Sri Lanka

Restoring livelihoods takes top priority for the Red Cross in flood stricken Sri Lanka

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By Mahieash Johnney - IFRC, Communications & Information Manager in Sri Lanka

As over 1.2 million who were affected by the 3rd wave of floods that hit Northern, North Central, Eastern and Central Sri Lanka gets back to what is left of their lives, what worries the most is whether the rains might come back and flood their lives again for a fourth time. The meteorological department of Sri Lanka issued fresh forecast which predicted more rains for the island.

The previous round of flooding 18 people was killed, 22 were injured and 3 are still missing. The government is yet to ascertain the cost for rebuilding in the 3rd wave of flooding. As of now the government has set aside 33 billion rupees for flood reconstruction and recovery efforts in all affected parts.

The damages to the national highway network alone especially in the North Central, Eastern, and Central provinces due to floods amounts to 250 million rupees approx. said Deputy Minister of Ports and Highways Nirmala Kothalawala.

The Highways in the Central Province were seriously affected due to landslides. In the Eastern and North Central Provinces great number of roads was submerged by recent floods thereby causing serious damages to culverts and bridges.

Going back to work

Gunaseelan who is a farmer in Batticaloa has seen many things in his lifetime. He has seen 3 generations grow, a 25 year old conflict, a tsunami and now 3 waves of flooding.

Today is the first day that he makes his way back to his paddy field in order to salvage whatever he can to make sure that the coming season he can harvest his crops in order to make sure his family will not face any financial difficulties.

When he returns to his paddy field, what he sees dismays him. "This is bad. It's just filled with water. What I planted before the floods has all been destroyed. All the seeds have been boiled due to the lack of sunshine and too much of water. I need to do this all over again"

This has been the reality for many who found out that their livelihoods have been taken away by floods, be it farmlands, be it poultry or be it cattle farming. According to the Ministry of Disaster Management over 75,000 cattle and many thousands of poultry was destroyed from the floods.

Destruction to farmland

Brigadier (retd) Nimal Weragama who is the Director of Operations at the Disaster Management Centre (DMC) says "The havoc caused by three rounds of flooding in Sri Lanka have destroyed 576,121 acres of paddy land in all 25 districts in the country. The total paddy cultivated was in 1.82 million acres and the total acres that were destroyed were 31% of the staple rice crop".

Latest statistics from the DMC shows that in the Matale district in Central Sri Lanka, around 4336 farmers have possibly lost their source of livelihood with the destruction of paddy land.

Paddy and other field crops planted in Trincomalee and Batticaloa districts have completely been lost.

"In many places, a month's rainfall fell in 10 days. Ampara and Batticaloa (eastern Sri Lanka) were worst affected. We have announced landslide alerts in Kandy and Badulla. The good news is the flooding seems to be easing off in most parts," says the Brigadier.

Food security

In order to allay fears of food shortage in the future the government has released 25,000 metric tons of rice from its buffer stocks to keep prices stable in the local market.

The minister of agricultural affairs Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena said that the government will do everything in its power in order to make sure that Sri Lanka does not face a food shortage in the future.

Red Cross Action

The Sri Lanka Red Cross Society (SLRCS) supported by the International Federation of the Red Cross & Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) have managed to assist over 800,000 people in ways of first aid, providing cooked food, dry rations, rescue boat services, medical care, and cash grants within the four months of the devastation.

"It has been a mammoth task to bring normalcy to the people in the devastated areas" says Tissa Abeywickrama the Director General of SLRCS. "We utilized all our resources in order to make sure that we assist the maximum number of people in these floods. The volunteers were our strength. It was their commitment and dedication that we were able to reach a higher number of people in these disastrous times"

Meanwhile the IFRC launched a 4.62 million CHF appeal to assist over 75,000 people (15,000 families) to restore livelihoods and to bring normalcy to the affected areas.

"Its key that we help these people to get back on their feet" says Bob McKerrow, the Head of Delegation in Sri Lanka of the IFRC. "We need to assure these people that we are there, that someone is there to help them to carry on their lives. Imagine when a middle income family in the eastern parts of Sri Lanka who were well to do before the floods, has to tell their children that they can only have one meal a day, the situation is heartbreaking".

McKerrow also spoke about the lack of funding for the appeal launched by the Federation.

"It's frustrating to see that the world has forgotten the people of Sri Lanka. It's even more frustrating to see the small amount of support we are receiving for this heart-breaking situation. The SLRCS have exhausted stocks and we need cash for local purchases urgently. People are desperate."

The Red Cross Movement will continue to assist the people who were affected by floods with its long term recovery plan which will focus especially on livelihood development in all areas. The branches of the SLRCS will take a prominent role in this process by working with the affected communities and making them a part in the decision making process during the recovery operation.