Chairman of Sri Lanka's CUs Appeals For Aid To Help Rebuild Following Tsunami

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In an Italian embassy before an American audience, a Sri Lankan appealed to his fellow credit unions for assistance in the wake of the devastating tsunami.

Dr. P.A. Kiriwandeniya, chairman of Sri Lanka's trade association, SANASA, told those in attendance at a World Council of Credit Unions' (WOCCU) event that his country remains in the very early stages of attempting to recreate numerous destroyed credit unions. The damage includes not just all financial records, but for those members who survived the tsunami, their homes, businesses and livelihoods.

According to WOCCU, four of the country's 12 districts have been visited by its representatives. In those, WOCCU has confirmed 152 credit unions have been destroyed and an additional 80 need to be assessed.

Kiriwandeniya said it is difficult to convey the scope of the challenge ahead. Many members can't prove they had deposits, the credit union can't prove it had made loans, and managers of the institutions are dealing with their own problems and those of the communities. Kiriwandeniya said hopes that the country's Department of Corporations had backup records that could be used to recreate the institution have been dashed by the absence of such records. The country also has no system of deposit insurance. "This kind of disaster no insurance covers," noted Kiriwandeniya.

Kiriwandeniya said one strategy is to get other deposit societies to make deposits into the credit unions as a means of getting things started. It is also seeking funding to help put its credit union managers back to work as a first step in rebuilding the credit unions, which are all small and village-based.

"The loans are a challenge," he said of situations where records exist. "We can extend the time period. But we also have to do new loans."

He said in one area where many people died the local people are afraid to travel there at night. Another issue, said Kiriwandeniya who said he did not lose any family in the disaster, is that many people affected by the tsunami do not wish to return to the area of their former livelihoods. "A lot of people do not want to go back to the sea, they want to go to another industry," he said. "We have to train them. Many others are staying and trying to rebuild."

"We need government help with both the proper direction and policy," continued Kiriwandeniya. "We can't do it alone. The hospital is gone. The schools are gone. The railroad tracks are gone. We need everything. Our role is to provide support for them."

Despite all that Kiriwandeniya remains positive about Sri Lanka and its credit unions. "We will work step by step, but we will be back to a normal situation in a couple of years."

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