Sri Lanka

Tsunami 2004 Lessons Learned

Evaluation and Lessons Learned
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  1. Facts and Figures

The tsunami of 26 th December 2004 severely affected the social structure and the economy in Sri Lanka causing destruction to the entire coastal belt of the island. Within fifteen minutes, it took more than 30,000 lives, injured more than 15,000 people and displaced more than 800,000 destroying all they possessed.

The people lost their loved ones, property, their livelihood, access to education for their children and their confidence in life.
The costal belt was highly populated and was an area which contributed to the national economy through the fisheries and tourist industry, and other economic activities inclusive of traditional arts and crafts. After the tsunami it was devastated and turned into a desperate place to live.

The tsunami also destroyed the infrastructure in the area such as roads, railways, electricity, communication, water supply and all other community services such as education, transport, health facilities, businesses etc., paralyzing the entire social organization. Flooding of sea water had disrupted their agriculture, fauna and flora and the sources of drinking water. Some families had the opportunity to obtain temporary accommodation with their relations and friends but the majority were temporarily encamped on a large scale, at temples, churches, schools etc. Most of these people moved to temporary shelters but providing a house and sustainable means of living had become the highest priority of the country.

The Government of Sri Lanka launched an island wide program named “Rebuilding Sri Lanka” in order to lift up the low morals of the people who were subjected to the tsunami disaster by building 100,000 houses, restructuring physical and community infrastructure services and other related activities to re-establish civil society.

When recovery activities were carried out within the coastal zone, it was necessary to consider future coastal hazards such as cyclones, storm surges and spring tides. It was also required to protect public lives and properties as well as to minimize potential damages and risk of investment within the coastal zone.

The field investigations conducted in the coastal areas affected by the tsunami revealed that the spatial distribution of tsunami impact from the beach to the interior area varied from high to moderate and low levels. Accordingly, on the south and the west coast, the high impact area with a high degree of loss of lives and damages to properties was approximately 100 meters inland. Due to the naturally flat land in the north and the east coast the high impact zone could be considered approximately as 200 meters. Initially all people within these respective buffer lines had to be relocated to new relocation sites

All housing units outside the 100-meter building setback distance were enrolled in the Cash for Repair and Reconstruction program and were entitled to a compensation in form of an Outright Grant from the government of Sri Lanka depending on the damage of the house, with a view to rebuild their respective dwellings “On Site”. In the District of Matara SDC (Swiss Development Cooperation) in cooperation with the GOSL would handle this program.

In the beginning of 2006, the government of Sri Lanka decided to relax the former buffer zone and a new buffer line was being demarcated inside each district. Depending on the area the new line was set at 35-55 meters. People whose damaged house was situated in the area beyond this new buffer line more inland were entitled to choose between a new house by a donor agency or to rebuild their damaged house on their own land.