Thursday, January 27, 2005

Highlights of the Visit to Sri Lanka

I had got to Sri Lanka one week after the disaster. A country of 20 million which was in dire straits had organized itself to bury the dead and feed, shelter and nurse the surviving. No one died of starvation. The doubling of deaths due to epidemics that WHO warned of did not come to pass.

But it was also clear that the relief efforts needed coordination, better targetting and there needed to be a better way to link those who wanted to help with those who could use the help.

In addition, there was a great need for credible scientific information of new hazards, threats and of ways to deal with the Tsunami's aftermath. It was to the tasks of helping organize, provide credible scientific information and actual relief that I applied myself.

I was able to visit four of the worst affected districts, talk with the survivors, and to that band of the selfless who materialized to help with no publicity, organizing themself efficiently and resourcefully. This also set the stage for future contributions to relief.

Without any solicitation, many friends pitched in when they found that I was going to Sri Lanka and they asked me that the funds be be given directly. Their generosity enabled me to build up links with six groups that did relief work with little resources. I can recommend these groups for your support, being confident that 100% of funds shall be used to support these groups in a a transparent and acountable manner. If you wish to support these efforts please write to slmohn@sltnet.lk which is the email address of the Sri Lanka Meteorology, Oceanography and Hydrology Network.

Our work of building networks of professionals through the Internet continued through the first month. We have been able to build dossiers responding directly to the needs for relief and reoconstruction. For example, how does one build an emergency water treatment system on the cheap, is there a real risk of epidemics, what can one do regarding the flooding that was compounding relief.

We tried hard to communicate information through the websites and even more widely through a 30 minutes presentation that I taped for Sri Lanka's MTV and through the newspapers. One of the articles was carried in todays Island.

The three weeks that I spent in Sri Lanka helped build a base for programs of direct assistance. At the end, with 38,000 dead, ten times that many homeless, hundreds of thousands of livelihoods compromised and the infrastructure in tatters, there is such need that it shall take many decades to mitigate even in the best of circumstances.