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Sri Lanka bulletin No. 4 – 25 February 2005

25-02-2005 Operational Update

Latest report on ICRC activities in the field

Most of Sri Lanka's coastline was devastated by the tsunami that struck the country on 26 December. Over 30,000 people died on the island as a result of the disaster, more than half of them in the north and east. Of the approximately 500,000 people currently displaced, more than 150,000 are housed in welfare centres (mostly temples and schools) or tented transit camps, while the rest are staying mainly with relatives or friends.

The ICRC, which has been present in northern and eastern Sri Lanka for 15 years, is coordinating the humanitarian response deployed in those areas 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 the countries affected by the disaster.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies is responsible for setting 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 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 initial emergency phase of the response to the disaster is now coming to an end. Efforts are currently focusing on ensuring adequate mid-term shelter, health care, water and sanitation for the people made homeless.    

Meanwhile, work has begun on planning and coordinating the longer-term reconstruction and rehabilitation of the affected areas. Representatives of about 30 National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies met on 18 and 19 February in Colombo with ICRC, Federation and Sri Lanka Red Cross officials to coordinate the approach and activities of the Red Cross Movement over the longer term.    


The ICRC is bringing aid to the survivors of the tsunami along the eastern coast of Sri Lanka from the Jaffna region in the north to the Ampara district in the south. The organization is providing health care and support for existing medical facilities, in addition to 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, along with volunteers from the Sri Lanka Red Cross, also helped survivors to restore contact with their families within the country and overseas.



Working with the local authorities, the Sri Lanka Red Cross and the ICRC had more than 27,000 family kits delivered to welfare centres and transit camps in the north and east of the country. Such kits typically contain floor mats, bedsheets, soap, towels, buckets, jerrycans and plastic dishes. In addition, over 50 welfare centres in the same regions were provided with pots and utensils for communal cooking.

Nearly 10,000 articles of clothing have been distributed so far to displaced families. The ICRC has also agreed to supply 30,000 such families with monthly hygiene kits over a six-month period. The kits conta in soap, toothpaste, sanitary towels, bath towels, mosquito coils, etc.


The ICRC will provide 5,000 tents for displaced families to enable them to move from emergency welfare centres to transit camps in the districts of Jaffna, Kilinochchi, Mullaittivu, Trincomalee, Batticaloa and Ampara. Over 3,000 tents have been set up so far. Over 6,700 tarpaulins have also been distributed.

 Water and sanitation  

In addition to providing latrines and washing facilities in transit camps, the ICRC has cleaned and chlorinated wells and installed water tanks at several welfare centres. It has also 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 programme 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 running a water-treatment system in Komari that provides up to 120,000 litres of clean water a day for communities and displaced people in the area and the Italian Red Cross has installed a water-purification plant with a capacity of 3,400 litres for camps in the Batticaloa area.

An ICRC water and sanitation team has carried out emergency repairs to the existing wards of the Mullaittivu hospital and supplied tents to increase the hospital’s capacity. It has also provided temporary on-site accommodation for nurses and other staff who lost their houses in the disaster. Lastly, the ICRC has agreed to furnish the National Water Supply and Drainage Board with 480 tonnes of aluminium sulphate to purify drinking water.

 Medical programmes  

A 25-person ICRC medical team, including members on loan from the German Red Cross, is providing support for the Puthukkudiyiruppu hospital. The team includes surgeons, anaesthetists, a general practitioner, a paediatrician, a gynaecologist, a physiotherapist, lab and X-ray technicians, midwives, nurses and administrators. The hospital has also been given 100 tonnes of supplies. In addition, the ICRC has deployed a three-person medical team consisting of a ward nurse, a mid-wife and a doctor to the Pallai divisional hospital.

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

The Norwegian Red Cross has established a basic health-care unit in Eachchilampattai, in Trincomalee district, which 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, which offers paediatrics, gynaecology, basic health care and emergency care. Five mobile health units have also been deployed to surrounding villages to improve health-care access for the rural population.

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

Some 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. I n Kilinochchi and Mullaittivu, over 50 Red Cross community-health workers paid by the ICRC are providing first aid and health-education services for displaced families. They had just received their certification in late December and were often amongst the first on the scene to provide primary medical care for survivors.

 Restoring family links  

Immediately following the disaster, the ICRC set up a website with information for people separated from their loved ones ( . In cooperation with the Sri Lanka Red Cross and with the participation of tracing experts from Australia, Israel, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the United States, the ICRC set up 12 mobile teams to help restore contact between survivors and their relatives.

The teams visited over 300 welfare centres in the districts of Colombo, Galle, Matara, Tangalle, Hambantota, Ampara, Batticaloa, Trincomalee, Kilinochchi and Mullaittivu, where they enabled people to make over 1,700 satellite telephone calls – the majority to relatives overseas – and collected 417 “I Am Alive” messages that were posted on the website and published in the Sri Lankan media. Over 50 particularly vulnerable people were actively traced and contact with their families was restored through Red Cross messages. With the speedy restoration of normal communication channels in Sri Lanka, tsunami-related tracing activities have been scaled back.


The ICRC has 88 international and 340 national staff currently working in Sri Lanka. It has offices in Colombo, Ampara, Batticaloa, Trincomalee, Muthur, Vavuniya, Mannar, Kilinochchi, Puthukkudiyiruppu and Jaffna.

 In Sri Lanka, since 26 December, the ICRC has:

  • provided a 25-member medical team (many on loan from the German Red Cross) for Puthukkudiyiruppu hospital;

  • set up over 3,000 tents for displaced families (an additional 2,000 will be set up in the coming weeks);

  • distributed over 6,000 tarpaulins;

  • delivered over 27,000 family kits containing mats, sheets, soap, towels, buckets, jerrycans and plastic dishes;

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

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

  • provided drinking water and sanitation facilities for 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  

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