I met with VC Peradeniya and Dr. Jayasena on the 14th of February. We had useful discussions. I need to follow up on many things when I get back.
I met with the secretary to the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Natural Resources on the morning of February 16th. The meting was very informative and useful, especially to make contacts. It was a coincidence that our article, "Reducing Solid Waste and Groundwater Contamination in Sri Lanka after the Tsunami" appeared in the Ceylon Daily News the previous day, and that he had read it as well! Mr. Leelaratne and the Ministry appeared to be fully appraised with the environmental damages caused by the tsunami. He welcomed our intended trip to Batticaloa and provided useful information.
The Ministry was looking for some information on how to disentangle fishing nets from the live coral reefs at two sites, one at Hikkaduwa and another in Jaffna. I have not had any success in getting any information on this as yet and I am afraid it will be too late.
We left Colombo around 11:30 am on the 16th of February and drove to Batticaloa that afternoon. (The driver was a bit anxious but we didn't realize his anxiety until we reached the Batticaloa area after dark!) The Vice Chancellor, Professor Ravindrananth, met us that evening to discuss our agenda and preliminaries. We went to Navaldy, Kalkudah, and Pasikudah area on the 17th. Ravi (Prof. Ravindranath) came with us to most areas. He has been helping everyone and does a lot of relief work. Everyone is full of praise for his total commitment. It was then I realized what an enormous task the country has ahead.
There were no traces of houses in some areas. It is very difficult to explain; most of the houses that have been completely destroyed had been built on the beach or so they looked today. In addition we spent quite a lot of time at the University meeting with some of the Professors and the students who have been victimized. Later we met with students and staff of St. Vincent's High School who have been victimized by the tsunami. It is so hard to forget the little girls who have lost one or both parents during the tsunami.
On the 18th we drove south to Akkarapatthu via Karthankudi, Kalmunai, and Mardanmuram. In most of these areas, all of the buildings have been completely wiped out up to about to 200 feet west from the Beach Road. The beach is very flat and open. As a result, the tsunami waves engulfed everything along the shore and on its path. As you moved more inland, more than 300- 400 feet from the shore, the houses were damaged, but some of the building structures were visible. It would be an enormous task to delineate the future construction line. It appears that some of the houses have been built on the beach.
As far as tsunami debris was concerned, there was no obvious hazardous waste to be seen. Most of the debris that was seen was construction and demolition debris from the buildings. These consisted of bricks and concrete. Often, there were pieces of clothing, apparently those worn by the victims, seen entangled on trees and wood etc. At Marthanmunai, a Solid Waste management company has been contracted to separate the construction and demolition debris to be utilized in the re-building of the Beach Road. There was another crew, employed by the Municipal council, separating the tin roofing from a building.
DUMPING OF TSUNAMI DEBRIS ALONG THE BEACH
One problem appeared to be dumping of the collected debris along the beach. An overthrown refrigerator and water tanks were observed in a community that had been victimized in Kalkudah.
Almost all of the domestic wells have been inundated with salt water and debris. An assessment of the suitability of the wells for future use should be undertaken prior to rehabilitation. Because of the encroachment of the sea following tsunami, some of the wells would not be suitable for drinking water.
From a sanitary stand point, the wells should be located from a suitable distance from the septic and drainfileds. Because the
distance of the septic drainfield and the location of the wells are depended on the type of soil among other things. The soil been very sandy in most affected areas, the distance between the septic tank/drianfiled and the potable wells need not be that restrictive. Unless these houses have been provided with a sanitary sewer, the locations of the wells were too close for comfort form a sanitary standpoint. This should be another issue that needs to be considered during reconstruction efforts.
We noted that most of the refugees had been given tents. The tents may have been useful on a temporary basis, but appear to be unbearable under the local climatic conditions. It is essential that more suitable housing, (like thatched roofs and sides) be provided to the refugees until permanent houses have been built.
The Sri Lanka Red Cross, World Vision and UNICEF seem to be performing most of the relief work in addition to the Eastern University's relief work.
Almost everyone is frustrated because of the red tape. Some of the red tape is necessary and understandable, but should not completely dry out the donor funds and efforts!
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