Monday, May 16, 2011

On Palestine & Sri Lanka: the Politics of Aid & Development - Some Reflections and Notes for Future Research

(Graphic Courtesy: The Hindu, May 20 2011)

Dr Sara Roy of the Centre for Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard University is an eminent scholar on Palestine. Her profile can be viewed here at wikipedia. In this speech delivered in 2008 she talks about the politics of donor activities in Palestine which ignored Gaza and supported West Bank with the intention of dissecting, splitting and diluting the Palestinian movement for independent statehood (Fast forward to the 38th minute of the video for this part of her speech). She talks about how Western donors engaged with the status quo in a manner whereby donor support by design and effect supported/support Israeli Occupation. She points to how the earlier notion of occupation as bad for peace is being replaced with 'normalising' occupation. Also see her response to a question on Hamas here.

There are definite parallels to Sri Lanka. Scholars like Patrick Peebles have commented on how the dry zone colonisation programme had an impact on the ethnic conflict. Serene Tennakoon has commented on how the rituals of big developmental project was important to the kind of post colonial nation building project that was being experimented by the Sinhala elite. Amita Sashtri in 1990 wrote an important article that dealt with the material basis for the movement for Tamil separatism. Sunil Bastian has extensively written about the politics of land reform. His recent article for Panos Sri Lanka provides for a good overview.

More recently in 2009 the International Crisis Group in a report (couched in a language that seeks to make the point without discomforting donors) points to the need for conflict-sensitivity and to ensure local participation in planning and implementing developmental projects in post-war Eastern Province.

In a lecture that i delivered at the invitation of the Jaffna Science Association at the Faculty of Science of the University of Jaffna on the 13th of July 2010 titled 'Environment and the Law in the Contest of Post War Development', I drew attention to the ADB Funded Dry Zone Water Supply Programme and how it related to the Maavilaru Anicut Controversy of 2006 that triggered the final war. I also drew attention to how quick fix, rapid, mega style development and associated political imagery is being used by the GOSL (with explicit or inadvertent support from donors) in post-war Sri Lanka to undermine the political project for sharing of state power. In that speech I drew attention to the following projects being currently funded by the ADB: 1) ADB's Dry Zone Water Supply and Sanitation Project - its sub project in Vavuniya - which involved the construction of dams requiring 700 acres of land (including the acquisition of 96 acres of private land belonging to Tamils), 2) The Iranaimadukulam Project of bringing ground water to 300,000 residents in Jaffna peninsula which i claimed would have a 'Cauvery dispute effect' in relations between the people of Killinochchi and Jaffna thus dissecting the Tamil community in the North and weakening the focus on the need for a political solution. (Consider parallels to what Sara Roy says about dissection of the Palestinian community) I also drew attention to the Extra Ordinary Gazette Notification 1617/32-2009 which detailed plans to build Mankulam as an urban centre and eventually the capital of the Northern Province. The Urban Development Authority disclosed plans to settle 100,000 people by 2010 in Mankulam and estimating the population to triple to 300,000 people by 2030. I questioned 1) whether this was being planned with the objective of further effecting demographic changes in Tamil majority areas with the focus now including the Northern Province and 2) the intelligibility of the water supply project to Jaffna from Iranaimadukkulam (in the Killinochchi District) given the water scarcity in Mankulam (also located in Killi). I also raised issues relating to the Lime stone quarrying taking place in Jaffna which in fact is a major contributor to ground water salination, being carried with support from the Ministry of Defence. I proposed that rain water harvesting would be the best response to the ground water problem in Jaffna and requested at that meeting for University academics from the relevant departments (Community Medicine, Geography, Law, Economics et al) to come together to study this issue scientifically. So far nothing has come out. I hope to research further on this on my own later this year.