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									Sri Lanka: Tsunami – The Way Forward                                                Page 1 of 8

Sri Lanka: Tsunami - The Way Forward

(A discussion paper by Dr. Keerthi Devendra)


On the 26th of December 2004, the Asian
Tsunami caused an unprecedented level of
damage to the coastal areas of Sri Lanka
in a ruthless manner. As a result, a huge
number of people have lost their loved
ones, livelihoods and properties, causing
an unbearable level of grief and heart-
ache to hundreds of thousands of Sri
Lankans of all races and faiths, both rich
and poor.

                                                 At this tragic moment it was heart warming to
                                                 see how the whole world (Sri Lankans, both
                                                 abroad and at home, as well as international
                                                 organisations), rallied together to help the Sri
                                                 Lankans to come to terms with this tragedy. So
                                                 far most people have concentrated on
                                                 providing essential immediate and short-term
                                                 help to those affected by Tsunami. As well as
                                                 dealing with the immediate needs, now is the
                                                 time to recognise and organise medium to
                                                 long-term activities, which are essential, to
                                                 achieve a full recovery from this disaster. This
                                                 discussion document identifies strategies that
                                                 could help Sri Lanka to achieve a full long-term
                                                 recovery in the most efficient and cost effective
                                                 manner. No doubt, those who are directly
                                                 involved with the recovery activities would be
                                                 in apposition to provide an input to make the
                                                 ideas presented in this document more

This is possibly the most tragic situation Sri
Lanka has witnessed in its entire history.
Yet, in my view, this also provides huge
opportunities to make Sri Lanka a far
better place than it was before the
Tsunami, both socially and economically. It
also provides opportunities to improve
racial harmony within Sri Lanka. Such an
improvement can be achieved only if the
people are encouraged to think positively
under all circumstances and if people are
presented with a clear VISION, a STRATEGY
and POLICIES to direct all efforts in the
right direction. I also believe that if such a

                                        Prepared by Dr. Keerthi Devendra       dated 26th Feb 2005
Sri Lanka: Tsunami – The Way Forward                                              Page 2 of 8

strategy is presented in a way that most people can broadly identify with, it will help to
drive the recovery process quickly and efficiently.

A huge number of people, as individuals and as groups, both abroad (expatriates like us)
and in Sri Lanka, are doing their best to help the Tsunami victims. It is also clear that the
government, as well as other voluntary and international organisations, is putting a lot of
effort and thought into planning such recovery activities. However, there is a risk that
people who are close to the tragedy in Sri Lanka, may miss some of the opportunities
presented by this situation because they are too busy dealing with urgent issues.

How to Respond to Tsunami 2004

Common sense tells us that the response to Tsunami needs to be focussed in three different
areas. They are

       A) Activities for providing immediate and short-term help to victims
       B) Establish mechanisms to ensure Sri Lanka is better prepared for any future
       C) Activities that would help Sri Lanka and its peoples to make a full recovery in a
          reasonable length of time.

                                            Response to

         (A) Immediate and             (B) Be Better Prepared          (C) Planned long-term
         short-term Help to            for Future Disasters            Full Recovery from
         Victims                                                       Tsunami 2004

Immediate and short-term Help to Victims

                                              Up to now most of the effort (quite rightly) has
                                              been focused on providing essential immediate
                                              help to those affected in terms of food, shelter,
                                              health care, and helping them to deal with
                                              emotional and psychological affects of Tsunami.
                                              There have also been efforts to help as many
                                              people as possible to get back to their normal
                                              way of life.

                                              Sri Lankans have aptly demonstrated that they
                                              are quick and efficient in finding ways to help
                                              the Tsunami victims with the help of
                                              international organisations and on their own.

                                        Prepared by Dr. Keerthi Devendra     dated 26th Feb 2005
Sri Lanka: Tsunami – The Way Forward                                              Page 3 of 8

How to be better prepared for any Future Disasters

                          Based on the experience from other countries I wish to propose
                          that a legal body, perhaps named “the Disaster Management
                          Authority”, should be established as early as possible in Sri
                          Lanka to co-ordinate responses to any future disasters. This body
                          should consist of Doctors, Engineers, Scientists, and
                          representatives of Police, Army, Navy, Fire Brigade as well as the
                          necessary Administrative Staff and should have close links with
                          other key Government Departments.

                          This Disaster Management Authority should have co-ordinating
                          Offices Island wide, preferably on district basis, having close links
                          with Hospitals, Police and Educational Establishments and other
                          Govt. offices etc., in the area.

                          The main office as well as regional offices should be manned 24
                          hrs. 365 days and the main office should have the facilities to
                          record and monitor, Rain fall, Earth slips, Earthquakes, Floods,
                          Cyclones, and Fire etc.

The responsibility of this Authority is to co-ordinate all activities relating to helping
victims in the event of any disaster and to assist other agencies / departments to deal with
longer term recovery plans, but should not be directly responsible for the recovery activities
and plans.

In addition, this Authority will be responsible
for establishing procedures to deal with
different types of disasters in different parts of
the country. They will also be responsible for
evaluating and monitoring the ability of local
hospitals, emergency services and other
organisations to cope with different types of
disaster situations and the availability of
temporary accommodation for people affected
by such a disaster. Where necessary they will
be responsible for recommending
improvements to local organisations that will
be required to deal with disasters and provide /
recommend training courses for employees of
such organisations. They will also be
responsible for increasing public awareness of
how to deal with emergency/ disaster situations.

Long Term Recovery from Tsunami 2004

We all agree that in order to achieve complete recovery from this tragedy and ensure that
affected communities are helped to achieve complete normality , it is necessary to
implement a carefully thought out long term action plan.

As mentioned earlier this tragic situation provides huge opportunities to make Sri Lanka a
far better place than it was before the Tsunami. There are many examples from history
which demonstrates that it is possible to develop a country to a better standard than what it
was before a devastation of this magnitude. A good example is Germany; it was completely

                                       Prepared by Dr. Keerthi Devendra     dated 26th Feb 2005
Sri Lanka: Tsunami – The Way Forward                                              Page 4 of 8

destroyed by the end of the Second World War. Yet, within a few years Germany managed
to become one of the most successful economic powers in the world.

In order to achieve such a rapid development, it is necessary to establish a common aim
that all can share and the recovery activities need to be carried out in the most efficient
manner. In an effort to help Sri Lanka in this process, I have summarised my thoughts on to
respond to this situation. I have suggested a strategy and policies that may be adopted.

                          As mentioned earlier, it is important to have a common aim or a
                          common objective, in other words A VISION that all Sri Lankans
                          can identify with. Although it may not have been put forward in
                          this way, I am sure that most Sri Lankans have this objective
                          (vision) in their mind.

                          That VISION is to make Sri Lanka a much better place than it
                          was before the Tsunami Disaster on the 26th of December 2004,
                          both socially and economically, so that all Sri Lankans,
                          regardless of their economic circumstances, race, ethnicity or
                          religion, can maintain a happy and healthy living standard.

It is also prudent that time scales be clearly defined to reach this objective. I would suggest
that the overall objectives should be achieved within five years whilst helping those directly
affected by Tsunami to reach some normality in life as soon as possible.


To make the above vision a reality, a clear set of strategic aims needs to be established. I
would suggest that the strategy needs to be based on the following or similar aims.

2.1   Create a master plan to define all major activities with time scales. Ensure that
      efficient project planning and project management techniques are used in all
      recovery activities.

2.2   Support all directly affected people to achieve a level of normality as soon as
      possible, certainly within one year.

2.3   Develop new housing schemes (properly planned, taking basic needs into account)
      to replace damaged-houses and re-establish destroyed communities.

2.4   Provide necessary social and economic support to these re-established communities
      to achieve a happy and healthy living standard.

2.5   Encourage training, re-training where necessary, so that people can gain new
      skills. Provide training courses immediately to those in temporary (refugee) camps as
      soon as possible. Where possible these courses should be geared for new jobs/
      businesses in their locality so that they can support the re-development of their own

2.6   Create a much improved transport infrastructure (roads and railways), particularly
      along the damaged coastal line. (I believe creation of a continuous four-lane highway
      all along the coastal line covering west, south, east and north is now a possibility. Re-
      establishing the damaged rail network and extending it to east, whilst extending the
      two-track railways from Colombo towards south must be a possibility. Such a road and

                                       Prepared by Dr. Keerthi Devendra      dated 26th Feb 2005
Sri Lanka: Tsunami – The Way Forward                                              Page 5 of 8

       rail network will improve communications as well as the economy throughout the

2.7    Provide the necessary backing and encourage the re-development of business /
       industrial / economical infrastructure along the coastal line as well as throughout
       the country.

       Establish factories for manufacture of building materials such as doors, windows,
       frames, low cost cement blocks, bricks etc.

2.8    Standardise all building materials & components and household items required for
       new houses. E.g. furniture, doors, windows, bricks etc. to be made to certain specified
       standards so that economical efficiency can be improved. When all products are made
       to specific standards, the quality of products improves and the prices go down. In
       addition such standards help improve long term maintainability of houses and other

2.9    Provide necessary policy guidance and administrative support to increase the economic
       efficiency and reduce wastage and misuse of funds and resources.

2.10 Create a Disaster Management Authority supported by all necessary expert skills
     so that any future disasters, regardless of the extent or the nature, can be handled
     quickly and efficiently.


To make the above VISION a reality and to achieve the STRATEGIC aims with the minimum
effort and maximum economic efficiency it is necessary to have a simple, easily understood
set of policies. What I have suggested below is a set that could be adopted for

3.1    Standards: Ensure all products and services are delivered to internationally
       acceptable quality standards.

3.2    Quality Systems: Ensure that quality standards are defined for all products and
       services in the shortest possible time and that they are available to the whole country.
       Establish procedures to achieve, maintain and monitor quality of products and
       services. (Perhaps more developed countries may be able to help in this area.)

                                        Prepared by Dr. Keerthi Devendra     dated 26th Feb 2005
Sri Lanka: Tsunami – The Way Forward                                             Page 6 of 8

3.3   Wastage: Minimise the wastage in every project. Minimum acceptable efficiency to
      be made around 85% (provide procedures for monitoring and achieving project
      efficiencies) Ensure that all organisations carrying out projects relating to Tsunami
      recovery, provide auditable accounts.

3.4   Training: Encourage all educational establishments to develop vocational courses
      specifically geared for training Tsunami affected people. I would suggest a range of
      courses in different subject areas from short (few days) intensive courses for adults to
      longer (0ne to two years) courses for young people.

      (Some examples of training areas are Construction, Building Maintenance, Brick/
      Cement Block Manufacture, Plumbing, Carpentry, Electricians, Boat Building and
      Repair, fishing techniques, freezer technology, food storage and related health issues,
      Typing and Word Processing, Information Technology, Health Care workers, Nurses
      and Nursing Assistants, Child Care, Environmental Protection etc.)

      As part of all training courses include a module on quality and a module on financial

3.5   Infrastructure Development: Allocate land required for new roads, railways, and
      economic centres etc., now. Develop the roads, railways and economic centres in
      several stages.

      Control planning permission to build close to the proposed road networks in order to
      achieve the highest quality and efficiency. This would ensure that the land necessary
      for such projects would be maintained free until the roadwork is completed over
      several years.

3.6   Housing / Land Usage: Maximise the use of land in building new housing schemes.
      Where possible consider the feasibility of two story houses or terraced houses with
      basic essential amenities (Sri Lanka is a small country with limited amount of land. We
      need to use the land in the most efficient manner to protect the environment whilst
      providing good quality housing to communities).

      Encourage several different types of houses from low cost small houses to houses
      suitable for larger families in different economic categories.

      Make architectural and environmental advice freely available to all those individuals
      building their own houses.

                                       Prepared by Dr. Keerthi Devendra     dated 26th Feb 2005
Sri Lanka: Tsunami – The Way Forward                                              Page 7 of 8

3.7   Friendly Parks: Provide sports /play areas (leisure areas) every ~800 meters in built
      up areas so that children as well as adults can enjoy their surroundings so that social
      life of communities is enhanced. As a result of Tsunami there are a huge number of
      people without families who would benefit from social contact and emotional support.

3.8   Social Welfare: Ensure all re-established communities are supported with adequate
      shopping, schools, and healthcare facilities. Provide special centres for children as well
      as elderly and injured. There are a huge number of children without parents, elderly
      people without children to look after them.

3.9   Financial Incentives: Provide financial incentives (interest free loans, tax breaks
      etc.?) to individuals and organisations to re-build damaged businesses and industries.

      Provide these incentives to individuals who re-build their own houses, if they can pay
      back in the long term (provided they follow architectural and environmental

3.10 Economic activity centres: Shops, businesses, industries etc. to be reasonably
     evenly distributed (not concentrated in one or two areas) at centres along the coastal
     line taking into account population density.

3.11 Delegated responsibilities: Delegate the responsibility for completing as much work
     as possible to independent organisations. These organisations need to work within the
     policy guidelines and show that they can achieve required quality with intended
     efficiencies within the agreed time scales.

As mentioned earlier this is a discussion document and those who are directly involved with
the recovery activities may be in apposition to provide an input to make these ideas more
workable. I shall be more than happy to provide further information and clarify the thinking
behind these proposals.

Dr. Keerthi Devendra

(Note: Author of this document, Dr. Keerthi Devendra, was born and brought up in Matara.
He was graduated from University of Sri Lanka in Peradeniya and subsequently obtained
Masters Degree from the University of Edinburgh and the Ph.D. from the University of
Sheffield in the UK. He is a Chartered Engineer as well as a Scientist, with more than thirty
years academic and industrial experience in Research, Development and Project
Management. Since early 70’s he has lived in Britain and Germany. He is currently attached
to Rolls Royce plc developing technology for the manufacture of high performance turbine
blades for a wide range of Aero-Engine applications. He also serves as a Council Member of
the local NHS Hospitals Foundation Trust, a member of the local City Education Commission
and as a Governor of one of the local schools. As such has experience in Education and
Health matters. In addition, sometime ago he served as the Technical Manger of the UK

                                        Prepared by Dr. Keerthi Devendra     dated 26th Feb 2005
Sri Lanka: Tsunami – The Way Forward                                           Page 8 of 8

Consumers Association and gained experience in consumer product testing and

Acknowledgement: The photographs used in this document were obtained from a number
of different sources and are used in this article for public awareness purposes. The author
wishes to express his sincere thanks to copyright holders of these photographs.

                                       Prepared by Dr. Keerthi Devendra   dated 26th Feb 2005

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