Sri Lankan city stands tall 10 years after the tsunami

Topics: National, Asia, Emergencies and Disasters Worldwide
December 23, 2014

photo Chiran Livera tsunami ten year story

Chiran Livera, 30, remembers with vivid detail the day the Indian Ocean tsunami struck on Dec. 26. At the time, the Sri Lankan-born humanitarian worker was visiting his family in the southwestern city of Galle.
 
“We heard screaming first, and then everyone looked towards the ocean,” said Livera, Red Cross deputy director for disaster management in Ontario.

“We saw the retraction of the water, and the ocean floor for at least a couple football fields, and then we saw the waves coming in.” Livera ran away from the shore, and uphill toward his uncle’s house.
 
“I don’t think I’ll ever forget that day,” he said.
 
It’s a day that many of us, not just those in South East Asia, but here in Canada as well, will not forget as we huddled around TVs on Boxing Day watching news of waves up to 30 metres high that flattened entire villages, killing over 226,000 people in 14 countries.
 
The day after the tsunami, Livera – already a volunteer for the Canadian Red Cross – teamed up with Sri Lankan Red Cross workers to help to distribute food, water and blankets in Galle, a city of 30,000 people, which had been devastated by the tsunami. He stayed in Sri Lanka for another month and half, providing emergency relief support, before returning to university in Vancouver, where he grew up.
 
Livera began working for the Red Cross as a volunteer in 2003, and became a full-time employee for the organization after completing his B.A. in political science at Simon Fraser University.
 
He said he initially joined the Red Cross because the organization gave him an opportunity to travel across Canada while doing humanitarian work.
 
“I was always interested in helping communities grow,” said Livera. “My core values aligned with the principles of the Red Cross.”  
 

The tsunami response was a massive undertaking lasting years after the initial disaster. Within three months of the tsunami, the Canadian Red Cross had sent more than one million kilograms of urgently needed relief items – including water purification sachets, water containers and pumps, flashlights, batteries, blankets, and medical supplies – to Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Myanmar, Malaysia and the Maldives.
 
The organization was also involved in the building of thousands of transitional shelters in Indonesia, and helped rebuild four damaged hospitals in Sri Lanka, providing them with new equipment.  
 
After wrapping up its recovery programs five years ago, the Canadian Red Cross began focusing on longer-term programs, working closely with fellow Red Cross societies in countries such as Sri Lanka, Indonesia and India.
 
In Sri Lanka, Livera said he’s seen “extreme progress,” and witnessed entire communities being rebuilt from scratch.
 
On his last trip to Sri Lanka two years ago, Livera saw the country’s newly reconstructed railroad for the first time since it was torn apart in 2004.  
 
“That was a very special moment because I had a very vivid memory of what had happened to that railroad,” said Livera, as he recalled seeing rail tracks twisted and standing upright.
 
“In infrastructure alone, almost all of the country is back on its feet,” he said.
 
More than $150 million in donations was directed toward a housing program, where the Red Cross – in collaboration with the Sri Lankan government – supported the construction of houses for 720 families in Sri Lanka, and 5,800 families in Indonesia.  
 
Lush banana trees now grow in gardens around homes, and many families operate small businesses on their properties.
 
“The housing program is incredible,” said Livera. “When we were building houses, it wasn’t just the house – we were building a community.”
  
Pat Laberge, senior manager of the Red Cross’ Asia programs, said the organization worked with the Sri Lankan government to ensure that new houses would have access to infrastructure and basic services such as water and electricity. The new homes were also built stronger than required by building codes and placed on higher ground, away from the shore.
 
“Ten years was enough time to support them in their recovery and to ensure that they are more resilient than they were before the disaster happened,” said Laberge, who was deployed to Sri Lanka ten days after the disaster.
 
“Now, they understand the dangers of tsunamis,” she said. “They’ve really landed on their feet, and ten years later, their lives have gone forward with a really solid foundation.”
 
Both Laberge and Livera stressed the importance of continued support for the Red Cross so that countries around the world can be better prepared for future disasters.
 
And during his time in Galle, Livera said he learned the importance of the Red Cross’ commitments to long-term recovery.
 
“When I went back to my hometown, I met individuals who I assisted ten years ago, and a couple of them recognized me and said ‘I remember you from ten years ago, you were wearing a Red Cross shirt,’” said Livera.
 
“That was like coming full circle – seeing how they’re doing now, and how they’re back on their feet.”

How you can help

Since 2004, the Canadian Red Cross and its partners have built more than 6,500 homes and helped 5 million individuals in need. This assistance wouldn't have been possible without the generous support of Canadians and the Government of Canada.

By choosing to donate online or at a local Canadian Red Cross office, you'll be able to make a difference and help communities gain access to vital resources when they need them most.