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'Tsunami third wave' and the politics of disaster management in Sri Lanka

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The paper compares the social and political consequences of two disasters that struck Sri Lanka 70 years apart, the 1934-1935 malaria epidemic that killed over 100,000 people and the tsunami of 26 December 2004. The main argument is that while the state and civil society responses to the malaria epidemic of 1930s in many ways led to the establishment and development of the Sri Lankan welfare state and the related outcomes, including rapid advances in quality of life particularly in the rural sector, the more elaborate and well-funded tsunami response driven by the international humanitarian industry failed to facilitate speedy recovery, failed to galvanize the peace process and even added to the vulnerability of some of the affected people due to the rapid exodus of many newly arrived INGOs before completing their humanitarian mission. While the relative failure of the tsunami response may be partly attributed to the persistent conflict between the Government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelaam (LTTE), it also exposes some of the key weaknesses of humanitarian aid in the modern world. A more historically grounded and conflict-sensitive approach is necessary along with greater coordination among agencies involved.

Keywords: Sri Lanka; epidemic; humanitarian aid; politics; tsunami

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 2009-03-01

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