The Asian Tsunami
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The Asian Tsunami

Aid and Reconstruction after a Disaster

Sisira Jayasuriya and Peter McCawley

The 2004 Asian tsunami was the greatest natural disaster in recent times. Almost 230 000 people died. In response, governments in Asia and the broader international community announced large aid programs. The resulting assistance effort was one of the largest humanitarian programs ever organized in the developing world. This book discusses the lessons of the aid effort for disaster protection policy in developing countries.
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Chapter 5: Sri Lanka

Sisira Jayasuriya and Peter McCawley


1 The earthquake that caused the tsunami on 26 December 2004 occurred at 6:59 am Sri Lanka time with the first large wave hitting the east coast at 8:35 am. Within a very short time over 36 000 people were dead (this total includes the 5644 who remain classified as ‘missing’), and several hundred thousand had been displaced. Massive damage was also inflicted on thousands of houses and other buildings, railways, bridges, communication networks, and other infrastructure and capital assets. Although Sri Lanka had experienced periodic droughts, floods, landslides, and the occasional cyclone, in recorded history it had never experienced a tsunami, or indeed any other type of natural disaster of this scale and magnitude.2 Although the country was completely unprepared for a disaster of this scale, the relief effort that got underway almost immediately – initially organized by local communities, followed by the government and international agencies – was able to feed, clothe, and shelter survivors; provide the injured with medical attention; and ensure that the thousands of bodies were cremated or buried, avoiding any disease outbreaks. The initial response is generally agreed to have been a success despite the understandable confusion which accompanied this effort at times. However, as an earlier study of this issue discussed (Jayasuriya, Steele and Weerakoon 2006), it became clear as the reconstruction and rehabilitation phase proceeded that moving from the immediate relief effort to addressing the massive reconstruction tasks posed a different set of challenges that was in many ways more complex. The...

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