Four years ago, a deadly tsunami, caused by a massive earthquake off the coast of Indonesia, devastated the coastal regions of a number of countries in Asia and Africa, killing over 200,000 people, and destroying cities, land, infrastructure, and the livelihoods of millions of survivors.
International response was immediate and generous. The United States and other governments, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent, and other humanitarian agencies began to provide help.
"Very quickly those countries made the decision that they were going to open up their borders to a massive influx of aid," said U.S. State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack during a press conference. "And as a result, people's lives were saved and the process of reconstruction was able to proceed more quickly."
Sri Lanka was one of the countries hardest hit by the disaster. The tsunami caused about 31,000 deaths and displaced another 443,000, and caused about a billion dollars' worth of damage to infrastructure, housing and industry.
Much of the reconstruction in Sri Lanka was conducted by the United States Agency for International Development, or USAID, and its non-governmental organization partners.
"Our goal was to build back better than what was there previously," said Rebecca Cohn, USAID's mission director in Sri Lanka.
During the past 4 years, the USAID replaced a major coastal highway bridge, rehabilitated 3 damaged fishing harbors, installed a municipal water supply system, and built 87 children's play parks. To strengthen the country's economy by training young people in various trades, USAID built and equipped 9 new vocational schools, which will teach 16 different skilled trades that meet labor needs in the local economy, including masonry, plumbing and welding, engine repair and computers.
"Promoting vocational training is, in many ways, our most important project. Training young people in vocational trades will help to provide well-paying jobs ... and will help boost both family income and the economic health of the districts of Sri Lanka as a whole," said U.S. Ambassador to Sri Lanka Robert Blake.
On December 30, 2008, USAID announced that its job of assisting Sri Lanka in recovering from the 2004 tsunami was done. The U.S. is committed to helping the people of Sri Lanka overcome the challenges of the present and work toward a brighter future.