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Last Updated: Saturday, 26 March, 2005, 09:30 GMT
Scot in Sri Lanka mercy mission
David Crawford
Oxfam Country Programme Manager - Sri Lanka

David Crawford
David Crawford, from Glasgow, works for Oxfam in Sri Lanka
Almost three months ago, I landed in Sri Lanka to take up my post as Country Program Manager for Oxfam.

The Boxing Day tsunami had struck this country only a week before, killing more than 30,000 people, leaving hundreds of thousands homeless, and millions of people in need of emergency assistance.

During my three decades in the humanitarian field, I have seen war, famine, and natural disaster wreack unimaginable suffering on innocent civilians on a massive scale.

But I had never seen such total destruction before in my life. It was like someone had dropped an atomic bomb on Sri Lanka's coastline.

Having not been here when the wave hit, any words I have for that awful moment will not fully describe what the tsunami did to communities already struggling to survive poverty.

'Awful dread'

However, the words of one of Oxfam's team members who responded on that dreadful day, Sureaka Navaranjini, of our Killinochi District office, captures the horror and helplessness that came ashore along with the tsunami.

She said: "We are used to displacements and war but not on this scale - it was unlike anything before.

"One woman came to us and pleaded that we help her find her baby but he had gone.

"As we approached the beach all I could see was vehicles parked down the sides of the roads and ambulances with sirens racing past us.

"It gave me the feeling of awful dread."

We want the people of Sri Lanka, especially the poorest and most vulnerable, to be stronger than they were before the wave came

The scope of the tsunami's impact was unprecedented, but Oxfam, fortunately, with nearly 30 years of experience in Sri Lanka and more than 80 staff positioned throughout the country, was as ready to act as we could be.

From our four district offices, staff and local partners, many of whom lost their own houses and neighbours, pulled themselves from the wreckage and began to assist the survivors.

Our constant training and planning for all manner of disasters enabled Oxfam's resources on the ground, especially our local knowledge of the area, to deliver critical services, like water and sanitation, almost immediately.

Given the dire nature of the emergency, Oxfam flew in extra people, water and sanitation equipment, and other supplies.

In the mere 90 days since Boxing Day, Oxfam teams have become operational in eight of the 14 affected districts.

Working in conjunction with local Sri Lankan partner organisations, we are reaching more than 200,000 people with clean water and sanitation, temporary shelter, cash grants to help rebuild their livelihoods, and distributions of basic items such as cooking stoves and mosquito nets for infants.

Boat on house
The tsunami caused widespread devastation

Our 250-plus staff of water engineers, shelter specialists, logisticians and public health experts (which includes a large number of Sri Lankan nationals) have been working night and day since the tsunami.

They are meeting their targets, and getting this tough task accomplished. I hope they know how proud I am of them.

Now, the emergency phase is coming to a close and a larger challenge lies ahead: rebuilding the lives and livelihoods of the people hit hardest by the tsunami.

Oxfam's goal is not to reconstruct the status quo in Sri Lanka, rebuilding slums back into slums.

We want the people of Sri Lanka, especially the poorest and most vulnerable, to be stronger than they were before the wave came.

Poverty, not surprisingly, is what made so many of these communities so susceptible to the tsunami in the first place.

Already we are building temporary shelters in several districts, setting the standard for how these houses should be designed and built by the aid community in Sri Lanka.

Immense compassion

Livelihood programs have helped get fishermen back on the water.

And cottage industries, especially lace making and coconut husk drying, businesses that largely benefit women, are up and running again in many places because of the support you have given Oxfam.

The immense compassion and generosity of the Scottish people, and the whole world for that matter, in the days following the tsunami will not soon be forgotten.

But with your giving comes a great responsibility for groups like Oxfam.

We must turn your hard-earned pounds into hope. That's why you gave them to us.

In Sri Lanka and across the Indian Ocean region, Oxfam is keeping our promise to get the job done now, making a real difference here in the lives of hundreds of thousands of people who have lost everything and, for many, everyone they had.

I see both our success and the challenges that lie ahead every day I am in the field.


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