Flooding in south-west Sri Lanka

I am sitting in Colombo where the monsoon rains have already begun. Picture momentary deluges accompanied by a few claps of thunder and lightening.  Then it stops as suddenly as it starts, there’s a little localized flooding for a short period of time as the poor drainage system struggles to clear the run-off.  Within an hour, the streets are dry and everything is back to normal.

It’s a bit surreal at the moment, given it’s monsoon as normal here yet just over 100km south east of Colombo, there has been serious flooding and landslides that has claimed over 199 lives with 112 injured, 63 people still missing and close to 604,700 people have been displaced from their homes*.

* Source: Disaster Management Centre, Special Situation Report as at May 30, 2017 at 6pm Sri Lanka time

This is the home of a young man I have worked with, just outside of Galle, taken on Saturday.  The water level rose further on Sunday to roof level.  Photo Credit:  Anuradha Ranasinghe

Flooding has brought water up to roof-level and has saturated the surrounding areas.  The following satellite shot of the Matara area taken 3 days ago and gives you an idea how widespread the flooding has been.  The green shading denotes the flooded areas.

Source: International Water Management Institute

There’s been a huge issue with landslides too, primarily due to a combination of heavier than usual monsoon rains, replacing trees with tea plantations in hill country and building in floodplains when they shouldn’t.

Rescue efforts in Bellana village in the Kalutara district,. Photo credit: Eranga Jayawardena

Yesterday, a Flood Evacuation order was issued for much of the south western part of Sri Lanka as outlined below.  Just four weeks ago, we traveled through much of these areas, including Nuwara Eliya and Mirissa and Galle.  It was dry as a bone.  A different story now.

Flood evacuation areas are shaded in red with Colombo denoted with a pink X.  Source: UN of Sri Lanka

Heavy rain and strong winds was forecast today throughout the whole region but except for Nuwara Eliya, it never really materialized thank goodness.  Actually, there is not much rain forecast over the next 5 days.

The Government were slow to assess the disaster as it unfolded and had some difficulty getting accurate numbers out to everyone but they have managed to get themselves on track since.  The Sri Lankan military have taken a lead role in evacuating everyone that needs to be moved.

Sri Lankan soldiers evacuate flood victims in Wehangalla village, Kalutara district. Photo credit Hindustan Times

But it is the grassroots community groups who have stepped up over the weekend to prepare thousands of rice & curry packs, as well as provide drinking water, feminine products, medicines, clothing and shelter to the over half-a-million people who have been displaced from their homes.  Over 40 per cent of those affected do not have access to potable water and there is an urgent need for clean contaminated wells in flood-affected areas.  Containment of the spread of cholera is of the utmost importance.

I’ve let a local Rotary Club know of my availability to help out, they are having a planning meeting tonight so I’ll probably hear tomorrow what I will be asked to do.  Bring it on, I am feeling a little helpless in Colombo when a disaster is so close, yet knowing it does not help to head down there and be another person to house and feed.

In addition and of particular concern is the potential for a rise in the numbers of dengue infections in the flood affected areas. It’s because standing water is one of the primary causes of the spread of the disease which is currently averaging about 10,000 new cases every month thus far this year. [Now you know why I am obsessive about using repellent!].

The Indian Army were the first of the international assistance teams to arrive.  They brought with them much needed relief materials such as food, water and medicines as well as a team of doctors and assistants for medical aid.  The ship also brought diving teams along with rubber inflatable craft to evacuate persons in flood affected areas.  Thank you India!

Indian Navy troops offload emergency supplies from the Indian ship in Colombo. Photo Credit: Hindustan Times

The US, UK and Japan have also offered their assistance but perhaps their assistance has not yet arrived, there has been no media reporting on the topic.

And finally,  I came across this short clip of the Victoria Dam, in Sri Lanka’s hill country.  It’s the country’s tallest dam and it’s primary purpose is the provision of irrigation as well as hydro-generated electricity.  This clip was taken 3 days ago and shows the sheer volume of water running through it.

My thoughts and prayers are all the people who have lost family members and friends, the injured and the half a million people displaced from their homes.  Let’s hope Mother Nature gives them a break and allows the flood waters to subside before the monsoon really hits Sri Lanka in the next few weeks.

About Kate Coffey

After 30 or so years in the investment management industry, 2013 saw me turn my life up-side-down, making my way first to Nepal, then Bangladesh during that first ‘year away’. The year took me on a journey I did not expect, had me fall in love with Nepal and its people, and become inspired at the work of Spinal Injury Rehabilitation Centre (SIRC) located in Bhainsepati - 2 hours east of Kathmandu in the Saanga foothills. Since 2014, I have returned to SIRC numerous times, working closely with the folks there in the aftermath of the 2015 earthquakes. In the past two years, my work in Nepal has expanded to the Bo M. Karlsson Foundation www.bomkarlsson.com and the Spinal Cord Injured Network Nepal. In Bangladesh I marvelled at the strength and resilience of marginalized women who have the courage and audacity to break the rules and make a better life for themselves and their children through microfinance programs with BRAC. 2016-2017 saw me embark on a totally new experience in Sri Lanka, a place I never would have chosen to end up in. It’s the 40C+ heat, big humidity and tropical snakes & animals that scared me! But I ended up love love loving! my time there, working with predominantly Tamil small business owners in remote villages in the north and east of the country, trying their best to recover their businesses and the lives of their employees, after decades of a civil war. My time in Sri Lanka made me realize my hard-earned business skills and experience can really be put to good use! The work the BIZ+ team and I did there ended up earning me International Volunteer of the Year Award in December 2017, presented on Capitol Hill, Washington DC no less. I am currently home on Bowen Island, in the west coast of Canada, shoring up my finances before I head off to who knows where, for my next expert volunteer assignment. This blog initially started out as a travelogue of sorts to keep friends and family worldwide updated while I was off on my travels in 2013-2014. Since then it has morphed into a life story of the many places I have lived and worked and of the wonderful people I have met along the way. I hope you enjoy.
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2 Responses to Flooding in south-west Sri Lanka

  1. Mick Canning says:

    It does look bad. Hopefully it will all abate soon.

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