News Archive

posted 06/13/05


Indian Ocean Tsunami Reports From the Field

Relief Effort Sometimes Lacked Coordination

May 9, 2005
The southern tip of Sri Lanka

By Guillermo Franco, Cristina Rumbaitis del Rio, Bijan Khazai and J. Carter Ingram

From talking with NGOs, government officials and field officers, it is apparent that coordination of relief and recovery activities has been weak in some areas.

For instance, in one district, records were not kept as to which wells had been pumped to remove contaminated saline water.  As a result, wells were repeatedly pumped by several NGO’s. This over-pumping led to an increase in the salinity of the well water and exacerbated the need for freshwater to be brought in to camps.

Matara, Sri Lanka

Because of the tsunami, many wells became contaminated with salt water. A lack of coordination among good-intentioned parties led to overpumping of some wells and increased salinity of well water. Photo credit: Cristina Rumbaitis-del Rio

In some districts the coordinating authority is the district government, while in others it is the United Nations or an NGO. This lack of a central coordinating authority across all districts is certainly a cause for concern and confusion.

We visited a refugee camp near Batticaloa, where the people were mostly Tamil-speaking Hindus that had been displaced from their lands 12 years ago as a result of the political conflict, and had also suffered some losses as a result of the tsunami. One young man, who spoke some English, yelled at us, asking us why U.S. officials visited Southern Sri Lanka but not the East, why the South got most of the aid, while the East, which was harder hit, got less. “Aren’t we the same people?” he asked repeatedly.



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