Immediately following the 2004 tsunami, UNEP worked with environmental authorities in Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Maldives, Thailand, Seychelles, Yemen and Somalia to conduct an environmental assessment of tsunami impacts and provide recommendations for recon-struction. Some of the key findings of the assessment, which were recorded in After the Tsunami: UNEP's Rapid Environmental Assessment Report, related to:
- The need to rehabilitate coastal ecosystems, which provide a first line of defense against natural hazards;
- Saltwater and wastewater contamination of soil and groundwater wells;
- The threat of hazardous debris to public health;
- The environmental consequences of damage to infrastructure, including industrial sites;
- The impact of the tsunami on the populations' livelihoods; and
- The over-stretching of environmental management capacities in the aftermath of the tsunami.
In the case of Sri Lanka, the assessment drew attention to the fact that 15,000 wells were made unusable and that 500 million kg of rubble were left behind by the tsunami. In areas with healthy coral reefs and mangroves, impacts were significantly reduced.
Following the assessment, UNEP initiated several rehabilitation activities and opened a field office in Colombo to provide environmental support during ongoing recovery and reconstruction operations. UNEP currently undertook the following activities in Sri Lanka:
UNEP coordinated the implementation of mangroves and coastal ecosystem rehabilitation projects in the Ampara district. Shelter-belts, green public spaces, avenue plantations and home gardens were created with the cooperation of the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources and IUCN (World Conservation Union). At demonstration sites in the Ampara district, UNEP and its government counterparts cleared tsunami-related hazardous waste, including asbestos.
Strengthening institutions for environmental governance
UNEP provided training and equipment to clear disaster waste effectively. Some of the demolition debris was re-used for road construction. UNEP worked with the Government of Sri Lanka to strengthen capacities to use Strategic Environmental Assessment to guide development plans and programmes.
UNEP finalized work under its post-tsunami reconstruction programme at the end of 2007.