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Resettlement needs and disease concerns mount as Sri Lanka copes with aftermath of floods and landslides

Published: 27 May 2016 7:44 CET

Mahieash Johnney, Sri Lanka Red Cross @mahieash

Almost two weeks have passed since a tropical depression in the Bay of Bengal brought heavy rains and flooding to much of Sri Lanka. In the central hill country, the ceaseless rains caused a series of deadly landslides, the worst being in the Aranayake area of Kegalle district where 48 bodies have been recovered after two major landslides tore through three villages.  More than 4,000 people in the area who lost their homes or had to be relocated because of the risk of further landslides remain in 28 temporary evacuation sites where the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society is providing aid.

Approximately 15km South West of Aranayake lies the town of Bulathkohupitiya, home to the Kalupahana tea estate. Over 60 families, all plantation workers, live within the estate. At around 10 o’clock on the night of 17 May, a landslide in the steep hills of the estate swept down and destroyed an accommodation block killing 14 people. Some, like the family of Murugaiah Navarasakulam, a 40-year-old father of three, had a narrow escape.

“I heard a loud thudding noise as if a helicopter was landing, the very next moment everything came crashing down. As soon as I heard the noise, I saw big rocks coming down. They missed our house but fell on top of my sister’s house. They all died,” said a visibly distraught Navarasakulam. “I think I only survived thanks to some good deed I must have done in my previous life”.

Navarasakulam lost three of his sisters and a brother to the landslide. All of them were living in one of the houses located below his.  Now, he is one of 94 people staying at a temporary shelter located in a local school. 

Volunteers from the Red Cross branch in Kegalle were quickly on the scene helping with search and rescue efforts. Others were dispatched to help those who survived, providing them with first aid and medical support at the school. The volunteers continue to help the evacuees, providing food, dry rations, first aid and other services.

As most of the people housed at the temporary shelter are plantation workers, they rely upon accommodation provided by the tea estate.

“We can’t leave here. Everything we have is here. We are asking the Red Cross to help us” says Navarasakulam.

The Sri Lanka Red Cross Society is working with the estate authorities and the Government to discuss how to move forwards with ensuring that the workers homes can be rebuild in a safe location.

On 25 May, the International Federation of Red Cross & Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) launched a 3.6 million Swiss Franc emergency appeal (USD 3.65) to support the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society in providing relief and longer term recovery assistance to 40,000 people affected by the floods and landslides. Some of the funds raised will go towards helping those whose homes were damaged or destroyed.

“So far we have helped over 140,000 people and our aim is to leave no-one behind. Much attention has been given to the major landslides in Aranayake, but we can’t turn a blind eye to the needs of small communities like those in Kalupahana tea estate who had very little even before disaster struck”, said Jagath Abesinghe, President of Sri Lanka Red Cross Society.

The emergency appeal will also provide clean water and sanitation along with public awareness and education around maintaining good hygiene. In flood affected areas many fresh drinking water sources have been contaminated and the remaining floodwaters pose a significant public health threat which could lead to spikes in communicable diseases such dengue, diarrhea and fever. 




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