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*.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.