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Sri Lanka: End of post-tsunami transitional shelter role

Briefing notes

Sri Lanka: End of post-tsunami transitional shelter role

22 November 2005

In Sri Lanka, UNHCR has completed its post-tsunami role as the coordinator of a nationwide transitional shelter effort after the target of more than 58,000 shelters built by over 100 NGOs was reached. The refugee agency formally handed over responsibility for permanent shelter to the Sri Lankan government last Tuesday, 15 November. Transitional shelters were required to bridge the gap to help the tsunami-displaced population out of emergency shelters such as tents and public buildings used immediately after the tsunami, and into more solid transitional homes while waiting for permanent homes to be constructed.

UNHCR's own direct shelter programme of building 4,500 transitional shelter units in the northern district of Jaffna and the eastern district of Ampara is almost completed. Some 20,000 people have benefited from these shelters, with most residents happy with their new houses. Many have taken to painting them with bright colours to personalise their new homes.

Shortly after the tsunami hit the coast of Sri Lanka on 26 December 2004, killing over 30,000 people and displacing nearly 800,000, the Sri Lankan government asked UNHCR to take the lead in the transitional shelter sector. While the refugee agency is not normally involved in natural disasters, UNHCR accepted this short-term role because of the scale of the devastation, and because many of the tsunami-affected people were those also internally displaced due to the conflict.

Now, UNHCR is returning its focus to its pre-tsunami work of providing assistance to people internally displaced by the conflict, and refugees repatriating from India. There are some 68,000 Sri Lankan refugees in India and some 341,000 conflict internally displaced persons in Sri Lanka. UNHCR has been working in Sri Lanka for over 20 years.

Under the UN Indian Ocean Tsunami Flash Appeal - UNHCR asked for US$15.3 million for the operation in Sri Lanka, and was quickly fully funded. At end October, slightly more than $6 million has been spent on shelters, protection related activities such as registration, surveys, property rights issues and logistics and supplies such as tents and transport. The balance is expected to be carried over into 2006 to continue to provide assistance to tsunami and conflict-displaced people.