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posted 06/16/05


Indian Ocean Tsunami Reports From the Field

Social Challenges

May 9, 2005
The southern tip of Sri Lanka

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

Many non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are addressing the psycho-social trauma that so many of the victims are still facing. In our meetings, this issue has repeatedly been identified as one of the most daunting challenges communities will face as they struggle to rebuild their lives.

In one devastated site on the East Coast (Arugam Bay), an NGO representative described to us the sharp increase in alcoholism and suicide that has occurred since the tsunami. It is hoped that rebuilding and strengthening livelihoods will help people cope with their trauma and losses. However, managing these issues will require long-term psycho-social support programs for all members of the affected community.

Matara, Sri Lanka

Guillermo Franco with tsunami refugees at a temporary camp near Batticaloa. Photo credit: Bijan Khazai

We met a little boy, about 10 years old, on a beach in the East. The whole time we were talking to him, his brow was furrowed, and his jaw jutted forward, making him look like a weary old man. He only stopped to smile for a picture.

On a beach in the South, on one of the first days of our trip along the coast, I met a woman who was sifting through rubble. Our interpreter was far away so we could only communicate through gestures. Through the movement of her hands, she showed us: baby, lifted 3 fingers, then made a sweeping motion to the ocean. She lost her 3-year-old child to the tsunami.

Another day we were interviewing a group of refugees in a resettlement camp. Through the interpreter we asked about the sanitary conditions and bathroom facilities in the camp. Three women in the group simultaneously wrinkled up their noses. No translation necessary — we all knew what they meant.


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