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Press release

  • 1 February 2005
  • Professor joins Red Cross on tsunami mission

    University of Sussex anthropologist Professor Jock Stirrat has been advising the Red Cross in its plans to help rebuild communities struck down by the Asian tsunami.

    Professor Stirrat has 30 years of experience in the anthropology of fishing communities in Sri Lanka and the anthropology of development. He flew out as a volunteer to Galle, Matara and Hambantota in the south of the island two weeks after the Boxing Day tsunami. The devastating wave killed more than a quarter of a million people and destroyed businesses and communities across several countries, including Sri Lanka.

    Aid agencies are now looking beyond the immediate relief operation to see how the vast sums of donated cash can be used to help long-term rehabilitation. In Sri Lanka alone, 160,000 people are now without a home and around 18,000 small fishing boats were destroyed, along with the shops and businesses that back up the island's vital industries - tourism and fishing.

    Professor Stirrat was asked to assess how best to target aid and to establish useful contacts for the Red Cross locally to help in the rehabilitation mission. He said: "The thing that struck me most was the randomness and scale of the destruction. In some places, even on the beach, there was hardly any damage, while along other stretches the devastation extended up to 1km inland. I saw people poking around the rubble of what used to be their homes, looking for belongings, bits of their past."

    Aid for affected areas, says Professor Stirrat, should now focus on getting people back on their feet. "People do not like to depend on handouts and wish to be in control of their own lives. New boats and nets in Sri Lanka are visible signs of how aid money is helping, but less 'glamorous', less visible needs should also be met. Businessmen, labourers, shopkeepers and basic service providers, such as small workshops, all need support too. There's a danger that they will be forgotten. There's also a need to re-establish vital paperwork that secures people their identity and rights to property and businesses. If you don't have an ID card you don't exist."

    How long the rehabilitation process will take is also a complex issue. "I expect the tourist industry will pick up in the next year," says Professor Stirrat, "but the scale of the damage means that a return to normality could take anything from weeks for some to years for others - it takes time to replace 18,000 fishing boats."

    The complexity of the aid operation also illustrates the practical role that expert knowledge, such as that garnered by Professor Stirrat, can play. "The challenges facing the tsunami communities underlines the need for universities to support academics who can offer expertise and advice in a range of areas."


    Notes for editors 

    For more information about development studies at Sussex, see

    For more information on the British Red Cross tsunami aid effort, see

    Press Office contacts: Maggie Clune and Jacqui Bealing, tel: 01273 678 888, email or


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