Two families displaced during the landslide in Muniheenkanda Hill that caused much havoc in Kolambewa village in the Ayagama Division in the Ratnapura District on May 26, 2017, have still been living in a part of the Kolambewa School building without receiving any attention from the authorities.
Mawarakanda Watukarage Ariyarane (50), the breadwinner of one of the families, said that the family of his elderly mother, wife and eight children were provided with temporary shelter at the school building when their house along with the furniture was razed to the ground during the disaster.
A vast area of about 10 acres in a forestation project in the hill had eroded with trees and boulders razing down to the ground three houses at the foot of the hill. Eight people, including seven members of one family, were buried alive. The army and the police who searched for the disappeared found only five bodies. Ariyaratne’s house was destroyed during the disaster, but he miraculously escaped death.
“Our village is in the Ayagama Division in the Kalawana Electorate in the Ratnapura District. We experienced torrential rain from early hours of May 25 last year and at about 8pm there was a threat of a flood. Towards midnight, my house was about 3ft under water. We left for a neighbour’s house. A little while later a vast area of the hill came down with a deafening noise. Our house, with all other property and even school books of my children, was razed to the ground. We made a long trek through hard terrain to the house of a friendly gentleman. When we heard that his house was endangered due to a landslide, we went to another house a little distance from the endangered area. There were several other displaced families seeking shelter in that house. We spent about a week there until we found shelter in Kolambewa School that had already been closed for several years. We cleared the shrub jungle that had grown and reached the level of the roof of the school building and settled in the teachers’ quarters. My daughter attained age about four months afterwards and we celebrated the occasion practising all traditional customs. My eldest son has passed his Advanced Level with two A passes and a B pass, but he remains unemployed. We have been in a predicament for want of an income to survive. Quite often boiled leaves plucked from the jungle constitute our meal. We received dry rations only for two months,” he said.
He requested the authorities to provide his family with a block of land from the state Paragahahena Mukalana. He also requested for funds to build a house and said that this task shouldn’t be postponed under the pretext of a delay in Geological Survey and a Mines Bureau report.
When our house went under water we left for a safer location -Nimalsiri
My house was about 3ft under water. We left for a neighbour’s house. -Ariyarane (50)
Weragala Hewage Nimalsiri’s family is the other family living within the school building. He said that his house with the furniture was buried under the huge mound of earth and boulders that came down during the disaster that claimed several lives.
“When our house went under water we left for a safer location and in the morning we found that our house was no more. We lived at a neighbor’s house for a couple of days and settled in the Kolambewa School building. Ayagama Divisional Secretary’s office provided us with dry rations for about two months. We had depended on the meagre income from a tea small holding, but it was destroyed in the landslide. Now we have been left without any family income. However the authorities are not concerned about our predicament. Our request for a block of land and funds to build a house have fallen on deaf ear.” Nimalsiri said.
The two families requested the relevant authorities not to leave them without a fixed abode. They said they were prepared to earn a livelihood, even as manual workers or by taking to self-employment, if they had a permanent house to live in.
“ We will have nowhere to turn to if the authorities decide to eject us from the school building and use it for other purposes” they said.
Meanwhile Ayagama Divisional Secretary Niranja Jayakody said the two displaced families living in
the Kolambewa school want land from Paragahakanda Mukalana State land, but it had been declared an endangered area by the National Building and Research Organisation. The Divisional Secretary pointed out that it was not possible to allocate that land for building purposes.
“We provided them with land near the post office on Gawaragiriya land, but they refused it. They want land from Kolambewa area. However, I will take up the issue with them and arrive at a settlement soon” The Divisional Secretary further said.