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Swiss aid to Sri Lanka focuses on the future

The SDC has been involved in aid and reconstruction projects.

(SDC)

Swiss aid in Sri Lanka is helping to rebuild homes and schools devastated by last year's tsunami, the Swiss ambassador to the country tells swissinfo.

Bernardino Regazzoni says the Swiss government and charities are working closely together in often challenging conditions to give thousands of families a new start.

Switzerland has so far donated SFr10.5 million ($8.1 million) for emergency and reconstruction programmes in Sri Lanka.

Its aid efforts are coordinated by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and most projects are in the southern district of Matara and the eastern area of Trincomalee.

A Cash for Repair and Reconstruction project has been set up to help people patch up or rebuild their homes. It is hoped that around 9,000 families will have benefited from the scheme by the end of next year.

The SDC also cooperates with many of the Swiss non-governmental organisations (NGOs) active in Sri Lanka. In many cases funding is also provided by Swiss Solidarity, the fundraising arm of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, swissinfo's parent company.

swissinfo: What has Switzerland been doing in terms of post-tsunami aid for Sri Lanka?

Bernardino Regazzoni: It's difficult to make a difference between government aid and the work of Swiss charities because they are cooperating very closely.

As far as the government is concerned, we started in the immediate aftermath of the tsunami with distribution of non-food items and essential goods. Afterwards we switched to a medium-term reconstruction programme, including cash for the rehabilitation and reconstruction of houses and rebuilding of schools. An important part of the financial means for this is provided by Swiss Solidarity.

swissinfo: What problems have you encountered?

B.R.: One of the problems has been establishing lists of beneficiaries, which took some time. Another major problem was the shortage of land. At first it was not possible to rebuild houses exactly where they were because the Sri Lankan government decided to have a buffer zone 100-200 metres from the seashore [where no rebuilding is allowed].

So finding alternative places to build both schools and houses was a problem in the early stages. This buffer zone has now been narrowed to 25-55 metres in the south and 50-100 metres in the northeast, so this problem should be resolved.

swissinfo: Are ethnic tensions something you have had to contend with as part of your work?

B.R.: Ethnic division has been the number one problem in this country for the past 20 years. One of our concerns has been to avoid deepening already existing tensions during the course of our post-tsunami reconstruction and intervention efforts.

For example, in a place where you have major numbers of people displaced by conflict, you cannot ignore their needs and focus exclusively on the victims of the tsunami. You need to address the two issues at the same time or you are going to create tensions between these groups.

swissinfo: How important is the Swiss contribution to the post-tsunami aid effort in Sri Lanka?

B.R.: Although it is among our most important post-disaster programmes, we are not among the major donors here. Once again we have to put the emphasis on the quality of our intervention and I am happy with the results achieved so far.

swissinfo-interview: Isobel Leybold-Johnson in Colombo, Sri Lanka

Key facts

The December 26, 2004 tsunami mainly affected Sri Lanka's north, east and south coasts
More than 30,000 people died and around 500,000 were left homeless (source: SDC).
Around 70,000 houses were destroyed and a further 40,000 damaged.
A significant percentage of public infrastructure was destroyed, including nearly 200 schools.
Sri Lanka has a population of 19.4 million and average income per capita of $1,010.

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