|Helping rebuild lives after the tsunami
In late December 2004, MSF returned to Sri Lanka to provide emergency assistance to survivors of the tsunami that hit the coast, killing more than 30,000 people and displacing 500,000 more. After many years in the country, MSF had closed its last projects there less than a year earlier.
MSF teams arrived in the capital, Colombo, and found a fast international response already coordinating clean up and rebuilding efforts. Initial assessments revealed no large-scale medical emergency so MSF staff began to provide help to support local efforts and fill gaps in available medical care, with respiratory tract infections and diarrhea the most common problems. Within days, MSF had flown in more than 200 metric tons of supplies and dozens of international volunteers, including doctors, surgeons, nurses and logisticians. Assistance was mainly directed toward the most affected areas — Trincomalee, Batticaloa and Ampara — on the east coast.
In the first weeks after the disaster, MSF supported eight mobile clinics on the east coast, each one providing approximately 150 medical consultations a day. In the Ampara district, where the government estimated that more than 180,000 people had become homeless and where less assistance was arriving, MSF teams set up three temporary hospitals in Karaitivu, Nintavur and Marathamunai. The teams also supplied other health structures with needed medicines and medical equipment. In addition, MSF established an epidemiological surveillance system to watch for disease outbreaks.
MSF staff distributed mats, jerry cans, buckets, blankets and soap to 6,000 families living in camps or with relatives in 18 villages of the Ampara district. MSF also built 1,100 temporary shelters with water and sanitation facilities in the towns of Kalmunai, Pottuvil and Tirukkovil. MSF brought the Spanish organization Payasos Sin Fronteras (Clowns Without Borders) to perform for children affected by trauma in the displacement camps in which the organization was working. Performers put on 23 shows, attended by more than 7,500 people in camps and schools.
In the district of Batticaloa, MSF provided medical consultations and water and sanitation assistance. In the Trincomalee and Kuchchaveli region, MSF staff cleaned a new hospital that had been damaged by the tsunami and distributed hundreds of tents and non-food items to more than 3,000 displaced families. Farther north in Tiriyai, MSF started a mobile clinic, provided tents and organized clean water and sanitation facilities. In several areas, water distribution had been severely damaged by the tsunami and wells were contaminated with salty water. For five months, MSF provided drinking water to an average of 20,000 people and organized water trucking and the cleaning and chlorinating of wells. In the far northeastern areas of Mullaitivu and Killinochi, MSF supported an area hospital and a clinic and brought in tons of relief goods.
Once urgent health needs were met, MSF reoriented its activities to support the most vulnerable people as they worked to rebuild their lives. In the northeast, MSF staff distributed fishing nets and tool kits and created furniture workshops and small brick factories. MSF rented machinery to clear land so that people could resettle. Near the southern tip of the country, in the Tangalla region, MSF began building semipermanent houses at relocation sites for 180 families. MSF also started an outpatient clinic and set up shelters for local homeless families. In the southern town of Matara, an MSF team assisted more than 3,000 displaced people and started mobile medical clinics. An outpatient clinic was also opened in the nearby town of Hambantoa.
In some areas, MSF worked with local medical staff to create a network of doctors to provide psychosocial support to those traumatized by the disaster and its aftermath. Similarly in Ampara and Killinochi, MSF provided psychosocial support in collaboration with a local nongovernmental organization that had been established by MSF national staff when MSF closed its projects in 2004.
In May 2005, MSF ended its activities in Sri Lanka.