January 3, 2005
Sri Lankan Gem Dealer Appeals for Urgent Help
Gem dealer Gordon Bleck, based in the gem district of Ratnapura, Sri Lanka, is planning rescue missions in devastated regions of southern and eastern Sri Lanka, and is appealing the gem and jewelry community for financial help. "When the numbers are finally tallied, just here in Sri Lanka, you will find more dead from one hour of raging tsunamis than [from] twenty years of civil war," he says. Death tolls in Sri Lanka and the entire region continue to rise. "Many more will be found as the government clears debris from buildings, trains, buses that were full of people now inaccessible under tons of rubble."
Bleck, who says he has worked with the homeless and poor in the area for 10 years and has sent gem samples from Sri Lanka to researchers at the Gemological Institute of America for 15, has set his sights on what can be done for the living he estimates some two million Sri Lankans are now homeless in their own land. "The southeast coast has sparser populations and many remote villages and towns that have received not attention from government operations due to their remote locations. For example, 3,000 people were just found, stranded on what is now an island. They had been without food or water for four days. Supplies were airlifted in and some doctors made it out there to try and save the severely dehydrated."
Bleck plans to drive to remote areas of Sri Lanka to help people in dire need. He also has an inflatable boat he uses for his river mining operations, with which he plans to reach areas cut off by bodies of water. "If you or anyone you know is willing to come and help they can join me and stay at my house as we prepare the expedition. But they need to come now," he says.
Gem Production & Prices
Bleck also tells Professional Jeweler that the central gem-producing regions of Sri Lanka did not suffer damage from the tsunami, and says the coastal capital of Colombo is functioning. "Colombo escaped and is functioning normally, although there was some minimal damage to the harbor which had to shut down for a day or two. Gem district Ratnapura [in central Sri Lanka] is unaffected by the devastation, except for those families who had relatives on the coast," he reports. "While Ratnapura was empty for the first week after the impact, today the gem market was full, and I was surprised to see as many stones offered for sale as I did. Prices, however, are out of this world." Sri Lanka's damaged infrastructure, the mounting costs of fuel and other necessities mean gem prices are expected to remain high at least in the near-term. Other experts say that a fuller understanding of the price of Sri Lanka¹s gems will be made clear in the Arizona marketplace at Tucson's gem and mineral shows in February 2005.
How You Can Help
"My plan is to raise money for a convoy of at least a couple of truck loads of food, water, plastic sheeting for shelter, clothing and antibiotics to reach some of these people." The trip is not without peril, due to bandits in remote areas that have been attacking convoys, but Bleck is arranging for government assistance for safe travel. Bleck says he is also arranging with government officials to lend assistance with a direct aid program "to bypass all the bureaucracy so that the money is spent directly on those in desperate need." Bleck has opened an account with $1,000 of his own funds and is asking for contributions. For information on donations or helping on site, contact Bleck at firstname.lastname@example.org or call/fax (011) 45-22342.
by Robert Weldon, G.G.