As part of its attempts to promote economic security for the returnee population in the Batticaloa district, the ICRC has initiated an inland fisheries project aimed at restoring the livelihoods of more than 480 fishermen who earn a living from fresh water and lagoon fishing.
The project targets 404 households in Vaharai and 77 households in Pattipalai in Batticaloa West. The majority of families benefiting from the project were displaced due to military operations from the end of 2006 to around November 2007 and had been living with host families or in sites for the displaced before returning home. The main livelihood of this returnee community is fishing but they supplement lean periods with paddy cultivation, hunting, production of honey and collecting firewood for sale. Their needs upon returning home were identified by authorities at the Department of the Ministry of Fisheries, the ICRC's partner in implementing the project to restock four tanks in the target areas with 400,000 fingerlings between January and April 2008.
Vocational training from eight experts from the Fisheries Department has ensured that 90 beneficiaries are proficient in making and maintaining nets. They have also received instructions in theoretical aspects of fresh water fishing. This will help the community fish without damaging the tanks' eco-systems and maintain stock levels.
"The vocational training we received was good because we were shown net maintenance techniques so we can make the nets last longer," said Muthuthamby Kanapathy a returnee who has returned to his home in Mathurankernykulam after having spent time in a site for the displaced in Vaharai, Batticaloa.
Another important aspect of the vocational training is to strengthen the Fishermen's Cooperative Societies. The beneficiaries are organized into groups of five to make them more competitive at market. These Societies are also invaluable to the fishermen for the crisis loans they can provide.
"Apart from the practical aspects the vocational training was good because it made us aware of pensions and loans", said Kanapathy, who is also the President of the Fishermen's Cooperative Society for his area where, he says, nearly half the families fish.
The project will also provide 481 beneficiaries with a kit comprising three different varieties of fishing nets as well as other fishing accessories, while the five Cooperative Societies in the two areas will receive 74 canoes for their members. A total of 154 fishermen in Mathurankernykulam and Kunjankulam in Vaharai have already been given fishing nets while 251 fishermen in Cinnathattumunai and Periyathattumunai in Uriyankaddu Vaharai will be given 54 canoes and certificates proving that they have completed their vocational training.
"Project implementation is expected to be completed during the month of April after which monitoring will continue throughout 2008", said Massimiliano Cartura, of the ICRC office in Batticaloa whose brainchild the project is.
"The ultimate goal is to ensure there is food security for the beneficiaries as well as boost their income levels and saving capacities.
The project was designed with long term sustainability in mind so it can continue even after the ICRC has handed over the reins to the beneficiaries", added Cartura.
The introduction of the fingerlings into the local tank has brought hope to Sellan Thangeswaran who was forced to leave his home in Mathurankernikulam with his wife and seven-year-old daughter in 2006. They stayed at the ICRC's site for the displaced in Arlankulam in Vaharai until April 2007 before returning home.
"Before the displacement happened I was able to support my wife and daughter with the earnings I took home from fishing. Being displaced changed my life because I lost everything I had used for my fishing activities. With the assistance I received from various organizations I was able to buy a net and start fishing again. Although, I will not be able to fish from the tank immediately because the newly introduced fingerlings have to grow, I am very hopeful for the future", he added smiling.
Caroline Clarinval is the ICRC coordinator responsible for the project.
"This project targets entire communities having to restart their previous livelihoods without having the nets, canoes and other fishing gear to do so. To ensure the levels of sustainability and community empowerment that we expected from the project, we required the participation of all stakeholders from the beginning, including the Fisheries Ministry, the beneficiaries and the ICRC and this is something we managed to achieve."
Clarinval says the Ministry was involved from the beginning helping to identify the extent of the problem, being involved with the project planning and remaining committed until the project's completion.
"For instance the vocational training was carried out by experts from the Ministry", she explains. "The close relationship between all the stakeholders helped make the project a success. We will monitor the situation to determine whether the income levels of the beneficiaries have increased, to make sure they still have their materials and to stay abreast of the problems they face", she added.