ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, March 04, 2007
Vol. 41 - No 40

Landslide victims belittle Govt. relief efforts

By Malik Gunatilleke

Two months after large-scale landslides left thousands homeless in January, the Government said it was continuing its efforts to aid the affected families in the Nuwara Eliya District, but many families in the Hanguranketa area claim the Government response had been unsatisfactory.

Disaster Management Centre (DMC) Director General Gamini Hettiarachchi told The Sunday Times the task faced by the Government was not easy.

Even though the DMC had begun sending aid to the IDP camps, the difficulty the Government faced was finding suitable land to relocate the affected families, he said.

“It is not merely land that we have to look for. We have to provide water, electricity, schooling facilities, roads and telephone facilities as well,” he said.

Mr. Hettiarachchi said the DMC was providing funds for the mitigation process of the medium risk zones, so that people in those areas would be encouraged to stay in their homes and continue their livelihoods.

“We are conducting awareness programmes for the local community in landslide affected areas to educate them on how their daily practices can contribute towards landslides,” he said.

He said the DMC was working closely with the National Building Research Organization (NBRO) in the relocation process.

Over 300 locations in the Nuwara Eliya District are identified as unstable locations where more than a thousand families are currently residing.

Government authorities are working to evacuate the families to IDP camps so that mitigation and relocation can begin but the NBRO was still looking for suitable land to relocate the vast number of families left homeless.

NBRO Landslide Studies and Services Division head R. Bandara told The Sunday Times the NBRO was working to identify the medium risk and high risk zones.

“Once we identify a high risk zone, we inform the relevant AGAs to undertake evacuation of families in the area,” he said.

He said some affected people were reluctant to move out of the homes they have invested so much in. Mr. Bandara said some families in the affected areas experienced similar landslides in 1986 and were relocated but they later returned to their original homes.

“One family in Okandagala was given three times more land than it possessed earlier but still returned to its original home in the hazard zone, because the family members had built their lives there,” he said.

Over 3500 families have been directly affected by the landslides so far and close to another thousand families have been reported to be residing in high risk zones in the Hanguranketa and Walapane divisions alone. Walapane has over 3000 affected families but since most of the land there is taken up by tea plantations, relocating the families in the same area was not an easy task. At present 518 displaced families comprising 1784 people are in camps in the Walapane area.

Meanwhile, the Disaster Relief Centre (DRC) was continuing its relief efforts to provide food, equipment and clothing for the affected families in the Hanguranketa and Walapane areas.

DRC Assistant Director D.M.J.K. Gunawardena, told The Sunday Times the DRC has sent Rs. 2 million for disbursement to the families.

The DRC was due to dispatch Rs. 3 million tomorrow for disbursement to the affected families while three lorry loads of food and clothing were to be sent next week.

“We have already provided three lorry loads of clothing to the people in the camps and have sent over 500 tents and 800 tent covers to those camps,” he said.

In addition, the DRC has given Rs. 15,000 to each family for funeral purposes and Rs. 20,000 to each family whose houses had been completely destroyed. Despite the Government’s efforts, many families in the camps claim Government has yet to provide any sort of relief for the affected people. On a visit to the affected areas, The Sunday Times learnt that many affected families had lost not only their homes but also their farms and their livelihoods.

A.Rambanda, a vegetable farmer who was in the camp set up at the Hanguranketa Cultural Centre said the farmers in his area could not pay back the farming loans they had taken.

“I took a loan of Rs. 40,000 for my farm and I have no way of paying it back because I have no source of income,” he lamented.

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Copyright 2007 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.