The recent floods and landslides caused by torrential rains from a southwestern monsoon pelted down, and a cyclonic stormhave left a trail of destruction. Initial estimates put the damage bill at around US $ 200 million in economic losses alone. Damages to houses is anywhere up to $ 100 million. The Sirisena government has appealed for international help to tide over the crisis and lend a helping hand to the needy. The Sri Lankan cabinet this week decided to call a “conference of donors” even as pledges of support continue to pour in. To date, over, over 20 countries have provided assistance through funding or in-kind support.
Local media say that the affected families are not happy with the pace of relief effort. “We have not received adequate emergency food supplies and fear destitution,” reports quote the victims as saying.
Colombo based UN Resident Coordinator office estimated that 603,000 people are affected in 12 districts. Most victims are tea- and rubber-plantation workers, and small farmers. Among the affected are 150,000 women, 7,600 pregnant mothers and around 189,000 children. At least 25,000 students have lost their books and school stationery.
The devastation is the worst since the 2003 floods and landslides, which claimed 264 lives and destroyed 10,000 houses.
Just five weeks before the latest catastrophe, 32 people were killed and around 1,000 people lost their homes when a garbage dump collapsed at Meethotamulla, in the Colombo suburbs.
As many as seven districts, namely Galle, Gampaha, Hambantota, Kalutara, Kegalle, Matara and Ratnapura are severely hit this time around. A total of 212 deaths have been confirmed by June 8th and 78 people remain missing. Over 3,000 houses have been destroyed and 20,285 are partially damaged.
On June 6th, the Disaster Management Centre (DMC) reported that 212 people were killed and 78 are still missing. The government expects the final death toll to touch the 300 mark. Nearly 700,000 people have been affected, with more than 3,000 homes destroyed, 19,500 partially damaged and about 58,000 people relocated to some 300 camps.
As floodwaters recede, questions are being asked over the government’s failure to put in place preparedness measures that could have saved lives, says IRIN report.
“We seem to reinvent the wheel with every disaster,” Mahieash Johnney, a spokesman for the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society, was quoted as saying.
Government agencies, however, took no preemptive measures. The deployment of disaster response teams, mainly from the armed forces, came only after the floods and landslides were reported, according to Pradeep Kodippilli, director for early warning at the Disaster Management Center.
In the devastated zone the authorities are expecting more landslides and are therefore asking people to move out. These warnings have met with poor response. Residents of Pimbura in Kalutara District have refused to leave their homes, despite the danger of landslides, says a WSWS report. On Tuesday they held a protest demanding that government authorities tell them where they could relocate and what protection they would have.
Gamini Nishshanka, a 50-year-old welder from Tibbotuwawa, told the WSWS his family had no place to go. He explained they moved there more than a decade back and had spent a more than 3 million (Sri Lankan) rupees to build a home. in 1990, after the they were offered cheap land to low-income families like his Nishshanka purchased a plot of land for 25,000 rupees and spent more than 3 million rupees building a home. Landslide has forced his family to take shelter in friend’s house.
A young girl said families had received letters from authorities telling them to leave the area. “These warning letters,” she said, “are just eye wash because they don’t provide us with any place to go. If something happens, the government can say it issued warnings and claim we didn’t listen.”
A Tibbotuwawa resident said: “The only people that helped us were the neighbouring villagers. The government didn’t do anything. Many people were killed in the recent collapse of the Meethotamulla garbage dump but they are yet to get any compensation. The government has promised 250,000 rupees but no one will get anything.
“There was a protest today in Pimbura. People have been ordered to leave the area because of the threat of landslides. But where are they supposed to go? That’s why they are demonstrating. Over 20 people are still buried in the landslide there but the government is not interested in getting the bodies out. Why? Because then it would have to pay compensation.”
In the Galle district, Mapalagama residents were hit by severe flooding and are now attempting to rebuild their lives. Although floods regularly affect the area, the problem has worsened every year.
At Panangala, 58 houses were submerged and one house completely destroyed by an earth slip. One woman detailed her family’s plight. Her husband, who worked for the indigenous medicine department, had obtained a 500,000-rupee bank loan to renovate the house. Their home has now been destroyed but there is no indication when or if the authorities will inspect the damage or provide any compensation. “Officials have asked us to remove the earth,” she said, “I can’t imagine how we’ll be able to do it.”
In Hiniduma, the damage is extensive. All the town’s shops were submerged. Kalum Eranda, who sells plastic goods and footwear, estimates his losses at about 500,000 rupees. “My house has been submerged and everything destroyed. How am I going to face the future?” he asked.
Landslides killed 32 people in Baduraliya, Athvalthota, Diganna and Bellana. Five homes were completely buried and 13 people killed at Vevallandura, near the Kalwana tea estate.
A Kalutara District official told the WSWS that his office was attempting to look after 6,300 families or about 25,000 survivors. Twenty-three people from the area had been killed and 10 remain missing. Many areas still faced the danger of big landslides and residents had been evacuated.
A resident living in an emergency camp denounced the Sirisena government. “They asked us to leave our area and so we came here,” he said. “But who is going to help us? Ultimately we will have to go back to the same place. At least we were able to earn something by plucking tea from our own land. We can’t stay long here because they will not provide us with a home in a safe place. At the most, they will only give us a pittance in compensation.”
—By POREG Team …..