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Rebuilding Sri Lanka

In 2009, after 26 years of civil conflict, peace was declared in Sri Lanka. The government and many organisations are now assisting people to return to their homes, and are helping to rehabilitate soldiers, reconstruct the economy and reconcile differences between and within ethnic communities.

Identity and cultural diversity, Interdependence and globalisation, Peace building and conflict resolution, Social justice and human rights, Sustainable futures

A Tamil woman stands inside the shell of her bombed out home in northern Sri Lanka.

Thavalogini stands inside the shell of her home, which is being rebuilt through an DFAT-funded project in partnership with UN Habitat. Photo by Conor Ashleigh for DFAT

The impact of the conflict

The long-running conflict between the predominantly Sinhalese Sri Lankan Government and the separatist Liberation Tigers for Tamil Eelam (LTTE, known as Tamil Tigers) ended in May 2009.

The conflict devastated large parts of the northern countryside, and caused an estimated 40,000 deaths. About 300,000 people were displaced after fleeing their homes. Many people did not know where family members were. Homes, schools and community buildings in the north were destroyed, landmines littered the countryside, and the economy was shattered.

Sri Lanka faced the huge challenge of assisting people to return home safely and helping them rebuild their lives, reconstruct the economy and reconcile differences between and within ethnic communities.

Going home

Clearing landmines

A woman wearing a face-guard and protective apron walks down a marked path, using a hand-held metal-detectorAfter the conflict ended, people could not return home until land mines were removed. The land mines had been planted around villages and on farming land. By the end of June 2013 it was estimated that 471 square kilometres had been cleared, with 89 square kilometres still to be cleared. Sri Lanka's aim is to be free of landmines by 2020.

Land titles

Another early need was to provide documentation of land ownership so that people could begin to rebuild their homes and fences, plant crops, and make claims for housing assistance or compensation for land acquired by the government.

Because people had fled their homes, they had lost key documents and could not afford to replace them. Local government services were limited, so the United Nations refugee agency provided computers, photocopiers, scanners and fax machines to allow officials to process land claims and issue fresh documentation.

Resettlement and reunions

People living in displaced person camps received $200 worth of supplies when they returned to their villages. After the largest camp was closed in September 2012, funds were no longer available to support returnees, although for many people it was still unsafe to return to their villages.

Reunifying families who had been separated in the turmoil of the conflict is taking time. UNICEF has established a database, set up a hotline and placed posters in villages to assist children to be reunited with their families.

Rebuilding homes

A woman stands outside her newly built concrete block home. It has a tiled roof.A woman prepares a meal in the kitchen of her concrete block house.Many returnees found their homes bombed out or riddled with bullet holes. They had to camp under plastic tarpaulins until they could afford to rebuild. Caritas and Habitat for Humanity have assisted families with loans, designs and technical advice to rebuild. Families contributed their labour to build simple two-room houses measuring 28 square metres. The houses have a toilet, tube well with hand pump and a 500-litre water tank, and can be extended later when finances are available.

Rebuilding livelihoods

A woman harvests chillies in her garden.A woman collects eggs from her hen house while hens peck the surrounding ground.The rebuilding and reconstruction of roads, railways, schools and hospitals have contributed to strong economic growth, but benefits have not been enjoyed by all. In the north there are high levels of unemployment (27% in 2012) and poverty (around 30% of the population lives on less than US$2 a day). Many Tamils, unable to return home to work, have built roads under cash-for-work programs, developing skills while earning much-needed money.

Many non-government organisations, such as Caritas, Oxfam and World Vision, are helping Sri Lankans to start businesses to earn an income. In one rural area the construction of an ice-making plant has helped 3700 fishing families to store and sell their catch. A similar facility has helped 450 dairy farming families to store, process and sell their goods.

Reconciliation

Three soldiers in military uniform carrying guns stand in front of a tree.The security situation in the north and east has greatly improved, but security forces still have a strong presence to maintain peace. The government has made efforts to address issues arising from the conflict, including commissioning the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) report, launching the National Action Plan to implement the recommendations of the LLRC, and launching a National Action Plan for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights (2011–16).

There has been limited progress addressing the human rights abuses from the conflict, and abductions and detentions continue. The Sri Lankan Government has resisted international pressure to investigate crimes, fearing it will stop people moving on; however, victims feel justice has not been done. In March 2014 a United Nations Human Rights Council resolution called for an international investigation of the concerns of victims. 

With ethnic differences still being reconciled and the shadow of the past conflict still affecting people's lives, building a unified and just society will take time. The international community continues to work with Sri Lanka to build a stable, prosperous country with lasting peace.

Going further

Caritas, Nirangini's story
 

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A female de-miner uses a metal detector to make sure farming areas are clear of landmines.
Photo by Conor Ashleigh for DFAT
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A female de-miner uses a metal detector to make sure farming areas are clear of landmines. Photo by Conor Ashleigh for DFAT
Nirangini carried bricks, sand and water to rebuild her home in northern Sri Lanka.
Viyan Fernando/Caritas Sri Lanka
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Nirangini carried bricks, sand and water to rebuild her home in northern Sri Lanka. Viyan Fernando/Caritas Sri Lanka
Nirangini's new home has two rooms, a kitchen, toilet, verandah and garden.
Viyan Fernando/Caritas Sri Lanka
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Nirangini's new home has two rooms, a kitchen, toilet, verandah and garden. Viyan Fernando/Caritas Sri Lanka
Nirangini has started a home garden which helps provide her family with nutritious food.
Viyan Fernando/Caritas Sri Lanka
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Nirangini has started a home garden which helps provide her family with nutritious food. Viyan Fernando/Caritas Sri Lanka
Through her small poultry business Nirangini is able to earn a good income and provide nutritious food for her family.
Viyan Fernando/Caritas Sri Lanka
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Through her small poultry business Nirangini is able to earn a good income and provide nutritious food for her family. Viyan Fernando/Caritas Sri Lanka
There is a strong military presence in the northern areas of Sri Lanka
Photo by Conor Ashleigh for DFAT
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There is a strong military presence in the northern areas of Sri Lanka Photo by Conor Ashleigh for DFAT
Thavalogini stands inside the shell of her home, which is being rebuilt through an DFAT-funded project in partnership with UN Habitat.
Photo by Conor Ashleigh for DFAT
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Thavalogini stands inside the shell of her home, which is being rebuilt through an DFAT-funded project in partnership with UN Habitat. Photo by Conor Ashleigh for DFAT