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Sri Lanka Bulletin No. 5 – 2nd of March 2005

02-03-2005 Operational Update

Latest report on ICRC activities in the field

The tsunami caused by the undersea earthquake that struck near Sumatra on 26 December 2004 devastated coastal areas in the north, east, south and south-west of Sri Lanka. More than 30,000 Sri Lankans lost their lives in the disaster, over 15,000 in the north and east. A further 500,000 people are currently displaced; over 150,000 of them are housed in welfare centres (mostly temples and schools) or tented transit camps, while the rest are staying with relatives or friends.

The ICRC, which has been present in northern and eastern Sri Lanka for 15 years, is coordinating the humanitarian response by components of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, including the German, French, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish and Swiss Red Cross Societies. It is also in charge of coordinating Movement efforts to restore family links in all countries affected by the disaster.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies is responsible for establishing strategy and laying down general operational guidelines for the whole region, in addition to coordinating specific operations in the south and south-west of Sri Lanka. Both the ICRC and the International Federation are working closely with the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society and the national and local authorities. (For more information on operations in Sri Lanka, please visit the Federation website, at )

The response to the disaster has gone beyond the initial emergency phase and efforts are now focusing on ensuring adequate mid-term shelter, health care, water and sanitation for the homeless. Work has also begun on pla nning and coordinating reconstruction and rehabilitation in the region. To that end, representatives of 28 National Red Cross Societies met on 18 and 19 February in Colombo with ICRC, International Federation and Sri Lanka Red Cross Society officials to coordinate the Movement’s approach and activities in the long term.


The ICRC is bringing aid to the survivors of the tsunami along the east coast of Sri Lanka, from the Jaffna region in the north to the Ampara district in the south. It is providing health care and supplies in existing medical facilities, temporary accommodation for the displaced, and support for water and sanitation facilities. It is also distributing household essentials, including hygiene items. In the early stages of the disaster response, ICRC teams and volunteers from the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society also helped survivors to restore contact with their families in the country and overseas.

 Economic security  

Working with the local authorities, the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society and the ICRC have delivered nearly 29,000 family kits to welfare centres and transit camps in the north and east of the country. Such kits typically contain mats, sheets, soap, towels, buckets, jerrycans and plastic dishes. In addition, over 50 welfare centres in the same areas have received cooking pots and utensils for communal cooking.

The ICRC has provided nearly 10,000 pieces of clothing to displaced families so far. It plans to provide 30,000 displaced families with monthly hygiene kits over a six-month period. The kits contain items such as soap, toothpaste, sanitary towels, bath towels and mosquito coils.

 Water and habitat  

The ICRC is supplying 5,000 te nts to displaced families, enabling them to move from emergency welfare centres to transit camps in the districts of Jaffna, Kilinochchi, Mullaittivu, Trincomalee, Batticaloa and Ampara. Over 3,800 tents have been set up so far.

In addition, the ICRC has distributed over 6,700 tarpaulins. It has also provided temporary communal kitchens in some camps, as requested by the local authorities.

The ICRC has provided latrines and water distribution systems and washing facilities in transit camps, cleaned and chlorinated wells and installed water tanks at several welfare centres, and built latrines and upgraded existing sanitation facilities in cooperation with the local authorities in Mullaittivu, Kilinochchi, Trincomalee and Batticaloa. The Swedish Red Cross is carrying out a well-cleaning program in Pottuvil, in the southern part of Ampara District, while four ICRC well-cleaning teams are operating in the Batticaloa area. The German Red Cross is operating a water treatment system in Komari, distributing up to 120,000 litres of clean water per day to communities and displaced people in the area. The Italian Red Cross has installed a water purification plant with a capacity of 3,400 litres per hour for camps in the Batticaloa area. The ICRC has also agreed to furnish the National Water Supply and Drainage Board with 480 tonnes of aluminium sulphate to purify drinking water.

An ICRC water and sanitation team has carried out emergency repairs to the existing wards of Mullaittivu hospital and supplied tents to increase the hospital’s capacity. It is also providing temporary on-site accommodation for nurses and other staff who lost their homes in the disaster.

 Health services  

The ICRC has dispatched a 21-member medical team to Puthukkudiyiruppu hospital. The team, some of whose members have been seconded by the German Red Cro ss, includes surgeons, anaesthetists, a general practitioner, a paediatrician, a gynaecologist, a physiotherapist, lab and X-ray technicians, midwives, nurses and administrators. The hospital has been given 100 tonnes of supplies as well. The ICRC has also deployed a three-person medical team comprising a ward nurse, a midwife and a doctor to Pallai Divisional Hospital.

The Finnish Red Cross has treated over 300 patients in the tent clinic it opened on 5 January in an area south of Komari, in Ampara district. It has also sent mobile health units to the emergency welfare centres in the area and is now providing assistance to a local government health dispensary. With the end of the first phase of the emergency response, the Finnish Red Cross is now refocusing its efforts on support to local health facilities. Also in Ampara district, a French Red Cross health care unit is providing basic treatment, dental services and a dispensary for over 110 patients per day at Arguam Bay.

The Norwegian Red Cross has set up a basic health care unit in Eachchilampattai in Trincomalee district; the unit provides outpatient consultations, maternity care, public health services and minor surgery for the 10,000 residents of the area.

The Italian Red Cross has set up a field hospital in Vakarai for paediatric, gynaecological, basic health care and emergency services, and deployed five mobile health units to surrounding villages to improve access to health care for the rural population.

The ICRC has also set up a number of large tents in welfare centres and transit camps for use as medical facilities and provided material such as medicines, medical equipment and dressings to hospitals in Batticaloa, Trincomalee, Kilinochchi, Mullaitivu and Vavuniya.

About 250 Sri Lanka Red Cross volunteers in Batticaloa district are being trained in health education by the ICRC so that they can be deployed in welfare centres and transit camps. In Kilinochchi and Mullaittivu, over 50 Red Cross community health workers paid by the ICRC are providing first aid and health education services to displaced families. The workers had just received their certification in late December when the tsunami struck; they were often among the first on the scene to provide primary medical care to survivors.

The Danish Red Cross is now holding the second in a series of 10-day training sessions to help Sri Lanka Red Cross volunteers provide psychological support services in areas affected by the tsunami.

 Restoring family links  

Immediately following the disaster, the ICRC set up 12 mobile teams to help restore family links between survivors and their relatives. The teams, which were established in cooperation with the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society and with the participation of tracing experts from the Netherlands, Australia, the United Kingdom, the United States and Israel, have visited over 300 welfare centres in the districts of Colombo, Galle, Matara, Tangalle, Hambantota, Ampara, Batticaloa, Trincomalee, Kilinochchi and Mullaittivu. They have enabled displaced people to make over 1,700 satellite telephone calls – the majority to relatives overseas – and collected 417 “I Am Alive” messages that have been posted on a special ICRC web site and published in the Sri Lankan media. More than 50 particularly vulnerable people have been actively traced and contact with their families restored through Red Cross messages. With the speedy restoration of normal communication channels in Sri Lanka, tsunami-related tracing activities have been scaled back.

In the last two weeks, the ICRC has started distributing mail kits containing stamps, envelopes, paper and pens to families in certain areas, allowing them to stay in touch with relatives and at the same time write about the events and thus g ive vent to their emotions.

 ICRC staff and offices  

At present, the ICRC has 95 expatriate and 380 national employees in Sri Lanka. It has offices in Colombo, Ampara, Batticaloa, Trincomalee, Muthur, Vavuniya, Mannar, Kilinochchi, Puthukkudiyiruppu and Jaffna.

Since 26 December, the ICRC in Sri Lanka has:

  •  dispatched a 21-member medical team (many on loan from the German Red Cross) to Puthukkudiyiruppu hospital;

  •  set up over 3,800 tents for displaced families (another 1,200 tents will be set up in the coming weeks);

  •  distributed over 6,000 tarpaulins;

  •  delivered nearly 29,000 family kits containing mats, sheets, soap, towels, buckets, jerrycans and plastic dishes;

  •  distributed over 10,000 articles of clothing to displaced people;

  •  taken steps to provide monthly hygiene kits to 30,000 families over a six-month period;

  •  provided drinking water and sanitation facilities in 13 transit camps;

 enabled displaced people to make over 1,700 satellite telephone calls to their families, and collected 417 “I Am Alive” messages. 


 For further information, please contact:  

 Bernard Barrett, ICRC Colombo, tel.: ++9411 250 33 46/7 or ++94 773 15 74 92  

 Vincent Lusser, ICRC Geneva, tel. + 41 22 730 24 26 / + 41 79 217 32 64