29 December 2004
"People here are living in terrible fear"
SOS Children's Villages' emergency relief operations in India and Sri Lanka
29/12/2004 - SOS Children's Villages' emergency relief operations for sea surge victims in the areas hit by disaster in India and Sri Lanka are in full swing. Thousands of children and homeless families are finding refuge in emergency camps on the south-east coast of India. In Sri Lanka, the focus of emergency relief is on hardly accessible areas in the country's east, but families in Galle and Piliyandala are also being provided with what they need the most.
SOS Children's Villages' teams of relief workers are currently organising the setting up of up to 16 emergency relief camps in the south of India. According to head of operations Victor Painadath, there are 30,000 children in the region in urgent need of help.
This is how he describes the dramatic situation in the town Nagappattinam hard-hit by disaster: "It's been 48 hours now since the Tsunami hit this town. The roads are full of mud and dirt as the sea water has recessed. There is debris of broken walls, boats, shoes and other debris. The place has the pungent smell of dead bodies. The main activity here is cleaning up the whole place. Shops are closed and life is at a stand still. We saw a hundred people running, shouting that the waters are coming again. I saw women crying out in panic, trembling children running to their mothers. There was nothing there, except for someone having watched high waves hitting on the shores. I explain this to you to show you that people here are living in terrible fear."
In the towns of Velankanni, Nagappattinam and Kanykumari and adjacent communities, between 3,000 to 4,000 children will be provided for in emergency camps. These towns and districts are famous for their temples, and this is where most sea surge victims found refuge. This is why emergency camps will be established both inside the temple compounds and in the community centres.
The children will be provided with food, clothes and medical care; through daily games and activities, they will receive psychological accompaniment to give them a chance to process traumatic experiences of loss, being scared to death, and destruction.
In Cuddalore in Pondicherry province, especially families of fisherman have to mourn the loss of family members, mostly the men who have not returned from the sea. The families have also lost their houses, their boats and their fishing nets in the sea surge disaster. SOS Children's Villages is currently establishing temporary shelters for these families.
The coming weeks will tell whether any children have lost their parents and relatives in the disaster and how many children have become orphaned and therefore should be provided with long-term care in SOS Children's Village facilities.
Most relief workers, authorities and organisations focus on providing help in the hard-hit areas in the south of Sri Lanka. Only a few can manage to get through to the east coast of the island state as some areas are still under the control of the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Talim Eelam). SOS Children's Villages was successful in delivering its first batch of relief supplies to SOS Social Centre Batticaloa on the east coast; the relief supplies have already been distributed.
It is especially tragic that many people affected by the Tsunamis were already hit by the November flood disaster and temporarily found refuge at the social centre. They could only return to their homes in December, and entire families were wiped out in the disaster on 26 December 2004. Besides providing the people with most needed things like drinking water, basic foods, cooking equipment, medicines and clothes, there are also plans to help affected families long-term to rebuild their livelihood.
There are still massive communication problems in the south of Sri Lanka. The village director of the SOS Children's Village in Galle is supporting other organisations in their relief effort.
More than 500 families have found refuge in the main temple compound of Piliyandala near the capital city of Colombo. The first SOS Children's Village in Sri Lanka was built in Piliyandala. Co-workers there, in co-operation with the temple authorities, are organising medical care for the families and distribute food, especially urgently needed milk powder for infants and small children.
SOS Children's Villages Sri Lanka closely co-operates with government authorities and other NGOs to implement further relief activities.