Oxfam Urges that Tsunami Survivors Receive More Suitable Land

By Oxfam

As UN Special Envoy Bill Clinton this week inspects recovery efforts in Sri Lanka and Indonesia nearly a year after the South Asia tsunami, Oxfam is urging government authorities in both countries to provide more suitable land to permit the construction of permanent housing.

Although thousands of permanent houses have already been built in both countries, one of the major remaining hurdles is that governments have not yet implemented policies to ensure that suitable new land is given to all families who lost theirs to the tsunami.

Oxfam is supporting Clinton's efforts to ensure that appropriate land is made available for permanent housing. The Dec. 26 tsunami damaged or destroyed more than 200,000 homes in Sri Lanka and Indonesia.

"Thousands of permanent houses have already been built for tsunami survivors, but until new land is provided for those made landless, the rebuilding process will be too slow," said Raymond C. Offenheiser, president of Oxfam America. "New land must be granted to those who lost it."

People lost their land to the tsunami in different ways. For many, land their homes stood on is now submerged or otherwise uninhabitable. Others find themselves barred by the government from rebuilding on their old land, which is situated inside new coastal "buffer zones."

In all cases, says Oxfam, land in places acceptable to displaced communities must be found before new houses can be built.

Oxfam and its partner organizations are working closely with the governments of Sri Lanka and Indonesia, encouraging them to provide suitable land as quickly as possible. So far the Indonesian government has no policies in place to provide new land to the landless, although a consultative process is now under way. In many cases, that means the rebuilding process cannot even start. As a result, tens of thousands of families continue to live in tents or temporary shelters.

Although the Sri Lankan government has made land available, the property in question is in some cases inappropriate--such as fishing communities being offered land too far from the sea. The result is rebuilding delays, since it’s not clear whether the communities would move into any new houses built in the new areas.

There are some success stories, however. In the two villages of Lhoong in Aceh, Indonesia, Oxfam has helped the community persuade local authorities to pay for new land. In this case, the rebuilding process has started, but such examples are too few.

"We're making some progress in individual cases, but we need these examples of best practice to be replicated right across the region," Offenheiser said. "Clinton's visit is an appropriate moment to push for this best practice to become the norm."

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