In early 2007, IMM was asked to lead a two-phase Evaluation Process of the Livelihoods Development Project, an EU-funded, UNDP-implemented project in the North and East of Sri Lanka. The LDP project was formulated as part of the European Commissions response to the Indian Ocean tsunami which struck Sri Lanka on 26th December, 2004. It aimed to support the process of recovery from the disaster in the Northern and Eastern Provinces of Sri Lanka by helping people to re-activate their traditional livelihood activities, identify and initiate new activities and reconstruct community infrastructure. The UNDP Transition Recovery Programme, which was already working in the area supporting the process of rehabilitation and recovery from the on-going civil conflict, was selected to implement the project. During the initial phases of project design, the coverage of the project was expanded to cover both tsunami and conflict-affected communities. Given the level of aid response that the tsunami generated in Sri Lanka, the project ended up paying special attention to non-coastal communities that were not targeted by tsunami relief programmes but were struggling to re-establish their productive sectors in the wake of years of conflict and displacement. The project was working with people from both Tamil and Sinhala, as well as Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim and Christian communities and was active in promoting peace and reconciliation between these groups.
The Evaluation Mission was divided into two phases. During the 1 Phase, in early 2007, the team was asked to review progress, paying special attention to the projects exit strategy, given that it was due to be completed in early 2008, and make recommendations regarding any eventual extension of the project period. Given the missions recommendation that the project be extended in order to complete the work that it had initiated, the 2 Phase mission was postponed until late 2008 when a proper evaluation of the impacts and performance of the project was carried out.
The LDP project was extremely complex and operated at many levels. A series of strategic interventions in each of the 4 districts covered (Ampara, Batticaloa, Trincomalee and Jaffna) aimed at building the capacity of key service providers (such as government line agencies, as well as farmers associations and cooperatives providing seed supplies, fertilizers and milk collection services) to support agriculture, livestock, fisheries and small industries. Interventions were identified in close coordination with government counterparts and implemented with their support. Several important infrastructure projects were also undertaken, mainly to restore road connections with some remote areas and rehabilitate or construct irrigation facilities.
Besides these more strategic interventions, the project also supported a wide range of different initiatives by specific communities or groups to either re-establish traditional livelihood activities or initiate new ones. The range of activities supported by the project was impressive - many involved agriculture and livestock (rice production, upland farming of vegetables and fruit, raising of cattle, goats and poultry), but an impressive array of more innovative small enterprises were also set up, such as welding shops, motorcycle repairs, bakeries, garment factories, food processing and packaging, small restaurants and snack production activities.
Particularly impressive was the level of responsiveness that the project achieved in order to deal with a highly dynamic and unpredictable environment. During the course of the project the security situation and level of conflict in the North and East steadily deteriorated and project staff were constantly subject to new sets of demands. The close relations established by the project with local administrators enabled them to respond to these demands and the sense of "ownership" of the project among local counterparts was impressive.
From IMMs point of view, the project was particularly interesting because it seemed to represent a real attempt to put many of the principles of the Sustainable Livelihoods Approach into action - it was flexible and responsive in dealing with a changing environment; it managed be people-centred, addressing the real needs of a wide range of communities; it was multi-level, working closely with provincial, district and divisional authorities, as well as with producer organisations and specific target groups. Key elements contributing to this seemed to be the incorporation of the project into an on-going UNDP programme with a well-established field presence and careful attention to the integration of the projects activities into local coordination mechanisms.