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Sri Lanka: six months after the tsunami, conflict-related needs persist

31-05-2005 Operational Update

Summary of aid provided, in the first half of 2005, to survivors of the tsunami and to people affected by years of conflict.


In the first half of 2005...

Between January and the end of May 2005, the ICRC remained operational for conflict victims as well as for survivors of the tsunami:  
  • it delivered essential household items to over 100,000 people, provided thousands of tents and tarpaulins, sunk wells and set up other water and sanitation facilities for tsunami victims;
  • it reinforced hospital services for a population of 75,000 in Mullaitivu district after the tsunami, and assisted other health facilities;
  • it helped tsunami victims restore family links;
  • it played a role coordinating tsunami response of the national and international components of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement;
  • it maintained its presence as neutral intermediary at crossing points between government- and LTTE-controlled areas in the north;
  • it finished updating and verifying data on people reported missing in connection with over a decade of fighting in the north and east, and drew up findings to submit to both parties.



Some 800,000 Sri Lankans were affected by the tsunami that hit the island's coastal areas on 26 December, 2004. Approximately 38,000 people were killed, 500,000 were displaced; and some 80,000 homes were damaged or destroyed.

Most of this damage was in the north and east, in areas where the economy, health facilities, and public services had yet to recover from years of conflict between the government and the LTTE.

The government and the international community responded rapidly. The government set up mechanisms for monitoring and coordinating relief operations; hundreds of millions of dollars were pledged for reconstruction and relief.

More than 500 na tional and international humanitarian agencies were said to be working in the country following the tsunami.

 Basic needs met  

Generally speaking, emergency tsunami relief met the victims'most basic needs for shelter, medical care, and the prevention of epidemics. By mid-year, basic security and public services such as education, electricity and security had been restored. Reconstruction was held back by issues related to land use, housing and employment.

Despite continuing political assassinations, the ceasefire agreed in 2002 held throughout the period and the government and LTTE cooperated to deliver emergency relief. With Norwegian facilitation, the two sides worked on agreeing to a joint mechanism for disbursement of aid in the north and east. The agreement (signed in June 2005) remained subject to political and legal challenge.

ICRC activities 

The ICRC was able to react immediately when the tsunami hit because, while reducing its assistance programmes after the ceasefire, the delegation had been careful to keep the staff and logistical set-up needed to respond to emergencies.

With experts in water and sanitation and health care already on the ground in the areas hardest hit, the sub-delegations teamed up with local branches of the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society (SLRCS) to transport injured people to health facilities and recover bodies, provide first aid and assistance in shelters, and locate family members.

Well-established working relationships with both sides made it possible for the ICRC to work in all areas of the north and east, and the organization rapidly mobilized additional staff and materials needed to provide assistance to health facilities, and to tsunami victims in IDP camps and shelters. It also assisted in the re-establishment of family links.

Opening an office in Ampara in order to manage relief operations there, the delegation allocated more staff to crossing points between government- and LTTE-controlled territories, maintaining a presence there 24 hours a day to ease the passage of relief goods. Working with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the SLRCS, and the more than 20 other national societies helping out, the ICRC also played a role in ensuring effective action by the Movement.

 Protection activities  

As the emergency subsided and other agencies began the reconstruction effort, the ICRC turned its focus back to its conflict-related protection activities. These focused on preventing and reacting to the recruitment of minors, visits to detainees, and follow-up of the issue of missing persons – activities that in any case had continued throughout the emergency.

The delegation adapted previously planned health and water projects and added economic security activities to meet new needs created by the disaster.

The ICRC facilitates and coordinates action by the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement in areas affected by conflict. It is doing this as part of the Movement's strategy to respond to the tsunami as set out by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. Meanwhile, other partners of the Movement are conducting longer-term rehabilitation and reconstruction projects.

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