“This is bad. What I planted before the floods has all been destroyed", says Gunaseelan, an elderly farmer in Batticaloa district. (pw-LKA0017)
By Mahieash Johnney – IFRC, Communications & Information Manager in Sri Lanka
For the 1.2 million people affected by the successive waves of flooding that have hit northern, north central, eastern and central Sri Lanka, the biggest worry is whether the heavy downpours of rain might return. According to the meteorological department of Sri Lanka the outlook is bleak, with more rainfall expected across the island in the coming days.
In the most recent wave of flooding 18 people were killed, 22 were injured and three remain missing. An estimated 30,000 homes have been partially or totally damaged and the massive cost of rebuilding infrastructure such as roads, bridges and culverts is still being calculated.
Volunteers on the frontline
Since the floods first began four months ago, the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society (SLRCS), supported by the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), has managed to assist over 800,000 people. Stranded families have been evacuated by boat, cooked food and dry rations have been distributed, wells have been cleaned and thousands of flood evacuees have been provided with medical care and first aid services.
“It has been a mammoth task to bring back a sense of normality to people in the devastated areas” says Tissa Abeywickrama, Sri Lanka Red Cross director general. “It was only thanks to the commitment and dedication of our volunteers on the ground that we were able to reach such a high number of people during this disastrous time”.
On its part, the IFRC launched a 4.62 million CHF Appeal (4.8 million USD, 3.5 million Euros) to provide emergency assistance to over 75,000 people (15,000 families). This also includes cash grants to help restore livelihoods and rebuild damaged homes over the next 12 months. However, so far only 20 per cent of the Appeal target has been met.
“It’s vital that we help these people to get back on their feet”, warns Bob McKerrow, the IFRC’s head of delegation in Sri Lanka. “It’s heartbreaking to see parents who were once relatively well off - now having to tell their children that they can only have one meal a day. We need to assure them that someone is there to help them to carry on with their lives in the coming months”.
Getting back to work
Gunaseelan, an elderly farmer in Batticaloa district, has witnessed a great deal in his lifetime. He has seen three generations of children grow up and has lived through a 25 year old conflict, a tsunami and now the worst flooding of the last century.
When the flood waters subsided he returned to inspect his ruined paddy field. “This is bad. What I planted before the floods has all been destroyed. All the rice seeds have been ruined due to the lack of sunshine and too much of water. I need to do this all over again”, he said with dismay.
This has been the reality for many farmers whose livelihoods have been washed away, be it farmlands or livestock. According to the Ministry of Disaster Management, more than 75,000 cattle and thousands of poultry died in the floods,
The flooding in Sri Lanka has affected all 25 districts of the country. In some places, a month's rainfall fell over the course of 10 days. An estimated 576,121 acres of the rice paddy cultivation, representing 31 per cent of the countries’ expected harvest, has been destroyed.