s productivity and quality of life.


People who suffered the trauma of terrorism and counter-terrorism often have severe psychological problems and need counseling. A group of medical doctors in Jaffna has held seminars to evaluate this problem but there is no government program to rehabilitate men, women, and children who have been physically and psychologically affected. Therapy programs are needed that government institutions are not equipped to provide. NGOs must fill this need.

This is a sensitive problem, so an action plan must be carefully prepared, participants carefully selected, and personnel well-trained. Well-established NGOs and international NGOs may be qualified to undertake this activity or bring in qualified personnel from abroad. The Sri Lankan government is deeply committed to finding a lasting solution to its problems through political negotiations, but political negotiations should be followed by a reconciliation process - and that will take time. It is not too soon to plan for it now.

The need for an NGO consortium

In Sri Lanka’s Emergency Relief and Rehabilitation Program, relief, rehabilitation, and reconstruction are interconnected. NGO activity has been geared toward relief and rehabilitation but NGOs could help get local people involved in reconstruction projects and rehabilitation programs.

As a developing country, Sri Lanka needs government guidance on development activities and strategies, in rehabilitation and reconstruction or otherwise. NGOs have worked well with the government but it is not clear that a durable dialogue has been created either among the NGOs or with the government. Ad hoc behavior seems to prevail. Regular structured meetings would formalize the coordination that exists between concerned ministries and national NGOs and between district government authorities and district NGOs.

An effective NGO consortium could help NGOs think beyond their corporate images. An existing NGO consortium has been reasonably effective in coordinating NGO relief work, but less effective in coordinating long-term planning of rehabilitation and reconstruction. Corporate images sometimes take precedence over cooperation. The ERRP has provided an opportunity for NGOs to develop and for NGOs to encourage community participation and development. NGOs could perform valuable services in reconstruction. So far their performance has not lived up to its full potential.

Japan’s outreach

Kenzo Toki

As a nation continually threatened and beset by earthquakes, typhoons, and floods, Japan has developed considerable expertise in - and a full array of advanced hardware and software for - disaster prevention, response, and recovery. And as the world’s second largest economic power, it has recognized and accepted its responsibility to share that expertise with and offer economic assistance to developing nations crippled by disasters.

Japan’s government has helped other countries with grants, loans, technical assistance, and cooperation with international organizations. Several government ministries and agencies are deeply involved in international disaster prevention. Those engaged in technical assistance and funding for cooperative efforts include the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), established in 1974 to provide technical assistance and help in the socioeconomic growth of developing nations; and the Overseas Economic Cooperation Fund, credits from which promote industrial development and economic stability in developing regions.

Cash grants, together with technical assistance, are the pillars of official development aid. Grants are made for general aid, fisheries, cultural purposes, food and food production, and disaster relief. Of the $1.2 billion Japan budgeted for aid to other countries in 1986, $10 million was distributed as disaster assistance grants. Much of this aid goes to Asia but Japan also extended aid to Cameroon (after a volcanic eruption that emitted poisonous gases) and El Salvador and Ecuador (which were struck by major earthquakes).

In addition, Japan is generous in funding and endowing UN organizations deeply involved in disaster planning (contributing about $100 million in 1986). Japan also makes loans as direct yen-denominated government credits that the recipient country is obligated to repay, but at low interest rates. Loans made through the Overseas Economic Cooperation Fund, for example, have been used for civil engineering works for forestation and flood control.

Various government agencies help train personnel from developing countries in the basics of disaster prevention. The Japanese government also provides machinery, equipment, and training needed in technical cooperation centers such as Indonesia’s Volcanic Sabo Technical Center and Peru’s Center for Earthquake Disaster Prevention Measures. The recipient nations bear the cost of building construction and operations.

Japan is particularly in a position to share information about its experiences with and experiments and research done on:

· Land protection (through reforestation and flood control).

· Meteorological observation and warning systems and disaster prevention information and communication networks.

· Methods for assessing disaster, such as identifying danger spots and testing for earthquake resistance.

· Disseminating advice (under the Basic Disaster Countermeasures Law) on disaster prevention.

· Setting up disaster prevention systems.

· Firefighting and flood control.

· Recovery work.

· Earthquake forecasting and warning systems.

In 1985, after Mount Nevado del Ruiz erupted in Colombia and a major earthquake devastated Mexico City, Japan provided funds and dispatched medical teams as part of the Japan Medical System for Disaster Relief (inaugurated in 1982). The direct relief work provided by Western nations proved to be far more effective, however - which heightened awareness in Japan of the need to establish a better framework for dispatching rescue and relief personnel. In 1987, Japan developed a plan for more swiftly dispatching appropriate Japanese Disaster Relief Team personnel to help nations crippled by natural disasters.

Japan’s private sector provides assistance through the Japanese Red Cross and other volunteer organizations. Japan’s Red Cross Society engages in humanitarian and disaster relief projects. Volunteer organizations provide help for refugees and others in need - in particular, victims of severe African drought.