Pallone travels to tsunami impacted South Asia (Day 3: Sri Lanka & India)

Jan 12, 2005

It is my belief that a critical aspect of my mission here is my responsibility to report back to Congress and to my constituents the situation in these nations. This trip has given me the opportunity to see the damage firsthand and to talk directly with aid workers on the ground so that we can best decide our next course of action.

I feel very strongly that we must think long term. As I mentioned yesterday, these countries have done a remarkable job managing this tragedy thus far, but they are going to need continuing international support to ensure a full recovery.

A DIPLOMATIC MISSION

This morning, we met with representatives from the various United Nations teams working in Sri Lanka, including UNICEF, the World Health Organization (WHO), the U.N. High Commission for Refugees and the U.N. Development Program (UNDP). They provided us with an in depth report on the status of relief and reconstruction efforts in Sri Lanka.

The UNDP representative gave me a sobering overview of the tsunami's impact on Sri Lanka's fishing industry. UNDP estimated that of 29,500 fishing boats pre-tsunami, only 9,863 survived, and that an estimated 7,573 people in the fishing industry were killed and 5,686 are still missing. UNDP estimates that it will cost upwards of $70 million to repair or replace the boats, not including the damage to other sectors of the industry.

It is my intention when I return home to work with the fishing community in New Jersey to reach out to the fishing community in Sri Lanka and throughout South Asia. New Jersey has one of the largest fishing communities in the nation and I know that people back home will be willing to help.

I also met today with both the Sri Lankan Prime Minister and Foreign Minister. I have met several times with the Foreign Minister on his visits to Washington when he briefed the Congressional Sri Lankan Caucus, which I chair.

The Foreign Minister mentioned that many of the relief efforts by the Sri Lankan government are geared toward reesta blishing talks with the Tamil Tigers. The Tigers are a terrorist organization that occupies several of the areas affected by the tsunami. While they initially balked at assistance from the government, they have since changed their mind and now allow help from the government and international agencies. It is their hope that this will be an opportunity to restart peace talks and finally settle the conflict between the Tigers and the Sri Lankan government.

A SENSE OF COMMUNITY

Something that has struck me as I have traveled from country to country is the strong sense of community between these countries. At the refugee center in Sri Lanka yesterday, there was a team of Indian physicians treating the sick and wounded. Even though India's shores experienced considerable damage during the tsunami, the Indian government immediately dispatched naval ships to Sri Lanka to assist in relief efforts.

And the international response has been just as positive. We have met with U.S. Marines in both Thailand and Sri Lanka that were dispatched to help with relief efforts. There were Marines yesterday in Galle City helping to remove debris from a playground, working side-by-side with neighborhood children. I have met with countless U.S.-based aid workers that are here to lend their expertise and knowledge. The Sri Lankan ambassador told me last week before my trip that they had to stop allowing medical teams into the country due to the fact that so many aid workers were interested in coming to help. With so many doctors flying in to help, they were afraid they would lose track of them all.

The tragedy in South Asia has brought the whole world together as a community. We've all seen the devastation and want to know what we can do to help. After my trip to South Asia, I can assure you that the assistance is appreciated and is making all the difference as the people of South Asia work to rebuild.