Over 90 people have now died in Sri Lanka in what has been described as some of the worst flooding in 25 years.
Sri Lanka’s Disaster Management Centre (DMC) reported earlier today that the death toll now stands at 92, with 30 people injured and 109 still missing. The number of dead rose after military search teams found a further 23 bodies in Aranayaka, where a massive landslide struck in the early hours of Wednesday, 18 May 2016. At least 39 people have died in the landslide, and 105 remain missing.
Sri Lanka’s Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake said that the cost of the floods will be between $1.5 billion and $2 billion at the minimum. Over 500 houses have been completely destroyed and a further 4,005 damaged.
Numbers of Evacuated Falls
Conditions appear to have improved in some areas over the last 2 days, as shown in the drop in numbers of displaced, which has fallen from 319,000 on 21 May to 186,829 as of 23 May.
However, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) says it is expected to take several days for floodwaters to fully recede and in some areas water levels remain as high as the roofs of people’s houses with access only possible by boat or by air.
UNOCHA say that “any of the affected population, particularly in the rural areas, were already amongst the most vulnerable in the country and have now lost everything, including their homes, possessions, agricultural land and means of making a living. In the urban areas there are growing health concerns related to the quantity of so much standing water in highly populated areas and the destruction of much of the water and sanitation infrastructure, which could lead to serious public health issues.”
Start of Monsoon with 75mm of Rain Possible
Sri Lanka’s Department of Meteorology (DoM) say that the South-west monsoon condition is gradually establishing over the country, which could bring further heavy rain on already saturated ground and overflowing rivers. DoM said earlier today:
“Showers will occur at times in the Western, North-Western, Southern, Central and Sabaragamuwa provinces.Fairly heavy falls (around 75mm) are also likely at some places.”
Sri Lanka officials say that 39 bodies have been recovered from the landslide site in Aranayaka, Kegalle District, that buried 3 villages of Siripura, Pallebage and Elagipitya in the early hours of Wednesday, 18 May 2016.
Over 3,500 people are staying in relief camps and temporary accommodation in the area. After further landslides on 21 May, the Sri Lanka Red Cross announced that they had to relocate a displacement camp housing victims of the Aranayaka slide. Via Social Media, they said:
“Fresh landslides were reported from the mountain known as Ambalakanda in the same mountain range of the previous landslide. All who were at the Ambalakanda welfare camp (have been) relocated to a new camp in Dikpitiya.”
Response to the Floods
The Government of Sri Lanka is leading the response to the floods; Tri Forces are fully engaged in search and rescue, and evacuation missions as well as distributing relief items to those people still trapped by the flood waters, and the Sri Lankan Army are working to recover the bodies of those missing in the Aranayaka landslide.
UNOCHA say that local organisations, faith groups, youth groups and businesses are actively involved in the provision of aid. Priority needs are for WASH, health, shelter and food assistance, and current requests include the provision of emergency items including clothing, water purification tablets, temporary latrines, hygiene and cooking equipment, and boats. UN agencies and NGOs are providing items from existing stocks.
Colombo Floods Blamed on Poor Drainage and Illegal Construction
The Sunday Times in Sri Lanka quoted Irrigation Department Acting Director-General T.P. Alwis, who laid the blame for the severe flooding in Colombo on “shrinking open spaces, illegal constructions, the lack of proper waste disposal and inefficient drainage systems…”
The Sunday Times also say that a major contributory factor to the flooding has been the filling in of marshlands for development purposes.
“Mr. Alwis said flooding in Kelaniya worsened this year primarily due to a drop in the city’s ability to absorb water because most of the marsh or wetlands in and around Kelaniya had been filled for building houses or other construction.”
Despite levels of the Kelani River being lower than the major floods of 1989, over 125,000 more people have been affected by flooding this time around.