Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka: Flooding and Landslides Emergency Appeal No. 13/03 Operations Update no. 3

Originally published


The Federation's mission is to improve the lives of vulnerable people by mobilizing the power of humanity. It is the world's largest humanitarian organization and its millions of volunteers are active in over 180 countries. For more information:
Launched on 20 May, 2003 for CHF 1,212,000 (USD 934,598 or EUR 801,424) to assist some 125,000 beneficiaries for three months; budget increased to CHF 2,632,968 to assist some 700,000 beneficiaries for six months.

Period covered: 7 May to 15 May, 2003

In Brief

Appeal coverage: 83.4%

This Operations Update no. 3 reflects a revised plan of action and budget including CHF 770,584 (EUR 500,000) being sought by the Spanish Red Cross (ECHO funding). This appeal now therefore seeks a total of CHF 2,632,584, and CHF 436,083 is needed.


The Appeal 13/03 (Sri Lanka: Floods and landslides) was issued on 20 May 2003 seeking CHF 1,212,000 to assist 125,000 beneficiaries for three months. Donors reacted promptly and positively to this preliminary appeal, which was followed by more detailed assessments to clarify the scale and consequences of the natural disaster and target the continued assistance. This revised appeal is up-scaling the amount sought to CHF 2,625,968 (including bilateral assistance), aiming to reduce the vulnerability of a total population of some 700,000 people (140,000 families) most affected by the floods and landslides, and to strengthen the Sri Lanka Red Cross' capacity respond to the current emergency and future disasters. The original Appeal had a large food relief component this was a major need at the time of the first assessment. Later assessments however have revealed that this need has largely been met by the Government and other organisations including significant local donations of made to Sri Lanka Red Cross. In this revised Appeal therefore the major component of the operation is in sector of water and sanitation. This is the most critical issue at this stage, and an area where action to prevent disease and death among the affected can be carried out cost effectively and with great impact.

The situation

After heavy monsoon rains, villages in the south and southwest of Sri Lanka were struck by flash floods landslides on 17 May. Several rivers overflowed, inundating large tracts of land. Numerous villages were totally partially submerged and water and landslides cut off many roads. The worst affected areas are the five districts Kalutara, Hambantota, Galle, Matara and Ratnapura, with the latter two being the worst affected. In Ratnapura, water level was approximately ten metres above normal.

According to the most updated government figures (30 May) nearly 146,000 families were affected. 250 people were killed. Conditions are returning to normal, and assistance is reaching more and more people. Many of survivors however, have lost everything, as approximately 10,000 houses are destroyed and another 30,000 houses partially destroyed. These people, who have to start their lives anew, are highly vulnerable. The large number displaced people who sought refuge in temples, schools and other public buildings in the first phase of emergency, soon decreased, but at the time of the writing of this revised appeal, 2,000 people are still living under difficult circumstances in these makeshift camps.

Only three per cent of the rice paddies in the affected areas were damaged, thus the next harvest is expected to be normal. The long-term damage to infrastructure, economic activities and social life, is however expected to be substantial. Water levels have now receded in most of the affected areas, but thousands of wells and latrines were flooded, leaving the population with water and sanitation risks. A serious deterioration of the health situation has so far not followed in the wake of the flooding, but outbreaks of water and vector borne diseases will increase if comprehensive action is not taken in the area of water and sanitation.

The Government quickly established an emergency operations room for the disaster. Sri Lankan police and the armed forces were involved in the rescue and evacuation efforts as well as in delivery of food and relief items and improving water supplies. Teams from the Indian army also took part. Some media reports have focused on slow and uncoordinated response. The government is fairly satisfied with relief efforts, but has admitted that coordination should be better. The floods have exposed the weaknesses in disaster preparedness in the country.

Red Cross and Red Crescent response so far

The immediate relief efforts of the Sri Lanka Red Cross have been an important contribution in a situation that by far overstretched the available resources. The Sri Lanka Red Cross branches and their community-based volunteers in the affected areas made a real difference in the first chaotic hours and days after disaster struck. Full reports on their efforts have not been possible to obtain so far, but all five branches in the affected districts were involved in activities ranging from transportation/evacuation, search and rescue, first aid and dissemination of knowledge about prevention of water and vector borne diseases, to bowsering of water. All branches have been and are continuing to carry out distribution of food, water bottles and non-food relief items like clothing, plastic buckets and tents. Boats were employed to reach marooned people including boats procured previously under the Sri Lanka Red Cross Disaster Preparedness programme. The food and relief items were taken from buffer stocks or donated locally. Around 200 Red Cross volunteers were mobilized to collect local donations that started to stream in different quantities from various sources. Both cash and in-kind donations were collected at relief collecting centres opened at each Red Cross branch in all the districts. Individual and group donations within the first few days after the disaster amounted to more than 2 million Sri Lankan rupees (CHF 27,000).

A Floods and Landslides Task Force was established and operational from 23 May, consisting of key Sri Lanka Red Cross staff and reinforced temporarily with two members from the Regional Disaster Response Team (RDRT) and two from the Federation's Field Assessment and Coordination Team (FACT). The Task Force has assessed the situation and drawn up a well-targeted and realistic action plan that enables the SLRCS to efficiently help the most vulnerable, as presented in this revised Appeal. With national and external personnel working side by side in the Task Force, building of long-term capacity is also an objective. The Society is viewing this emergency operation as an opportunity to reshape also its permanent operations, including the role it could play in the country's disaster preparedness and response.

Water and sanitation was early pointed out as the major focus of the Red Cross response. Cleaning of wells with volunteers working side by side with hired, professional desilting teams and the local population started already on 22 May in Sri Lanka Red Cross Hambantota branch and is continuing in Matara branch. The government too, is involved in the cleaning of wells, but there are no other major actors as yet in this area apart from the Red Cross.

The needs

The Sri Lanka Floods and Landslides operation will assist a total of 140,000 affected families (700,000 beneficiaries).

Water and sanitation:

After assessment including the regional ECHO representative on mission in country, the Spanish Red Cross submitted to ECHO a financing request for EUR 500,000. The request relates to a proposal for a bilateral emergency water and sanitation project with 100,000 families (around 50,000 people) as beneficiaries - under this appeal. The planned operation is substantial and will focus on supporting the Sri Lanka Red Cross in cleaning, chlorinating, repairing and improving wells, and cleaning and disinfecting latrines. In particular, the project will be implemented in three out of the five most affected districts. For details on the Spanish Red Cross supported bilateral project, please refer to the ECHO proposal.

In addition to the above Red Cross response with ECHO/Spanish Red Cross support, the needs, objectives and expected results below describe the other activities which the Sri Lanka Red Cross will be carrying out with support from the Federation, to assist a total of 40,000 affected families (200,000 people).

The largest component of the operation is water and sanitation activities for 150,000 beneficiaries, as flooding and contamination of water sources is affecting large numbers of families and is continuing to cause long-term problems until addressed. Even though the government has started cleaning and chlorination of wells, there are as yet no other major actors apart from the Red Cross taking on cleaning of wells. The operation will start with communal wells and continue with family wells. The selection of areas and wells is being done in cooperation with local authorities and other actors.

To reduce the risk of outbreaks of water borne diseases in the period before wells are cleaned and safe again, the Red Cross will also distribute a water purification chemical to 10,000 families in highland areas as a short-term measure. Water kits will be provided to 4,000 families where the population is drinking from river waters, as a longer-term measure.

The initial emergency situation with large numbers of displaced people in camps living under dangerous water and sanitation circumstances soon calmed down. However, the many schools and temples where displaced people sought refuge in the days following the disaster, will constitute health risks unless their latrines are desludged and the buildings and surroundings cleaned and disinfected. The Red Cross is taking a responsibility for this activity in Matara district.

Relief: The Sri Lanka Red Cross has been distributing food and clothing in the first phase of the emergency. There does not appear to be a need for further food relief. In all five districts, however, there are thousands of families that have had their houses completely or partially destroyed and lost their belongings, and that are now are in a state of high vulnerability. These families need to be identified and assisted. With careful selection of beneficiaries according to vulnerability criteria, the Red Cross will be assisting a total of 7,500 families with minimum livelihood requirements, by way of family kits. The areas targeted will be camps and highland, landslide-affected areas with limited access to other relief programmes. The criteria for selection of beneficiary families will be complete/high destruction of house and loss of belongings, high numbers of children, female-headed households, and unsupported elderly. Families still living in camps are another target group for non-food relief.

Shelter: Most displaced people are able to live with extended family in the rehabilitation period. The operation includes provision of tents as temporary shelter to a limited number of most vulnerable families.

Health: WHO is assisting the government in the expansion of its epidemiological surveillance system and early detection of disease outbreaks. As an aspect of its water and sanitation and relief activities, the Sri Lanka Red Cross will include dissemination of health awareness messages in order to reduce the risk of outbreaks of water/vector borne diseases.

Disaster preparedness and response: This flood was the most severe for many decades, and it demonstrated the need to improve disaster preparedness in the country. The current operation must be used as an opportunity to strengthen the SLRCS' disaster preparedness and response capacities. The action plan therefore includes some limited activities to boost the ongoing efforts towards the end.


Longer-term rehabilitation needs will be extensive. The government has promised financial assistance for rehabilitation of destroyed houses. Rehabilitation is not an objective in the operation covered by this appeal.

Federation coordination

The Sri Lanka Red Cross and the Task Force are coordinating and exchanging information with other actors through the Prime Minister's Crisis Management Operations Centre, regular meetings at the Ministry of Power and Energy and the valuable work of the Sri Lankan NGO Consortium of Humanitarian Actors. The Sri Lankan government has also established a system of sectoral meetings, in which the Red Cross is taking part alongside the UN agencies and other actors. The process of allocating areas of responsibility between the various actors in order to avoid duplication and to ensure identification of the most vulnerable, has improved considerably since the start.

Objectives and expected results

The overall goal of the operation is to reduce the vulnerability of the population most affected by the floods and landslides, and to strengthen the Sri Lanka Red Cross' capacity to respond to the current as well as future disasters.

WATER AND SANITATION: In total, including the ECHO supported part of the Red Cross operation; the number of beneficiaries is 110,000 families (550,000 beneficiaries). The objectives below cover 30,000 families (150,000 people), and is excluding the ECHO funded part of the water and sanitation activities. For details on the Spanish Red Cross (supported by ECHO) bilateral project, please refer to the separate ECHO proposal.

Objective 1: To restore safe water supply and proper sanitation, in order to improve living conditions for the affected population and strengthen the communities' preparedness for future disasters.

Activities planned to reach this objective:

Pump, desilt and chlorinate a total of 5,600 flooded wells, as identified in coordination with local authorities and other actors, using 23 teams of Red Cross volunteers working side by side with hired professionals.

Distribute a total of 140,000 sachets of the water purification chemical Chlor-Floc together with 10,000 buckets, enabling 10,000 families to have 20 litres of safe water each day for two weeks.

Distribute 4,000 drinking water kits to 4,000 families in Deniyaya division of Matara district and other areas where the population is drinking from river waters. The kits can provide the families with filtered water for 6-12 months.

Supply a total of 400 latrine slabs, inform local authorities of their availability and agree on where they would best be deployed.

Desludge flooded latrines, clean and disinfect sites used as camps in Matara district, as identified in cooperation with local authorities and other actors, and community mobilization of support for the cleaning and disinfecting.

Procure and install a total of five 5,000 litre water tanks and repair the damaged pipeline in five sites used as large camps in Matara district, and procure and distribute a maximum of 1,000 water buckets to the population still staying in the above-mentioned camps at time of installation of the tanks.

Expected results:

30,000 families (150,000 people) have regained access to safe wells

10,000 families are able to purify 20 litres of safe water each day for two weeks, to tide them over until their wells are safe.

4,000 families in areas where the population is drinking from river waters, have water filter kits which can provide them with filtered water for 6-12 months.

Local authorities are informed of the availability of 400 latrine slabs, and agreement on their deployment has been reached.

Sites used as camps in Matara district are cleaned and disinfected, and their latrines are desludged, and the community participated in the work.

The population still living in large camps in Matara district has access to water, and the sites' water capacity for future displacement situations is improved.

NON-FOOD RELIEF ITEMS: 7,500 families (37,500 people)

Objective 2: To support with the minimum livelihood requirements the most vulnerable of those whose houses have been completely or partially destroyed, and who have lost their belongings.

Activities planned to reach this objective:

Procure and distribute family kits to 7,500 identified most vulnerable families in all five districts.

Family kit, contents
Plastic mat
Kitchen utensil set
Saree (female clothing)
Sarong (male clothing)
Bed sheet
School uniform material
2.5 m
Jerry can
Washing powder

Expected results: 7,500 vulnerable families have minimum livelihood requirements.


Objective 3: Provide temporary shelter to families whose houses have been completely destroyed and have no extended family to live with.

Activities planned to reach this objective: Procure and distribute 390 tents.

Expected results: 390 vulnerable families have temporary shelter.


Objective 4: To increase awareness about water and vector borne diseases in the affected population.

Activities planned to reach this objective: Print and distribute posters and leaflets with health awareness messages on personal hygiene and safe water in local language to all families assisted under this operation, and training of volunteers in dissemination of these messages.

Expected results: There is no increase in outbreaks of water and vector borne diseases in the areas of operation.


Objective 5: Improve the disaster preparedness, and capacity to respond speedily and effectively in Sri Lanka Red Cross' headquarters and branches, in floods and landslides prone areas.

Activities planned to reach this objective:

Strengthen and expand the number of DP/DR trainers and trained volunteers to a total of 60, by organizing one workshop for trainers and one for volunteers. The trainings will also include assessment methodology and nutrition support.

Assist the national society in its ongoing work to formulate a new DP/DR plan.

Strengthen the branches with urgently needed DP/DR equipment and stocks.

Expected results:

A total of 60 new trainers and volunteers are trained in DP/DR, including assessment methodology and nutrition support.

A new DP/DR plan is in place.

Needed DP/DR equipment and stocks is in place.

Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement - Principles and priorities

The response will be undertaken according to the Fundamental Principles of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and the principles and spirit of the Code of Conduct for the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and NGOs in Disaster Relief, will be applied. Wherever possible the SPHERE Guidelines will be respected.

Communications - Advocacy and Public information

The Federation has supported the Sri Lanka Red Cross in building a strategic relationship with the media, governmental ministries, diplomatic and aid missions, and other external humanitarian organizations and actors. The Sri Lanka Red Cross Fundraising and Communications Division has built excellent rapport with all international media agencies. Its mailing list contains over 500 institutions, donors, media, foreign missions, international NGOs, etc. It is at present building a library of pictures, reports, videos etc about the emergency and the response, for use at appropriate forums. The regional information officer and regional reporting delegate in Delhi will continue to provide support.

Capacity of the National Society

The Society has 25 branches and has a substantial number of available volunteers. It has experience with relief operations, most recently with the drought operations in 2001 and 2002. Red Cross staff have participated in recent Regional Disaster Response Team (RDRT) trainings in India and Sri Lanka.

The weakest point in Sri Lanka Red Cross has been identified as the link between the branches and the headquarters. In the past there has been limited management structure in the branches, only governance. The floods and landslides operation is therefore being set up with a temporary management structure also in the branches, which will not only ensure the execution of the action plan, but also provide Sri Lanka Red Cross with experience with a structure that it can continue to shape. The Society, with support from the Federation and ICRC, is planning to employ permanent branch executive officers in the course of 2003.

To provide sufficient support to the Society for the floods and landslides operation, the two members from the Regional Disaster Response Team will stay on for a brief period as required. Meanwhile two relief delegates will be recruited for a period of three months. They will be working side by side with the temporary management structure in the branches and Red Cross headquarters, with a view to build long-term disaster preparedness and response capacity.

Capacity of the Federation

The Federation has a country representative in Sri Lanka. The two members from the Federation's Field Assessment and Coordination Team (FACT) are pulling out on 6 June; while the two members from the Regional Disaster Response Team are staying on to support the operation.

Monitoring and evaluation

The responsibility for the day to day monitoring of the operation will be with each of the branches, executed by the temporary field coordinators which are being put in place in each of the five branches involved, and supervised closely by delegates. Activity figures (distribution lists, wells cleaned and certified etc) will be reported by the field coordinators to the coordinator/reporting officer, as well as the results of sample surveys that will be made to evaluate the impact of the activities and to confirm the exact needs for further assistance. The reporting officer will produce and submit regular reports to the Federation Country Representative, based on the indicators in the action plan. On completion of the operation in September, a further formal evaluation will be made, including an objective assessment of the impact on beneficiaries. A lessons-learned exercise on programme implementation will also be carried out to provide information to assist in further programme design and implementation.

Budget summary

See Annex 1 for details.

For further information please contact:

  • National Society, Director-General Chandra Ranawickrama on 0777/278642, Ananda Lecamwasam, Director of Communications and Fundraising 0777/278641, 075/370726, e-mail
  • Regional Delegation: Head of Regional Delegation Bob McKerrow, e-mail:
  • Sri Lanka Federation Delegation: Federation Representative Mr Shunichi Kagami, e-mail:
  • Regional Department contact: Ewa Eriksson, e-mail:,
  • DMC Head of Operation, Iain Logan, e-mail

All International Federation assistance seeks to adhere to the Code of Conduct and is committed to the Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Disaster Response (SPHERE Project) in delivering assistance to the most vulnerable.

For support to or for further information concerning Federation programmes or operations in this or other countries, please access the Federation website at

(pdf* format - 17.7KB)