Post-tsunami reconstruction

Building back in Sri Lanka

The tsunami of the 26th December 2004 wrecked not only vast parts of the coastal areas of countries bordering the Indian Ocean, but the lives and livelihoods of many, of which a large part is of the vulnerable and very poor.

In Sri Lanka over 50,000 lives were lost and more than 100,000 households were displaced along the eastern, southern and western coastline.

We had close to 10 years experience in promoting a sustainable and long term approach to disaster relief in South Asia.

Based on this experience of an holistic approach and long term perspective, Practical Action took on the process of reconstruction and rehabilitation. New human settlements had to be identified and displaced persons had to be relocated, rehabilitated and their livelihood concerns addressed.

Starting in January 2005, Practical Action’s post-tsunami reconstruction and rehabilitation project worked with affected communities to reconstruct housing and to improve livelihoods, infrastructure, sanitation and health.

This work led to us becoming a finalist in the World Habitat Awards, which recognises practical and innovative solutions to housing needs and problems.


Over 160 homes have been built using cost-effective appropriate building technologies, including rat-trap bond masonry and filler slab RCC roofing. These have reduced the amount of construction materials required for each house by one third.

Technical information about all these technologies, as used in Sri Lanka, has been published by Practical Action South Asia.

Houses are single-storey units based on beneficiaries’ drawings of their previous homes. The average cost of each has been LKR600,000 (£3,280). Constructed using burnt brick walls and a flat concrete slab roof, they typically have two bedrooms, a kitchen and living space plus an area of 46sqm.

Over 300 masons have been trained in the building technologies. Incorporated into each house was a proven smoke-free kitchen hearth ensuring improved indoor air quality.

Renewable energy

Bio-gas technology and small wind, solar and energy efficient stoves were demonstrated and adopted by tsunami-affected communities in southern and eastern Sri Lanka. The house structures have increased thermal efficiency, reducing the need for electrical appliances such as fans. Solid waste management practices were demonstrated and adopted in the south, east and north of the country. The process included training and knowledge transfer on waste separation, waste-bin manufacture and small scale recycling.

Housing costs have been reduced through community involvement in the provision of land for construction, supervision of material storage and finishing of the houses. The houses built are permanent houses and land deeds were a basic requirement. Some of the beneficiaries had their own land or bought land. Others had deeds that had been donated to them by benefactors. The ability to extend the houses incrementally has increased affordability.

Other projects included:

  • the rebuilding of fishing communities, initally through support and rebuilding of boatyards and fishing boats, and then at broader livelihood issues.
  • growing traditional saline resistant rice
  • irrigation systems for those who can no longer fish and have turned to farming
  • training youths on how to dive, both as an alternative employment while also clearing coral of debris - left in the tsunami’s wake – and protecting it for the future.

Fishing boats
The livelihoods of the fishing community of Godawaya was devastated by the tsunami. Practical Action provided the opportunity for the fishermen to repair and restore their own boats, which was much more appealing than being the passive receivers of aid.

Handicrafts & livelihoods
The tsunami wiped out more than houses – for many people their means of livelihood was seriously affected.

Fighting salinity
Paddy is one of the sectors that were seriously affected by the Tsunami. Practical Action helps farmers to restore their livelihoods and provide diverse production and marketing options through the introduction of paddy varieties and provide improved marketing options.

Imagine living with the constant danger that you could lose your home at any time. With your help more people can benefit from improved quincha technology. Please donate what you can; you really will make a difference.

In 2008, our tsunami reconstruction work was selected as a finalist for the World Habitat Awards. This case study prepared for the award gives more detail about how our work in Sri Lanka helped rebuild lives, its long-term sustainability, and the lessons learned.

See also our archive of project work and documents prepared in the aftermath of the tsunami, outlining our reconstruction work.

Based on these experiences Practical Action has recently published a book Lessons from Aceh: Key considerations in post-disaster reconstruction

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