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Architects incensed by 'arbitrary' rule on new villages for Sri Lanka

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The Architecture for Humanity charity has run into an unexpected row with government officials in tsunami-hit Sri Lanka.

The New York-based organisation stepped into the furore as it planned the reconstruction of a coastal village devastated in the Boxing Day disaster. Despite the fact that thousands of people are still homeless, the

government has declared that no new settlements are to be built within 100 yards of the coast.

However, Architecture for Humanity, an orgnaisation which aims to set the standard for the rebuilding of the area's shattered communities with its plans for the village of Kirinda, has criticised the rule as unclear, 'arbitrary and of questionable use'.

Project architect Samir Shah admits that he is confused by the building ban. 'They never officially explained what it means,' he said.

'If it means a buffer zone, it means nothing, because you need to study specific geographical features, like sand dunes and rocks.

'It's an arbitrary line. If there are some other reasons, they should be upfront about it. If there's no other reason, then they should just drop it,' Shah added.

Government officials maintain the rule will help reduce the dangers posed by future tsunami but many fishermen are complaining that the plan will restrict their access to the sea.

Meanwhile, critics say the government wants to clear the shoreline of the flimsy, illegally built fisherman's shacks to make the beaches more attractive to resort developments - developments that they fear will be exempted from the new rules.

In some areas the fishermen are protesting against the plan. However, in Kirinda, where about 100 villagers were killed and almost 250 families left without boats, the people are eager to take up the offer of free housing inland so they can get on with their lives.

As a result, the group has now drawn up plans to reconstruct Kirinda on a 7ha patch of hinterland owned mostly by the government. The proposals include a school, health clinic, marketplace, public spaces, semi-detached houses and a rebuilt harbour.

According to Shah, community leaders have also persuaded the residents to take equal shares of the land, regardless of the size of the property they owned before the tsunami. Construction is due to start within weeks.

The five-strong Architecture for Humanity team was able to assemble within days of the

disaster. Shah, from North Carolina, was studying the building traditions of Sri Lanka when the tsunami struck. The other members include Japanese architect Shigeru Ban, who helped design temporary housing after the 1995 Kobe earthquake.

by Richard Waite

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