Monsoon Floods Displace Hundreds of Thousands in Sri Lanka

Churches and Aide Groups converge on the scene to offer a helping hand
( [email protected] ) Dec 16, 2004 03:16 AM EST

Heavy monsoon rains across north-central and eastern Sri Lanka have caused widespread flooding, forcing 250,000 people from their homes and killing one person, a global alliance of churches and related agencies reported Wednesday.

According to Action by Churches Together, thousands of acres of land are flooded, forcing most of the affected people in the north and north-central regions to temporarily move to school buildings and halls of religious institutions. “Those affected in Batticaloa and Amparai continue to face the threat of a cyclone,” the agency reported.

As of Wednesday, the affected areas include Polonnaruwa and Anuradhapura (north central region), Kilinochchi (northern region), Batticaloa and Amparai (eastern coast), Trincomalee (northwestern coast), Matara (southern coast) and various parts of Jaffna (northern peninsula).

The government reports that steps are being taken to reach those affected through local government structures, however its response is slow.

The National Council of Churches-Sri Lanka (NCCSL), a local member of ACT, has received requests from many of its partners in the east, north, north central and south for immediate assistance. NCCSL says that no serious waterborne diseases such as diarrhea and flu have been reported so far, but judging from its previous experiences, it anticipates an outbreak of such diseases.

ACT reports that NCCSL will receive $30,000 (USD) in Rapid Response Funds from the ACT Coordinating Office to assist 2,600 families in Batticaloa, Thirukovil, Ampara, Jaffna and Polonnaruwa with immediate relief over the next four weeks. It will distribute food (rice, dhal, sugar, tea, canned fish, flour and bottled water), soap, kitchen utensils and mats. It will also provide medical assistance, including basic medicines, medical equipment, physicians and pharmacists.

Once the floods subside, NCCSL will conduct another assessment to determine if there is a need for rehabilitation work, for which an appeal might follow.

According to Reuters, the Meteorology Department has forecast more rains over the next few days, but said the worst appeared to be over. However, a new weather system over the Bay of Bengal could bring more rains later in the week, the department said.

Floods are common across Sri Lanka during the northeast monsoon from December to January, and strand tens of thousands of people each year. However, in recent years, the Indian Ocean island has been hit by cyclical floods and droughts.

A drought earlier this year left more than 200,000 people without drinking water, ravaged crops and affected nearly 10 percent of the 19 million population. In May 2003, flash floods in the southern area of Sri Lanka killed 250 people and left 500,000 homeless.