Sri Lanka

Hundreds of thousands displaced by floods in eastern Sri Lanka

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Sri Lanka/2011/Gowriswaran
Families wade through floodwaters triggered by heavy rains in eastern Sri Lanka, carrying clothing and possessions to higher ground.

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka, 13 January 2011 – Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced and about two dozen killed by flooding in eastern Sri Lanka, where water levels in some areas are two metres higher than normal – and more heavy rains are forecast.

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Several days of non-stop downpours have turned a large part of Sri Lanka into a deepening lake. In a telephone interview with UNICEF Radio today, the Chief of Communication for UNICEF Sri Lanka, Mervyn Fletcher, said a total of approximately 1 million people were affected by the emergency.

“Certainly of those affected and displaced, roughly a third of these – and possibly at least a third of these – will be children,” he estimated.

Mr. Fletcher added that a considerable portion of the island nation has been inundated. “Sri Lanka itself is roughly the size of Ireland, and so you’re looking at a significant eastern chunk of this country now which is underwater.... The only way you can reach a lot of people is by boat,” he noted.

First supplies arrive

“In my 37 years of living in Batticaloa I have never seen anything like this,” said Health and Nutrition Officer Kirupairajah Gowriswaran of UNICEF’s Batticaloa Zone Office. “Ninety per cent of the local population is affected. Everyone is occupying whatever buildings they can find on higher ground.”

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© UNICEF Sri Lanka/2011/Gowriswaran
Floodwaters inundate the area around a UNICEF zone office in eastern Sri Lanka, where crocodiles and snakes are a threat to anyone wading to higher ground.

“These supplies will help to ensure families and children have access to safe drinking water and are able to maintain basic levels of hygiene,” said UNICEF Representative in Sri Lanka Reza Hossaini. “Understandably, all schools have been adopted as temporary shelters. There are no classes for children.

Supplies en route to the flood zone include 50 water tanks (1,000 litres each), water tablets to purify 2 million litres, 7,000 tarpaulins, 7,000 sleeping mats, 3,000 buckets and 30,000 bars of soap, as well as chlorine bleaching powder and cooking pots.

Unfolding emergency

This consignment of UNICEF support is part of a wider UN effort to support the government as it provides emergency support to the affected communities. Because most roads are impassable, the Sri Lankan military is using boats to deliver much-needed aid.

“We are liaising closely with the government and other UN partners,” said Mr. Hossaini, “as we continue to monitor the flood conditions and determine how we are best able to assist those whose homes have been flooded.”

Meanwhile, the UN is expected to launch a flash appeal for emergency funds to respond to the flood crisis.


 

 

Audio

13 January 2011: UNICEF Radio correspondent Anja Baron speaks with the Chief of Communication for UNICEF Sri Lanka, Mervyn Fletcher, about the flood crisis in the eastern part of that country.
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