Sunday, April 24, 2005

Autism Awareness Campaign highly commended by prestigious Beacon Prize 2004

Ivan and Charika Corea of the Autism Awareness Campaign UK have been highly commended after being nominated for the prestigious Beacon Prize 2004 for their philanthropic achievements. The Beacon Awards (given by the Beacon Fellowship Charitable Trust) were recently announced in London.

Beacon is a charitable initiative to raise the the profile of philanthropy in the UK, awarding the Beacon Prize to individuals whose giving, be it their time, their money, or their expertise, inspires others to do more.

Ivan and Charika Corea were nominated their contribution to raising awareness of autism spectrum disorder and Asperger’s Syndrome. Their efforts have been personally backed by the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and the Leader of the Liberal Democrats. They initiated the largest ever movement for autism in the UK and launched 2002 as Autism Awareness Year supported by 800 UK organisations. The Judges applauded their work and they have received the Beacon Highly Commended Award Certificate for Leadership, second only to Sir Bob Geldof who was the winner in the Leadership category.

‘We were thrilled with the quality of the nominations received this year, reflecting the full depth and extent of charitable activity in the UK,’ commented Emily Stonor, Chief Executive of Beacon. ‘Being highly commended is thus remarkable. Ivan and Charika Corea’s nomination was judged alongside those for prize winners such as Sir Bob Geldof and Jamie Oliver.’

‘We are delighted to recognise Ivan and Charika Corea’s contribution to charity and we hope that their success story will be an inspiration to others,' said the Chief Executive of Beacon.

Ivan Corea said: ‘We are delighted to receive this Beacon Award Highly Commended Certificate. Autism is now an election issue. We have appealed to Tony Blair, Michael Howard and Charles Kennedy to take autism seriously and look at providing better public services for the 520,000 people autism and 90,000 children with autism. We still need the twin paths of inclusion in mainstream schools and special schools; we need further education and higher education opportunities for people with autism; special qualifications recognised by employers for young people with autism and Asperger’s Syndrome; labour market opportunities for all people with autism and a debate on autism and the elderly. There is still a great deal of suffering for parents, carers and autists and the next Government must move autism up the political agenda and give parents, carers and autists real choice and real opportunity to enable them to rise above the barriers placed before them.’

He urged party leaders to state how they plan to improve public services for parents, carers and autists.

Ivan Corea recently met the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, Hon. Mahinda Rajapakse and presented him with an Autism Awarenss Ribbon. He urged the Government of Sri Lanka to do more for all people with autism and Asperger's Syndrome on the island. They say there are 30,000 autistic children in Sri Lanka. Most of them are kept at home with no real access to education or public services. Quite often autism is confused with mental illness in Sri Lanka. The Autism Awareness Campaign Sri Lanka have appealed for public services in education, health, specialist speech therapy and respite care for people with autism and Asperger's Syndrome.

For more information on the Autism Awareness Campaign Sri Lanka please see

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

England Cricket legend Ian Botham visits tsunami victims in Sri Lanka

Cricket legend Botham to help tsunami victims

by Sa'adi Thawfeeq

Daily News, Colombo

English cricket legend Ian Botham will arrive in Sri Lanka today on a fact-finding mission to assist tsunami affected victims. Kushil Gunasekera speaking on behalf of the Muralitharan-Gunasekera-Vaas Foundation which is handling arrangements at this end said that Botham has been sent on this mission as an ambassador of the Laureus World Sports Award in conjuction with the Shane Warne Foundation.

The Laureus World Sports Annual Awards is the first global sports awards program which honours the achievements of sportsmen and sportswomen around the world and has established a unique place in the sporting world.

Accompanying Botham will be CEO of the Shane Warne Foundation Brad Grapsas who was here in February when Warne himself made a personal visit to Sri Lanka to find out for himself how best his Foundation could help the tsunami victims.

Outlining the program for Botham's visit, Gunasekara said that he would travel to the Galle Cricket Stadium on Wednesday morning and survey the damage. Botham will also meet and talk with people connected with cricket.

In the afternoon Botham is scheduled to travel to Seenigama and Peraliya two villages ravaged by the tsunami.

At Seenigama, the village of Sri Lanka off-spinner Muttiah Muralitharan's manager Kushil Gunasekara, Botham will discuss current and future projects and also meet the children.

At Peraliya where the train tragedy occurred, he will discuss immediate needs and future projects.

Botham (48) was one of the finest all-round cricketers produced by England. Almost as legendary as his cricket was his achievement as a tireless fundraiser for Leukaemia Research where he undertook walks between 1985 and 1999 raising an astonishing 4.5 million pounds sterling. Awarded the OBE in 1992, Botham is also a renowned television commentator.

In February, Australia's legendary leg-spinner Warne paid a visit to Galle and Seenigama and promised help through the Shane Warne Foundation.

Warne had a personal affection for the Galle Stadium because it was the venue where he captured his 500th Test wicket when Australia toured Sri Lanka in 2004.

Census Department releases tsunami impact statistics

How badly hit we are

Article from the Daily News, Colombo

BY DR. AMARA Satharasinghe, Deputy Director Department of Census and Statistics

THE biggest challenge that the Government is facing is bringing the lifestyle of the tsunami affected people to normalcy. This requires reconstruction of their damaged houses and providing them livelihood assets such as boats for affected fishing communities.

Reconstruction of the damaged infrastructure facilities is another high priority need. For planning and decision making on the rebuilding the nation devastated by this disaster, it is essential to have reliable and accurate information on the impact on the lives and properties caused by the disaster.

The Department of Census and Statistics conducted a census covering all affected districts to evaluate the damages to the lives and the buildings in the affected areas. This census was conducted in two stages.

All the buildings including those wiped out were listed during the stage 1 by updating the list of buildings prepared for conducting the Census of Population and Housing - 2001.

In addition to the listing of buildings, some information required to compile a set of key indicators on the damages to the buildings was also collected in this stage.

Detailed data collection was carried out during stage 2. Preliminary reports presenting the information collected during stage 1 of the census have been released for all the affected districts including those in the Northern and Eastern Provinces.

This census was conducted in all affected districts namely, Puttalam, Gampaha, Colombo, Kalutara, Galle, Matara, Hambantota, Ampara, Batticaloa, Trincomalee, Mulativu and Jaffna districts. Enumeration was done only in the affected census blocks of these districts, and it was conducted in two stages.

Sri Lanka is consisting of 9 provinces, 25 districts, 325 Divisional Secretary divisions and about 14,000 Grama Niladhari divisions. For the purpose of Census of Population and Housing - 2001 conducted by the department, each GN division was further subdivided into a few smaller areas called Census Blocks.

The objective of this sub division was to ensure that the enumerator assigned for the Census Block completes his field work on the final count within a given short period of time (about 6 - 12 hours). For urban areas, a census block included about 80 housing units while in rural and estate areas a census block included about 65 housing units,

Generally, the first step in any census taking operation is to update the list of all buildings to be enumerated and this list is used as the sampling frame for subsequent surveys. A frame consisting of all buildings for Sri Lanka was compiled for the Census of Population and Housing - 2001.

This frame pertaining to the affected census blocks was updated by the field staff. This frame was revised giving due consideration to the new buildings that have been constructed and demolished after the year 2001.

To provide information immediately needed for planning purposes, some key information pertaining to the buildings and the occupants was collected during the listing stage. The information collected during the listing stage is given below.

a. Postal address before the disaster

b. Name of the head of the household before the disaster

c. Type of building before the disaster: Housing Unit; Living Quarter, Institute; Non - Housing Unit

d. Whether the building is still existing

e. Present condition of the building (Completely damaged; partially damaged and cannot be used, partially damaged and can be used, not damaged)

f. Number of persons who lived in the building before the disaster g. No. of persons currently living h. Where do the usual residents of the unit now living (same unit, with friends/relatives; camp etc)

i. Address of the occupants if living outside the unit after the disaster

j. Economic activity of the unit before the disaster

k. Whether the economic activities are still carried out

Detailed information on the damages to the lives and buildings caused by the disaster was collected at the second stage of the census. Field staff of the department enumerated the occupants of the damaged buildings.

In the case of the completely damaged buildings attempts were made as far as possible to track where the occupants of such buildings were currently living and to collect the information by visiting them.

Data collection instruments (questionnaires) were so designed that some key indicators could be compiled before the commencement of computerization of completed questionnaires with the objective of releasing required key information soon after the data collection is over.

Preliminary reports presenting the findings based on the quick manual processing of data collected at the first stage of the census have already been released. These reports have been published in the Department's website:

Several key indicators have been compiled at District, DS division and GN division levels, based on the data collected during the first stage of the census.

These indicators include number of affected GN divisions, Number of affected Census Blocks, number of buildings (housing and other) in the affected census blocks before the disaster, condition of building after the disaster (completely damaged, partially damaged and cannot be used, partially damaged and can be used). Indicators were compiled for housing units as well as for other types of buildings.

In the affected Divisional Secretary (DS) divisions, there are 1971 GN divisions. Out of these GN divisions, 32 percent has been reported to be affected. Total number of census blocks in the affected GN divisions is 4,880. Of these census block, 2,611 i.e. 54 percent has been affected by the disaster.

Housing units
There had been 158,011 buildings used as housing units in the affected census blocks of Sri Lanka before the disaster. Of these buildings 25 percent have been completely damaged. Another 6 percent have been partially damaged and not usable.

That is, little over 30 percent of the housing units have been either completely wiped out or damaged to the extent that those cannot be used any longer. Percentage of buildings damaged but usable is 24 percent. The balance 44 percent of the buildings have not been affected.

The highest share of 49 percent, of the completely or partially damaged housing units is reported from the Eastern Province.

The next highest share of 23 percent was reported from the Southern Province. Western Province and Northern Provinces accounted for 15 percent and 13 percent of the completely or partially damaged housing units, respectively.

In the North Western Province, only Wennappuwa DS division of Puttalam district was affected and number of housing units affected was only 54.

When compared across the districts, highest number of housing units, damaged either completely or partially and unusable, was reported from the Ampara district. Total number of such buildings reported for Ampara district was 10,566.

This is followed by the Batticaloa and Galle districts and the corresponding numbers were 9,905 and 6,169 units respectively.

(To be Continued)

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Let us join hands to rebuild the Motherland - President of Sri Lanka

The Sri Lankan President's message for the Sinhala and Tamil New Year

The Sinhala and Tamil people of our country are closely knit by a common cultural heritage. Forgiving wrong and requesting forgiveness for wrong is a noble new year tradition our people have observed for a long time.

Therefore let us eschew all differences and join hands to rebuild our motherland, said President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga in a message issued to mark the Sinhala and Tamil New Year.

"The tsunami disaster is like a silver lining among dark clouds. A situation where all Sinhala, Tamil, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu and Muslim Communities and faiths can work together is now emerging. If we can make the joint mechanism for providing relief to people in the North East a success it will be a fine foundation for finding a lasting solution to the national problem," President Kumaratunga said.

The message: "Today is New Year Day considered as the National New Year by the Tamils and Sinhalese alike. This is the common festival of the entire Sri Lankan people and truly our most delightful cultural festival.

However our people are celebrating New Year this time from a completely different environment than past years. Only three months have lapsed after the tsunami which was a natural disaster unprecedented in our history.

All this time we have been hearing about damage to lives and property caused by earthquakes, high tides and volcanic activity in other countries of the world and thinking how fortunate we have been. But on December 26, 2004 we too had to experience that unfortunate calamity. It caused the untimely death of nearly 40,000 of our brethren and damaged properties worth tens of millions of rupees.

That moment which grabbed away the expectations filled in our hearts and our loved ones has endowed us with a permanent agony. We understand the mental pressure and pain caused in you by it. Programs to relieve that pain have now been launched by places of religious worship, the government and other interested citizens.

Since Sri Lanka has been identified as a country falling within a region prone to natural disasters lately plans are now under way to set up a natural disaster early warning centre in Sri Lanka too. Apart from this elaborate plans to rehabilitate all people affected by the tsunami have been formulated and implemented within the last three months.

In this situation it is pointless for us to wallow in pain feel disgusted anymore. Therefore let us make the New Year which has dawned a year of resolve to rebuild the country and usher in peace and prosperity.

When we consider the New Year Day it is common to both Sinhala and Tamil people. This is neither a Sinhala New Year nor a Tamil New Year but a National New Year.

The Sinhala and Tamil people of our country are closely knit by a common cultural heritage. Forgiving wrong and requesting forgiveness for wrong is a noble new year tradition our people have observed for a long time. Therefore let us eschew all differences and join hands to rebuild our motherland.

The tsunami disaster is like a silver lining among dark clouds. A situation where all Sinhala, Tamil, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu and Muslim Communities and faiths can work together is now emerging. If we can make the joint mechanism for providing relief to people in the North East a success it will be a fine foundation for finding a lasting solution to the national problem.

Furthermore this new year is celebrated on the occasion of the first anniversary of the UPFA Government headed by me. The UPFA government which was elected to office last year giving a new strength and awakening to the dawn of New Year has now laid the foundation for a new socio-economic and cultural order where social justice will rule supreme.

Much more has to be done to take the country forward on that foundation.

I hope that the strength, courage and matured thinking needed for it will dawn on every one on this new year.

Wish you all a happy New Year."

Get together to rebuild the Nation: Prime Minister of Sri Lanka

Let all of us get together regardless of race, colour, religion or and other political or social affinity and evolve a phoenix rise to rebuild the Nation, said Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse in a message to mark the Sinhala and Tamil New Year.

The message: "The Sinhala and Tamil New Year festival, based on the transition of the sun symbolises the Sinhala-Buddhist and Hindu-Tamil solidarity and prosperity.

Ironically it dawns close upon the heels of the tsunami crisis which gripped the nation in sorrow. No doubt it is the worst calamity ever to have experienced by us, and one may feel that the prevailing environment is not compatible for such festivities.

However we cannot afford to overlook our common traditions and ethics of yore. Under any such situation as they tend to promote the much needed amity and solidarity through a climate of friendship among our neighbours, particularly between the two communities, Sinhala and Tamil.

We are a nation galvanised to face vicissitudes of nature. I am of strong opinion that this event will be a welcoming fillip to enhance the mutual friendship on our march to promote a lasting peace.

No doubt that 'tomorrow' will be a brighter day for all of us, who inherit a dignified common culture.

So, on this New Year day let all of us get together regardless of race, colour, religion or any other political or social affinity and evolve a phoenix rise to rebuild the nation.

Wish you all Sri Lankans a happy New Year!"

Tsunami: The Process of Healing

Text of speech made by Industries, Tourism and Investment Promotion Minister Anura Bandaranaike, at the forum of the Sri Lanka-America Friendship Society

I am delighted to be a part of this forum, at a time when every Sri Lankan is especially grateful, for our long friendship with the United States of America; one that we see, manifest now in the partnership that Her Excellency Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga - President of Sri Lanka and His Excellency George W. Bush, President of the United States of America, have demonstrated in the fight against global terrorism; one that touched every Sri Lankan heart, when the former Presidents, George Bush and Bill Clinton visited the innocent children, separated from their loved ones by the tsunami, and now living in welfare centres.

The tsunami that devastated Sri Lanka on the morning of December 26, was the most destructive natural disaster, in our recorded history. 30,974 people died, 4,698 people are yet missing, 553,287 people have been displaced, 1,169 children have been orphaned, 3,729 children have lost one parent, 114,000 houses destroyed.

The tsunami that struck our shores, did not discriminate. It destroyed Sinhalese, Tamil and Muslim homes. It destroyed the lives of Christians and Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists. Within hours of the event, Sri Lanka had united. In true Sri Lankan tradition, those who were fortunate were helping those who had been stricken.

The first Prime Minister of India - Jawaharlal Nehru, said:

A time comes in the life time of a man, a society, or a

Nation, when a call to duty is ordained by destiny;

It rings out loud and clear,

It cannot be deaf to the call of a Nation"

One hundred days ago, in the immediate impact of this horrendous disaster, all sections of our multi-structured society responded magnanimously and positively. Under the leadership of Her Excellency the President, the institutional mechanisms for relief operations were set up promptly, and without delay, under the Presidential Task Force for Rebuilding the Nation (TAFREN).

Despite the never-ending barrage of often-lopsided criticism of State agencies, alleging inaction, in fairness to the State agencies, both at the center and the periphery, it must be admitted, that there was a significant measure of success in relief operations in immediate response to the disaster.

None died of starvation or famine; none died for lack of medical care; there were no outbreaks of disease, when epidemics of various sorts were expected, which was ratified by the World Health Organisation; law and order was effectively maintained and the authorities ensured that there was no replay of scenes so vividly brought to life by Decaprio and Lewis in the movie 'Gangs of New York'.

Thank God for that. Basic infrastructure such as roads, telecommunications and electricity restored within a week; In a few days our engineers of the much-malign Ceylon Government Railway, restored 40 kilometres of railway track - acclaimed by the BBC as a heroic response by a dedicated set of people.

The first phase of the rescue and relief operation was, in my view, handled admirably well, by the Sri Lankan Government and its organisations. In fact, visiting dignitaries such as Kofi Annan, Colin Powell, Paul Wolfensohn - President of the World Bank and so many other world leaders, shared in this admiration of State-sector efficiency.

Many countries and world communities came to our aid and assistance, in various ways. It took my mind to what William Shakespeare wrote in the 'Merchant of Venice':

It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven,
Upon the place beneath; it is twice bless'd
It bleseth him that gives, and him that takes,
It is mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes
The throned monarch, better than his crown;
His scepter shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this sceptred sway,
It is enthroned in the hearts of kings,
It is an attribute to God himself.

Amongst others, America and American friends of Sri Lanka have helped us, in numerous ways, in our times of need. American marines worked shoulder to shoulder with Sri Lankans to clear the wreckages and rubble; to this we are indeed grateful!

This crisis that affected all races, particularly destroying the North and East of the country, has given a golden opportunity for those who have been at war with the State, for the last 20 years, to come into a feasible arrangement with the Government of Sri Lanka to ensure that the tsunami relief reaches their people, without making political points. The lives of the Tamil people and the rehabilitation of the North and East, is important to us as the rest of the country.

Our Tamil brethren lost lives and livelihoods in Trincomalee and Batticaloa. Our Muslim brothers suffered likewise in Ampara in the East and the Sinhalese were affected in the South.

Immediate relief efforts did not in any way discriminate. Relief efforts took place in LTTE controlled areas as well as in Government-controlled areas. Sri Lanka's network of armed forces played a lead role in providing emergency rations, water and basic needs.

The men were mobilised for an unconventional 'war'. The part played by the hundreds of armed forces staff in the field and on the ground, though low-key and hardly acknowledged publicly, was a vital factor in the steady provision of essentials in the immediate aftermath of the tsunami. It was a reaching out to the hearts and minds of those who had suffered.

Today, this has translated into the LTTE and the Sri Lankan Government working out an agenda of relief assistance, together. Isn't this a reason for optimism? Perhaps we can win enough trust to sit together and discuss other matters as well.

What of the second phase, which has as its main objective, the normalisation of life of those shattered by the disaster. The short-term relief package covered the ration card, funeral benefits, kitchen utensils and resettlement allowance, within a total budget of Rs. 10,890 Million.

I believe this phase too has been more or less well handled in execution. The major issue in the second phase, for which a solution is yet not in place, relates to transitional shelter for those in uncomfortable tents, schools and temples or with relatives and friends in congested living rooms.

Here we see the worst of our society and systems emerging and active as a severe impediment to efficient solutions from the initial, positive emotions of magnanimity. We are shifting to our usual game of narrow minded, parochial, find-faulting, endless and destructive criticism, jealousy, petty politics, disgust and frustration, inefficiency and proliferation of corrupt practices.

The inherent weaknesses and restrained factors within the system, have caused confusion further aggravated by mushrooming of various individuals and agencies, some with their own disguised private agendas without a care for those devastated by the tsunami, and yet languishing hopelessly, under the sweltering heat of a tent meant for the cold climates of Scandinavia!

Working on the obviously wrong precept, that the State can do no good, there has been a mushrooming and unbelievable proliferation of a new society of over 6000 NGOs, some national and others international. I have no doubt that the majority of these NGOs, that are receiving billions of dollars from international donors, are well intentioned and doing a magnificent job.

Stories abound of the wrongful practices by certain NGOs, siphoning funds and material, even luxury vehicles, consumer electronics and material for their personal use, while victims of the tsunami continue to suffer.

A major drawback in the second phase of the relief effort has been the breakdown of coordination of relief activities and the hopeless lack of access to vital information.

Our private sector, I must say, magnificently rose to the occasion, displaying an incredibly high degree of responsibility. Companies sought out their employees who had "gone missing" in the aftermath, to ascertain the status of their well-being and safety.

Many private sector institutions, local and foreign investors and businesses have come forward to reconstruct the homes of those affected.

The events in the immediate aftermath of the tsunami also revealed woeful inadequacy of our disaster preparedness, when the waters receded, unwittingly, into the valley of death, rode our men, women and children.

For a country that has not experienced the full force of a tsunami, Sri Lanka was taken completely unawares, on the day after Christmas, when disaster struck. Even if people has been warned nobody would have believed it. Especially, as most of those who died, were in vehicles or entrails. Even the receding of the sea, unless you are an expert, you would not have known what it meant. Now the situation is different. The scale demonstrated on the 28th of March, when institutions and people responded to the possibility of a tsunami, diligently.

It is, however, perceived that we Sri Lankans have very short memories and that is true.

John F. Kennedy - a former President of the United States said, after the Cuban Missile Crisis:

"We can't win them all; I have been close enough to disaster to know that what seems worth sh..... one moment, You could barely remember the next"

I also believe that above all, a greater national awareness of disaster preparedness must be created amongst all segments of our society. This should be a subject in our school curriculum.

As for when the next tsunami will strike us, I cannot forecast as my expertise is politics and as in the past, I can only forecast with certainty, the events yet to unravel on the political stage. However, I would say, don't be afraid of the sea, despite the horrors of the tsunami, the sea is not a monster. Go enjoy your Sunday mornings on our golden beaches.

Let us now look at the reconstruction aspect in the aftermath. It provides a massive business opportunity for the building and construction industry. Where NGOs are involved, Sri Lanka's building industry will be able to work side-by-side with overseas companies, learning new techniques improving their knowledge and forging new links...... Yes, I would definitely consider tsunami reconstruction as an opportunity for our building and construction industry.

On the matter of housing, we are proud to note that foreign grants and other organizations have committed to re-build the entire housing sector of the affected, and today, most of the reconstruction of houses have been undertaken and commitments made. Like the phoenix rising out of his own ashes.... the reconstruction of what was lost, gives an opportunity to the construction industry to kick-start the economy, to revive itself.

As I have said before, at some length, there was national, political ethnic and ideological understanding across the political arena, immediately on the aftermath of the tsunami. Unfortunately, political perfidy overtook all that, and now bickering has begun on minor details, completely forgetting the large picture.

The Government that I represent knows that other leading political parties in Sri Lanka can show the required political maturity to come together in times of crisis. But there must be the political will to do so.

Our people, shedding political differences, rose to the occasion providing us - the country's leaders - with a shining example. Shouldn't we as the country's leaders humbly acknowledge and follow this example? I am sure you will agree that reflecting the best interests of our country and our people, it is very vital for all political parties to put aside petty politicking and work together if we are to create a united, prosperous country.

The Government that I represent has pledged to help our people to recover from this disaster with dignity, and accelerate the healing process. Therein lies the reason for my conviction that the aftermath of the tsunami can be used very effectively and creatively to resolve our national, political and ideological conflict and that we can build a united and prosperous country.

To them that have lost everything, their homes, their livelihoods their families and who have to deal with the trauma of the event, the terrible personal losses and grief of our people, the orphaned children, now learning to cope through school programmes, we can offer our sympathy and compassion and take heart from the words of James Wolfensohn - President World Bank.

"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".

As Minister of Tourism, I wish to place before you some of the strategies adopted by me and the Government for the revival of the industry. The tsunami disaster occurred at a time Sri Lanka tourism was heading for a permanent recovery, after facing continuous drawbacks from during the past two decades.

The highest arrivals of 566,202 recorded in the year 2004 while earning to the economy USD 416 million for the first time in the history of Sri Lanka tourism. Tourism generates 112,000 direct and indirect jobs.

As a result of the tsunami, 56 hotels along the East Coast, South Coast and the South West Coast, went out of business rendering 3,500 rooms un-operational. As a result of the mental trauma that was created in the minds of the tourists due to extensive international media publicity, several tour groups cancelled their scheduled travel to Sri Lanka during the winter season, which was a sad situation.

As a result, tourist arrivals during the months of January to February dropped by - 20% compared to the arrivals during the corresponding period in the year 2004. Hotel occupancy rate which was around 85% throughout the year 2004 dropped to 30 to 35% in January & February other than in Colombo hotels. To face this situation strategically, I appointed a Tourism Task Force which included top level hotel and travel industry personnel and senior officials and advised them to draw up an action plan for the resurgence of the declining tourism industry.

On their recommendation, the "Bounce Back Sri Lanka' advertising campaign was vigorously launched for confidence building and mind setting of the tourists.

I recall the tourism conference in Milan, Italy, specially designed to support tsunami affected countries including Sri Lanka, coincided with the BIT Trade Fair where I led a delegation. Likewise, the WTO appointed a task force committee to ascertain the various relief assistance to be given to Sri Lanka and other affected countries in which my Ministry Secretary is a member.

To restore accommodation facilities back to normal, the Government of Sri Lanka has agreed to introduce a duty free importation package for importation of material and equipment for refurbishment and reconstruction of the damaged hotel properties. To ease the financial difficulties faced by the industry, a special loan scheme has been introduced wherein an affected hotelier or a tourism businessman can obtain a loan of Rs. 10 million for a 6% interest with a grace period of one year.

My Government is taking measures to strengthen the administrative mechanism of the tourism industry to inject dynamism to tourism which has been already recognized as a thrust industry.

For this purpose a new tourism law will be brought to Parliament very soon for approval. This law proposes to set up a separate public and private sector driven bureau, to undertake tourism marketing and promotion in a professional manner.

This function is handled as of now by the Sri Lanka Tourist Board. With this new change the present Sri Lanka Tourist Board will be elevated to a Tourism Development Authority, which will exercise enforcement of regulations and Tourism Development, Research and International Affairs.

In conclusion let me quote one of the greatest poets and freedom fighters of India, Rabindranath Tagore:

"Where the mind is without fear
and the head is held high,
With courage and determination,
Into that heaven of freedom;
O' my Father lead my country..."

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Thrishana Pothupitiya's Poem: ' Tsunami You Hit My Island Home.'

17 year old Thrishana Pothupitiya studying at Bishop's College Colombo was one of the first Sri Lankan teenagers to put pen to paper and write about the tsunami which struck the land of her birth.Her essay 'The Power of Humanity' was published in the Daily News in Colombo. The British Red Cross said she wrote powerfully and eloquently'about the tsunami which devastated parts of Sri Lanka on 26th December 2004. Her essay is now being used as an educational resource around the world. International charities, working in the tsanimi disaster areas in Sri Lanka, have highlighted her essay.

Former US President, Bill Clinton recently wrote to the young student. President Clinton is due back on a return visit to Sri Lanka in a few months time. Thrishana Pothupitiya has also written a poem - soon to be published in an international book of poetry - about the tsunami and the spirit of hope dwelling in the hearts and minds of the people of the island.


The day was clear

The sun shone bright

Upon my island home

When all at once wailing, echoed from her shores.

And it came whirling, swirling, churning and sweeping

A monstrous twenty-foot wave

With a booming voice and mighty hurt

Destroying everything in its way.

For hours the waves swept in

Devastating her shores

Countless people lost their lives

From countless faces hot tears poured.

It came so fast in swirling rage

No time to think, to save themselves

The waves so high swept above their heads

And swept back with their lives.

A heart felt cry echoed throughout

Our beautiful island home.

The whirling sea swept of the smiles

From Sri Lanka’s livelihood.

Father and mother grieving

For their loving children lost.

Little children searching everywhere,

Searching for their parents lost.

A grieving father stands by the sea

His dead son in his arms

His agony spread throughout the land

And touched every man’s heart.

The waves destroyed many homes,

It swept off many lives.

But through this pain and sorrow

Our people began to rise.

From far away people came

To lend a helping hand

Humanity poured through the veins

Of every man and child.

The Tsunami which hit our land

On “Uduwap” poya day

Has freed us from ourselves

Has shown us the correct way.

Together all of Sri Lanka

Should get over this ordeal

Every one working together

Regardless of nationality colour and creed.

The waves shattered Sri Lanka

Yet humanity it could not break.

Compassion, love and kindness reached out to all,

And gave hope in every way.

Oh Tsunami you hit us

Expecting us to fall.

But we will rise stronger,

Much better than before.