Sri Lanka wants to protect a new "wave"
By Catherine Vincent
Dec 25, 2009

More than 35 000 deaths, 100 000 houses damaged, 500 000 people displaced: the Sri Lanka is the country, after Indonesia (130 000 deaths, 37 000 missing), which has suffered most from the tsunami of December 26, 2004. "The wave", as it is called here, has hit the south and southeast. Five years later, in the Hambantota district located in the south-east, the traces are still visible.

In the fishing village of Kudawella, gutted houses along the beach. We met randomly roads quantity of remains abandoned domestics. As the Tangalle Bay Hotel, formerly floret of the seaside area, there is hardly a recipe: Damage caused by water have not been repaired, and the large building, designed as a boat, looks like a wreck.

For the inhabitants of this region of rice paddies, tourism and fishing, but the tsunami has had some benefits. The magnitude of the disaster, coupled with the influx of money provided by humanitarian aid, was first allowed to take some basic precautions.

At the town of Hambantota, where 5 000 people perished, fishing boats now find refuge behind two large stone dykes. In Tangalle, hundreds of fishing families formerly living on the beach have been relocated to higher ground. Because the authorities are now aware that no one should think themselves more immune to a new wave.

The priority for limiting future risks? Improve warning systems. "On December 26, 2004 in the morning I was awakened by a jolt, followed by another. I phoned the local authorities, who called the weather service to Colombo, the capital ... Nobody had been notified of any earthquake. Two hours later the wave was there "Recalls Ananda RuhunuhewaProfessor at the University of Ruhuna (Wales).

How many dead in Sri Lanka have been avoided if he had had warning devices effective? If things had gone as in this coastal village near Pondicherry, India, some residents, alerted by a phone call from Singapore, visited the community center to trigger the siren, giving all villagers time to flee?

"Making our villages able to cope with disasters, by ensuring they are able to hear official warnings and act promptly," this is now one of the main objectives of Vinya Ariyaratne, Executive Director of Sarvodaya support network.

The association, with more than 200 villages, working in close collaboration with the Canadian Research Center for International Development (IDRC), which funds the past five years a pilot project combining technologies and networks of volunteers. "To be effective, List experts IDRC a disaster warning must include technology to detect hazards; communication systems to alert the population of local leaders trained to make good decisions, a well-informed; response protocols tested well in advance. And all these elements must work well individually and TOGETHERnt. " In Sri Lanka, it is far.

But progress is visible. After testing various early warning systems, and the NGO Sarvodaya Sri Lankan LIRNEasia have chosen as the most reliable combination of mobile and satellite technology that service providers now offer one of their product. Sarvodaya is also involved in implementation, here and there, "telecentres" providing community access to digital technologies. And much attention is paid to education and training of coastal residents, the stumbling block of warning systems are often the "last mile" of the response chain.

This will involve people in prevention also forms the cornerstone of the work conducted by the NGO Practical ActionWhich attempts to build in the environmental field, another lesson of the tsunami: the protective role of mangroves. These mangrove forests with aerial roots have a buffer between marine and terrestrial environments, and are, in Sri Lanka as elsewhere, the regions where they were the richest people have suffered the least waves.

As stated in a 2006 report of the Program United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), the waves lose because 75% of their energy when they pass through 200 meters of mangroves, with the drag forces exerted on them stems and roots.

The importance of maintaining the biological shield is all the greater as mangroves are also a great reservoir of biodiversity. "About 75% of tropical fish marketed to spend part of their lives"Says Ranga PallawalaResponsible, in Colombo, the research team at Practical Action, adding that it is "imperative that coastal communities learn to better use their natural resources".

At her NGO program: determining the coastal villages where it should be to develop new plantations; specify strategies for the rehabilitation of these natural breakwaters, many of which have been damaged by the tsunami to raise awareness of their importance and their management. All areas in which nearly everything remains to be done.

Courtesy: Le monde