Reconstruction stalled while Sri Lanka struggles for funds

January 13, 2006

A year after the Boxing Day tsunami, four badly damaged Sri Lankan universities are still struggling to complete even minimal repair work because of a lack of funds.

The University Grants Commission had estimated the damage to the buildings and hostels at Ruhunu, South Eastern, Jaffna and Eastern universities at 72 million rupees (£387,000). But Ranjith Mendis, chairman of the UGC, said he regretted that "the Government and foreign donors had not been able" to find such sums.

However, Professor Mendis told The Times Higher that the UGC had been able to secure 5.3 million rupees from 21 foreign and local donors, including Sri Lanka's own President's Fund, to support 64 undergraduates from a dozen universities who lost their parents and who want to complete their studies.

The UGC has not compensated staff for loss of homes and belongings, although the Government offered them a year's salary to be repaid interest-free over a five-year period.

South Eastern University, the worst affected of the four, plans to develop a sprawling complex over its 91-hectare site with inbuilt protection from floods, cyclones and even tsunamis.

The ambitious plan, drawn up by design and engineering firm Arup Group, is expected to cost 6.6 billion rupees, Professor Mendis said.

However, the university believes the cost could be much higher. Vice-chancellor Hussain Ismail visited Norway to sign a memorandum of understanding with Norwegian universities to obtain additional funds for the project.

Elsewhere, the Kuwait Government agreed to provide a soft loan for rehabilitation, reconstruction and improvement of the four universities, Professor Mendis said. He called for more donor support to handle reconstruction as well as future expansion of the sector.

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