Floods ravage Sri Lanka

from Plan International
Published on 22 May 2003
Torrential rains pounded Sri Lanka last weekend. The worst affected areas are the southern districts of Ratnapura, Matara, Hambantota - where Foster Parents Plan (Plan) works - Kaluthara and Galle. Water has risen anywhere from 5 to 20 feet - higher than many rural houses.
In some areas the torrential rains have caused landslides, and many of the 250 known dead were killed when these landslides destroyed homes. An unknown number of people are still missing while many more are marooned in slightly higher areas surrounded by water.

In total, about 180,000 people have had their homes damaged or destroyed and many are now living in temples and schools. Others have chosen to stay in the remains of their homes and another 10,000 are in temporary camps.

Many houses have been destroyed, and essentials like sleeping mats, clothes, cooking utensils, schoolbooks, and farm and fishing equipment have either been ruined or washed away. There are reports of some schools having collapsed and hospitals and health centres have had equipment and supplies damaged or washed away. Families have lost stored grain from the recent harvest, while water logging and mud is killing recently planted crops. Many of the area's wide diameter open wells have also been filled with contaminated floodwater, and large numbers of livestock have drowned or been carried off.

Communities where Plan is working

Plan staff from Hambantota have visited all Plan families in Tangalle Division, Hambantota District and are relieved to report that there are no fatalities among sponsored children or their families. However, 150 Plan families and 500 other families in Tangalle Division, and a total of 1,114 families in Hambantota District, have been affected. About half have lost their homes and most families have had their possessions either washed away or destroyed.

Short- and long-term needs

The most immediate needs are clean water, sanitation, infant and adult food, shelter, cooking utensils, clothes, lamps and fuel, sleeping mats, medicines and medical materials, and pumps and chlorine to empty and disinfect flooded wells. Certain sections of strategic roads must be rebuilt. As well, books and school supplies for school children must be distributed so that schools can restart quickly.

Once the short-term needs have been met reconstruction and rehabilitation will begin. This will include supplying roofing sheets to help people reconstruct homes, rehabilitating hospitals and health centre buildings and equipment, re-supplying medical materials and medicines, reconstructing rural access roads, restoring water supply and sanitation services, and providing seeds and food rations to support families until the next harvest.

Some progress is being made. Roads, electricity and telephones are gradually being restored. The Sri Lankan armed forces, with assistance from the Indian armed forces, are rescuing stranded people and distributing some emergency rations.

Plan's Response

Plan staff have made a detailed assessment of the situation in Hambantota District, where Plan is on the District Emergency Committee. At the national level, Plan is in close contact with the government, the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society and other large NGOs.

Plan will be assisting with emergency relief and/or rehabilitation work through government partners, community based organizations and the Red Cross. Aid to all families will include bottled water, kitchen utensils, school supplies and a cash grant for emergency needs such as clothing. We are also supplying pumps to clear wells of contaminated flood water and chlorine to disinfect the wells and will also aid in the reconstruction of a collapsed section of a key road to allow other relief goods to be distributed.