Post-Tsunami Recovery and Reconstruction - Joint report of the Government of Sri Lanka and its development partner, December 2005 [PDF 0.8 MB, low res.]
Government Agents remember – Tsunami response at the district level
In the aftermath of the Tsunami, Government Agents (GAs) acted as administrators for
relief operations. For many GAs, this was on-the- spot learning about disaster management, but across the country they showed their mettle and their commitment to their communities through efficient, competent response to the tragedy. The GA in Jaffna was serving out the last days of his tenure when the tsunami hit. “I rushed to the scene when I heard the news. The sea had come in about one kilometer… There were no police officers, no army officers - a large number of soldiers got caught in the tsunami while on guard duty in the coastal area.” As an experienced senior member of the administrative service, his was a text book response to a massive scale disaster. “True, we are in the public service, but if we follow rules and regulations we can’t do anything”. What stood the GA in good stead was his first-hand experience of carrying out rescue and relief operations in Jaffna during the war years. In 1995, 400,000 people were displaced and he led the support operation, providing temporary shelter, food and other necessities. “We trained the people, and they know now how to help, to react immediately - not only the officers, but also NGOs, and Cooperatives too.” Post tsunami, the GA rounded up the Grama Sevakas [village level government officers]. He closed roads to prevent looting; grouped volunteers into clusters and started combing the devastated areas for survivors. Entrenched in Sri Lanka’s rich community traditions is the sharing and giving of food. The GA sent messages via three wheeler “tuk tuks” calling for food and clothing. The temples in Jaffna also have large cooking utensils used for meal preparation during religious festivals. These too were brought in to prepare food for the displaced families. For all who survived the tsunami there was a total sense of loss. People were left without money, possessions, documents of identification, and had the gigantic task of carrying out final religious rituals for their dead loved ones. Understanding this need the Jaffna GA did not wait for banks to open or for government approvals. He moved swiftly to raise money from known shop owners to give Rs. 10, 000 to every family member removing a dead body from the hospital so as to cover funeral costs.