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Serving Sri Lanka

This web log is a news and views blog. The primary aim is to provide an avenue for the expression and collection of ideas on sustainable, fair, and just, grassroot level development. Some of the topics that the blog will specifically address are: poverty reduction, rural development, educational issues, social empowerment, post-Tsunami relief and reconstruction, livelihood development, environmental conservation and bio-diversity. 

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

ReliefWeb/OCHA Situation Report

Source: UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 25-29 March 2005
The tsunami death toll in Sri Lanka is 31,229 as of 28 March, with an additional 4,100 missing and presumed dead, according to the Ministry of Women's Empowerment and Social Welfare. It reports that 500,000 people are still displaced, with 420,212 of them now living with friends and relatives. Displaced persons living in welfare centers and camps total 95,926.
Within an hour or so of the 28 March, 8.7 Richter-scale earthquake in Indonesia, Sri Lankan communities had been informed by television, radio, government authorities and UN agencies and NGOs about a potential tsunami and quickly headed inland with panic occurring in some areas. OCHA field officers and field staff of UN agencies and NGOs supported the government in providing information to the residents of tsunami-affected areas and in communication alerts. OCHA's field officers in Galle, Batticaloa, Ampara and Kilinochchi provided on-going information updates throughout the nights. Here is an update from Galle and Batticaloa which reflects events in most tsunami-affected areas during the late night tsunami alert.
From the OCHA Field Office Galle District: At 23.15 hours news of theearthquake in Indonesia came through international news channels to Galle. In most districts in the South police quickly announced via megaphones that people should move to higher ground. In Galle, some panic ensued in places including Hikkaduwa divisions. Streets were jammed with cars heading inland. In some areas in Galle, according to UNICEF and other agencies, people sought higher ground near hotels but were turned away because of crowding. Many people in both Galle and Matara sought shelter on the high ground around temples. During the peak moment of the evacuations inland in Galle District, the Dialog GSM network was not operating. SMSs were able to be received and sent but only sporadically and with delays. Landlines were outside their homes in the Fort area, the coast area and in the hills waiting for further news and directions. The megaphones proved to be an effective way of communication to the community but telephone calls within the area between Matara, Galle and Hambantota were for the most part impossible. The situation provided a good drill for the community andagencies and an opportunity to fine tune disaster preparedness planning. The UN Agencies in the Southern Province are planning to establish a security phone tree and are considering the needs for satellite phone communication in the South.
From the OCHA Field Office Batticaloa District: Shortly after 21:00 hours,OCHA Colombo informed OCHA Batticaloa about the earthquake and possible tsunami. OCHA Batticaloa informed the UNDP/UNV representatives to contact the Government Agent for Batticaloa and also contacted the UN Focal Point. Information exchange continued between OCHA and the UNDP/UNV until the cell phone and landline network broke down at midnight. The UN Focal Point started transmitting BBC updates via VHF, conducted a radio check, and requested all UN staff to remain on standby. The government authorities had immediately been deployed with police and military informing people to move inland, controlled crowd movements and provided transport to relocate people from the coastal areas -- notably Kallady, Kallar, Dutch Bar, and Onthanchimadam. They also facilitated their movement through buses further inland into the city. Army officers on motorbikes made the rounds and requested everyone to move away from coastal areas to the town. With only one access route -- the Kallady Bridge -- thousands of people were trying to simultaneously cross causing minor motorbike accidents. People were afraid and the tension was high. Many sought refuge in churches and stayed there long after the danger of a tsunami had receded. By 4am it was clear from what we were hearing through UN channels and TV that the threat of atsunami to Sri Lanka had passed. Most shops remained closed today and only a few students went to school. There remains fear amongst some residents that the danger has not passed. The general perception in Batticaloa is that the response of the government was good in warning people and passing on relevant information quickly.
Overview of Activities
One-hundred and fifty-five houses were constructed at two sites inVadamaradchchi East by the Tamil Relief Organization with the support ofWorld Vision and Care International.On 28 March, Mr. Tilak Ranaviraja, Head of the Taskforce for Relief (TAFOR) accompanied by a U.S. delegation led by Ms. Mary Eisenhower --grand daughter of the late former U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower --visited Transitional Accommodation Project (TAP) offices and held meetings with NGOs in Matara and Galle Districts. The U.S. delegation was looking at business and investment prospects in tsunami-affected areas. On March 22, FAO handed over the first batch of a total 47,650 fishing nets worth $US1.36 million (Rs135,587,912) to Sri Lankan fishermen who lost their livelihoods in the tsunami. The governments of Japan, Germany andBelgium paid for the equipment through their joint programmes with the FAO.The first set of 740 nets and accompanying accessories for catching lobster, trenched sardines and frigate mackerel are earmarked forHambantota and will be distributed through the Ministry of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources. The specific types of nets were chosen after consultation with local fishermen. An FAO international salinisation expert has completed an assessment of all the main tsunami-hit areas to determine the condition of the soil. Ampara,Batticaloa and Trincomalee have all had rain since the disaster and in these areas the soil is ready for cultivation again even though it mightnot be possible to obtain 100 percent yields.
All schools in the Batticaloa district have been reopened and catch-up classes have started. One of the major obstacles remains the lack of information on where the majority of the population will return/relocate to so as to plan for schools in these areas. Catch-up classes supported by Save the Children have started this week in 110 centres in BatticaloaDistrict -- 50 in Batticaloa, 21 in Paddiruppu, and 39 in Kalkudah. TheYMCA in Batticaloa has also started catch-up classes. The Norwegian Refugee Council is rebuilding and rehabilitating 10 schools damaged by the tsunami in Batticaloa district. A psycho-social program is being developed for training of teachers, and selected teachers from all schools to be rehabilitated by NRC will be offered psychosocial trainingThe Protection/Psycho-social Task Force discussed the "worrying number of violent incidents in the camps" and has recommended that a prevention mechanism be developed which should include, amongst other things, the forming of women's groups to raise the specific concerns of women in the camps.Women's Coalition for Disaster Management (WCDM) and UNHCR will follow upon this recommendation. Moreover, the Task Force has also suggested thatthe house damage assessment teams should include women. In order to betterunderstand the shelter/reconstruction policies.
Main Challenges and Response
The Human Rights Commission's Disaster Relief Monitoring Unit visited Trincomalee from 23 to 25 March. The Unit has now received more than 125 complaints from individuals and groups reporting discrimination or otherproblems with assistance. The Unit has convened a Working Group on ReliefMonitoring, bringing together leading civil society networks to facilitatemore systematic monitoring and sharing of information from the field.The Chairperson of the Task Force for Relief, Mr. Tilak Ranaviraja, has asked the Human Rights Commission and Senior Human Rights Advisor to develop an options paper on possible systems for recovering and cataloguingphotographic and forensic evidence that would facilitate identification of unidentified persons buried in mass graves.

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