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United Nations launches appeal for flood victims in Sri Lanka

As many news reports concentrated on the dramatic flooding in Australia, a larger disaster has been unfolding in Sri Lanka.

Here, over one million people have been affected by severe floods after continuous rains since the end of December. More than 30 people have been killed (at least 18 in a landslide) and around 400,000 have been forced to flee their homes. Most have sought shelter in relief camps and shelters such as school buildings. With such a large number of refugees, many at risk of hunger and disease, the United Nations (UN) launched an emergency appeal on Friday to help the flood victims.

14 of Sri Lanka’s 25 districts have been struck by the torrential rains, the worst-affected areas being the Batticaloa, Ampara and Trincomalee districts along the east coast, where around 200,000 have abandoned their inundated villages. The Sri Lankan authorities have deployed 28,000 personnel to carry out rescue operations and distribute aid, with boats and helicopters being used in areas where access is made difficult with the high water levels.

The UN’s humanitarian co-ordinator in the region, Neil Buhne, said there was an urgent requirement for mosquito nets, food and clean water to protect people from water-borne diseases. In Batticaloa City, where some areas are submerged in up to two meters of water, one relief worker spoke of there being “barely any drinking water left” and a population in desperate need of bottled water and chlorine tablets. Items such as soap, clothes, blanket, dry rations and tarpaulins are also in short supply. In some areas, the UN is also concerned that flood waters may have dislodged old mines. According to the UN’s humanitarian co-ordinator, the government will be re-surveying areas where mines could have surfaced and there will also need to be extra education about the risk of mines.

Though some water levels are beginning to drop, the flooding has caused widespread devastation to rice crops. The rural economy in the eastern provinces had been improving, but according to Neil Buhne, 35-40 per cent of harvests have been destroyed. The Sri Lankan Agriculture Ministry estimates that at least one fifth of the season’s rice crop could have been wiped out. Emergency aid is therefore desperately needed to ease food shortages and help communities rebuild their lives. “A lot of people affected were quite poor to start”, said Mr Buhne, and with their crops wiped out and no source of immediate income, “there is a serious need to support them”.

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