Research Abstract of PhD
Sustainable Community Development: A Case Study of Meegahahena Resettlement Unit in Relation to Community Participation in Sri Lanka
This thesis examines the effectiveness of Community Participation (CP) in relation to people’s engagement in Community Development (CD) activities with respect to establishing a sustainable community in the Meegahahena Resettlement Unit. Meegahahena is an agricultural resettlement situated in System ‘C’ of Sri Lanka’s Mahaweli Development Project.
The recent Accelerated Mahaweli Development Project (AMDP) included a river basin development project incorporating dam construction, irrigation and biggest human resettlement project undertaken in the history of Sri Lanka, a CD approach for settlers has been implemented by government authorities but many problems remain with respect to promoting CP. Researchers indicate that the reason for the relative failure of many development projects like the AMDP is the lack of effective CP in CD activities. I his research focuses on these issues.
Examination of an existing CD model is undertaken to develop a wider theoretical context along with an empirical study. The ‘four-stage theoretical framework’ for sustainable resettlement after Scudder (2005) was adopted as a model and standard in this study.
The methodology used is a qualitative case study. Data were collected using both anthropological and sociological methods involving focus group discussions, observation, document analysis, semi-structured interviews and a survey. The data were analysed by themes, using a grounded theory ‘thematic analysis’ method.
The research revealed that the failure of the CD approach to motivate CP in Meegahahena could be attributed to the acceleration of the project, political interference and bureaucratic control of’ CD activities, the evolution of a part-time farming system due to a shortage of land, settlers’ dependency on the Mahaweli Authority, heterogeneity of the settler community, and a top-down development approach. As well, the results of the study suggest that excessive attention has been focused on the construction components of the project at the expense of the social and human development aspects of resettlement. A forced participatory development approach was introduced by the Mahaweli Authority, which neglected to include women, encroachers, and indigenous people.
The research found that some strategies such as minimising political influence and bureaucratic control, a modified participatory/joint management system, introducing grassroots level CD activities, and also the strengthening of farmer organisations would assist in improving the chances of a sustainable community evolving.
In concluding the study it was considered that problems associated with community sustainability could be reduced through training programs on participatory development for both settlers and MA officers. This would then improve the chances for CD activities to focus more on the issues and associated activities that addressed income generation. A modified approach to CP and CD that enables these changes is finally suggested to increase chances of Meegahahena evolving towards sustainability.