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Sri Lanka universities tsunami damage--one year on.

A YEAR after the Boxing Day tsunami, the four badly affected universities in Sri Lanka's north, south and east are boxing on, with a bare minimum of repairs and reconstruction for want of funds. The University Grants Commission (UGC) had estimated the damage to the buildings and hostels at Ruhunu, South Eastern, Jaffna and Eastern universities to be SL Rupees 72 million (Pounds 387,000 at local prices), but its Chairman Professor Ranjith Mendis regretted that "the government and foreign donors had not been able" to find these sums. However Mendis told the Times Higher Education Supplement the UGC has been able to secure SL Rupees 5.3 million (Pounds 28,091) from 21 foreign and local donors including the country's 'President's Fund' to financially support 64 undergraduates from a dozen universities who lost their parents and who wanted to complete their studies.

Under this tsunami affected student scholarship programme that will run till 2009, each such student has received a lump sum payment of Sri Lanka Rupees 10,000 (GB Pounds 53); and those who lost both parents (17) continue to get a monthly allowance of SL Rupees 5,000 (GB Pounds 26.50) while those who lost one parent get 3,000 (GB Pounds 15.9).

However, those academic and non-academic staff members of the badly affected universities, who lost house, property and belongings, have not been compensated by the UGC. The government has however taken steps to offer them an interest-free full year's salary to be paid over five years. In most of these universities 50% of the funds have been disbursed.

Latching on to the UN slogan of "build back better" the worst affected South Eastern University has plans for developing a sprawling complex over its 225-acre land with inbuilt protection from floods, cyclones and even tsunamis. The ambitious two-phase plan drawn up by the internationally reputed design and engineering firm, the ARUP Group, is expected to cost SL Rupees 6.561 billion (GBPounds 34.7 million), Mendis said. Those at the university say the cost could be much higher. Indeed, a senior official from the university said its Vice Chancellor Dr. Hussain Ismail recently left for Norway to sign a Memorandum Of Understanding with Norwegian universities, to obtain further funds for the project.

Elsewhere, the government of Kuwait has agreed to provide a soft loan for rehabilitation, reconstruction and improvement of the four universities, said Mendis urging more 'donor support' to handle the reconstruction as well as expansion needs.

The University of Ruhunu in southern Sri Lanka is on the look out for land to reconstruct the two damaged hostels as well as build anew a modern teaching hospital after the existing one was extensively damaged by the tsunami, said Prof. P.L. Ariyananda, Dean of Ruhunu's Faculty of Medicine.

Acting Vice Chancellor of the Eastern University of Sri Lanka Vallipuram Canagasingham said "reconstruction was nil" there and that they have had to repair the VC's lodge, guest house and staff quarters with their own funds.

The University of Jaffna is in the same boat and its Works Superintendent Pathmanathan Sathkunarajah did not spare the authorities in Colombo. He said they received "nothing beyond the annual allocation" and only marginal repairs have been done, while hostels in nearby Kaithakody housing 50 male and an equal number of female students are yet to be reconstructed. The UGC had estimated SL Rupees 20 million for hostel and university building damages at the University of Jaffna. While the authorities focus on long-term reconstruction and remodeling of two universities, in the South and South East, it must ensure at least the bare minimum is provided for the northern Jaffna and eastern university. After all discrimination towards Tamils in the north-east is one of the reasons for the two-decade separatist civil war that is now--seemingly--slowly grinding to a halt.

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Author:Noyahr, Keith
Publication:International News
Geographic Code:9SRIL
Date:Jan 1, 2005
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