By all estimates, the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami ranks among the worst natural disasters ever to strike Sri Lanka, killing over 30,000 and displacing over one million people from their homes. In the aftermath, one of the high-priority relief efforts was providing temporary shelters to the displaced survivors, particularly along the hardest-hit areas in the southern and eastern coasts.
However as with any major disaster, solid data required to support efficient relief operations were almost always in short supply. How many people were displaced in each locality? What was the condition of the existing infrastructure? Was drinking water available? How about sanitation facilities? What were the top priority needs?
The (UNOPS) Applied Research Unit (ARU) attached to the United Nations Office for Project Services played a vital role in the recovery efforts by supplying key data derived from baseline surveys and monitoring studies to other UN agencies and other humanitarian organizations. For this purpose the ARU employed EmergencyInfo, a powerful tool for data capture based on DevInfo database technology, to gather data on transitional shelter needs in the wake of the disaster.
EmergencyInfo allowed ARU personnel to collect data on the ground through hand-held computers known as Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) and subsequently convert the information into a DevInfo database, where it was subsequently analyzed and quickly disseminated.
“We used EmergencyInfo to assess post-tsunami living conditions at 60,000 shelter sites,” explains Chandima Bandara, a Statistics Specialist with the ARU based in Colombo, Sri Lanka. “EmergencyInfo was a free, user-friendly system that provided rapid assessment data – all elements that were needed at the time.”
Using data that was collected, analyzed and disseminated through EmergencyInfo, the ARU was able to successfully track the progress of temporary tsunami shelters. The data was shared with and used by many agencies to identify the most vulnerable families and their needs, distribute relief materials, provide sanitation and health facilities and other basic needs, and provide permanent housing solutions.
Having successfully field-tested EmergencyInfo in the aftermath of the tsunami, the ARU adopted this database system outside its emergency applications as a standard tool for its quantitative data collection and applied research projects in Sri Lanka. These include needs assessments, baseline/impact assessments, and social research projects – all of which provide enriched analysis of local humanitarian needs.
Since 2006 approximately 25 small, medium and large-scale surveys have been completed across Sri Lanka using EmergencyInfo, the data of which
“EmergencyInfo definitely allows us at UNOPS to produce timely and high quality data,” affirms Bandara.
Which is good news – both for the residents of post-tsunami Sri Lanka rebuilding their lives, as well as for the organizations empowering them to do so.
Data making a difference.
For more information, please contact Chandima Bandara, Statistics Specialist, UNOPS-ARU, at