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Sarvodaya response to the national calamity: Tsunami hits Sri Lanka

The Buddhist Channel, Dec 31, 2004

Colombo, Sri Lanka -- Sri Lanka was hit by a massive tsunami on December 26 around 8 am, caused by an earthquake in Indonesia (9.0 magnitude on the Richter scale).

More than 22,000 people are feared to have died (as of 12/29/04), but the estimates could go even higher as updates come in. More than 1 million are displaced or homeless. This is the biggest natural disaster to hit Sri Lanka in recent history. This particular wave came up slowly, rising sixteen times during the day, causing most of the destruction as it receded back into the ocean.

Sri Lanka had a three-day holiday weekend and many people had been visiting relatives or had taken a trip to the beach. It is therefore even more challenging to determine the full impact of the tsunami, since thousands of people are missing, unaccounted for or far from home. December being peak tourist season for Sri Lanka an unknown number of foreign tourists have been affected.

Communication is presently difficult to impossible. Getting an accurate assessment of the devastation?s extent is difficult. Phone landlines and mobile phone connections are virtually non-existent in many parts of the country and the electricity supply has been cut off. Even police and rescue teams cannot reach many affected areas. Rumours are spreading and misinformation is becoming rampant.

A call to action

Donations, financial and in kind, are needed for most pressing immediate relief efforts.
Thousands of people have lost their jobs or will lose their jobs as, for example, many tourists might leave the island in the next few days and weeks.
Mobilizing counselors: Psychological trauma counseling needs will arise in the near future as people are trying to cope with life after the initial shock.
Long-term rebuilding of vital infrastructure: sanitation, water, electricity and public services have been wiped out and need to be rebuilt. This requires a long-term financial commitment beyond the initial clean-up and first response effort.
Please check the webpage www.sarvodaya.lk on how to donate.

Destruction in The Coastal areas

Sri Lanka?s coastal areas were the hardest hit. The most affected are the poorest of the poor who live very close to the beach, often sandwiched in-between the sand and the train tracks or road. The proximity to the waterline and the vulnerability of their wooden huts left thousands of people dead and 1 million homeless without access to even the most basic necessities. Although exact numbers are not available yet, women and children are bearing the brunt of the disaster.

The Eastern, North-eastern and Southern side of the island were the most affected, especially the populated area around the city of Jaffna. Many areas on the Eastern Coast are very remote and inaccessible and information is scarce. The cities of Matara, Hambantota and Galle on the Western side were very heavily affected as well. Coastal roads and train lines have been destroyed and it is currently virtually impossible to physically reach the most affected areas. The road to Galle has been closed some 80km south of Colombo.


Getting to the affected areas is still the biggest challenge. Collecting bodies and cremating or burying them is crucial to avoid further health problems.

Sarvodaya?s response:

Sarvodaya?s reputation makes them the prime partner for foreign aid and donor agencies to disperse relief funds and makes Sarvodaya an important partner in the current disaster response efforts.

As soon as the news of the disaster reached the Sarvodaya headquarters on Sunday morning December 26, the special disaster management unit began to receive reports from the Sarvodaya district offices in the affected areas.

For many years Sarvodaya has experience responding to natural disasters like floods, droughts and landslides. Sarvodaya has the infrastructure to deal with disasters of this nature although nothing of this magnitude has been seen in Sri Lanka before. With its unique structure of 35 district coordinators and 360 divisional coordinators it is very well connected to the grass roots. Sarvodaya?s reputation in the community makes them a trusted partner in its outreach activities.

In addition Sarvodaya can draw on and mobilize over 100,000 volunteers from Shanti Shena, the ?peace brigade?. Shanti Shena has trained young people between 18 to 30 years of age to deliver first aid to villages and organize the ?village to village heart to heart? peace dialogue.

WHAT HAS been done so far:

Dr. Ariyaratne and other officials met in the afternoon of December 26 and decided to establish two disaster relief centres in the Colombo area. One is at the Sarvodaya Nagarodaya Centre and the other is in Moratuwa at Sarvodaya headquarters.

Sarvodaya field offices provide vital feedback about the scope of the disaster and the immediate needs in their community. Relief and first response efforts are coordinated here around the clock, having started around 2 p.m. on Sunday, December 26.

A team of senior Sarvodaya staff and volunteers have been sent to affected districts, such as Matara, Galle, Hambantota, Batticloa immediately. Their role is to provide assistance to the district coordinators as they respond to their communities? most basic needs. The necessary instructions have been given to make sure the district offices are empowered to do what is needed.

District Linking Plan: An immediate, concrete action plan based on each communities particular needs has been implemented, including the removing of dead bodies or assisting in health posts and hospitals.

Collecting donations: Sarvodaya is collecting clothes, food, and other goods. Community support keeps coming in at all times from the larger Colombo urban area. Medical supplies are collected and sent to places where they are most needed.

The business community and professional associations, like the medical community, are also stepping up to the challenge and have offered direct help through the Sarvodaya network structure.

Larger national and international relief organizations are in the process of finalizing their arrangements for support through Sarvodaya.

Medical emergency help: Immediate response teams have been sent to the affected districts by car where it is safe to drive.

Medical students and first aid volunteers are providing immediate relief at emergency shelters in the Moratuwa area.

50 medical doctors have joined the effort organized from here.

In Moratuwa alone there are some 3000 people reported to be displaced and have sought shelter in temples and churches. They have been provided with immediate food, relief and water as much as possible.

There are hundreds of Sarvodaya villages in each district directly affected by the tsunami. They expect some form of direct, fast and immediate assistance from Sarvodaya in the time of need. Sarvodaya villages not directly affected want to help those in other Sarvodaya villages as well as neighbouring communities not a part of Sarvodaya.

Financial Assistance
For Foreign remittance
Account Name Lanka Jathika Sarvodaya Shramadana Sangamaya (Inc.)
Account No Acct. No 159000 8015
Account Currency US Dollars
Bank Commercial Bank of Ceylon Ltd.
Branch Moratuwa
Address No.116, Galle Road, Moratuwa, Sri Lanka

Contact Us
Sarvodaya HQ
No98, Rawatawatta Road,
Moratuwa, Sri Lanka
Phone +9411 2655 255
+9411 2655 110
Fax +9411 2656 512
Web: http://www.sarvodaya.lk/

Look for the following to make a donation. [There seem to be some bad links in the web site, so look for this on their web site or use the link provided here:]

People who wish make money donations online can do their donations by using MasterCard please click here (VISA card payments will be activated only after 9:00am (Sri Lanka Time) 30-December)

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