Sri Lanka

"Operation H2O" flood relief mission to Matara, Sri Lanka

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In late May, Southern Sri Lanka was inundated by floods. It was the country's first major flood disaster in 50 years. There were more then 235 deaths and over 108,000 families affected by the floods.
With thousands of open wells flooded over, there was a high risk of contaminated water sparking a health epidemic.

Responding to an appeal from the largest NGO in Sri Lanka -Sarvodaya, Singaporean volunteers with technical skills and well decontamination experience were deployed to provide relief assistance.

From 29 May -- 22 June, an advanced team and a main team conducted on-the-job well decontamination training to Sarvodaya staff, volunteers and affected villagers in the worst hit district of Matara.

Apart from individual Singaporeans coming forward to volunteer, there were also Singapore organizations that gave crucial support to the mission. The Asia Pacific Breweries Foundation would help fund the mission through equipment needed for the relief work including water testing kits vital for the well decontamination process and unavailable in Sri Lanka. The PUB Water Department conducted a training session for the volunteers to ensure they were well versed in well decontamination procedures and offered practical advice for adapting such procedures to flood hit Sri Lanka.

"What we didn't expect was that there would be no access to some of the houses, the flash floods that came in middle of May had destroyed the roads or made them too muddy for vehicles to pass through." Said Mr Sahari Bin Ani a volunteer with the main team. The main team had to resort to using wheelbarrows and other makeshift transportation to reach the villages with their 15 kg pumps and testing kits. At times, the team had to push a makeshift tractor that got stuck in the muddy potholes.

The work was tiring and the team had to contend with the humid weather and sudden downpours. It was however overall a rewarding experience for all. There was the satisfaction of seeing the villagers once more having safe and clean drinking water to drink. Over 120 wells were jointly decontaminated by the teams.

More importantly, both teams returned home knowing that the knowledge, skills and equipment passed on would ensure the well decontamination work would continue under the Sri Lankan NGO - Sarvodaya and that clean drinking water would be available for even more flood victims. The training and experience would also stand the Sri Lankans in good stead should another major flood disaster occur.