‘Sobasiripura in Seethawakapura, Colombo that turned a disaster into a blessing’


by Luckvijaya Sagara Palansuriya

Out of the many development tasks activated for the welfare of the general public by the present government that came to power in the year 2015, the "Semata Sevana" (Shelter for All) national housing programme stands out as an exceptional development programme. The Uda Gam Enterprise that operated in this country in the 80’s Decade introduced public participatory development for the first time to the housing and habitat development programme of this country and it was made more meaningful for housing and habitation and activated through the "Semata Sevana" (Shelter for All) national housing programme.

In the days of yore, the Uda Gam Enterprise was more often activated to fulfill the basic housing needs of the impoverished and lesser-income communities. The majority of the community that befitted from this process in those days was elderly people who were facing housing problems.

The "Semata Sevana" (Shelter for All) national housing programme is operated in a way suitable for present day society. More attention of the "Semata Sevana" (Shelter for All) national housing programme is directed towards the process of fulfilling the necessity of houses of their own for youth who want to get out from under the wings of their parents and elders and have more need for housing. Accordingly, the way the sub-families in society obtain solutions for their housing problem is expressed here.

The Uda Gam Enterprise in the days of yore was operated based on developing the village. But, the present "Semata Sevana" (Shelter for All) national housing programme has gone beyond that and is operating it as a more productive united development programme, providing solutions to the true housing and habitat problem of the present world and getting all parties to participate in this development task. In those days, the late Ranasinghe Premadasa as the Prime Minister and the Minister of Housing and Construction, Local Government and Highways, got the contribution of the tasks of his ministry and other institutions to strengthen the Uda Gam Enterprise.

But, at present, as the subject of housing and habitat development is joined with the subject streams of several ministries, obtaining the assistance of outside institutions and organizations has become challenging. But, due to proper realization of true activities and productivity of the "Semata Sevana" (Shelter for All) National Housing Programme, other ministries, state institutions and organizations give their assistance and participation to strengthen this programme. Not just new houses are created in the New Model Village Process operated under the "Semata Sevana" (Shelter for All) National Housing Programme. Going beyond that, the "Semata Sevana" (Shelter for All) National Housing Programme is giving its contribution for solving the social and economic problems of family members living in the house and all basic infrastructure facilities necessary for the house-beneficiary such as water, road networks and electricity.

The Uda Gam Enterprise in the days of yore was decentralized as district, provincial and rural levels through the Gramodaya Mandala Programme. At present, this programme, other than covering the 25 districts in the Island, is activated as a proper development programme covering 331 Provincial Secretary’s Divisions, over 14,000 Grama Niladhari Divisions and over 42,000 small villages.

Through all these activities, the "Semata Sevana" (Shelter for All) national housing programme has been operating successfully for the past 4 ½ year period, in rural areas being created close to ancestral villages, in urban areas with more complex problems, in the estate sector strengthening the country’s economy and in the North and the East where communal problems existed for four decades.

In Sri Lanka as well as other countries of the world, during the past period of about a decade, natural disasters and disasters created by human activities is having a serious effect on this housing and habitat development process. The most disastrous experience was the devastation caused by the tsunami. Thousands of people lost their lives and several lakhs of people were left homeless in the wake of the devastating tsunami.

From that day to date, the methodologies of minimizing natural disasters and constructing houses in hazardous areas to withstand such natural disasters are operational in Sri Lanka.

In the year 2015, a new housing project was launched in the Hanwella district secretary’s Division in the Avissawella Electorate in the Colombo District as the launching step of the "Semata Sevana" (Shelter for All) national housing programme. Through that process, 27 families were selected as house-beneficiaries and the majority of them were communities that have lost their houses due to natural disasters that occurred in the area. As the new housing project to construct houses for them is located in a very beautiful, scenic area, this model village was named ‘Sobasiripura.’ The mountainous area of Sobasiripura became a new model village and the houses in Sobasiripura were constructed with the financial sponsorship and the technical guidance given to every house-beneficiary by the national housing development Authority and the labour contribution of all house-beneficiaries. Even so, after the construction work of this housing project was ongoing, the land the housing project is going to be built on was found to be susceptible to natural disasters and the national housing development Authority, giving special attention to this matter, obtained the necessary assistance and guidance from the National Building Research Organization, an organization experienced in the scientific aspects of managing natural disasters.

Problems were created for beneficiaries in building their houses as the construction ground was often disturbed and factors such as water flowing under the ground of the site. But, sustainable solutions for such problems were found through the disaster management process the National Housing Development Authority operated jointly with the National Building Research Organization.

The National Housing Development Authority has launched the construction work of over 2500 new model villages during the past four-year period through the "Semata Sevana" (Shelter for All) national housing programme. This instance can be recognized as the first where a challenging situation arose in the form of natural disasters in operating such a rural development programme. But, instead of stopping the relevant project or minimizing the attention of house-beneficiaries to the problems, the expectation of the National Housing Development Authority was to methodically introduce a disaster management programme and giving relief to house-beneficiaries. Truly overcoming all the challenges, the Sobasiripura Model Village that dawned in Seethawakapura, Colombo vested to the house-beneficiaries as the 214th Model Village of the "Semata Sevana" (Shelter for All) national housing programme by the Minister of Housing, Construction and Cultural Affairs Sajith Premadasa recently.

In activating the development tasks of Sobasiripura, created for a group of people who lost their houses in natural disasters, the beneficiaries had to face a disastrous process again, but the process followed by the National Housing Development Authority with the contribution of other institutions contributed to the people of Sobasiripura to turn disasters to blessings.

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