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Dispatches from Sri Lanka: Disaster Preparedness Efforts Prove Valuable After Conflict
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Gina Guinta, Information & Reporting Delegate, Sri Lanka
August 28, 2009

More than three months after fighting in Sri Lanka's 26-year conflict ceased in May, approximately 270,000¹ internally displaced persons (IDP) in the northern part of Sri Lanka remain waiting to return home. 

Ramya, a disaster response volunteer in Vavuniya, learns how to use various disaster response equipment.
Sri Lanka Red Cross

While one may think of the Indian Ocean tsunami as the country's worst disaster, an estimated 70,000 lives were lost in the conflict—twice as many as from the tsunami. Moreover, thousands of the conflict-affected people in this island nation were affected by the tsunami as well.

Whether a natural or manmade disaster strikes—or both, Red Cross volunteers and staff are among the first to help community members respond, and often stay the longest. Right now is no different.As part of its humanitarian mission, the Red Cross is providing water, food, latrines, hygiene items, medical care and emotional support to IDPs in northern Sri Lanka.

Through its ongoing disaster preparedness program, the American Red Cross is also supporting the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society in Vavuniya—the northern district where more than 230,000¹ IDPs are housed—to be better prepared to respond to future disasters.

Sri Lanka Red Cross response volunteers participate in a week-long training in Vavuniya, in northern Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka Red Cross

Sebastiampillai Ramya, known as Ramya, began volunteering with the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society in Vavuniya in March of this year when IDPs started arriving to her town and recently attended a week-long branch disaster response team (BDRT) training.

"Before the BDRT course, I didn't fully understand how to identify and prioritize the most vulnerable beneficiaries with our relief distributions, or coordinate with other stakeholders to locate and minimize gaps in assistance," said Ramya. "Now, I understand effective and coordinated relief management, as well as the importance of being personally well prepared to better help the beneficiaries." 

Even though Red Cross staff and volunteers like Ramya have been responding and helping thousands of people in northern Sri Lanka over the last months and even years, increasing their capacity to respond to emergency situations has been invaluable at this time.

A total of 30 local Red Cross staff and volunteers from Vavuniya, including Ramya, have become part of the specialized BDRT and now are equipped with megaphones, raincoats, boots, flashlights, hardhats and the technical knowledge to accompany the equipment. 

"Through developing the branch disaster management plan, offering more specialized trainings for staff and volunteers in disaster response and conducting natural disaster simulations," says Pankaj Mishra, Disaster Preparedness Program Country Manager for the American Red Cross, "the Vavuniya Branch will be better equipped to respond to the needs of the IDPs, the seasonal monsoon floods common in this region and other natural disasters."

Floods, landslides and fires frequently occur throughout Sri Lanka, and the American Red Cross is increasing the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society's response capacity in a total of 11 branches. 

Together, the two societies are helping 193 communities and 137 schools to identify their disaster risks, mitigate them and prepare for what hopefully will never happen again. 

¹ United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, July 2009.

About the American Red Cross:
The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies nearly half of the nation's blood; teaches lifesaving skills; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a charitable organization — not a government agency — and depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit www.redcross.org or join our blog at http://blog.redcross.org.

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