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Reflection of December 26 tsunami

June 26 will be a day of reflection for the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement as it marks six months since the Indian Ocean tsunami disaster.

"The day is an opportunity to remember the tragedy, take stock of the operations, which is the largest Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement operations in the world, and plan for the future," President Sri Lanka Red Cross Society Jagath Abeysinghe said at a media briefing.

Within a few hours of the disaster, thousands of Sri Lanka Red Cross staff and volunteers were in the field, rescuing people, evacuating the wounded, retrieving the dead, and giving assistance to survivors. More than 70 Red Cross and Red Crescent societies from around the world have pledged hundreds of millions of dollars for the reconstruction and rehabilitation of lives and livelihoods in Sri Lanka alone. An assessment team estimated that the operation would cost USD$375 million (CHF450 million) over six years.

This unique response, together with committed and trained volunteers from the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society, and international emergency response units, enabled the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement to meet the immediate needs of people in tsunami-affected communities.

Volunteers and staff provided food, shelter, sleeping mats, mosquito nets and other goods to more than 250,000 people, gave out more than 110,000 items of clothing including school uniforms, produced more than three million litres of safe water a week and gave health care to more than 100,000 people.

Of the US$58.3 million (CHF70 million) budgeted by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies for spending in Sri Lanka this year, by May, almost half had been spent.

At this stage, the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement is still making sure people have water and the basics of life, such as hygiene kits and clothing. But as the operation moves out of the emergency response phase, the focus is changing. The Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement has agreed to start building transitional housing, so families waiting for permanent housing can have a more comfortable home.

Planned program include reconstruction and rehabilitation of 34 health facilities, construction of 15,000 permanent houses, livelihood assistance for fishermen, tailors and carpenters, water and sanitation, debris clearance and first aid.

The International Federation's experience of managing more than 2000 international relief operations over the past 85 years has taught the vital importance of systematic and diligent planning for long-term rehabilitation program said head of delegation Tony Maryon for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, which is working with the SLRCS and more than 23 Red Cross and Red Crescent societies presently in the country.

This is a huge operation that requires planning, co-ordination, consultation with local communities and accountability. These things take time to be done properly. Our slogan is "Build back better", Maryon said.

Ongoing psycho-social support, where trained Cross volunteers conduct community activities for survivors, is an essential part of the planned operation, expected to continue for the next five to eight years.

"Tragedies like this often don't hit home until months afterwards. Families are still coming to terms with the loss of loved ones, often children. We need to keep supporting them," said Maryon.

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