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Eco-friendly gardening in Sri Lanka

Jan 27, 2009

Four years after the devastating tsunami, communities in southern Sri Lanka’s resettlement villages have learnt to create sustainable sanitation systems. Helped by the Red Cross Society, they are using composting and gardening techniques to help purify wastewater in their households.

Galle, Sri Lanka: As you enter Nilanthi’s backyard in a resettlement village in Dadalla - a small community three miles from the southern Sri Lankan coastal city of Galle - you’re immediately drawn to her lush green garden, full of fresh papayas, pomegranates, bananas, okra, squash, kankun (a local kale-like vegetable) and spinach. However, it serves a much bigger purpose than meets the eye.

The plants are growing over a household seepage bed to help purify wastewater and at the same time, allow the plants to flourish.

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“We gardened before the storm, however with help from the Red Cross Red Crescent, we have been motivated to grow even more vegetables and fruits,” says Nilanthi, a resident of the community and recipient of a Red Cross Red Crescent household sanitation system. “We’ve also learned about composting and its benefits to the environment”.

Destroyed homes

More than four years ago — on 26 December 2004 — the Indian Ocean tsunami struck the shores of more than ten countries, including Sri Lanka. In seconds, the tsunami claimed more than 35,000 lives in Sri Lanka alone. It destroyed homes, water systems and livelihoods and stretched the survivors’ emotional resilience to the limit.

Today, the American Red Cross and the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society remain dedicated to helping families get their lives back on track through activities ranging from providing emotional support to bringing safe, clean water and sanitation systems to tsunami-affected communities.

While the construction of large pipelines, community wells and latrines come to mind when water and sanitation projects are mentioned, this isn’t always the case. Just like in Nilanthi’s home in Dadalla, the American Red Cross and the Sri Lanka Red Cross are helping more than 2,100 families to create hygienic and sustainable sanitation systems in their new homes.

Environmentally-friendly

Red Cross Red Crescent volunteers and staff are also guiding families to incorporate innovative and environmentally-friendly approaches – such as composting and gardening – into their sanitation systems. The families are encouraged to grow not just plants, but fruit and vegetables to keep their yards free of toxins, as well as to produce food for their families.

During what some are calling a global food crisis, this small modification to household sanitation systems helps families and communities even more during their recovery.

“We now eat fruits and vegetables every day,” smiles Nilanthi. “And at times, we give extra to our neighbours whose gardens are smaller”.

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