Disaster Management Centre was itself a disaster
Only three phones, staff of ten and never on a Sunday
By Marisa de Silva
The National Disaster Management Centre (NDMC) set up some time ago to deal with national calamities had three telephones, a staff of ten and did not work on Sundays or public holidays. It was not working when the powerful tsunami hit Sri Lanka last Sunday killing over 40,000 people, President Chandrika Kumaratunga told the nation.

Since last Sunday's national disaster - acknowledged by the President to be the worst in the country's history - the staff at the NDMC has been increased to 15 with eight telephones to deal with the gigantic task of national disaster management.

When The Sunday Times visited its office at Battaramulla on Friday, an ad-hoc group of people were dealing with a disaster without a formal Technical Advisory Committee that was expected under a proposed law that Parliament never approved.

The centre's Director N.D. Hettiarachchi explained that the NDMC was tasked with the education of the people in coping with disasters and carry out risks and vulnerability education programmes "during times of normalcy".

The post-tsunami NDMC's 15 staff were engaged in channeling relief aid to affected areas and keeping abreast of both the death (40,000 ) toll and the missing (8,000) and providing information about the displaced persons (885,000).

Asked how much funds they had for the exercise, Mr. Hettirachchi said "a small amount". Additional funding were expected from the Treasury in emergencies, he added. There were no plans to beef-up the NDMC any further to cope with a disaster of such magnitude.

Mr. Hettirachchi said the NDMC was established under the Social Welfare Ministry and had no specialists in its permanent staff. A Bill to give greater powers to the NDMC has been shelved by Parliament since early 2003.

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