"We have to act together, if we are to emerge from the ashes of this destruction"
Address to the Nation following the 2004 Tsunami
Colombo, Sri Lanka
December 28, 2004
I address you today at a moment of deep shock and grief for our Nation caused by the most terrible disaster that has struck our country in recent history. Due to this natural disaster that has come upon us at an unexpected time and in an unforeseen manner, we have to bear the untimely loss of thousands of valuable lives. The destruction caused to property is of a hitherto unknown magnitude.
On this occasion I wish to first extend my deepest sympathies and that of the Government of Sri Lanka, to the families of all Sri Lankan and foreign nationals who have lost their lives in this disaster. Similarly, it is my fervent wish that all those who have suffered injury and have had to face other suffering due to this great tragedy be able to recover from their injuries and other adversities soon, and return to normal lives.
I wish to extend my condolences and that of the Government and people of Sri Lanka to the Governments and peoples of the countries in the Asian region that were similarly affected by the tidal waves.
From the morning of December 26th, the Government has taken every step to provide speedy relief to all those who have suffered from this disaster. Steps have been taken to identify immediate needs and supply them. In addition to supplying food, drinking water, clothes, medicines and other necessities, action has also been taken to carry out the final rites of those who have lost their lives, without delay.
I have already initiated action to obtain foreign advisory services to expand and upgrade the Disaster Management Unit established a few years ago in the President’s Office, in order to set up early warning systems about natural disasters and to implement effectively disaster management measures.
While action is already being taken to provide relief to the victims of this disaster, I have already appointed a special task force entrusted with the task of reconstruction of damaged infrastructure.
I have today appointed a Special Committee to rebuild the areas that have faced destruction. While the Government will allocate funds for this, it has also initiated action to obtain the assistance and leadership of Sri Lankan entrepreneurs, as well as foreign assistance.
Due to the flooding of some areas we face many obstacles in carrying out this work. It is necessary to place on record here that commendable service has already been done in this regard by the Prime Minister and all Ministers, Chief Ministers of Provincial Councils and associated persons, and all those involved in the Security Forces, the Police and the Public Service.
District Committees have now been appointed for implementation of relief activities. Each of these committees will be chaired by a Minister or a Senior Public Officer, and will include the relevant District Secretaries, a representative of the Security Forces, a senior Police Officer as well as, the Heads of relevant State Institutions, and the leaders of the organizations of civil society in each area. The District Secretary has been designated the Competent Authority for these committees.
Funds for the provision of relief have already been allocated and released to the relevant Government Agents.
We are most encouraged by the role played by foreign governments, foreigners as well as Sri Lankans living abroad in taking the lead in assisting us on this occasion.
We have already received helicopters, ships and boats, doctors and medicines, food and many other necessary goods and material, as well as the services of specialists in disaster management from several foreign governments. As of now, aid has been received from more than 20 foreign countries and special organizations of the United Nations.
In addition a large number of our own citizens such as doctors, public servants, members of the private sector as well as many individuals have volunteered their services in many ways. I extend to all of them the heartfelt gratitude of myself and my government.
As this is a disaster that occurred suddenly and at the most unexpected time there are certain difficulties faced in providing necessary relief. It is the effort of the government to minimize such situations as much as possible. However, I request you to be patient and bear with us at this difficult moment. Similarly it is my request that instead of looking for shortcomings, each person extends to us whatever assistance possible.
This disaster has occurred at a time when we have launched a new programme of economic development to bring prosperity to our country. We have to traverse a very difficult path to solve our economic problems. Due to this natural disaster it is inevitable that our path to progress will be made even more difficult.
It is necessary for me to remind you that there are a few who seek to take undue personal or political advantage from this tragic situation by spreading false rumors. Some drive the people who are already in fear to greater fear, by statements about the possibility of another tidal wave.
However, scientific opinion has clearly stated that there is no possibility of such destructive tidal wave action for many years to come. Therefore, I call upon you not to believe such false rumors or be misled by them.
However, it is my view that this immense tragedy has given us an ideal opportunity to take a fresh look at ourselves and our society.
My dear citizens,
This is a moment of great humility for us all. We have been incredibly humbled by Nature’s great forces.
An ineluctable truth has been laid bare before us all. The mighty forces of Nature have compelled us to learn a lesson that some of us refused for long to learn. We have to act together, if we are to emerge from the ashes of this destruction.
This disaster has not been selective in the destruction it has wreaked. Tidal waves have treated all people alike. Nature does not differentiate in the treatment of peoples.
Loss of life, loss and destruction of property take place irrespective of whether it is in the North or South. It does not differentiate between the Sinhalese, Tamils or Muslims.
It knows no difference between religions or castes: the high and low in society or the rich and the poor. It is necessary that we reflect carefully upon this lesson nature has taught us.
It is not possible to deal with a massive natural calamity of this magnitude separately as Sinhalese, Tamils or Muslims. We must all stand together. It is not possible for any one community alone to rebuild this country. It is also a difficult task for political parties to provide solutions to this great challenge on their own. Therefore, it is my earnest appeal that in the sacred task of rebuilding this country from this massive destruction, we all stand together as one country and one people, irrespective of all differences, transcending the boundaries that divide us. In a country where every aspect of life has been politicized, the building of such a feeling of unity may not be an easy task. However, this is a good opportunity to achieve such an end, even though difficult. It is my belief that however great the tragedy we face today, we Sri Lankans possess the courage and strength to overcome it.
The government has already taken steps to identify lands to build homes for those living on the coastline whose houses were destroyed in this disaster. Therefore, such persons should refrain from building their homes in these affected areas.
During our millennial heritage we, have on various occasions faced a variety of obstacles and challenges and had the strength to always overcome them. I have no doubt at all that on this occasion too we possess the strength and determination to overcome the current challenges.
The Government has decided to declare 31st December, the last day of this year, as a day of national mourning. At 4.00 p.m. of this day we will hold combined religious observances at Galle Face Green presided by the Maha Nayake Theros and religious dignitaries of the other main religions. I wish to invite all citizens to participate with us in this moment of prayer, retrospection and the renewal of our collective will to rise up from this, our national tragedy to rebuild our nation stronger and better than before.
Thereafter, we request all places of religious worship throughout the country to hold appropriate religious ceremonies at 6.30 in the evening with the participation of all the residents of the area.
We suggest that at one moment, i.e. at 6.30 p.m. on 31st December all religious places of worship ring their bells for three minutes and then commence the religious event.
Let us all rise up and stand united, let us transform adversity to an opportunity for progress.
May you all receive the Blessings of the Triple Gem!
May you have the Blessing of Gods!
Asalam Alai kum!