ALASDAIR Gordon-Gibson is exhausted. He's been running on no more than a couple of hours sleep a night since Boxing Day, when the tsunami came and swept away 28,000 lives on the Indian Ocean island of Sri Lanka, where the Scot from Perthshire is head of the Red Cross mission.

Despite the exhaustion, the horror and the seemingly impossible job of helping the beleaguered nation rebuild, Gordon-Gibson sees only hope amid the ruin. "Perhaps people around the world will take this disaster as a chance to see that we all live as one species on one planet, " he said.

"Maybe at a time of war and disaster we can take this opportunity to become more altruistic; maybe we can see that a disaster like this affects us all."

For a man who has seen horror first hand around the world, from the slaughter of the Bosnian war to today's ruined, corpse-filled coastal towns in southeast Asia, such sentiments don't come easy.

The head of the International Federation of the Red Cross in Sri Lanka said he thinks his comments are "schmaltzy" but adds "that's just what I believe".

Gordon-Gibson pointed out that the world maybe needs to take a leaf out of John Donne's book. Donne was a poet in the 16th and 17th centuries, most famed for these lines about shared humanity: "No man is an island, entire of itself . . . any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee."

Gordon-Gibson said his job will not end when the emergency relief work is done. In fact, at that point, his work will be just beginning. He said the world must dedicate itself to the "long-term rehabilitation" of the disaster-hit communities in India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and across the rest of the nations that fell victim to one of the worst earthquakes in history.

He also said that the world has to make sure that if an event like this happens again that the nations hit by the Boxing Day tsunami will be better prepared both for the onslaught and the aftermath.

International aid organisations also have lessons to learn. "We in the Red Cross are used to responding to complex emergencies in defined areas like the earthquake in Bam in Iran where victims are concentrated in one area, " GordonGibson said. "We are good at responding to that, but, in Sri Lanka alone, this disaster was spread over hundreds of miles of coastline. That is multiplied across all the other countries affected. This is a new dynamic for us. It has been a very big challenge."

Gordon-Gibson said he was overwhelmed by the courageous and immediate response from ordinary Sri Lankans in helping with the early stages of the rescue mission. "In the immediate aftermath of any international emergency whether it is a tsunami or September 11, the response on the ground has the biggest impact in saving lives, " Gordon-Gibson added.

"The response around the world has been huge, and the UK response in particular has been great. So my initial reaction to what the international community is doing is positive.

We now have to study the situation and see where we can best target relief and aid. We need to start co-ordinating our efforts very carefully so we can pinpoint our resources."

The toughest part of helping rebuild shattered communities comes in the shape of the psychological trauma that affects entire communities in the aftermath of such overwhelming tragedies.

"There are thousands of missing people; families have been separated; bodies are being buried without being identified. This is all hugely traumatic. We have to help the people deal with this through psychological assistance, " Gordon-Gibson said.

"The Danish Red Cross are particularly good at organising psycho-social support and they are moving in teams to help schoolchildren at the moment. It takes a long time for one individual to recover from even just witnessing something like this. We have to rebuild entire communities."

Gordon-Gibson said he is dealing with the "biggest, most complex emergency in the world so far" and warned Westerners not to think that "when the media spotlight goes off the disaster that everything has gone back to normal".

He added: "The extent of this disaster is still unfolding and we must not let fatigue set in.

We can't just see this as simply another tragedy and say in a month it will all be OK.

"We are a globalised society and we need to see this as a global disaster. The response so far from governments and people has been great, but there is a tendency for us all to react quickly, give money and then feel that it purges us - that we've done our bit and don't have to feel guilty any more for those people suffering at Christmas and New Year. We can't forget quickly."

While the international response has been "huge" it is not "unprecedented", GordonGibson said. "There is always a big response to such visual emergencies, " he added. "What was more striking was that, even before the international response was mobilised, the local community was organising their own search and rescue missions and getting shelter, food, water and clothing for the survivors. It was very, very impressive."

Gordon-Gibson urged the public to only respond to targeted appeals by governments and aid agencies as "unsolicited aid sent with the best will in the world can be counter-productive and a hindrance".

Just getting aid to isolated communities affected by the tsunami has become a logistical nightmare because of the shattered infrastructure and ruined roads.

Trincomalee (in the northeast of Sri Lanka) is one of the worst affected areas, but it is also affected by, and all but cut off because of, the civil conflict.

Sri Lanka has been gripped by a bloody separatist struggle between the Tamil Tigers and the government for decades.

Ironically, it is the consequences of this conflict which give Gordon-Gibson most hope for the future. "The disaster may help resolve this conflict, " he said. "The results of this disaster mean that people have to work together."

That wish for a greater brotherhood between all of mankind will be GordonGibson's New Year hope. He had planned a break in the Sri Lankan mountains with his two young daughters, Alexandra and Charlotte, and his wife Sarah over the New Year but disaster struck the day before the Gordon-Gibson family intended to go on holiday.

Last night, he spent a few hours at home at New Year before returning to the relief effort. "I'd intended to get my bagpipes out for New Year, but I haven't even had time to get them unpacked, " GordonGibson added. "It all seems kind of silly now."