Flood victims in remote parts say relief packages are not coming their way

By Yasasmin Kaviratne

The recent floods in the North Central and Eastern Provinces have been described as Sri Lanka’s worst natural catastrophe since the 2004 tsunami.

The heavy rains and flood waters have claimed human lives, animal life (including wildlife, livestock and poultry), destroyed homes and property, ruined harvests, and displaced thousands of families. The Treasury has set aside Rs. 1 billion in compensation for the flood victims, half of which (Rs. 500 million) has been given to the Ministry of Disaster Management.

However, flood victims are disgruntled, saying aid is being unfairly distributed, and that many have not received any aid at all. They say aid is being handed out to suit the convenience of the distributors, and that only families and displaced persons sheltered in camps along the main roads are receiving financial aid and provisions, while destitute families and individuals in remote parts are neglected.
Among the worst-hit groups are the farmers, who have lost their entire harvest. Not only will they have no income in the coming months, until the next season, they have no way to repay the bank loans they took for the current cultivation season.

In Polonnaruwa, 25,664 acres of paddy land were ruined in the floods. The figure, which has not been finalised, could be much higher. About 40 per cent of the cultivated land area, comprising the country’s rice heartland, has been destroyed.

As many as 25,589 farming families in Polonnaruwa have been affected by the floods, according to G. D. Wijesuriya Perera, chairman of the Commercial Farmers’ Association, Minneriya. He said families are subsisting on rotten apples while they worry about how to repair and prepare their fields for the next season, which is several months away. In the meantime, there is little they can do.

“Farmers are basically poor people, with no stable financial background,” said Mr. Wijesuriya Perera. “They do not have bank balances they can fall back on in an emergency. They depend on the profits from one season to finance the next season. They will need another government fertiliser subsidy and a subsidy to buy seeds for the next season,” he said.

The cash-strapped farmers’ biggest concern is to pay back loans to finance the current season, of which nothing is left. “President Rajapaksa said more relief would be made available for the flood victims, but we don’t see any of this,” said the Commercial Farmers’ Association chairman. Local authorities in flood-hit districts have promised to hand out food and provisions money allocated by the government and aid from non-government organisations (NGOs).

In Trincomalee, the government is spending Rs. 9.5 million on the district’s 334,266 flood victims, according to Trincomalee District Secretary, Major General Ranjith de Silva. Food and essentials are top of the agenda.

The money is being used to provide meals and dry rations. Up to last week, there were 88,874 displaced families being accommodated in 132 shelters put up in Trincomalee. “The overflowing Yan Oya has disrupted transportation on the Pulmudai road, but the Army, supported by civilians, are finding alternate ways to distribute aid,” Major de Silva told the Sunday Times.

The government estimates that Polonnaruwa District will need at least Rs. 149 million in relief, according to Polonnaruwa District Secretary, Nimal Abeysinghe. Five deaths caused by floods were reported from Polonnaruwa. There are 8,320 displaced Polonnaruwa families living in 67 temporary shelters.

In January, 30,581 displaced Polonnaruwa residents were roughing it out in schools; so far this month, 13,314 displaced people have sought shelter. Last month, the overflowing of Polonnaruwa’s six major tanks sent flood waters smashing through land amounting to 279,182 acre feet, while another 350,302 acre feet have been flooded so far this month. All crops on these lands have been destroyed.

In Batticaloa, thousands of acres of paddy land, representing the country’s rice bowl, went under water, leaving what looked like one gigantic tank. The extent of the damage cannot be estimated while heavy daily rains continue, according to Batticaloa District Secretary Sundaram Arumainayaham. “We are trying assess the damage,” he said.

In January, there were 177 camps for displaced Batticaloa persons, and so far this month 134 camps have been used. In Ampara, floods killed 11 persons last month, and affected up to 128,838 people. The majority of the Ampara displaced persons were being housed in 169 welfare centres, according to Ampara District Secretary, Sunil Kannangara.

The first floods, beginning in January, caused estimated losses of Rs. 553.43 million for the Irrigation Department; Rs.750.31 million for the Road Development Authority; Rs.106.65 million for animal farming industry; Rs. 22.15 million for the Water Supply and Drainage Board; and Rs. 3 million and Rs. 1 million respectively for the Transport Board and the Electricity Board.

An estimated 84, 117 acres of paddy land have been affected. The second wave of floods has affected up to 84,250 people. Although the previous flooding affected a greater number of people, the damage to agriculture has been greater in the second floods.

In Anuradhapura alone, at least Rs. 3.5 million will be needed for flood relief, the Anuradhapura AGA S. M. S. Bandulasena told the Sunday Times. “Government aid is being distributed, and the NGOs and people in neighbouring districts have also done a lot to help us, he said. “We are still doing recording the funds and aid received so far,” he said.

The World Food Organisation and other NGOs are supporting the government to bring relief to flood victims. The relief includes dry rations and other food items.

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