Rebuilding fishing livelihoods in Sri Lanka

More than 20 new fishing harbours and anchorages are being constructed across Sri Lanka under a programme to rehabilitate coastal areas destroyed by the 2004 tsunami.

​With funding from the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the $10.7 million initiative is working to improve fishing facilities and generate more income for fishing communities, with over 100,000 people set to benefit.

The project, which began in 2009, is being implemented by UNOPS in seven districts, in cooperation with Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources.


The Government initially developed the project after the tsunami ruined a significant amount of fishing infrastructure – including auction premises, community centres and access to fresh water – causing considerable damage to the livelihoods of fishing communities.

After the Government faced a number of insurmountable challenges in implementing the project, UNOPS was contracted as overall project manager and tasked with redesigning the project and leading the implementation of all construction activities.

Engaging communities

To ensure local needs were provided for, UNOPS held consultations with local authorities, civil society groups and fishing communities in the planning stages, as well as while implementing the project. As fishing in Sri Lanka is traditionally done by all family members, with significant participation from women, UNOPS ensured women were consulted during the meetings.

Offices were set up in three districts so UNOPS personnel could coordinate their engagement with local stakeholders and monitor daily progress at the 21 project sites. Local people were hired as labourers and the project has so far created 105,000 labour days.

To ensure long-term use of the new infrastructure, UNOPS also gave on-the-job training to Ministry staff and demonstrated how to operate and maintain the fuel and ice storage facilities.

The building designs used for the fishing infrastructure have since been replicated by the Ministry for other projects on Sri Lanka’s east coast.


When constructing the harbours and anchorages, the marine engineering work presented several challenges, such as unexpectedly high tidal waves. However, the project team devised an innovative way of coping with the change in conditions by constructing additional temporary barriers, without adding any extra costs.

As usual, health and safety was a top priority, with work only going ahead when weather conditions were favourable and construction teams working close to the sea were given special protective gear.

Positive results

In Suduwella, a fishing village in the Matara district, fishing and related activities are the main source of income generation for the community. Suduwella is home to one of the new harbours, which has contributed to more than 4,000 people now participating in fishing activities, a 70 percent increase on the number of participants in 2011. The number of women involved in fishing activities in the area has also doubled since the project began in 2009.

The amount of income generated per person and per boat has more than doubled, while the development of surrounding facilities in the harbour, such as banks, spare parts shops and ice storage, is expected to create 2,000 to 4,000 jobs.

Local consumer W. Kumara, 46, said that the new harbours meant he could buy fish at more competitive prices.

"Earlier we had to travel to faraway fishing harbours to buy fish and the wholesale prices were high, but with the new harbour at Suduwella, we can buy fish at low rates because there are many more fishing boats coming to the harbour," he said.

All the harbours and anchorages are now fully operational, with final works on track for completion before the project’s operational closure at the end of September, 2013.

UNOPS in focus