A lifeline from Verugal for water-starved tsunami survivors

(December 30, Trincomalee, Sri Lanka Guardian) Thamipillai Thirugnanasaundram was at sea, when the tsunami waves raced towards his home at Verugal Muhathuvaram in Trincomalee. “The waves carried me ashore. I was unconscious for about six to seven hours,” he explained. [Image: Thamipillai Thirugnanasaundram and his family]

When he eventually regained consciousness, he went in search of his family. After many hours of searching, he was able to locate his wife and children at a temporary shelter in Poomarathady.

Later, they took refuge in a school building in Mavadichenai. The school could not accommodate the large influx of displaced persons. But it had no choice. Neither did those who streamed to it in search of shelter, food and water.

“Aid agencies had a hard time in meeting our basic needs. The shortage of water was a major problem in our camp,” Thamipillai said.
He said he tried to get water from nearby wells but the well owners were not cooperative.

“Some wells were so polluted that we had to clean them before we could use them. Sometimes the well owners would place hundreds of conditions before they allowed us to use their wells. Some wouldn’t even let us come near their wells,” he said.

The lack of water continued to be a problem until Thamipillai and his family arrived at an IDP camp in Sooranahar months later. Here, the British charity Oxfam, with the assistance of its local partner Eachalampathai Urban Development Association (EUDA), was providing water six times a day.

EUDA official Thadchanamurty said they provided 20,000 litres of water a day to some 237 people living in this camp.

He said they brought water from Verugal where two charities had set up a plant to purify water.

The Verugal plant came into operation in June 2005. The water, which is pumped from the Verugal River, passes through 10 filters, before it is distributed. This plant provided water not only to IDP camps but also to hospitals, schools and security forces camps.

In 2006, Thamipillai and his family found permanent shelter in Verugal Muhathuvaram. “When we arrived there, water again became our main problem. We did not have implements to dig wells. There were no water bodies nearby,” he said.

Again, the Thamipillais and 108 other families in this village had to rely on aid agencies to get water. Again it was Oxfam-EUDA combine that provided water to them. According to EUDA records, 30,000 litres of water were distributed each day to this village. While distributing the water, these two aid agencies also built six wells, a 2,000- litre overhead tank and set up 24 water distribution points. As the village eventually became self sufficient in water supply, Oxfam and EUDA were able to phase out the daily water delivery.

But the jubilation was short-lived. Tragedy struck again in August 2006. “Heavy fighting broke out between the security forces and the LTTE in this area. Our wells and the overhead tank were destroyed. We were once again without drinking water,” Thamipillai said.

ven the Verugal plant was damaged in the war. It temporarily halted its water purification activities until the Oxfam-EUDA combine once again became their saviour and repaired it.

Water distribution resumed in September 2007. Each day, Thamipillai’s village received 5,000 litres of water. “We are very grateful to Oxfam and EUDA for supplying us water,” he said.

When tsunami relief operations were being carried out, the plant was able to provide as much as 125,000 litres a day. Now with well restoration activities taking place in the area, the demand for water from this plant has dropped. Yet the plant distributes about 50,000 litres a day.

In January this year, the Verugal plant was handed over to the local government authorities. However, Oxfam continues to provide the chlorine needed for water purification. Together with EUDA, it also provides technical assistance when requested by the authorities.

Water is a basic necessity. By providing and ensuring a continuous supply of water in times of need, the Verugal plant has proven to be a lifeline for people of Verugal Muhathuvaram and surrounding villages.
- Sri Lanka Guardian