As well as claiming countless lives, the Asian tsunami left behind devastated economies in its wake. The International Labour Organization’s JobsNet project assesses the impact on employment, identifying pressing needs for repair of workplaces and reconstruction. ILO TV sent this report from Sri Lanka.

Date issued: 20 January 2005 | Size/duration: 00:02:35 (4.65 MB)
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Hambantota on the South coast of Sri Lanka is one of the fishing villages worst hit by the tsunami.

They are clearing away the rubble, have even rebuilt the communications tower. But the real work of rebuilding a community is just starting.

On a hill overlooking town, a group of local students recruited by the International Labour Organization JobsNet project set out to survey survivors of the disaster. Connected by a series of radio repeater stations, JobsNet offices were one of the only means of communication in the first days after the tsunami, through emails and the internet.

Sunith: JobsNet

Our team, ILO’s survey team, they discuss with the people, before how they were active economically, what they earn after the tsunami and how they are going to earn their income.

Because they are young, the interviewees talk easily to the surveyors. Mr. Nandhasena has been selling coconuts in the fish market for 15 years.

Mr. Nandhasena

I bring the coconuts in a tractor and would sell between 100 and 200 coconuts a day. On market day, I could sell 500. Now it’s all gone.

His tractor, his stand, the buyers, in fact the whole market is gone. The fishing monument that stood over a square of 200 stalls now stands lonely guard over just two.

The ILO estimates that 1 million people lost their livelihoods in Sri Lanka and Indonesia alone, mostly in fishing, tourism and small businesses. Businesses like Mr. Mowlana’s grocery store.

He used to supply rice and other food in bulk to local merchants and earned around 100 dollars a day. All he has left now are a few newspapers and an empty shell of a store.

Mr. Mowlana: Grocery store owner

What I need now is a grant because I can’t hope to have enough income to repay it. Half the villagers have died and I already have bank loans that I have to repay. If I get a small grant, that will be enough.

Before the tsunami, almost three-quarters of a million people were already out of work in Sri Lanka. The disaster has added almost half a million more to that number. With adequate aid for reconstruction, repair of workplaces and equipment half of those affected could be back at work before the end of the year.

Supplies for basic needs like food and shelter continue to arrive but the long-term work of rebuilding the economy of this small town has just started. The ILO survey will assess what property has been lost and what it will take to put people back to work in a community where the time before the tsunami struck seems almost impossible to imagine.