Thursday, January 06, 2005

University of Peradeniya

One of the places that I had the readiest access, where the students were mobilized and already organized was the University of Peradeniya ( I used to teach here). I also sought out other Universities. Given the information focus that we had with the Internet Resource Centers (IRC), it was good to build links with these groups. They have internet access frequently, and computers and have lots of local knowledge (particulary as they receive students from all regions) and they are at least nominally non-sectarian. They are also grossly underfunded.

Undergraduate groups in the University of Peradeniya had responded magnificently to the tragedy – they had gone in and done the work of clean up in places in the East (Batticaloa, Ampara) and South (Hambantota, Tangalle) in a selfless, organized and effective manner. The student work was initially by Medical students but thereafter joined by Engineering and other students. By the second week into the tragedy, the Engineering students had identified needs, and come up with low-cost designs and prototypes for water treatment, toilets, stoves and temporary housing. They dispatched these rapidly to all the places that I listed and more. I provided them with some funds and two digital cameras. The funds to be used for enabling transport, meals etc - The funds were routed through a faculty oversight committee – one of the chairs is prof. Keethi Walgama and I know from working there previously and I know that it shall be used well. I told them that we would like to have reports back and requested them to document there work as much as possible as it shall be then possible to raise additional funds. They are to report back to me.

I talked with some of the students and in the environmental engineering laboratory, the techinicians and students gave me their design for the water treatment plant.

On the 6th of January, the Engineering Faculty had organized a workshop on reconstruction. The press was there for the opening with the Vice Chancellor, Kapila Goonasekera. He stayed to the very end of the seminar going into lunch.

There had been other meetings and they are now acting in a concerted way to bring all the resources of the University to help with relief and reconstruction.

I made or renewed various other good contacts in the University in Peradeniya (Susantha Pathirana, TDMA Samuel, M. Ranaweera, SBS Abayakoon, Jayalath Edirisinghe, Keerthi Walgama, P. Wickramagamage, Lakshman Dissanayake, Mowjood, Mahinda Alahakoon, Ranjith Premalal De Silva, Giragama).

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Getting Oriented

I reached Sri Lanka last morning to see how I could assist in the aftermath of the Tsunami relief - for three weeks on leave from work - I found that there was a huge demand for scientific expertise from every direction - and while I am not a geologist, I am well situated to do much given our past work particularly with case study for Sri Lanka on hotspots project and a detailed proposal from last year for disaster risk idenification. I hope to also visit the coast inEast and South soon to see first hand.

In pursuit of the first objective
we set up websites to enable the traffic of email among many informally querying for ways to fund, ways to volunteer, request for assistance into an .

Two savvy techies - Vidhura Ralapanawe and Neil Devadasan are just working our of their heart on this - now we are trying to look for ways in linking up to people who are offline by helping to set up offices in afflicted areas and distributing content in printed form in Sinhala and
Tamil from the web.