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Ancient Heart of the Blackdowns

Sri Lanka: Tsunami 26th December 2004

Map of Sri Lanka
Click for Large Map of Sri Lanka (104kB)

Coastal communities like those in the Hambantota District of Southern Sri Lanka were very badly affected when the Tsunami struck without warning on 26th December 2004, following the under-sea earthquake near Indonesia.

Sketch map of roads in Hambantota District, Sri Lanka
Sketch map of Hambantota District, Sri Lanka
Click for Larger Map of Hambantota, Sri Lanka (37kB)

When the Tsunami hit, many people were at the Hambantota market and were killed by the floods. Fishing boats were smashed, homes destroyed, and fields inundated by seawater.

The main coastal road connecting the communities was cut. Water, electric power and telephones failed. Mobile phone networks were overwhelmed.

Sketch map of roads in Hambantota District, Sri Lanka
Sketch map of Hambantota District, Sri Lanka
Click for Detailed Map of Hambantota, Sri Lanka (64kB)

Survivors helped each other and the many foreign tourists to move inland onto higher ground to await government relief.

Once the water recedes, survivors will have the massive task of rebuilding their lives, homes, communities and businesses.

If they can obtain new boats, the remaining fishermen could recover quickly but the farming land will not fully recover until the sea salt is flushed out of the soil.

The self-help Janashakthi Banking Society will try to help people cope with this latest disaster.

Update 15th January 2005

The situation in Hambantota is still not clear. Thousands of people have been killed and there is much damage, but some services have now been restored.

Sri Lankan authorities have restored piped water and intermittent mains electricity to some areas. Some areas have a telephones service, others are now receiving a better service to mobile phones. There have even been some postal deliveries.

Food and Sri Lankan relief aid are being distributed from places such as the Godawaya Temple. Foreign aid seems not to have reached the area.

However, many survivors are badly shocked; too stunned to clear up. Unseasonal storms, further alerts and the precarious conditions after the Tsunami have led to several official evacuations of coastal areas.

The Sri Lankan government plans to start rebuilding within the next few days. The Sri Lankan Navy and many international organizations are urgently investigating how to help fishermen to restart fishing.

Long term aid is needed for these projects.

Update 22nd January 2005

In addition to government reconstruction projects, the Sri Lankan Government Agent for Hambantota has formed a "Reconstruction Committee of Volunteers," linked to Hambantota District Rotary International (EMI) and consisting of local volunteers. It has a special bank account for charitable funds.

This committee will co-ordinate the work of volunteers and also provide help to people not helped by other agencies. They have begun work in the devastated town of Hambantota and will work outwards.

Update 30th January 2005

Some international aid is now reaching the area. Reconstruction continues but some survivors are still too shocked to do much. There is a great need to help people to restart their lives, and avoid becoming dependent. For example, helping the fishermen to obtain new boats and equipment would encourage them and their families to rebuild their lives. It would also provide much needed protein in the local diet from traditional sources, reducing dependency on aid.

The area is still affected by frequent official alerts which report new dangers from the sea: Thankfully, these alerts have so far been false alarms but have caused much disruption. There are now just a few precious weeks left before the monsoon season starts in this area, making everything more difficult.

Update 5th February 2005

Shortage of Kerosene Powered Outboard Motors

The small fishermen need to get back to work, both to earn money and as part of their recovery process. In the Hambantota area there are now just a few precious weeks left before the monsoon season starts and fishing has to stop. Unfortunately, so many outboard motors were lost in the Tsunami that there is now a severe shortage.

Apparently Sri Lankan and Indian fishermen use outboard motors which run on kerosene rather than on petrol. (Many other regions including Europe and USA use petrol – called gas or gasolene in USA.) The usual size is 15 horse power, however fishermen in this area really need 30 horse power motors to suit the local conditions.

There is a four month waiting list, presumably due to the unexpectedly high demand for replacement outboard motors. This long wait would mean that no fishing could restart before the monsoon season. We hope that more suitable outboards can quickly be found, or salvaged and repaired.

Update 13th March 2005

News from Hambantota

Much has been achieved but there is naturally much still to do.

Projects Included:

Note. Many activities in this area are organized in a co-operative basis. For example, each catch of fish is shared between the group of people who own the boat, own sections of the nets, help on shore or help beach the boat. Agencies providing aid need to be careful not to destroy the cultural organization.

Some Good Points:

Most items can now be bought locally so donations of money are now more useful than donation of objects. Local organizers and local people have the clearest idea of local needs.

Some Problems:

Some city based planners view the coastal area as the "poverty belt." However, many local people are anxious to resume their former lives as quickly as possible: They cannot wait for a long term solution; they fear being moved away from their traditional lands and their traditional work.

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