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Tsunami disaster – countries in crisis

Restoring water and sanitation in hard-hit Ampara province

© UNICEF Sri Lanka/2005/Grusovin
UNICEF has provided a clean water supply for people, like this girl from Islamabad, who have lost their homes.

ISLAMABAD, Sri Lanka, 25 January 2005 - There are few familiar landmarks remaining for the children playing among the wreckage of this fishing village on Sri Lanka’s beautiful eastern coast. The tsunami swept most of them away, destroying homes and schools – and killing thousands of people.

“The tsunami's first wave was low and didn't have much power. But the second wave was huge. It was so strong it destroyed our house. My school is also completely destroyed,” says 15-year-old Safras.

The province of Ampara received the full force of the tsunami, which slammed into the coastline leaving 11,000 people dead and some 150,000 homeless. Of Ampara’s 25 districts, 11 were devastated.

Islamabad, in Kalmunai District in the north of the province, is one of several villages located on a 5 to 6 kilometre stretch where 8000 people were killed. Entire houses and buildings were flattened; wells were contaminated with sea water. The whole village is strewn with all manner of personal possessions. Prominent among the debris are red flags, normally used for signalling the presence of landmines, which were swept from a nearby military base.

© UNICEF Sri Lanka/2005/Grusovin
UNICEF officers monitor the progress of latrine construction for a new temporary shelter being built for tsunami survivors from the village of Islamabad.

Local consultations key to recovery plan

Ever since the tsunami hit, the children and other survivors here have being living in nearby schools further inland. The conditions are cramped and claustrophobic – made worse by the heavy monsoon rains that have lashed Sri Lanka in the last few weeks.

UNICEF and partners have already installed safe drinking water points, and begun construction of proper sanitation and bathing facilities for the new temporary shelters which will soon house thousands of people, including Safras. UNICEF is also working with the local water authorities to repair main pipes and systems.

“The people are extremely pleased with what we are doing here and we are taking their ideas into consideration continuously,” says the Head of Office for UNICEF in Ampara, I. A. Hameed. “They are pleased because it is their plan that we are putting into place.”

Quick action saved lives

In the immediate aftermath of the tsunami, UNICEF distributed chlorine, water purification tablets and water tanks, and has continued to support the Ministry of Urban Development and Water Supply in providing toilet and water facilities to 106 schools and 200 camps in the northeast and south of Sri Lanka.

Thanks to immunization and quick action on providing clean water, adequate sanitation and health monitoring, not a single child in Sri Lanka has died from the type of diseases that  normally claim lives when large numbers of people are forced to flee their homes.

The challenge now, according to I. A. Hameed, is to ensure children can return to school, and find new places for people to live. “People don’t want to stay in the schools because they know the importance of education. They want the children to go back to school but they have to work out alternative plans for where they are to go.”

In the longer term UNICEF will support the government in restoring permanent, sustainable water and sanitation systems and in extending the reach of existing services to benefit more children living in the tsunami zone.




25 January 2005: UNICEF’s Thomas Nybo reports on the success of UNICEF’s health and sanitation relief in Islamabad, Sri Lanka.

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