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Tsunami disaster – countries in crisis

ECHO/UNICEF tsunami partnership continues to save lives in Sri Lanka

© UNICEF Sri Lanka/2005/Dan Thomas
Nagiah Kavitha fills her water container with clean drinking water at the Bandarawatte Relief Camp

By Feizal Samath

GALLE, Sri Lanka, 6 May 2005  – Mother-of-three Nagiah Kavitha patiently fills her water container with clean water from a large black tank provided by UNICEF with funds from ECHO, the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid Office.

Four months after the tsunami destroyed her home, Kavitha is still living in a tent at the Bandarawatte Relief Camp near Galle in southern Sri Lanka. The fresh, clean water delivered to the camp daily by tankers provides an important lifeline to her and her neighbours.

"I use the water for everything,” she says. “Washing, cooking, cleaning and so on. I depend on it."

The daily deliveries of fresh water played a key role in enabling schools and health centres to re-open quickly, and have ensured they stay open. In the relief camps, bathing and toilet facilities are also making life a little more bearable.

Cristiano Mandra, Head of ECHO’s South Asia office, explained that since ECHO and UNICEF had already been working together on various projects in Sri Lanka before the tsunami struck, they were well placed to respond to the disaster.

Soon after the December 26 tsunami disaster, ECHO deployed staff to determine the level of destruction and the level of funding needed.

“We were able to release money very, very fast,” he said. “We had very good experience and UNICEF has the expertise to do the work. Partnerships between UNICEF and ECHO have been very effective,” he added.

© UNICEF Sri Lanka/2005/Dan Thomas
A water bowser funded by ECHO, Japan and UNICEF delivers clean drinking water to a school in Galle

Today, as the region recovers from  Asia’s biggest natural disaster which killed more than 30,000 people in Sri Lanka alone, the situation is improving for the survivors, thanks to the help of ECHO, the Government of Japan and UNICEF.

Two white water bowser trucks are a prominent sight in this southern coastal town, going through the streets and filling up small water tanks inside relief camps, school compounds, hospitals and homes every day.

At Mahadampa School, children crowd round the water tank, gulping water thirstily from the tap soon after the school’s water tank is replenished by a bowser. With funding from Japan and ECHO, UNICEF has helped the Sri Lanka’s Water Board repair the pipelines, clean wells and provide clean drinking water.

There are several 1,000-litre water tanks donated by different agencies that have been placed around Galle district. These tanks are the main source of water not only for drinking, but also for washing pots and pans and bathing. Residents say it’s hard to bathe with the brackish ground water because the salt content burns the eyes.

Sanjay Wijesekera, a Water and Sanitation Advisor from UNICEF Nigeria who is temporarily assigned to the UNICEF Office in Galle, said almost all of the damaged pipe-borne water supply in the area has been restored.

© UNICEF Sri Lanka/2005/Dan Thomas
A young boy drinks clean water from a tank provided by ECHO

Kalugala A De Silva, a 74 year-old grandfather, values the critical importance of water. “Before the tsunami, our water came from tube wells and an erratic pipe-borne water service from the Water Board. But now ground water has been contaminated (with sea water) and pipe-borne water has stopped,” he says, shouting “Don’t waste!” at a woman who had left the tap running at a tank near the roadside. “We depend on this supply.”

“In Galle, UNICEF took the lead role in coordinating water and sanitation issues among agencies working in this field. All pipelines were damaged and covered with debris. Wells were contaminated,” said Dr Harishchandra Yakandawala, UNICEF’s coordinator for the southern Galle district, which covers Ambalangoda.

“The water tanks and water bowsers are an important source of water for residents,” he said, adding that the water supply will be greatly improved under a new three-year programme. Even before the tsunami struck , many people in severely affected parts of the country had limited access to basic essentials like safe drinking, water and proper sanitation UNICEF has also established a Water and Sanitation Desk at the Colombo office and has developed a multimillion-dollar Water Supply, Sanitation and Hygiene Promotion Plan of Action.

Since the tsunami, UNICEF has used funds from ECHO, Japan and other donors to provide a total of 16 water bowsers and 285 water tanks, 100,000 bottles of water, 50 tons of water treatment chemicals, and 25,000 water purification kits. Furthermore, thousands of squatting plates for latrines were procured, and six gully emptiers which have been critical for the disposal of human waste as well as 60 pumps for cleaning wells have been distributed. UNICEF has also supported the construction of over 1,000 temporary toilets in camps, schools and home communities as well as bathing facilities in the northern and eastern parts of the country.



Video report

March 2005:
UNICEF Correspondent Rob McBride reports on the provision of safe drinking water to families in Sri Lanka

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