UW News

January 20, 2005

Experts to probe tsunami aftermath

Throughout her childhood in Sri Lanka and during adult stints working as an anthropologist there, Manjari Wijenaike saw little letup in the island’s ethnic tensions until Dec. 26, when destructive waves killed and injured thousands of Sri Lankans without regard to race, class or religion.

Wijenaiken who was in the capital, Colombo, for an anthropology project, spent the week after the tsunami raising funds for victims. Around her she saw “a suspension of old differences” as Buddhist monks fed Muslim villagers, and impoverished city slum dwellers shared their meager belongings with tsunami victims in even greater need.

“Of course there are still many challenges and tensions,” said Wijenaike, an independent scholar who lives in Bellevue. “But it was a hopeful week. If the reconstruction is handled correctly, reconciliation may be part of it as well.”

She and four others with ties to the region will discuss the tsunami’s aftermath at a panel and community dialogue tonight at 7 p.m. in 110 Kane, sponsored by the Jackson School’s South Asia and Southeast Asia centers.

The other panelists:

  • Daniel Lev, emeritus professor of political science, will moderate the panel and discuss the larger political implications for South Asia.
  • Mark Oberle, professor and associate dean in the UW department of health services, was in the Thai tsunami zone on Dec. 26 and aided people who were injured. He will discuss relief efforts from a public health perspective.
  • Mia Siscawati, a graduate student in anthropology, is an Indonesian activist who has been involved in national networks of non-governmental organizations (NGO). She will address sustainable international development, relief efforts and NGO participation in Indonesia.
  • K. Sivaramakrishnan, a UW professor of anthropology, will focus on India, with special reference to geopolitical issues, the process of delivering relief, potential social and economic impacts and environmental questions.

Wijenaike, like the other panelists, is especially concerned with the long-term impact on communities, homes and children. The giant wave devastated Sri Lanka’s crucial tourist and fishing industries.

“Some estimates say 80 percent of the fishing industry is destroyed,” she said. “Worker retraining and rehabilitation are going to be critical issues.”