Day 6 – Giants Amani Toomer and Chiefs Tony Richardson Arrive in Sri Lanka
J. Ethan Medley, NY Giants
February 16, 2005
The second leg of our two week journey with the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) began today as Amani, Yola and I arrived in Colombo, Sri Lanka at 4am. After getting a few precious hours of sleep, we all headed down to the hotel lobby to grab a bite to eat and meet the Sri Lanka WFP staff that would accompany us for the remainder of our trip. Also accompanying us on the rest of our trip is Tony Richardson, fullback of the Kansas City Chiefs, who was arriving straight from his victory in Honolulu in the NFL Pro Bowl.After getting familiar with everyone, we packed into several UN vehicles and began our three-hour trip down the western coastline of Sri Lanka on our way to Galle, which sits at the southern tip of the country. On our way down, we were able to learn a little bit more about the country of 20 million people that has been distracted by internal conflict for the past 20 years. While there has been a two-year cease-fire agreement between the Tamil Tigers, a separatist group, and the Sri Lankan government, the effects of their fighting has caused severe disruptions for the well-being of the people here.
WFP has been involved in this country for several years because the military conflict has disrupted food distribution to a point where 35% of the nation’s children are underweight. Needless to say, the nation, which suffered from intense fighting focused in the north and northeast, had enough problems before the tsunami rolled across its beaches along the east coast, even wrapping around the south and southwest point of the country. Considering that 20% of Sri Lankans live within 3 miles of the coast with an economy focused on tourism and the fishing industry, it is easy to understand the effect that the disaster has had here. Currently, approximately 30,000 people have died as a result of the tsunami, with 4,000 still missing and 1.5 million people directly affected.
Our coastal drive southward gave us amazing views of this paradise interrupted, with the damage worsening the further we went. We began to see more and more damaged structures, fishing boats broken in half on the rocks and the remnants of a train that was carrying 1,000 people, who were mostly lost as it was toppled by the wave. As we neared our destination, more and more camps for displaced families arose, similar to the ones we saw in Indonesia. We stopped for a seafood lunch and then finished our trip to the WFP Busa food warehouse for our major activity for the day, as our relatively small group worked efficiently to unload approximately 35 tons of rice (enough to feed 10,000 people for a week), 7 tons of fortified biscuit mix (87,000 portions for local school children), and 1 ton of corn-soy blend off of trucks and into their warehouse for distribution. After some intense physical labor, we were all quite pleased to head back to the Galle Forte Hotel, a beautiful little hotel near the coast surrounded by high walls which was completely spared by the tsunami, where we will spend the next two nights.
Because we have yet to see the most affected areas of Sri Lanka, there is still a delicate balance of beauty and destruction that co-exists in this region, allowing us to simultaneously view what the area was, and what it lost on December 26th.
Set-up in 1963, WFP is the United Nations frontline agency in the fight against global hunger. In 2003, WFP fed 104 million people in 81 countries, including most of the world’s refugees and internally displaced people. Currently, WFP is helping to feed more than 850,000 people in Sri Lanka, with a large logistics network spread throughout the country. For more information on their efforts in Indonesia and throughout the world, please visit www.wfp.org.