Saturday, May 11, 2013

Humanitarian assistance and disaster relief in Colombo

I booked into the Galadari Hotel in Colombo because that is where my conference was. It is much easier to pop upstairs if I forgot something for a  presentation. The downside is that such hotels are to a uniform international luxury style: you might as well not have left your home town. But because of its location in the midst of Colombo's government, the Galadari has something different: at breakfast the first day I noticed a lot of senior military in uniform and not just Sri Lankan. There were also some Americans in suits and short haircuts, who might as well have been in uniform. I sat down next to one who, examining my own short haircut and dark suit, explained that they were in town for "consultations". Later I found it was a Multinational Communication Interoperability Programme workshop (MCIP) with US Pacific Command (USPACOM). Personnel from 25 countries were meeting in the hotel to discuss disaster relief operations in Asia. I talked on emergency management using Sahana a few days later in Colombo. Sahana also has been used as part of the US Naval Postgraduate School Field Experimentation Program. So perhaps there is scope for the Sahana software to inter-operate with the MCIP.

The hotel is near government offices and military headquarters. This is hard to forget, as the rooms each have a sticker warning you not to use binoculars, or cameras at the window, lest you draw the attention of the armed sentries on the other side of the street. This is a shame as the rooms on the south side look out on the coastline and the Galle Face Green. At twilight, the citizens of the city promenade on the foreshore, buy food and drink from the vendors and fly kites. From the hotel window this is an unforgettable spectacle. Even better is to go down and join in. While non-locals get a few curious stares from the children, everyone is welcome.

When not at a conference I try to avoid luxury hotels. This is partly due to the annoying level of service. At the Galadari this reached new heights: after falling asleep from a long journey I was awakened by a knock at the door and the staff delivered the complementary orchard arrangement. In preference to flowers, I would have liked uninterrupted sleep.

Hanging the "do not disturb" sign on the door does not necessarily prevent disturbances. At a luxury hotel in Adelaide (for a conference) I had a call from the manager to check I was okay when the sign was out for more than a day (the staff though I might be dead).

One difference between an Australian and Sri Lankain hotel is smoking. It had not occurred to me to ask for a non-smoking room. As a result the corridor and room reeked of cigarette smoke (and the carpet appeared to be stained). Later in a non-smoking room the air was much better (the corridor still smelt of smoke and the carpet still looked stained).

My advice is that if you are in Colombo for a conference at the Galadari, then stay one night (perhaps the night of the dinner) and otherwise stay elsewhere.

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