The President of the World Bank Group, James D. Wolfensohn, visited tsunami-hit areas in Hambantota district of Sri Lanka on January 8, 2005, where he met with affected communities and saw first-hand the extent of damage to their lives, livelihoods and public infrastructure. He also flew over devastated areas of Galle, Ampara and Batticaloa.
The United Nations Secretary General, Mr. Kofi Annan, and Mr. Wolfensohn combined their visits to these sites in order to minimize pressure on local governments coping with relief and rehabilitation work.
During his day-long visit, Mr. Wolfensohn also met with Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakase and Minister of Finance Sarath Amunugama as well as representatives of other political parties. He assured them that the World Bank, in collaboration with other donors, would provide Sri Lanka the financial and technical support it needed to recover from the tragedy.
The Bank has already been in discussion with the Ministry of Finance to see how its current portfolio in Sri Lanka can be restructured to release funds for emergency work. About US$100 million is expected to be made available from existing projects. In addition, an emergency credit of not less than US$75 million – 40 percent of which will be a grant – will be made to enable the Government to begin recovery work.
Immediately after the disaster, the Bank made available to the Government of Sri Lanka about US$10 million from ongoing projects in health, community water supply and sanitation, and the North East Emergency Recovery Program to enable it to purchase emergency medicines, undertake epidemic prevention measures, provide cash to district offices, and supply water tanks, generators, pumps and other necessary equipment.
At the disaster sites, the World Bank President spoke with affected individuals and families, and met with local government officials and relief workers. "I am overwhelmed by the human impact of the tragedy," Mr. Wolfensohn said. "The authorities and communities are doing a remarkable job of cleaning up the debris, but reconstructing the human spirit will take much longer."
He continued: "The money is there, and the international community has shown its tremendous support for the entire region. We will support the Government as it develops a fast, transparent and effective way to convert the billions of dollars pledged all over the world into the rupees in the hands of the poor fisherman in Sri Lanka to repair his boat… or for a community to rebuild its homes."
He stressed that "the only way to begin the process of healing from this terrible tragedy is to actively engage the people in decisions about their own recovery and, through this participation, give them hope."
In his discussions with government leaders, Mr. Wolfensohn agreed that in Sri Lanka, it was the poorest and the conflict areas that were hardest hit. It was important that the reconstruction strategy should not strive merely to rebuild the poverty of those affected, but should aim to make the poor more secure and less vulnerable to future disasters.
As planning and implementation got under way, it was also necessary to ensure the full involvement of local communities, civil society, and key stakeholders, and to do so in ways that will support the peace process, he said.
Mr. Wolfensohn, who flew in from Indonesia, later left for the Maldives. Meanwhile, a joint World Bank-ADB-Japan needs assessment team is assembling in Colombo and on Monday will begin an assessment of the extent of damage, reconstruction needs and cost of recovery. It will then help the Government develop its recovery strategy, and will flexibly support it as it implements its program.
The Bank will continue to make available further funds for Sri Lanka as required by the needs assessment and recovery strategy.
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(China.org.cn January 11, 2005)