Tuesday, January 11, 2005

The Kalmunai Situation

Kalmunai Relief Committee

Kalmunai was the area in Sri Lanka that was affected first by the Tsunami and suffered the heaviest losses. Indeed, the worst affected region in terms of deaths is the eastern coast of the Ampara district (just is below Batticaloa in the Eastern Province) which stretches from Pottuvil in the South to Kalmunai in the East. They had serious problems – and were not well organized – they did not even have the resources or the access that the Eastern University had in Batticaloa. Also as they were initially neglected by the Sri Lankan national media they had created a website
to get their information.

I contacted two persons who were dealing with the flooding situation in the Amparai district. I met one of this a Dr. Maheez who is in regular life the Dean of the Faculty of Unani Medicine at the Institute of Indigenous Medicine of the University of Colombo. He had located himself in Kalmunai and was coordinating relief work – Kalmunai is one of the affected towns located in the middle of the Ampara Districts coast line – teams of workers would come in volunteering from outside – there was a JVP team from Gampaha, University groups, community groups – they were fulsome in praise for my own village for the rapid, repeated response in terms of provision, help in burials, etc. This had been a surprise to me – I know the folks in my village as hard-charging money-minders and accumulators and its been pleasant as to how immediate and generous they were. I guess I must have also underestimated the power of information – my village is a crossroads of a different sorts – people go out from here to set up trading posts in the breadth of the country and now with telecommunication facilities being what it is – we have instant first hand reports from all areas – Akurana is far better informed of what goes on due to this personal links than many others who are less cosmopolitan and tend to get there news from TV. I think all this shows the great power of credible information from trusted sources.

To support Maheez, there was also another person, whom I know from my work in the climate field a Senior Lecturer in Agricultural Engineering at the University of Peradeniya (Dr. Mowjood). There were the two persons coordinating the effort in Maruthomunai area (suffered about 4000 deaths). They were beginning to get organized with offices, computers and so on. I spent some time convincing them that they needed to connect the computers to the Internet with dial up – they are working through the website
- but this is not an organizational tool at the moment – there was a young technical student there who was running the office and he seemed capable o keeping things going. I provided $300 and gave them a digital camera – suggesting that they use it for infrastructure for organization. The key need they had was for people who give technical advice to the volunteers on how to deal with contaminated sites, how to do low-cost road repair, priorities in all these, IT support etc. When things settle down and they are less busy, I shall try to follow up there.