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Tsunami disaster – countries in crisis

Quick funding from ECHO saves lives in Sri Lanka

© UNICEF Sri Lanka/2005/Dan Thomas
A Sri Lankan schoolboy peeps out of a tent provided by ECHO

By Feizal Samath

COLOMBO, 6 May 2005 - When the tsunami hit Sri Lanka on December 26, 2004, the European Community’s Humanitarian Aid Office (ECHO) was one of the first international organisations to respond.

With UNICEF as its partner, ECHO provided quick funding for basic needs like water and sanitation for the survivors.

“For survival, water is one of the elements needed for people and during a disaster you will have wells destroyed and contaminated. Access to safe drinking water is curtailed and this is what you need to bring back to the people immediately,” explained Cristiano Mandra, Head of ECHO’s South Asia Office, in an interview in Colombo.

ECHO and UNICEF had an established  long-term relationship which was crucial in allowing both organizations to swiftly respond to the enormous humanitarian needs in the aftermath of the tsunami. 

ECHO’s Mandra, who is based in New Delhi, said soon after the December 26 disaster ECHO’s Brussels headquarters immediately deployed ECHO staff to assess the scale of destruction and the needed assistance.

© UNICEF Sri Lanka/2005/Dan Thomas
Schoolchildren use an ECHO-funded water tanker to wash plates

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

The effectiveness of this relationship is seen in far off places like Mullaitivu on the northeast coast, more than 400 km from the capital Colombo. Here, rows of new standpipes, latrines, water tanks and general-use tarpaulins provided to transit camps are ready to help families, particularly children, recover from the disaster.

At the Kallaru school in Killinochchi children play in front of a water tank as others drink clean water from the attached tap. A teacher reminds them not to waste water. It is clear that life is gradually returning to normal for these children, many of who have lost loved ones in the tsunami.

Provision of safe drinking water and sanitation has not only saved lives but also averted an outbreak of disease.

“If you can imagine, with a disaster the damage that is caused, the rubble leaves a lot of contaminated water,” noted Mandra, “you also take care of providing safe water but also of disposing of contaminated water in a safe way.”

Asked whether the ECHO effort was a life-saving intervention, he said: “Absolutely. People need safe drinking water to live.”



Video interview

ECHO’s Cristiano Mandra explains how the ECHO/UNICEF partnership in Sri Lanka helped save lives after the tsunami

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