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Tsunami disaster – countries in crisis

Sri Lanka: Focus of tsunami recovery is shifting to ‘bricks-and-mortar’ reconstruction

© UNICEF Sri Lanka/2005/Posings
Thanks in part to a swift response by UNICEF and its partners, no child has died post-tsunami as a result of displacement-related diseases.

In this interview, UNICEF Communication Officer in Sri Lanka Geoff Keele talks about the challenges that the organization and its partners faced in the days immediately after the tsunami, the progress that’s been made since then, and the work that lies ahead.

TRINCOMALEE, Sri Lanka, December 2005 – “Hundreds of thousands of families had to flee their homes and the areas where they lived. Schools were being used as camps to house all these displaced people. Children couldn’t get back into a lot of the essential services they needed, like schools, like hospitals. All of this was destroyed along with their homes. Documents were washed away. People were just left with nothing.

“And so there was an immediate need to rebuild those services very quickly. First of all – health services. UNICEF was able to get enough health supplies to 150,000 people within the first 72 hours, to the country and out into the field. But at the same time we were also looking to the future and what was going to be needed to build all of the really essential infrastructure for children.”

Donors’ generosity

“We provided school supplies for 200,000 children, we built 50,000 desks and chairs, we built 200 ‘temp school’ shelters, and we got those kids back to school. And we were only able to do that because of the generosity of donors. We’re thankful because the donors really came out in force and supported UNICEF in getting us the funds and the resources we needed to do the best job possible here.

“In the immediate emergency relief phase, UNICEF, our NGO partners, other UN agencies and the government worked very well. No child died post-tsunami as a result of displacement-related diseases like diarrhoea, typhoid, cholera – all of that was prevented. And that is something everybody involved in this relief operation should be proud of.”

A long-term commitment

“If we can focus now on the bricks-and-mortar rebuilding of the country, hand-in-hand with the psychological rebuilding of the children, then one to three years from now we’re going to have a situation where this country is not only back on its feet, but in a lot of areas we will have been able to ‘build back better’.

“We’ve been able to take old schools, without services or toilets for the children, and turn them into child-friendly schools with computer labs, with more teachers, with more space. This is the kind of work that we’re doing now.

“But what’s important to remember is that we’re only a part of the way there. It’s one year that’s gone by, but this is a long-term commitment. We’ve been working here since the 1950s, we’ve had an office here since the 1970’s, and the rebuilding process will take many more years.”




UNICEF Communication Officer Geoff Keele talks about Sri Lanka’s tsunami recovery, its progress to date, and the future.

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Official updates

Children and the Tsunami, A Year On:
A Draft UNICEF Summary of What Worked [PDF]

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