Fishermen, farmers still to recover from the devastating floods in B’caloa

By Yasasmin Kaviratne in Batticaloa

Fishermen and farmers in the Batticaloa District are having a hard time recovering from the effects of the devastating floods which swamped their area recently. Edman Yakulam from Veechkalmunai, Batticaloa said she pawned all her jewellery to find enough money for food after the floods swept through her home and destroyed her belongings.

Yakulam and her husband were engaged in fishing in the lagoon for a living. However, since the floods, they are left with a more pressing problem than their goods being washed away in the flood waters.
The fish in the lagoon have been hit by an unknown disease for a few weeks. Some of those who ate the fish had fallen sick after eating them.

Fishermen struggling to earn a livelihood. Pix by Ranjith Perera

“Now the red spots fish had have disappeared, but people are still reluctant to eat fish, she said.”

Yakulam said that some of the jewellery she pawned were to the banks while some were to shops from where she had bought vegetables and other necessary food items.

She along with her neighbours said they did not get any compensation from the Government other than two bags of commodities. “Even the NGOs have forgotten us,” she added.

S. Mariyappillai, a woman from the same area who cultivated a six-acre paddy field with the help of her 77-year-old husband, is planning to sell half of their paddy field to find money to pay back the loans taken to cultivate during the last season. She also wants to find enough money to buy the necessities to cultivate during the next season and to survive till the next harvest.

She said that as farmers they didn’t get any financial assistance from the Government they have to start from scratch for the next season. “We gave a letter to the Agrarian Services Office in the area. We are known there because we used to get fertilizer at subsidised prices from the office. But we didn’t get any reply to our plea for help,” she said adding that her paddy field used to produce around 120 gunny bags of rice, one of which could be sold for around Rs.2000.

Umesh Kanth, president of the Rural Development Society (RDS) in Sethukuda, the village adjoining Veechkalmunai, said the Government distributed two parcels of commodities to the flood victims - once in January and again in mid-February. They were asked to get a letter from the Grama Niladhari and to present it to the co-operative shop to get their bag of commodities.

The first package comprised a kilo of rice, 80 grams of sugar and 20 grams of coconut oil per person.
“People were devastated after the first floods and when this parcel was given, they became very disappointed. They said the little coconut oil given was enough only to apply on the head, as it was too little to be used for anything else,” Mr. Kanth said.

The second package, he said, was better compared to the first as it comprised a kilo of rice, 360 grams of dhal, 120 grams of sugar and 80 grams of coconut oil per person. “However, there are people who do not have pots and pans at home to cook the commodities given to them as the floods took away everything that belonged to them,” he added.

Mr. Kanth said that every flood victim got the two parcels but nothing else. He said Minister Karuna Amman too distributed around 50 food parcels but they were not distributed according to any plan.
Meanwhile, the Rural Development Society was given 34 tents and 10 polythene sheets to distribute among the needy and thirteen parcels worth Rs.800 for breast feeding mothers.

However, Mr. Kanth said, in accordance with a government circular, public servants were not entitled to these food commodities given to flood victims. Government policy was that a distress loan salary equal to three months’ salary would be given to public servants to be deducted in 24 monthly instalments, he said.

Worse off were the pensioners in the area as they were told they were not entitled to any Government relief. “When I asked for any financial relief or food rations, officers at the Divisional Secretariat told me that if they started distributing money and goods, the dead too will come asking for relief, ” Thulasimani Selvanayagam, a pensioner, said.

However, she said she got one parcel containing five kilos of rice, 500 grams of sugar, 500 grams of dhal, three candles, one card of Panadol, a bar of soap and a box of matches.

T. Kanikya in her late 70s, is another flood victim, living alone having lost her husband and only son during the 2004 tsunami. She stands in the shallow area of the lagoon to catch enough fish to sell and earn enough money to survive for the day.

“There is very little fish in the lagoon these days and I have to spend many hours standing in the hot sun to catch enough fish at least to cook them for lunch, rather than to sell them,” she said. Some of her neighbours who owned boats, lost them during the floods leaving them with no alternative means of livelihood. However, the fishermen whose boats were saved were seen fishing for hours trying to catch enough fish.

K. Pathmanathan, a fisherman said that compared to the Rs.2000 worth of fish he caught before the floods, he could only catch a few fish which could be sold for around Rs.150 in the market. Koraikalliamaddu on the inward side of the Batticaloa lagoon face the same problems as people in Sethukuda.

In front of the house of Kalaiselvie, the destruction caused by the floods was piled up visible to everyone; the school uniforms of her son and his books which was soaked and glued up like paste. “We got one food parcel from the co-operative shop when we handed over the letter given to us by the Grama Niladhari of the area, but nothing else. Getting back to normalcy has become the most difficult task for us now,” she said.

S. Sivakumar. A farmer said the damage to his paddy field was estimated as around Rs. 100,000. “The agriculture office took our application stating the destruction caused but no relief has come so far,” he added.

However, Batticaloa District Secretary Sundaram Arumainayagam said that evaluations are being finalised to begin compensating for houses damaged in the floods. Contradicting claims by villagers, he said there isn’t any circular which states that public servants are not entitled to relief distributed by the Government.

“The circular refers to different income levels but not to public servants. But even then we didn’t consider all that in distributing flood relief,” he said adding that according to the circular pensioners too were entitled to the Government relief package, depending on their income.

Commenting about people having no income presently he said that a shramadana campaign has been started in the District in which people work in their own lands and get an allowance of Rs.500 per day.
However, when travelling in the District last week, only abandoned lands were seen, not energetic people working for a daily income.

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