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Colombo, 30 Jan 12

A model new home in the former Sri Lankan conflict zone. © UN-HABITAT

The homes and lives of hundreds of thousands of people were destroyed in over three decades of civil war. According to estimates, when the conflict ended in May 2009, over 160,000 houses had been damaged or destroyed, and 380,000 people displaced. Recognizing the urgent need to facilitate the dignified return of displaced families, UN-HABITAT initiated several permanent housing projects in partnership with funding partners.

The current housing recovery project, with an investment of USD 23 million (SLRs 2.5 billion) is primarily funded by the European Union with significant co-funding from the Australian Government and SDC. UN-Habitat and SDC are jointly implementing the project by providing technical support to home owners.

This initiative builds upon the successes of the recently concluded Shelter support to conflict-affected IDPs in the north of Sri Lanka project – a partnership between the Government of Australia and UN-Habitat which helped 3,785 families reconstruct and repair their damaged homes during 2010-2011.

Using a home owner-driven approach, this project is currently assisting families to actively take charge of their own recovery. The families are responsible for the planning, implementation and monitoring of their own progress, while vital technical assistance including house plan designs, selection of skilled labour for construction, the purchase of quality building materials and support in solving land tenure issues is provided by UN-Habitat and SDC. The families selected are contributing their own labour towards the reconstruction effort.

Building materials are being procured locally, whenever possible, which is helping to revive local economies in the project locations. Communities are also being assisted to manufacture their own building materials, such as concrete blocks, through the provision of brick making moulds and training by the field technical teams.

Mrs. Raskruban Yogamalar, a project beneficiary from Kanagrayankulam District Secretariat Division in the North of Vavuniya district said: "We are extremely happy to be part of this housing project. Since we had the freedom to build our own house, we used good quality materials and selected a house plan of our choice. My family was actively involved in the construction process. We provided our own labour towards the foundation work. We have also manufactured our own concrete blocks. Our ultimate aim was to build a secure home where my family can live peacefully. We hope this initiative will continue to help conflict affected people who need assistance with permanent housing". Yogamalar's house is now complete and the family is looking forward to moving in to their new home soon.

To-date, 1,084 vulnerable families have been assisted with major repairs to their houses, while 1,988 families are receiving support to completely rebuild their homes. This includes 100 families in Vavuniya, 1,264 families in Mullaitivu, and 1,708 families in Killinochchi. The activities in Mannar district are scheduled to commence in early 2012. Vulnerable families such as female-headed households, elderly home owners and families with disabled family members are given special attention and support by the technical field teams.

Another key feature of the project is the support provided by Village Rehabilitation Committees (VRCs) towards monitoring the project progress and assistance to vulnerable families. This includes bulk purchase of building materials through community bargaining and advice and assistance in construction activities.

The project actively supports the participation of women in all aspects of the construction process. Joint ownership of property as well as opening of joint bank accounts is encouraged to ensure an equal voice in the process for both men and women. To ensure women's participation in decision making and leadership roles, women are encouraged to join VRCs. At present, over 40% of the VRC leadership roles are held by women and women also participate in village development activities such as settlement improvement planning which discusses critical development initiatives for the community.

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