By Chandra Jayaratne –
We welcome the announcement made by the Government to build 50,000 “brick and mortar houses” for war-affected communities. Masonry houses are the time-tested model, technically sound and most suitable for living, cultural and climatic conditions of the North and East. Thus, we are also pleased that the government has recognised and respected the preference of the people for masonry houses.
At the time the proposal for pre-fabricated steel housing was being considered, our group, a collective of independent professionals and social activists, presented a viable alternate proposal for building 65 000 masonry houses. We stressed the importance of ensuring that the housing project is people-centered in every aspect, seeking community participation, maximising local economic benefits and financing options which will enable such a process.
The revised housing policy of Sri Lanka and the government’s Vision 2025 also recognize the need for such an approach.
We highlight the following aspects which are important to ensuring a people-centered approach for the successful delivery of houses:
* Involving home owners: when compared to a contractor-driven approach a people-centered approach with involvement from community organisations and a network of technical support organisations in the construction of the houses has shown to better ensure quality, economical and successful completion of housing projects.
* Benefits to local economy and sustainability: implementation of the project (e.g. sourcing of materials, labour, construction services etc.) must create employment locally and boost the construction industry and economy in the North and East. With traditional incomes in agriculture and fisheries dwindling, housing projects in the region must ensure that incomes from construction reach those families. Requirements to bid need to be such that enable contracting companies from the region to be given opportunities and be considered, instead of only large national or international companies.
* Community participation and mobilisation: The project should not be seeking to merely deliver the houses, but consider the people as key participants and owners in the project. Thus, having meaningful consultation with beneficiaries and to gain vital support from them in implementation is necessary. In a post-war context strengthening the community by investing in social mobilisation and encouraging participation will also be crucial in terms of furthering social cohesion and reconciliation. The RfP provides very little space for community ownership and community participation in monitoring the construction, and seems instead to strongly favour a contractor driven approach.
* Environmentally appropriate options: Masonry houses are not just built of burnt clay bricks (Gadol/Chengkallu), but also of cement blocks, compressed stabilised earth blocks, etc. The most cost effective and environmentally friendly option for the area needs to be considered, e.g. Burnt clay bricks are not the most cost effective in the North, accounting for a small percentage only.
* Financing the project: Domestic financing options rather than foreign loans will be less burdensome for the national economy. Our proposal suggested raising local resources for the housing project through issuing of rupee bonds via a consortium of local banks as a viable option. The financing method chosen must be conducive towards carrying out the most people-centered building of houses.
We hope and look forward to the above aspects being given serious consideration in the implementation of the project to build “50 000 brick and mortar houses” for the North and East; as other programmes such as the upcoming housing programme in the hill country, are seeking to do. Two years have passed since the first EOI for a housing programme in the North and East was issued and the need to invest in the community is that more pressing.
Recognising the hardships and long delays faced by war-affected communities, we urge the Government to implement the project in a manner that is attentive to peoples’ wellbeing, contributes to strengthening the community and as an initiative towards reconciliation.
Issued by Chandra Jayaratne, on behalf of a group of professionals with expertise in engineering, architecture, spatial planning, community development, housing, financing, economics, development planning, law, community organisation, and project management.