Sri Lanka after the Indian Ocean Tsunami:Tissa Vitarana. Introduction by chair: Presentation:

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1 Sri Lanka after the Indian Ocean Tsunami:Tissa Vitarana Introduction by chair: The forth speaker is Dr. Vitarana coming from Sri Lanka. He is Minister of Science and Technology of the country. He had worked as advisor to the Ministry of Science and Technology for a long time, and then assumed the Minister. He is also Doctor of Medicine, so we can hear a variety of experiences as a doctor. Especially, we expect to hear his personal experiences when the tsunami hit Sri Lanka. Presentation: Thank you Mr. Chairman. Actually, I planned to present at this forum last year. But as mentioned by Mr. Katayama in his opening remarks, election in Sri Lanka last year prevented me from attending the forum. Since one year has passed, I may be able to report on subsequent lessons, actions, etc. after the tsunami in more detail. Actually, Sri Lanka had not experienced big disaster before. We had minor disasters like floods, droughts, earthquake and lightening strikes in the past and cyclones sometimes move over Sri Lanka. We suffered small-scale damages, but had never experienced big-scale ones. We are accepted those disasters because of natural phenomena. Sri Lanka is a Buddhist country. So, people had accepted disasters with philosophical attitude. Suddenly, on December 26, 2004, big tsunami stuck our country. It is the first tome in our history that such big tsunami hit us. In this presentation, I would like to talk about the damage we suffered, the aftermath, initiatives by the Ministry of Science and Technology. Further, as we received much donation, I will mention what happened with the funds. This is outline of our country (Slide: 3). Sri Lanka locates at the top of east coast of India and its population is 20 million. Two-thirds of coastal line of Sri Lank incurred the damages by the tsunami, which rushed to the coast from Jaffna to Trincomalee and old city Colombo. The photos in right show our traditional fishing. People climb a tree to hook a fish, for example. This shows origin of the tsunami (Slide: 4). Earthquake occurred at interaction of Indian, Burmese, Australian, and Sunda tectonic plates, off the west coast of northern Sumatra. By being effected 1,000km of the sea bed, big tsunami was created. These are satellite s pictures of the tsunami (Slide: 5). You can see what happened then. In fact, when the tsunami comes, people ran to coastal line to see what happened. Then, the second tsunami rushed to strike many people. Let s see the actual outcome of the damage. It was the most devastating natural disaster 1

2 ever known in Sri Lanka and her people were totally unprepared for a tsunami. It hit almost 70% of the coastal area where one-fifths of the population live. Deaths account for 30,959 and injured people are 16,665. Missing is 5,240, who must be dead now. Displaced individuals account for 805,978 with displaced families 82,267. Number of houses destroyed is 82,320 and number of refugee camps is 798. I guess that Indonesia suffered serious damage. But if you consider population 20 millions of Sri Lanka, you can understand how devastating the tsunami was. Next, I would like to present the aftermath including opportunities arising thereafter, science and technology challenges and initiatives, and what happened to the donor funds. Large number of children and women were affected and one-thirds of the dead were actually children. A number of hospitals and schools were destroyed. There were many people who lost their property and livelihood such as boats. Tourist industry also incurred damage such as loss of hotels. First of all, many people still suffers psychological trauma because, by the sudden hit of tsunami, people lost everything including families and assets. We had many resettlement issues. A number of livestock escaped, which was one of biggest problem. Many wild animals also left the coastal area, now affecting the ecosystem. It is guessed that animals were able to perceive the tsunami. They escaped to go the high-land area. There were some tourists who watched escaping-animals and followed them, eventually getting out of damage. As for the economic impact, 250,000 Sri Lankans were in danger of falling into poverty. Particularly, hard hit were the fishermen whose boats and equipment were washed away and damaged I had an opportunity to attend the meeting in Kobe before. At that time, I reported about shortage of fishing boats. After that, we received much support such as boats and donation from many countries such as Japan. I would like to express my sincere thanks taking this opportunity. Number of small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) experienced much impact. In conclusion, we needed huge cost Rs. 5.2 billions for reconstruction. After the tsunami, reconstruction was of course a big challenge for the country. I was impressed by the sprit of people to assist to each other in the disaster. Temples actively provided space for refugee. The first action I took in the disaster areas was to secure clean water. Officials in charge of welfare were despatched to the disasters areas to take care of relief camps. Thanks to such efforts, we were able to go through without infectious diseases such as attack of dysentery. Reconstruction of electric, communication systems, roads, etc., started one week after the tsunami and was completed within several weeks. People from overseas told us that reconstruction of railroads would take at least six months, but we repaired them within two and half months. There were number of changes in Sri Lank as a result of the tsunami. First, disaster 2

3 conscious society has now evolved. In the whole school systems with 94% literacy rate, curriculum in free schools to universities was changed to incorporate disaster. The Disaster Management Act was passed by the Parliament. New codes of practice for disaster resistant building construction and media on communication in disaster situations were introduced. However, salinity level of ground water is still high, causing problem of potable water. Early Warning Centre for Tsunami has been identified as the Meteorological Department, which is connected 24 hrs a day and 7 days a week to the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) and the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center (PTWC). I recommended formation of an organization like the PTWC in international conferences, but there is one point that I don t agree. Currently, five countries, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Australia, are contributing to the Early Warning System. Real time connection is kept between them, and Hawaii Center of PTWC and JMA. This is not a satisfactory arrangement. I hope that the system protect all the Indian Ocean countries. Disasters have become an important issue and draws immediate attention of policy makers, politicians and officials after the tsunami. Next are the science and technology needs, challenges and initiatives. These include the early warning and monitoring system for all future disasters, creating public awareness, practical communication system to reach the people in an emergency. Development of inundation maps is under progress. Further, we are improving capabilities for mathematical model etc. with the assistance of Japan and Canada. Bathymetry studies are advancing with the assistance of Italy and the U.K. Restoration of coastal ecosystems is under way. US$ 500,000 was awarded through the regular budget of the National Science Foundation (NSF) for collaborative, multidisciplinary research projects. Harnessing the full potential of surveys carried out by foreign scientists was not successful. Further, science and technology needs and challenges include: survey of increased salinity of ground water, removal of debris, meeting the demand for construction material, especially sand. In parliament we have now controversies on buildings within 100m from coastline. In addition, we have still health issue, coast conservation issue, etc. Reconstruction status of houses is as follows. Number of houses damaged is 82,320, homeless families are 35,363. However, number of houses built so far is still 11,551 and houses under construction are 6,946. Roughly speaking, only 38 % houses for the needs are built at present. Taking this opportunity, I would like to mention one aspect, not a pleasant story. For Sri Lanka, Rs. 40 billion (US$ 400 million) donor funding (both local and foreign) was remitted and received by 256 NGOs. 73% of total foreign remittances were received by 30 (12%) NGOs. But, 85% of all funds received in bank accounts of these NGOs had been withdrawn 3

4 in NGOs pledged to construct 66,811 houses and the government provided infrastructure such as land, electricity, and loads. But, six months after they did not begin construction and their final agreement with the government was to build 16,487 houses. Moreover, in 2005, only 1,232 houses were completed by these NGOs. Another problem we encounter is our own political one. There are LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) controlled areas in north and east Sri Lank. But, the government supplies daily support such as medicines and schooling to these areas as well. Under the circumstances, special arrangement was agreed that the government would provide funding to the controlled area on a temporary basis. But, this issue was pursued in the parliament and became a big political problem brought in court. Lastly, I would like to add some comments. The tsunami brought serious damages to us, but it is also true that our people learned much lessons through it. I hope that Sri Lanka will introduce further mitigation measures for natural disasters. On the other hand, I believe that we can cope with natural disasters much better in the future. I think that it is very important to introduce best science, best technology and best equipment to prepare for disasters in not only Sri Lanka but all the countries in the world. The global environment is changing. There occur disasters (e.g. flood) that are never imaged before. Global warming brings new natural disasters. I believe that it is important for all countries to observe the Kyoto Protocol to minimize the effect by global warming. Thank you very much. Question and Answer: Q: Would you elaborate the frame work how the tsunami disaster arouses the awareness of your nations against disaster. You explained about the several steps like that the disaster management act passed and disaster management center is established. But my question is if, as you mentioned that Sri Lanka used to have rather minor disasters, these new concept and awareness include also those you have thought minor before. A: People who live in coastal areas have been always afraid of tsunami. There were the safe areas, even if 10m away from coast, not struck by the tsunami. If people knew the safety areas, they might escape from the tsunami. But, actually, when the tsunami came, people escaped to lower place and were captured by the tsunami. We are now working on the mapping project of the coastal area. Within the following six months or one year, we will prepare signs and etc. so that people can identify safe area and dangerous area in order to judge where to go to escape. People living in inland can also suffer tsunami disaster while he/she is in car or bus running coast areas. So, this message needs to expand to all the country. We can transmit information and warning on the landside-prone areas based on scientific knowledge through media. It is also 4

5 possible to inform people of flood-prone area. In response to the tsunami disaster this time, the government undertakes how to raise people s awareness for disasters. We are making effort to raise people s interest in and awareness for disasters and people s awareness is now rising. Based on the scientific knowledge, we are now implementing the nation-wide education and awareness campaign for disasters. Q (Continued): Thank you very much. I asked this question because tsunami disaster itself is very infrequent event. Maybe next ten or twenty generation, they may experience next tsunami. But in between you have more daily, usual disasters. I am happy to hear that awareness is raised to pay attention to common disaster. Q: You talked about education to younger students by introducing something about disaster into school curriculum. A: Program is going on quite actively. Already a team of national level was set up. Material was prepared in single language. The material was passed to the Department of Education so as to incorporate into school curriculum. Future generation will understand much more that disasters can occur and there is something that individual should do for disaster. 5

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