Northern floods and an urgent task at hand

The recent flash floods in Sri Lanka caught people of the Northern Province unawares. Many in the Tamil-majority area, across Kilinochchi, Mullaitivu, Mannar, Vavuniya and Jaffna, were yet to fully recover from the harsh drought over the past few years when the unexpected, heavy showers ravaged their villages.

According to data provided by the Disaster Management Centre on Saturday, nearly 1,25,000 persons from 40,000 families have been affected over the last week. Several of them were forced to leave their homes and are staying at welfare camps. Relief work is on but the floods have left a huge trail of destruction — to homes, property and livestock that supported many low-income families. The island has become increasingly vulnerable to flash floods, going by their recurrence in recent years. In the summer of 2017, the southern districts witnessed one of the worst floods in Sri Lanka, setting off landslips and claiming over 200 lives.

In the recent instance in the war-affected northern region, Kilinochchi district is the worst affected, official figures show. Nearly 55,000 people have been badly hit and as many as 1,800 families are in relief centres, where district authorities provide cooked meals, essentials and basic medication. The call for aid from the rest of the country is growing. “We will know the real extent of damage only when the people return to their homes. Six committees have been formed to come up with the damage assessment,” said Suntharam Arumainayaham, Kilinochchi Government Agent (senior most administrative officer corresponding to the District Collector in India). Over the last few years, Kilinochchi, one of the main paddy producers in the country, was struggling to cope with a severe drought. “To help the people to manage to some extent, we were providing relief and, in some cases, livestock. The recent flash floods have washed out most of their cattle,” he told The Hindu .

‘Livelihoods, the biggest challenge’

The damage to paddy land has been significant and Chena cultivation, or the production of ‘other food crops’ — including green gram, peanuts and potatoes — that sustains thousands of small scale farmers has been badly hit. “The biggest challenge facing us is livelihoods. Over the last few years — in the drought and now the floods, they have been severely hit. For the people to come out of this, we have to address this challenge,” Mr. Arumainayaham added.

President Maithripala Sirisena has directed officials to give an immediate relief of LKR 10,000 (About Rs. 3,850) per family for restoring their damaged houses. After the extent of damage is ascertained, an amount of up to LKR 2,50,000 (roughly Rs. 96,500) is to be distributed. For the nearly 8,000 acres of paddy land that was destroyed, a compensation amount of LKR 40,000 (about Rs. 15,500) per acre will be given, an official statement said. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on Friday visited the affected areas to assess the impact. However, the resurrection of livelihoods may need a long-term strategy from the leaders. The absence of sustainable livelihoods has been a recurring theme in the people’s post-war hardships. There are obvious limits to piecemeal initiatives, such as distributing cattle or sewing machines to women.

Mr. Sirisena currently helms a task force overseeing northeastern development, while Mr. Wickremesinghe — following his reinstatement as Prime Minister after the political crisis — is also the Minister for Resettlement & Rehabilitation and Northern Province Development. They have an urgent task at hand.

Heavy rain has badly hit districts in the north, already reeling from the effects of droughts of the previous years. Kilinochchi, among the main paddy producers, has been the worst-affected

Recommended for you