Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Floods and landslides in Sri Lanka 2011

Entire communities have been cut off by the rising waters (Photo: Wasantha Chandrapala)

It is 9.30 am in Colombo; Wednesday 12 January 2011.  It is such a reassuring feeling to be receiving reports from all the Sri Lanka Red Cross Branches in the flood and landslides affected areas reporting on the rescue, distribution of relief supplies and clean up work they are doing. At times like this you see the benefits of intensive training programmes for volunteers. I am working side by side with Tissa Abeywickrama, the Director General of the Sri Lanka Red Cross to ensure we raise adequate funds and relief supplies.. Our operation managers Surein Peiris and Dr.Manish Pant are heading the operation to ensure relief supplies and cash for local purchases gets out to the affected areas.
The scale of the disaster is much worse than we thought yesterday so I think we will be appealing for significantly more funds today or tomorrow.

Here is a report I cobbled together from various sources:

Floods caused by heavy rainfall in Sri Lanka have affected nearly a million people, including more than 127,000 displaced from their homes, and are living in 334 temporary camps, quoting figures provided by the Government.

Torrential rainfall has lashed the Indian Ocean island nation since 26 December, triggering floods and mudslides, mainly in the eastern and central parts of the country, with Batticaloa district in the east reported to have received the largest amount of precipitation in a century.

According to the Government’s Disaster Management Centre (DMC), the total number of affected people stands at nearly 863,800, including 13 deaths, one missing and 44 injured as of today. Roads in affected areas remain submerged, reducing access.

Rs. 20,000 will be provided to farmers whose farmland have been destroyed by floods, and the weather disaster could be second only to that of the tsunami, says Mahinda Amaraweera, Minister of Disaster Management.

“The Director General of the Meteorological Department informed me that this is the first time in history that we have seen such a heavy rainfall in the month of January.

“Over 819,000 persons have been affected owing to the inclement weather. A large number of houses were also destroyed while farmlands have been severely damaged.

“Even though this is a huge problem for the country, our objective is to provide relief for the affected. Assess the damage that has been caused to farmlands and provide it to us. We will provide financial donation up to Rs. 20,000.

“This was not implemented before. I think the loss caused by this inclement weather is second only to that of the tsunami,” said the Minister.

Initial assessments in some of the affected areas over the past 24 hours have identified food, non-food items and water and sanitation services as priority needs.

The Sri Lanka Red Cross Society have released 11,000,000 rupees (100,000 Swiss francs, 103,000 USD) to support and assist victims of floods and landslides..

The Sri lanka red Cross report that districts such as Ampara, Batticaloa, Polonnaruwa, Monaragala, Nuwara-Eliya, Anuradhapura, Badulla, Kandy, Trincomalee, Vavuniya, Monaragala, Ratnapura, Kilinochchi and Matale are severely affected by the incessant rains experienced in the past few weeks, whilst other districts in the country too are affected by intermittent heavy wind and rain.

“These initial funds will support our emergency response in the affected districts, where we have been providing water, dry rations and Non Food Relief Items to the victims. Throughout, our volunteers have been assisting in evacuation, cleaning hospitals, providing boat service etc. Our strength is having our volunteers in all affected communities, making our efforts reaching most vulnerable people swiftly. We want continue in assisting the displaced people whose lives are devastated by the floods or landslides” said Tissa Abeywickrama, The Director General of the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society.

He further said that as of now, the national headquarters’ of the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society have released a sum of 6 million rupees to branches in the affected regions to carry on with initial relief efforts currently at hand.

The Director General of SLRCS also said “These funds will not only support the distribution of basic relief items to the vulnerable families, but awareness raising initiatives to reduce the risk of waterborne and water related diseases; the provision of safe water; adequate sanitation as well as hygiene promotion for the affected families”

The Sri Lanka Red Cross Society has assisted the basic needs of some 6000 families through the rainy period since early December 2010, with assistance of IFRC, German Red Cross, Canadian Red Cross and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

The relief items already distributed include food parcels; hygiene kits; kitchen kits; mosquito nets; blankets and water purification tablets.

“We will continue to support the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society and its efforts to restore the lives of these devastated families by means of financial, technical and ground support in the days to come” said Bob McKerrow, Sri Lanka Head of Delegation for the International Federation of the Red Cross & Red Crescent Societies.

A relief distribution by volunteers opf the Ampara  Branch of the SLRCS.

He further stated “We clearly have a major disaster in our hands and we need every support we could get from anyone in order to make the relief operations a success”

Meanwhile the Meteorological Department of Sri Lanka has forecast more rain in the next days in most parts of Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka’s health ministry has sent five medical teams to the eastern and Polonnaruwa areas ready to control possible outbreaks of diseases, and to set up mobile medical clinics to assist internally displaced persons. The UN World Health Organization (WHO) will bear the cost of the mobile clinics.

In addition, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has been delivering water tanks and taps to the eastern region since the beginning of the flooding and is supporting further assessments.
Rice fields have been destroyed as farmland has been inundated - ancient man-made lakes have burst their banks and country lanes look like rivers.

Some stretches of railway lines are under nearly a metre of water.

"[On Monday] more than 160 millimetres of rain fell in the eastern and north-central areas... 1,128 houses have been completely destroyed and 10,480 houses damaged."

The BBC's Charles Haviland in Colombo says that the town of Muttur has been cut off from land access.

The government says that conditions are so rough that sea access to the area was impossible, so the air force dropped food supplies on the town.

Across eastern and central Sri Lanka, schools have been shut and many have become relief camps.

A far greater number have been forced out of their homes and many are staying with family or friends.

The BBC correspondent says that some of the deaths were caused by landslides in the hills and many people have been evacuated from their houses as a precaution. He goes on to say :

The government, the Sri Lanka Red Cross, the World Food Programme and others are sending in clean water, food rations and other relief items.
But distributing it will not be easy as some roads have been breached in two.

The floods bring a risk of disease including the mosquito-borne dengue fever, which even in normal times is a severe problem in the country.

The health ministry and relief organisations are trying to supply hygiene kits and raise people's awareness of health hazards.

So for me it is not just another day in the office , but rather Tissa and I using our collective skills to raise funds and purchase more relief supplies so our operations staff  can keep the supplies flowing to the Sri Lanka Red Cross district branch volunteers in the field. How I respect these dedicated volunteers.
There is no higher calling than when a person gives his or her own knowledge, skills, time or resources to someone in need of help or comfort. This is the fundamental principle of volunteerism.

Volunteering is at the heart of community building. Volunteering promotes trust and reciprocity. It encourages good citizenship and provides people with an environment where they can learn the responsibilities of community and civic involvement. I hope and pray all our volunteers will keep safe and healthy. Sadly during the 25 year conflict in Sri Lanka, a large number of Red Cross volunteers gave their lives to the service of humanity.


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