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January 18, 2005

WOCCU Assesses Tsunami Affected Areas

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Workers clear rubble from the former site of the Beruwela Credit Union in southern Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka-Following the deadly tsunami triggered by a massive earthquake off the coast of Indonesia in December, a WOCCU assessment team arrived in Sri Lanka. Normunds Mizis, the WOCCU- Uzbekistan project director, and John Ikeda, project development manager for WOCCU, met with credit union representatives in the capital city of Colombo to survey the level of damage in what has been one of the most destructive natural disasters ever.

The country's credit union federation, SANASA, is one of the organizations helping those who have suffered from the effects of the deadly tsunami, which destroyed over 90% of the island country's coastline. With nationwide presence and nearly a million members, SANASA had branches (primary societies) in virtually every affected area.

SANASA, which serves as a central liquidity facility for the credit unions, acted quickly to provide relief to members. Based on a previously developed disaster mitigation strategy, SANASA immediately mobilized a two-part strategy for relief and reconstruction of affected credit unions.

"We are not jumping into large scale humanitarian relief like the Red Cross," said Dr. P.A. Kiriwandeniya, chairman of the SANASA Development Bank." We have an obligation to our members as fellow human beings." SANASA released 1.5 million rupees (US$15,000) from an emergency fund, as well as other contributions, to purchase relief supplies. A number of credit unions in North America also donated generously toward reconstruction. The largest donations came from the Credit Union Executives Society (CUES) and CUNA Mutual Group, each giving $100,000. Kula Community Federal Credit Union contributed $25,000; Honda Federal Credit Union, Ohio Credit Union League, Washington Credit Union Foundation, and WESCOM Credit Union each gave $10,000, and Arizona Credit Union League and CUNA each gave $5,000. Many other credit union members, credit unions, leagues and corporates have also made donations.

A collapsed house on the coast of southern Sri Lanka

Even more amazing than the rapid response of SANASA was the generosity of Sri Lankan credit union members inland. Members spontaneously collected donations, funding the transport of over 200 truckloads of food, water, clothing and medicine.

The full extent of the tsunami's damage on credit unions in Sri Lanka may not be known for some time. It is estimated that of the 800 damaged, over 200 credit unions have been completely destroyed, with records and many staff and members likely swept out to sea. J.K. Reginold, regional program coordinator for SANASA's credit unions in the remote Northern and Eastern regions of the country says that very little information from that region, partially controlled by the separatist LTTE army, has reached the capital of Colombo yet.

Reginold estimates that over 15 of the 25 credit unions he supervises were completely destroyed, and that as many as 10% of members and staff at these credit unions may have been killed and most of the rest are currently in refugee camps along the eastern coast.

Reginold himself was one of the hundreds of thousands of Sri Lankans affected by the tsunami, losing his house and several members of his extended family. "The water came at us, roaring from the sea. It seeped up from the ground and was everywhere," said Reginold. "I ran, and only narrowly escaped with my life."

Individuals or organizations wishing to support the Tsunami Disaster Relief Fund can make a contribution to Worldwide Credit Union Foundation via World Council's website at www.woccu.org/disaster_relief or via the National Credit Union Foundation's website at www.ncuf.coop.



World Council of Credit Unions is the global trade association and development agency for credit unions. World Council promotes the sustainable development of credit unions and other financial cooperatives around the world to empower people through access to high quality and affordable financial services. World Council advocates on behalf of the global credit union system before international organizations and works with national governments to improve legislation and regulation. Its technical assistance programs introduce new tools and technologies to strengthen credit unions' financial performance and increase their outreach.

World Council has implemented more than 290 technical assistance programs in 71 countries. Worldwide, 57,000 credit unions in 103 countries serve 208 million people. Learn more about World Council's impact around the world at www.woccu.org.

 



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