SRI LANKA: Flash floods displace thousands in war-torn area
COLOMBO, 20 March 2008 (IRIN) - More than 50,000 people have been hit by flooding in northwestern Mannar District in Sri Lanka since 12 March, the government said. The area has witnessed intense clashes between government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) during the last six months, restricting access to relief agencies.
Flooding caused by torrential rains has affected 173,909 people in nine districts of the country, including 120,000 in the eastern Batticaloa District, and left five dead, the National Disaster Relief Services Centre
(NDRSC) said on 19 March.
“Floods have caused immense damage to affected areas, interrupting all economic and social activities,” the NDRSC stated in a situation report
. “It is also reported that there is tremendous damage to infrastructure facilities in the areas [of Mannar]. About 14,010 families or 54,323 people have been affected.”
The report also stated that 40 houses had been destroyed and 155 damaged in the eight districts. The NDRSC said the government had allocated three million rupees (US$27,000) as emergency funds for affected districts and Rs2 million ($18,000) for Mannar District. Crops damaged
Initial assessment reports by the NDRSC said damage to crops could be high as the rains came just before the harvesting season.
“There are 12,000 acres of paddy land that were to be harvested when the floods hit,” A Nicholaspillai, the government agent for Mannar, told IRIN. “We still don’t have exact figures, but damage to the harvest is something we will have to deal with.”
Nicholaspillai also said seed would have to be provided to farmers for the upcoming season.
Officials of the Sri Lanka Red Cross (SLRC) said there were indications of damage to crops in at least one other southern district. “The initial reports we have indicate that there have been significant crop losses in the southern district of Badulla,” Merik Peiris, executive director, communications and humanitarian values at the SLRC, told IRIN.
Government officials in Mannar told IRIN they had began distributing relief items and were awaiting assessment reports to decide on additional assistance. “We started distributing meals almost as soon as the first displacements were reported over the weekend,” Nicholaspillai told IRIN. “We have made initial plans to continue the distribution for three days at least.” Restricted access
Increasing clashes between government forces and the LTTE along the line of control in Mannar District and other security concerns had already restricted access to the district before the latest flooding.
“Since 4 February, access has been restricted to vehicles north of Madawachchiya checkpoint, creating additional challenges for civilian travel across Mannar District,” the Inter-Agency Standing Committee stated in a situation report
released on 15 March.
However, Peiris said the SLRC did not foresee the security restrictions limiting the relief effort in Mannar. “We already have a network there and plan to work through government agencies.”
He added that while the immediate needs of the victims, such as cooked food and clothes, would be provided, SLRC would need additional assistance, such as non-food items, as the flood waters receded and the displaced began returning home.
“There will be lot of demand for dry rations and baby food after they return home,” he said. “We also will have to look at health concerns and loss of livelihoods.”