Monday, 28 June 2010

A kalabubu, a letter and a toolkit

I depart for New Zealand next week after four years working in Indonesia. This is my last full week and it has been an unusual one as I have received a kalabubu, a letter and participated in a meeting on toolkits.

A kalabubu is a masculine ornament from the island of Nias, symbolizing high prestige and war success. In pre-national Nias, headtaking was associated with royalty, creative power, and masculinity. This kalabubu necklace  (above)proclaimed that the wearer had taken a human head from an outsider group (sometimes in another region of the island) and had brought it back to the village, at the same time bringing creativity and protective forces to his community. Such an act also signified that the man was now an adult.
I am most grateful to Nigel Ede for giving me a kalabubu. Nigel has just finished his tenure on Nias where he ran the Red Cross earthquake recovery operation.

With e-mail being the main form of communication these days, it was a pleasure to receive a letter last week by Indonesian post. These joys come rarely nowadays so I used my ancient letter opener to slice the envelope open. The letter read :

Dear Mr.Bob McKerrow,

The recovery effort following the  2004 tsunami brought together people from all corners of the world united in their dedication to help those most in need.

Although the public may have forgotten about the disaster, those who took part in rebuilding have committed to share the lessons with the world through the Tsunami Global Lessons Learned (TGLL).

This program is a joint initiative by theInternational Federation of the Red
Cross, United Nations and the Agency for Rehabilitation and Reconstruction (BRR)Aceh-­‐Nias, bringing together country representatives from countries affected by the tsunami along with recovery players.

Next week,TGLL will host a brainstorming session for the Development of
Tool Kit for Disaster Recovery Practitioners.
The BRR Institute on behalf of TGLL would like to invite you to this discussion.

We believe your valuable contribution will help make the tool kit beneficial
to host governments and the actors on the ground....


Kuntoro Mangkusubroto
Signing an MoU for the 'Toolkit'. L to R. Bob McKerrow, Satya Tripathi, Kuntoro Mangkusubroto and  Loy Rego

So why am I making such a fuss about a toolkit ? In summary, it will be an opportubnity for those of us who have worked throughout the tsunami relief to recovery operation, to record our experiences and pass them on. Here is additional information for those who may ne interested.

1.1 Purpose of the toolkit

• To document the experiences of handling large scale reconstruction and recovery programmes and their complexities in order to provide guidance in the future after a disaster when new agencies are created or individuals tasked with managing agencies responsible for reconstruction and recovery.

• To provide a collation of key recovery related documents (such as reconstruction policies, institutional arrangements, guidelines etc.) produced after recent large scale disasters, for ready reference in future.

• To build capacity of agencies both at national and local level to enhance their ability in planning and implementing recovery programmes, estimating and allocating resources, increasing utilization of local institutions and capacities, and executing in time bound manner.

• To equip the agencies tasked with reconstruction and recovery, on sector specific (shelter, livelihood, critical infrastructure, environmental management) ‘know how’ of recovery programmes.

Some of the participants at a brainstorming session for the Development of a Tool Kit for Disaster Recovery Practitioners. Photo: Bob McKerrow

1.2 Target users of the toolkit

• Government agencies at national and sub-national level tasked with managing reconstruction and recovery programmes (in some case these are existing agencies given additional responsibilities, and in some cases new institutions are created after a large scale disaster)

• Sectoral line agencies responsible for implementing sector specific reconstruction and recovery programmes

• UN Agencies, inter-governmental organisations, NGOs and development partners supporting the Government and the affected communities in the process of reconstruction and recovery.

From L to R. Dr. Kuntoro, Loy Rego and Bill Nicol at the workshop.
Photo: Bob McKerrow

1.3 Scope of the toolkit

• Current scope of the toolkit would focus primarily on the experiences of reconstruction and recovery program in the tsunami affected countries.

• Readily available documentations from other recent large scale disasters such as 2001 Gujarat earthquake, 2005 Kashmir earthquake, 2008 Cyclone Nargis and 2008 Sichuan earthquake would be referred

• Subsequent version of the toolkit would take a multi-hazard approach and capture experiences in relation to other specific hazards in Asia such as earthquake, cyclones, floods etc.

1.4 Components of the toolkit

• Component 1: Handbook for reconstruction and recovery program practitioners

• Component 2: Technical Guidelines on “Build back better”, Scoping Document

• Component 3: Training course on reconstruction and recovery programme implementation targeted at national and local agencies/institutions responsible for managing reconstruction and recovery.
The three musketeers: L to R. Satya Tripathi, Bill Nicol and self. Frequently we sit round a desk and discuss how we can make sure the lessons learned from the Tsunami are well documented, and passed on to others. Photo: Yogi Purmami

Satya and Bill have been my soulmates throughout my four years working on the Tsunami in Indonesia. Satya was head of the UN Tsunami operation in Aceh, and Bill was the senior adviser to Pak Kuntoro, the Minister for Tsunami. (BRR). Through many difficult challenges we formed a strong friendship, and enjoyed catching up again for the brainstorming session for the Development of a Tool Kit for Disaster Recovery Practitioners. Bill is working on a comprehensive book on the Tsunami and knowing Bill's journalistic skills and passion for tsunami, it promises to be a cracker.

Friday, 25 June 2010

Killer landslides !

Gulnesa Beg the only girl to survive a landslide in a village of 750 people in the remote Hindu Kush mountains in Afghanistan. The  monstrous landslide  killed over 350 residents, mainly women and girls. Gulnesa is with her Father, her only relative to survive. Photo: Bob McKerrow.

On Wednesday 15 June 2010 an earthquake in West Papua, Indonesia, triggered a landslide that engulfed and killed 17 people travelling in a bus. It brought to mind the worst landslide I have seen which occured in Afghanistan in 1996. Here are the notes from my diary on that tragic day.

Recently I accompanied Abdul Basir on a difficult field trip to the mountain village of Qarluk in Badakshan. It took us four days to reach this village from Kabul by plane, landcruiser and the last day on foot or horse. The village of 750 people in the remote Hindu Kush had been hit some days before by a monstrous landslide that killed over 350 residents. All except three of the women in the village had been killed, along with a number of children, as they were in their homes while male members of the household were out tending animal and crops. The killer landslide silently swept down the hillside engulfing the whole village. Gulnesa Beg, the only girl to survive, was picked up by a dust and mud cloud, and hurled to safey, breaking her arm as she fell.

As we arrived in Qarluk, the survivors of the landslide, mainly men, were huddled together in an atmosphere of grief and bewilderment. Basir and I hugged them one by one and then he spoke to them with compassion and dignity. He told them that we in the Red Cross Movement were grieving with them and that they must take heart. Basir, in his humble way, gave those men hope at a time when their whole lives had been plunged into darkness and despair.

The men who survived the landslides sit outside their tents. The village covered in mud is the light flatish area to the left of centre in the photo, Photo: Bob McKerrow

The next day, after distributing relief supplies to each surviving family, Abdul Bashir mounted a borrowed horse and rode over a high mountain pass to two other villages in the next valley of Teshkan, where 7,000 people were under threat from a tottering mass of rock and mud high above their homes.

Abdul Basir (left), Zalmai my interpretor (centre), and village chief (right),  riding over Teshkan Pass in Badkhshan Province in Afghanistan. Photo: Bob McKerrow

Basir gave the village leaders support and encouraged them to evacuate immediately. Then he walked two hours along a path on the precipitous mountainside before regaining the track and his horse.

Land or mudslides are killers, especially in mountainous lands where over-grazing, improper terracing, inappropriate irrigation and,  deforestation, are destroying the natural run off of water. These modified mountain water catchment areas, are further being affected by climate change. Villages perched on steep hillsides, run the risk of slumping, or being hit by l;andslides, as sub-terrainean water courses destablise hillsides. Often an earthquake is the trigger.

"Increasing rainfall intensities and frequencies, coupled with population growth can drastically increase landslide-associated casualties, especially in developing countries, where pressure on land resources often lead to slope cultivation and slope agriculture which are very much prone to landslide disasters," according to the International Consortium on Landslides (ICL), United Nations University, Kyoto University and UNESCO scientists

The high Hindu Kush mountains of Badakhshan from Teshkan Pass. Photo: Bob McKerrow

Almost 100 experts from 14 nations, representing scores of global institutions and governments, gathered at UN University in Tokyo January 18-20 in 2005  to set international priorities for mitigating human and financial landslide losses and to promote a global network of International Programmes on Landslides.

The meeting marks the first anniversary of the landmark UN World Conference on Disaster Reduction in Kobe, Japan.

Asia suffered 220 landslides in the past century – by far the most of any world region – but those in North, Central and South America have caused the most deaths and injuries (25,000+) while Europe’s are the most expensive – causing average damage of almost $23 million per landslide.

And experts attending the Tokyo conference warned that climate change-related increases in the number and intensity of typhoons and hurricanes will produce in tandem a rising danger of landslides in future.

"Increasing rainfall intensities and frequencies, coupled with population growth can drastically increase landslide-associated casualties, especially in developing countries, where pressure on land resources often lead to slope cultivation and slope agriculture which are very much prone to landslide disasters," according to the International Consortium on Landslides (ICL), United Nations University, Kyoto University and UNESCO scientists organizing the three-day international meeting on landslide prevention and damage mitigation.

Climate change may promote landslides in other ways as well. A December landslide that claimed 60 lives in Yemen was blamed on mountain boulders shifting due to changes in temperature. Other landslide inducements include earthquakes, volcanic eruption, poorly planned developments, and mining.

Among natural disasters, landslides are the seventh ranked killer, after windstorms, floods, droughts, earthquakes, volcano and extreme temperature, claiming 800 to 1,000 lives on average in each of the last 20 years. An average of 940 people annually were killed by landslides in the decade 1993 to 2002, most of those victims from Asia.

Large-scale landslides along coasts or in oceans can cause tsunamis; the deadliest on record was caused by a landslide in the Unzen volcano in 1792 which killed 16,000 Japanese, due to landslide debris and the resulting tsunami. Landslides occurring at the top of a volcano can trigger eruptions, most famously that of the USA’s Mount St. Helens in 1980.

Landslides also threaten some of the world’s most precious cultural sites, including Egypt’s famous Valley of the Kings, home to the Pharaohs Tombs; Lishan China, site of the Huaqing Palace, built in the Tang dynasty (618-907); and Machu Picchu, Peru, the mountaintop fortress city of the ancient Incas.

"While all regions experience landslide disasters, the harm they cause is most acute in developing countries, where the knowledge base required to identify landslide prone areas is often either non-existent or fragmentary," says Badaoui Roubhan, Chief of the UNESCO's Disaster Reduction section.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Mid winter's Day, Vanda Station, Antarctica, 40 years on

After four months at Scott Base, I arrived at Lake Vanda in January 1970 where I spent 10 months as a science technician. We celebrated mid-winter on 21 June 1970, some 40 years ago today .

Our laboratory at Vanda station. For electricity we used a wind generator to charge our 12 volt Nicad batteries. When there was no wind, we would use a small Petter diesel generator. Photo: Bob McKerrow

For hygiene purposes, our toilet at Vanda Station was outside. Here is Tony Bromley on the thunder-box. When it got below - 40 degrees Celcius. it was dangerous as ones backside would stick to the painted seat and rip skin off. To solve this problem we made polystyrene seat covers to protect our bums. Photo: Bob McKerrow

On reflection, the 13 months I spent in Antarctica were among the best of my life.

I remember vividly the last helicopter leaving us in early February and we knew it woulld be at least nine months before we saw anyone else.

At the end of the long winter's night where it was totally dark for four months, I looked in the mirror and saw myself for the first time in five months. I wrote in my diary " A man without a woman about him is a man without vanity."

A few weeks later while reflecting on the winter, I wrote " I turned 22 in March, it is now September. During the past five months I have got to know and understand my worst enemy, myself."

The Wright Valley, View north through Bull Pass into Victoria Valley. The small stream flowing west (into Lake Vanda) is the Onyx.
On reflection, the 13 months I spent in Antarctica were among the best of my life.

The view of the Wright Valley taken from the survey station on the summit of Mt Newall (which now has a micro-wave tower on it).

We did long trips on foot in the late Autumn, throughout the winter and early Spring. Bob McKerrow left and Gary Lewis right, with frozen beards and faces. Photo: Bob McKerrow

Bath time at Vanda Station. Gary Lewis having a bath after six months Photo; Bob McKerrow

The old hand painted sign outside Vanda Station

There was also the poem I wrote just before the long winter's night ended.

I journeyed south to an icy cage
The sun never shone, there was no day
When I looked into the jaws of night
Far off I saw the threads of life
Twisting themselves into an eternal web
That stretched unbroken from dawn to death
It was the Aurora that gladdened the eye
A frenetic serpent that snaked the sky
Pouring mellowed colours that sparkled rime
On icy pendants soon to sublime.
Yes high above towers all form
Soon will come the first blush of dawn
My life has changed my dash is done
O welcome the King, O welcome the sun

The Aurora Australialis

So today I will raise a glass of red to my old comrades who I wintered over with at Vanda Station, in that remore dry valley in Antarctica: Gary Lewis, Tony Bromley and Harold Lowe.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Goodbye Carisbrook.

It was a night of nostalgia at Carisbrook, Dunedin as the All Blacks beat Wales 42 - 9. The finale for this gracious old ground was an aggressive, rugged and bruising game of rugby in the first half, with the All Blacks leading 15-9. But the All Blacks were too strong in the second half, and gave Carisbrook a send off she deserved..

Wales winger Leigh Halfpenny loses the ball as he is tackled by All Blacks first-five Daniel Carter in the last test match at Carisbrook. 

Carisbrook is my ground. I was born on a hill overlooking Carisbrook in Dunedin, and watched the All Blacks play the mighty 1956 Springboks when the late Ron Jarden scored an intercept try for the All Blacks to clinch a 10-6 win  in the first test of the tumultuous series of 1956.

It's just a rugby ground – bricks and mortar surrounding a rectangular piece of grass. Well past its best, too, rickety, rusty and ready to be put out to pasture in favour of a brand spanking new piece of modern technology.

SETTING SUN: The sun sets on Carisbrook during a 2008 Super 14 game between the Lions and the Highlanders.  My family lived for 43 years in a house on the skyline to the right of the tower in the top right corner of the photo.

I was there is 1959 when Otago beat the Lions 26-8 and some weeks later saw Don Clarke kick 18 points for a victory over the Lions and the Evening Star headline screamed: Clarke 18, Lions 17.

From Mum and Dad's bedroom window I could see Carisbrook, and if 1 walked 50 metres to Benfell's garage, I could watch a test match from there.

I remember the day in 1960 I played a match for Otago schoolboys against Southland, in front of my grandfather, and felt so proud.

I could run from my house down the hill to Carisbrook in less than 10 minutes. I met most of the visiting test rugby and cricket teams in the late 50s and 60's. Perhaps my fondest memory was in 1959 meeting that great Irish winger, Tony O'Reilly a few days before the first test at Carisbrook.

It's 102 years since the Anglo-Welsh played the first test at the ground and it's perhaps fitting that the Welsh - blood-brothers of New Zealand in rugby - should play the last.

But there's something about Carisbrook, the iconic international rugby ground situated in working class south Dunedin, that has always evoked a certain charm, a certain aura.

Whether it's been the heavy student presence on the sweeping terrace or the trademark warm southern charm, this is a ground that has usually produced a pretty special atmosphere and, for the most part, been somewhat of a fortress for the All Blacks over 102 years of tst rugby.

New Zealand's finest have played 36 tests there – not counting the unofficial international against Argentina in 1979 – and won 30 of them, with just the one draw, 9-9 against the British and Irish Lions back in 1950.

Two of the five defeats have come against the Lions (1930 and '71), while Australia (2001), South Africa ('08) and France ('09) have also blotted the All Black copybook at their southernmost test venue.

The first ever test was 1908's 32-5 victory over the touring Lions, while arguably the most famous was the 18-17 win over the Lions in 1959 where Don ‘The Boot' Clarke landed six penalty goals to send 41,500 spectators home in a state of delirium.

Carisbrook began its days as a cricket ground in the 1870s - indeed its name is derived from a local cricket club.

Floodlit since the 1990s, it can cater for both day and night fixtures. Known locally simply as "The Brook", it is also often known around the world by the name "The House of Pain", due to its solid reputation as a difficult venue for visiting teams.

Located at the foot of The Glen, a steep valley, the ground is flanked by the South Island Main Trunk Railway and the Hillside Railway Workshops, two miles southwest of Dunedin city centre in the suburb of Caversham. State Highway 1 also runs close to the northern perimeter of the ground.

Some grounds, during the height of summer, you would pray for a cooling breeze. Never at Carisbrook where, in all of its 130-odd year history, it's unlikely anyone ever basked. No test cricket could be found closer to the South Pole and some days Dunedin would do its best to bridge the meteorological gap.

Carisbrook was named after the estate of early colonial settler James Macandrew (itself named after a castle in the Isle of Wight). Developed during the 1870s, it was first used for international cricket in 1883, when Otago hosted a team from Tasmania. It has been hosting rugby union internationals since 1908 and full cricket internationals since 1955.
The greatest ocassions of all at Carisbrook have been the Otago-Southland fixtures. Soputhland currently hold the coveted Ranfurly Shield.

Peter Bush (79), the doyen of sports photographers in New Zealand, has photographed many tests at Carisbrook, after first starting as a photographer at The New Zealand Herald in 1948.  His memories of Carisbrook are all good, from the first test match against South Africa in 1956 to the freezing British Lions test in 1983.

"I remember Mark Irwin, the Otago prop, having to go off in 1956 because he had a broken collarbone or something. Those were the days when there were no replacements so he just stood on the sideline with his parka on. He wasn't retreating from the sideline. Those were great days for Otago rugby," Bush said.

The stadium is home to the Highlanders in the Super 14 and Otago in the Air New Zealand Cup. It is the former home of Otago cricket,which moved to the University Oval at Logan Park in the north of the city after the redevelopment in the early 2000s, and also of Otago United Football team in the New Zealand Football Championship, which moved to the lower-capacity Sunnyvale Park for the 2008–09 season.

But the curtain came down on this rickety old stadium, with tonight's test against Wales the final international to be played on its hallowed surface, with the new, roofed Forsyth Barr Stadium being built on prime Dunedin waterfront land, to assume responsibilities from next year's World Cup and beyond.

So what does it all mean for the All Blacks who have the honour of playing the country's final test on this ground? Not to mention the responsibility of ending a two-game losing streak – the Boks in '08 and France last year - and sending the grand old dame out in style?

If you listen to Wales' Kiwi coach Warren Gatland not that much. He wasn't too sure if the modern rugby player had any place for sentimentality in their professional ethos, and that they "didn't care what happened 50 or 100 years ago".

But speaking to the All Blacks in Dunedin this week as they prepared for this historic occasion, there was no doubting how much the Carisbrook factor was playing on their minds.

Here's what our All Blacks had to say about the honour of playing the final test on one of the great international grounds:

Dan Carter: "There's some real history behind Carisbrook. We haven't been too successful the last couple of games and we want to turn that round and win well for the people of Dunedin."

Israel Dagg: "It's a pretty cool ground, it's been around for a while and hopefilly we can send it off on a winning note."

Kieran Read: "It's something we really have to do right. There's a lot of tradition there, it's going to be a great atmosphere and hopefully we send it off in the right way."

Brad Thorn: "This is personal for me, probably a little bit emotional. This is where it all started for me, I've got a lot of family down here, and this is Carisbrook. It's what Dad used to talk about when I was a kid."

Conrad Smith: "It's pretty special, and I think everyone is aware of it. We went to the Gardies [pub] on Tuesday night, and the guys are aware of significant icons that are leaving fine cities round here."

The 1971 Lions playing at Carisbrook

Jimmy Cowan: "You just want to bless it on the right note. It's been disappointing the last two years when we haven't fronted for them. So the onus is on us to send it off the right way."

Richard Kahui: "It's special, it's been around forever and the All Blacks have always had a good record here bar the last two games. I played for the Highlanders here in 2006, and it became the first place I played pro rugby and was a launching pad to where I am now. I just hope we get the lively crowd you expect here for the last hurrah."

Richie McCaw: "I guess there are a few memories watching games while at school down here. It's always a wee bit sad when it's the last game somewhere, but that's the way it is and that new place will be pretty good too."

Graham Henry: "It's a great ground, marvellous surface, and there have been many fabulous games played there by both Otago and the All Blacks. We'd like to leave that ground with fond memories, and I'm sure the ground would like to close with fond memories."

Wayne Smith: "My most graphic memory was the Lions in '83 when it was either hailing or snowing, it was bloody cold, and we had a North-South match here that was the same. We've had some really good occasions here with Canterbury and of course the Crusaders in '99 winning the final down here. It's like an old gentleman of New Zealand rugby, isn't it?"

Victor Vito: "Any test you play at home is special, but especially at Carisbrook which is a fine historical place."

Warren Gatland (Wales coach and former All Black): "We're honoured to be part of history here. As a player I know how difficult it was to come here and get a performance when you were playing Otago. It's not the easiest place in the world to come and get a result."

 "The Scotsman's Grandstand"

The ground's current capacity is around 29,000, but has hosted crowds as high as 42,000 in the past. Until recent years, the sides of a major road overlooking the ground were known as the "Scotsman's Grandstand", from which a free view of the action could be easily obtained. At one time trains would slow to a crawl or stop on the track above the stadium allowing passengers on the train to watch an entire event; other fans would sit on the hill. This was until 1998 when development of a new stand and corporate boxes on that side of the ground blocked the view, rendering this tradition a thing of the past.

We'll remember Carisbrook particularly for the afternoon tests: the smoke from thousands of cigarettes drifting across the ground, the chants and the roar of the crowd, the heroes whose deeds on the green sward enraptured us in the winter months.

We'll never forget because, as long as the game is played in New Zealand, Carisbrook will be an integral part of the All Black test story. But I will remember Carisbrook for her diversity for I have seen the Indian Hockey team play here after their victory at the  Melbourne Olympics, great athletes such as Murray Halberg, Neville Scott, John Landy and Merv Lincoln run the 'Fesitval Mile', cricket greats such as Bert Sutcliffe, Ken Barrington, David Shepherd, John Reid and Glann Turner, Frank Cameron and Alec Moir play on her hallowed turf, and pipe bands, marching girls and acrobats giving displays.

When the last game of rugby finished tonight, pipe bands came on the ground as the All Blacks did a farewell lap. A helicopter landed on  Carisbrook ground as the 30,000 capacity crowd, many with tears in their eyes, farewelled the famous venue after the last rugby test was played there tonight after 102 years, a piece of the Carisbrook turf was collected by helicopter and taken away to the new $200 million stadium now under construction on Anzac Avenue and hopefully to be completed in time for the Rugby World Cup next year.

As the crowd cheered, the beer and whiskey flowed, and the pipe band played Auld Lang Syne

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,

And never brought to mind

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,

And auld lang syne!

Friday, 11 June 2010

A visit to the north of Sri Lanka to see Red Cross programme for internally displaced people.

The temporary shed Shivapatham now calls home.  Photo: Sri Lanka Red Cross Society

I have spent the last three days in the north of Sri Lanka familiarising myself with the Sri Lanka Red Cross (SLRCS) programme for internally displaced in the north of Sri Lanka where they are assisting an intitial 5,000 families (25,000 people) for 24 months.For further information see the IFRC appeal

We visited the districts of Vavunyia, Kilinochchi and Jaffna. Next month I move to Sri Lanka to take up my new role as head of delegation for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) so this visit was a familisation and handover one.
In Jaffna I was very impressed with the SLRCS owner driven housing programme that was supported by IFRC. Over 900 houses were built for people whose homes were destroyed by the Tsunami in 2004. I also visited a large hospital in northern Jaffna that the SLRCS/Australian Red Cross had repaired and modernised after being flooded by the tsunami.

In Kilinochchi district the SLRCS/German Red Cross have transferred cash to 50 families for the start of the  Red Cross owner-driven housing programme in this district for IDPs.
I travelled with my good friend Tissa Abeywickrama, (2nd from right),  Col. Mudagalle (far left), in photo above. The gentleman on the far right is the village administrator in one of the villages where the SLRCS are working. Photo: Barry Armstrong

So apart from the group pictured above, Chitravel and Barry Armstrong were also part of our group. Rather than tell my story, here is a typical story of a displaced family in the north.

Looking at the ruins of a place he once called home, Muttu Shivapatham, 58, remembers how life used to be just two years ago when he lived in the city of Kilinochchi in northern Sri Lanka.

A farmer by trade, Shivapatham has three daughters and a son who is now studying at Jaffna University. More than a decade of conflict certainly made life hard for this family, but Shivapatham did what he could to make ends meet.

Kilinochchi is located on Sri Lanka’s A9 road, which connects the capital Colombo to Jaffna. It was considered the de-facto capital of Tamil Tigers (LTTE) territory, at least until 2 January 2009, when the Sri Lankan government's military re-took the city. Most of the people living in Kilinochchi are Tamils and the district has been one of the island's most important farming areas since pre-historic times.

Children attending class at a temporary school in Kilinochchi Photo: Sri Lanka Red Cross Society

Moving to safety
As the fighting between government forces and the LTTE intensified in January 2009, Shivapatham, his family and the rest of the people in their town decided to move to a safer area - Mullativu - which was also the LTTE's main military base. Conditions were harsh as the family did not have a proper place to sleep or basic necessities of life.

Many Tamils were displaced during this period of fighting and began to move on to safer areas in the north of Sri Lanka, while the military was launching an offensive from the south against the LTTE.

During the conflict, the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society (SLRCS) was at the forefront of humanitarian action, providing services to survivors and assisting vulnerable people in a coordinated operation led by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

Tearful homecoming

As months passed by and the war came to an end, Shivapatham had the opportunity to visit his home - or what was left of it - in Kilinochchi. Looking at the ruins, Shivapatham shed tears thinking about the past in the place where he grew from being a child to becoming a father.

Rebuilding his life, his home and his legacy is what Shivapatham has on his mind. He says: “Regardless of everything that has been destroyed, I am happy to be home.”

"First of all, we need houses to live in, and then we need help to rebuild our livelihoods. Geographically, Kilinochchi has some positive aspects such as water and land. So with a little bit of help, I think we can rebuild this place into an economic hub in the north."

The Red Cross Red Crescent is already there, helping the most vulnerable: "We are assisting the people in these camps by attending to their medical needs, providing them with drinking water and increasing their level of sanitation," says the Red Cross branch executive officer in Vavuniya, Ronald Srikanth. He believes that more assistance is needed, especially around building livelihoods and rebuilding homes.

Support for the displaced

The Sri Lanka Red Cross never stopped their work, even during times when violence had increased. Helping elderly people who had been displaced and attending to medical needs of people living in camps were important activities throughout the conflict. "We have been working with several other organizations to improve the quality of life in the camps for internally displaced people and to help them get back in their own two feet," says A. Suthagar, the branch executive officer of the SLRCS in Mannar.

The mood of most people returning to the north is upbeat as they are delighted to come home regardless of the current conditions.

The words of Shivapatham reflect the views of most people when he says: "It's alright that everything is destroyed. We can rebuild it. After all, we are happy that we have a place to call home."

A husband and wife (centre) discussing their new house design with Tissa Abeyrickrama (right) and Barry Armstrong (left) in Kilinochchi.

The recovery operation

I know some of you may be interested in the details of the SLRCS recovery operation that we are supporting along with other RC Movement partners. The SLRCS have identified an integrated programming focus in support of the return and resettlement of the affected population through:

• Immediate support with first aid, psychosocial services and referral transports while in transit from camps and temporary locations;

• Health and care services, including water and sanitation, in the selected areas of operation as returnees settle;

• Shelter interventions, including construction of permanent houses and repairs to partially damaged houses;

• Livelihoods support;

• Disaster preparedness and risk reduction with focus on building community resilience to deal with future emergencies.

This in turn necessitates the strengthening of the SLRCS’ institutional capacity in the target districts, including mobilizing the appropriate skills and competencies in branch staff and volunteers to provide services to local communities, in re-establishing the SLRCS branch structures, and in maintaining the branch capacities to ensure delivery of services to communities in the longer term.

Red Cross owner-driven houses are well underway. Foundations are completed, bricks being made and the owners designing the house they desire. Photo: Barry Armstrong

Shelter component will be supported by activities from the health, water and sanitation, and disaster management sectors. Shelter as a sector will provide support to rebuild 800 totally destroyed houses and repair 1,200 partially damaged houses. Health component will focus on provision of first aid as well as the implementation of community based health programming. In water and sanitation, activities will focus on ensuring improved access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene promotion in order to maintain a safe and healthy living environment. The overall assessment of communities’ capacities and risks will create a platform for developing activities in resource and risk mapping and local response planning. This includes a management of common data collection and utilization between all programme components.

The SLRCS needs more funding for this programme so I hope you will be able to support them.

Monday, 7 June 2010

Tsunami orphans find a safe home in Gangaramaya Buddhist Temple Colombo

In the grounds of the temple.
Photo: Bob McKerrow

This morning I went for walk in Colombo and managed to find  the Gangarama temple. The Tsunami relief and recovery operation has been my life for five a half years and I was curious to see the work the temple had done to provide a home and family for children orphaned by the Tsunami in 2004.
A baby temple elephant is feed by devotees. Photo: Bob McKerrow

Gangaramaya Buddhist Temple Colombo is located in 61 Sri Jinaratana Road of the capital city of Sri Lanka. Throughout the year a huge number of devotees from around the globe come to the largest temple of Colombo. This temple has several statues of Buddha. The Gangaramaya Buddhist Temple in Colombo not only is a place of worship, but is also a recognized learning center. A residential hall, a museum and education rooms are found in the temple premises. This temple also has a wide collection of souvenirs of Lord Buddha. Colombo Gangaramaya Buddhist Temple has made several efforts to console the victims of the devastating tsunamis that struck Sri Lanka in 2004. After the natural disaster, the Podi Hamuduruwo (High Priest) decided upon a flower procession. For this event they collected a huge amount of money, from which, a particular amount was used for giving shelter to the tsunami victims. Today I had a chance to see some of the young girls studying in the traquil courtyard and say appeared to be well settled, and happy.

Statues of Buddha in two different poses flank the entrance. Photo: Bob McKerrow

Some of the wonderful images inside the temple. Photo: Bob McKerrow

Another reason for visiting this temple is to continue visiting places holy to
Buddhists as I started a pilgramage in 1975 to Lumbini, the place where Queen Mayadevi is said to have given birth to Siddhartha Gautama, who as the Buddha Gautama founded the Buddhist tradition. The Buddha lived between roughly 563 and 483 BCE. Lumbini is one of four magnets for pilgrimage that sprang up in places pivotal to the life of the Buddha, the others being at Kushinagar, Bodh Gaya, and Sarnath.

Some years back I visited Bodh Gaya or Bodhgaya  a religious place in Gaya district in the Indian state of Bihar. It is famous for being the place of Gautama Buddha's attainment of nirvana (Enlightenment).

Many of us are searching for the truth and enlightenment and the journey is often more interesting than the end, if there ever is an end.

A very old bodhi tree claimed to be planted from an shoot of a 2,500 year old tree that Lord Buddha planted himself in Sri Lanka. Photo: Bob McKerrow.

Near the base of this old tree, is a root that takes the shape of a human foot. Photo: Bob McKerrow

Friday, 4 June 2010

Back in Sri Lanka to an Indian Film Festival

Pettah, one of the most diverse areas of Colombo with Christian, Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu places of worship

I arrived in Sri Lanka yesterday and it is such a joy to be back in a very calm and serene, Colombo.  Stanley was there to meet me. He has been a driver for the Red Cross since 1990 and we first met in 1999 on my first visit to Sri Lanka. All the way during the 45 minutes drive into the city we discussed cricket. New Zealand and Sri Lanka are competitive rivals and it is a bond between our two nations.

Gone are all the check points from the airport to the city, and it wasn't until we reached the outskirts of Colombo, I saw the first soldier. The civil war is over.  It finished on 19 May 2009.

For those of you who are not familiar with what happened in Sri Lanka, the Sunday Times of May 24 2009, sums it up : "The terror war waged by the LTTE for more than three decades took a heavy toll on civilians. Innocent civilians, including women, children, the elderly and the clergy were hacked to death and killed in indiscriminate terrorist blasts and raids.

The number of people killed in this senseless armed struggle waged by the LTTE exceeds more than 100,000 in terms of a conservative estimate. There is no proper estimate as to how many people were wounded or mentally traumatized."

But what a joy to be back in a Sri Lanka without the threat of a terrorist blowing you up. Sri Lanka deserves this peace and it looks as if the economy, a nd the tourism industry are picking up.

2001 July 24: Attack on the Bandaranaike International Air Port. Twelve people died and 13 aircraft destroyed.

I came to Sri Lanka  a number of times between 1999 and 2997 when I was head of South Asia for the IFRC, including extensive work after the serious drought of 2001 in Hambantota, the floods and landslides of 2003 and of course, the Boxing Day Tsunami 2004.  I am now here to look at our future work with the Sri Lanka Red Cross, especially support for all the displaced people who are gradually being resettled.

I was on the first commercial flight into Colombo after the terrorist attack on the Colombo airport on 24 July 2001. What a devastating scene that greeted me !  Destroyed aircrafts littered the runways and aprons.(see photo above)

Last night when I arrived and walked into  immigration to warm and smiling officials who ushered me through in 30 seconds, then a long walk through a beautifully designed terminal, where my bag was waiting and then through customs to be greeted by Stanley.

As we approached Colombo, lights, banners and  decoration were everywhere. What was happening ?

Soon I discovered that for the first time the International Indian Film Academy will celebrate the IIFA Weekend and IIFA Awards in Sri Lanka.

Bollywood superstars started arriving in the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo, from last night, June 3 and will be here to at least 5 June for the 11th edition of IIFA.

As always the weekend will include the high-profile Global Business Forum, the IIFA Foundation Fashion Extravaganza, the IIFA Foundation Celebrity Cricket Match and IIFA film workshops.

While the list of films nominated for awards will be made known at a later stage, rumours are already flying, though one of IIFA's previous highlights - the movie premiere - has apparently been done away with.

The climax of the weekend, however, is the spectacular IIFA Awards, the biggest South Asian media event, considering to be one of the most-watched annual global events of the year. This year's show will be hosted by Riteish Deshmukh, Lara Dutta and Boman Irani.

Last year's celebrations were held in Macau, China, and culminated in a six-hour spectacle at the stunning Venetian Resort Hotel. The awards evening saw Jodhaa Akbaar clean up with 11 awards (Kal Ho Naa Ho holds the record with 14 in 2003) plus some hilarious moments when quite a few of the stars, including Zayed Khan and Aishwarya Rai, headed for the podium only to get lost on the massive stage and end up on the wrong side.

Speaking at the announcement last week, Bollywood icon and IIFA brand ambassador Amitabh Bachchan (above) explained that the festival is held in different countries each year to introduce Indian cinema to the world and integrate communities.

"As a member of the film industry I look forward to another luminous decade as IIFA journeys forth sharing Indian cinematic movements with the world," Bachchan told a news conference in Colombo.

The capital is the commercial and business centre of Sri Lanka and the most populous city in the country. Now in its second decade, IIFA has taken its vision of building bridges across business, communities, nations and cinemas to various locales the world over, from London to Joburg, Dubai to Amsterdam, and in so doing has opened new markets for Indian cinema and its cinematic culture.

IIFA organisers have gone on record saying that after the first IIFA awards were held in London, Hindi cinema ticket sales grew by 35 percent in Britain over the ensuing six months.

India's film production houses make about 1 000 films a year, but more Bollywood movies were filmed in Bangkok than in Mumbai after the 2008 IIFA event was held in Thailand's capital.

The star-studded event, which reaches out to millions of global television viewers, is seen as an opportunity to promote the island's tourism industry and diverse landscape as a possible film location destination as Sri Lanka emerges from a 25-year civil war.

So I am here on a two week handover from Barry Armstrong, who leaves in three weeks, and I will be back at the end of July to take up a two year posting.

So tonight when I had a beer with fellow Kiwi Niall Shepherd, who works for the IFR, the rich and the famous Indian moivie stars walked.

Never a dull moment.