In Sri Lanka today, as in many other developing countries, there is a growing urgency to come up with creative and sustainable solutions to tackle the twin pressures of infrastructure needs and the interests of communities who are affected by such projects, often losing their homes, land and livelihood in the process. Rapid industrialization has catapulted Colombo, Sri Lanka’s commercial capital, into an economic hub. However, this has also severely damaged the environment, especially the city’s peripheral areas abounding in factories. One of the worst victims of industrial wastewater pollution is the Lunawa Lake, south of Colombo. The lake straddles two adjoining Municipal Councils: Dehiwala-Mt. Lavinia and Moratuwa. Barely a decade ago, it was surrounded by a thriving fisheries industry. Continued discharge of waste water into its waters over the years wreaked havoc, killing most of the fish. Moreover, the catchment area suffers from frequent flooding, due to an inadequate drainage system. Salient features Today, the Lunawa Lake catchment area is the site of an innovative initiative called the Lunawa Environmental Improvement and Community Development Project that could be a model for infrastructure projects in the developing world. It is especially relevant for densely populated urban areas where significant relocation of population is likely. The project, getting off the ground in 2001, is the first project that translated Sri Lanka’s National Involuntary Resettlement Policy into practice. This landmark policy, adopted in 2001, paved the way for the Lunawa model which validates strategies used to combine the twin objectives of environmental improvement and community revitalization. The project team has proved that the community development component— uplifting the living conditions of the people living in the Lunawa Lake catchment area through participatory resettlement and upgrading of underserved sites — is as much of a priority as improving the storm water drainage of the area and Lunawa Lake’s eco system. The two Executive Summary pronged approach has fostered a win-win situation, benefiting the project affected persons as well as local governments and the project authorities, as beneficiaries with a stake in the project, protest less and are willing to take ownership of the canals and other structures after the construction work is over. The project has broken new ground in many significant ways. The fundamental difference between the Lunawa Environmental Improvement and Community Development Project and other infrastructure projects lies in its treatment of project affected persons as key stakeholders who participate in the decision-making process. Such an approach involved challenging development orthodoxies and prevailing mindsets among communities living on the margins. Many among those living on the edge said they were used to unfulfilled promises. But with growing trust and goodwill towards the project team, the barriers were overturned, at times to the seeming surprise of the beneficiaries. Indeed, if protests against the project have been mild and few, as compared to many other projects, it is because the project anticipated to some extent the time investment that would be necessary to implement such a participatory approach. In hind sight, it was prudent to have spent considerable time during the preparatory phase, building goodwill and trust among the impacted populace, before any construction work started. The project’s success owes a great deal to strategic partnership. It brought together, for the first time, three key institutions – the Government of Sri Lanka, the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC)1 and UN-HABITAT2 with the common aim of treating the involuntary resettlement as a development opportunity. For this purpose, the project was pioneering the use of an NGO to socially market a package of interventions to communities who were going to be affected in order to break down the distrust they harboured towards Government agencies. The specific approach that was adopted by the NGO 1 JBIC has been integrated with Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) in October 2008, and now it is called as JICA. 2 UN-HABITAT has taken the responsibility of assisting the Project Management Unit (Community Development Component) in project implementation through provision of consultancy and advisory services. 2 Innovative Approaches for Involuntary Resettlement partner involved multiple home visits followed by interactions to boost their confidence and goodwill towards the project. Achievements and process Communities which struggled every year with the ravages of flooding and damaged property in many underserved areas now feel more secure. The threat of inundation has receded and with security of tenure, they are busy making long-term plans. Families who lived in shanties previously and who had to move to make way for the project now own their own homes in the resettlement sites; those who were not even part of the formal economy now have bank accounts which they acquired when the entitlement amount was deposited; women in the resettlement sites feel more empowered as joint owners of property to which they now have a legal claim. The project has also led to the creation of many community based organisations (CBOs) and strengthened existing CBOs who received ‘community contracts’ to build drains, service roads, community centres etc within the resettlement sites and other parts of the project area. Apart from providing a sense of ‘ownership’ to the communities, these activities have contributed significantly towards livelihood restoration among the project-affected people. In many cases, individuals and families have been able to improve upon their previous situation tapping into these opportunities. A diverse array of tools was deployed to achieve these outcomes. Among the most significant are the participation of each project-affected household in working out its entitlement package, and the establishment of a layered grievance redress mechanism which each project affected person could tap. This has contributed to the transparency of the implementation process and kept the number of objectors to the minimum. The participatory nature of the project was enhanced by the creation of a Community Information Centre in the project office which continues to serve as a one-stop shop for enquiries and complaints by the project-affected people. By bringing under one roof, representatives of the government agencies, NGOs, municipalities and technical staff working in the engineering side of the project, it helped reduce the time an affected family would spend in case it had a problem. A novel dimension to community consultation was the creation of neighbourhood development forums. The primary objective of these forums is to intensify, broaden and maintain communication links between the re-settlers, residents of the host community in the neighbourhoods and concerned stakeholder agencies. Lessons learnt and replications The successes on the ground have led to other institutions and projects tapping the Lunawa toolkit of good practices, and adapting specific ones, for their own benefit. The most important lesson from this path-breaking project is that investing time and resources in the preparatory phase pays, and it is helpful to have NGO partners who can act as strong links between the urban poor and the project team as well as with local authorities, and help build a cordial working relationship. This can be leveraged later for other development objectives.