2004 tsunami in Sri Lanka

THE TSUNAMI SHOCK WAS A WAKE-UP CALL

The tsunami hit an unprepared Sri Lanka. Political decisions should now prepare the country better for future disasters.

(17/11) When the 2004 tsunami rolled over Sri Lanka, it destroyed 70 per cent of the eastern and southern coasts. 31,000 people died, of whom 12,000 were children. Many hundreds of thousands of people were left homeless. On top of this, the arduously resolved civil war literally bubbled up again: In the form of thousands of landmines washed up from the water on to land. Fresh and drinking water was contaminated even inland, fields were salted, trees uprooted. Access to tsunami areas was almost impossible: Tracks and roads were destroyed, truck drivers refused to make the journey out of fear of further tsunamis.

A new house set back from the sea. Many coastal families feel secure again, ten years on from the disaster.
A new house set back from the sea. Many coastal families feel secure again, ten years on from the disaster. © Brockmann
What is a tsunami, how can I recognise one and what do I do to save myself from it? Today, schools teach the answers.
What is a tsunami, how can I recognise one and what do I do to save myself from it? Today, schools teach the answers. © Brockmann
Not everyone trusts the sea again. Those who do go out are connecting with old traditions.
Not everyone trusts the sea again. Those who do go out are connecting with old traditions. © Brockmann
Rich harvests: Fishermen are once again bringing fish home.
Rich harvests: Fishermen are once again bringing fish home. © Brockmann

 

Sri Lanka was not prepared for such a disaster

The tsunami caused around two billion US dollars worth of damage in Sri Lanka alone. The fishing industry was hit particularly hard, likewise the tourism industry. The people on the coast who brought in the majority of the national fish supply could not return to their destroyed villages and harbours.

The government declared a 100 to 200-metre-broad protection zone from the sea. In the north of Sri Lanka, in the Tamil area, this zone was up to 500 metres broad. Many people, however, did not want to return, for fear of new tsunamis.

Until the 2004 tsunami, droughts, floods and storms were the biggest dangers for the people in Sri Lanka. As in many other countries in the region, there was no efficient tsunami early warning system. At the time of the disaster, the national diasaster centre did not have an adequate mandate and was certainly not designed for emergencies of this order. The tsunami also had a political impact in Sri Lanka.

Immediately, cooperation with the internationally-active Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre was initiated, which was also increasingly active in South East Asia. A national disaster management programme was developed, a ministry for disaster management created and, with support from the UNDP, a “Road Map for a Safer Sri Lanka” developed, a programme for the management of risks.

Video: 10 years after the tsunami - what has been achieved?

10 years after the tsunami. How do the people in Sri Lanka live with the danger from the sea today? Learn how long-term aid can be a success when working together with local partners.

The tsunami was a shock that acted as a wake-up call

The 2004 tsunami was a wake-up call for governments across the world. Many began to seriously invest in national disaster management for the first time. The international community recognised that different countries are vulnerable to extreme events in different ways and that the risks must, therefore, be counteracted individually.

Sri Lanka made political decisions for disaster management. But the system does not yet work perfectly. Particularly in the areas of financing, town planning and an effective early warning system, more work is needed. In addition, in disaster provison and for future immediate emergency aid measures, the needs of all population groups must be taken equally into account, in order to avoid injustices and tensions.

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2004 tsunami
Map: coastal regions affected by the 2004 tsunami.
Coastal regions affected by the 2004 tsunami. Click on the image to enlarge it.

The tsunami caused disasters in eight countries - more than 1.7 million people became homeless.