Aid for the displaced in Sri Lanka’s floods

Almost a week has passed since the first of the flooding occurred in the south-west of Sri Lanka and the flood waters are beginning to recede.  Despite this, the numbers of people displaced has significantly risen to a total of 677,241 as at 12 noon today (June 2) here in Sri Lanka, with over 200 people reported dead.

After a little but of investigation, I have discovered there are three tranches to the provision of immediate aid to those affected.

There’s many many small groups of people primarily on Colombo, who have family and friends in the affected areas.  They have taken it upon themselves to deliver pre-cooked food, drinking water, medicines, hygiene products and other immediate necessities to their loved ones.  They cook the rice and curry packets in Colombo, and with other donations, drive as near as they can to the village and then transfer to a family member’s boat to deliver everything.  Much of these efforts are not officially being recorded but from what I hear, many of these small groups were first responders, ever before the disaster management centre got round to coordinating any kind of aid.

Delivery of curry & rice packets to those in need by a volunteer group.  The food packs are the newspaper wrapped packs more than likely filled with rice, dal, a few veggie dishes and a sambol.  Photo credit WARN

Delivery of 5L drinking water jugs by another volunteer group. Photo credit WARN

Three days worth of dry foods packed and being delivered by a volunteer group. Photo credit WARN

Then there are the many schools, clubs, temples and churches, TV and radio stations, banks, corporations and other businesses who have rallied together to offer their locations as donation drop-off points for many Colombo residents.  All manner of donations are being accepted, from tarps & tents and camping gear towards shelter needs, to dry goods such as rice, dal, flour, spices, salt, sugar, canned food and other cooking supplies, as well as water purification systems, hygiene products and basic medicines etc.  These donations are then trucked to the Air Force’s airport in Ratmalana on the outskirts of Colombo, where it is flown and then trucked to those in need.  The Military are keeping track of these donations.

And finally there is the more formal group now being coordinated by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.  Both domestic and international NGOs are channeling all of their efforts through the OCHA-run centre, as is the assistance from foreign governments such as India, Pakistan, South Korea and China.  The offer of assistance from US, UK and Japan has not yet been taken up it seems.

3Ws:  Who is providing What Where.  Source: UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

Sri Lanka’s Red Cross are hugely active through the south-west, purely because many of their volunteers live in the area.  Surprisingly their activities are not included in the OCHA’s map!  In addition to the provision of immediate necessities, they are also running medical camps in many of the affected areas.

Red Cross teams offloading shelter supplies. Photo credit: Sri Lanka Red Cross

Distributing tarps and plastic floor mats to a displaced lady. Photo credit: Sri Lanka Red Cross

Also included under the OCHA coordination are nationwide donor initiatives that are being implemented by company’s like Dialog – a telecom company with a 2 million subscriber list who can be SMS’d at any time.  Their triple matching donation program has thus far, generated almost lkr 38 million (CAD$338,000) in donations (matching included).  These funds will be distributed by the OCHA centre.

Another rather neat program is the AID option from PickMe.  PickMe is an Uber-like service in a few of the main cities around Sri Lanka where you can reserve on-line, any kind of vehicle from a three-wheeler to a van.  They also have an SOS option, when selected, sends an SMS to your Emergency Contact.  But the AID option is a little different.

Within 24 hours, PickMe had added the AID feature where anyone who was stranded in the floods and needed rescue, could select the AID option.  The GPS coordinates were then sent to the Military who then arranged your rescue.  Although PickMe is not available in rural communities, it did have a positive impact for those in the city of Galle who needed assistance.

Now that the water is receding and minimal rain is forecast over the weekend, the mammoth task of clean up has already started.

Receding water levels has left mud, sediment and other debris inside homes. Photo credit: Daily Mirror

Structural damage in many homes hit by landslides means no one is moving back into this home anytime soon. Photo credit: Daily Mirror

The biggest concern is the impact contaminated drinking water sources and damaged toilets and sanitation systems has on, not only those displaced from their homes, but the population as a whole.  The risk of water-borne diseases such as cholera is extremely high, as is dengue – with all this standing water, conditions are ripe for dengue-carrying mosquitoes to breed and spread the disease.

In most parts of Sri Lanka, there is no municipal water service.  Instead each household, farm and building will have it’s own well as their supply of water.   Wells in Sri Lanka are predominantly tube wells with a water pump and usually some sort of water treatment system.  With the rise in the water table, many wells have overflowed as the water table has risen to greater heights.  Add to this, over-land flooding that more than likely includes a lot of debris as well as sewage, the water is no longer potable.  So for many, the first step is to clean out the well – not an easy task.

Cleaning the water well, first pumping out the sludge and debris. Photo credit: Daily Mirror

The positive news being reported in the on-line newspaper ColomboPage is the Government are stepping in to reconstruct 640 completely destroyed houses, and will renovate just over 5,000 partially destroyed houses.  The plan is to use spare resources from the Military, as well as take advantage of participants from programs run by the Ministry of Vocational Training.  Smart idea!

In addition, each house destroyed or damaged due to the flooding will be compensated to a maximum of lkr 2.5 million (CAD$22,000) by the government.  Apparently each and every household in Sri Lanka is insured with by the Renaissance Group and Lloyds of London – wow!  I wonder how much the premium is??

I’ve had a few readers ask where can a person donate, and to be honest I struggled to come up with one purely because I do not have the same network here as I do in Nepal and so have less insights into who is best on the ground.

After much consultation and discussion, I feel pretty good in recommending Sri Lanka Red Cross.  You can donate directly online by using this link.

If you donate through any other country’s Red Cross  – for example Canadian Red Cross – I cannot guarantee your donation will be sent to Sri Lanka or, will be spent efficiently.  You may not get a Canadian Revenue Agency approved tax receipt by donating to Sri Lanka Red Cross, but at least you will know your money will be well spent.  They are well respected here.

My thoughts and prayers are with all those heading into a long period of recovery and clean up.  Let’s hope the monsoon rains hold off for a little while to give them a running chance at making their homes at least livable.

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 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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