With weather patterns becoming unpredictable even with the use of hi-tech equipment, Sri Lanka is struggling through one of its worst-ever floods in recent decades. Experts say the extreme weather patterns and their unpredictable nature are largely the consequences of climate change and global warming. Till May 15 Sri Lanka was virtually boiling with temperatures reaching their hottest points in recorded history. But suddenly we were taken from one extreme to another with hundreds of thousands of people displaced, rivers and canals overflowing as are the major water reservoirs where sluice gates have been opened and millions of litres of water are going waste if not causing devastation.
According to reports yesterday at least one thousand armed services personnel have been deployed for rescue and relief work. Among the worst affected places were the Kegalle district’s Aranayake and Bulathkohupitiya areas where boulders flattened at least two villages with more than hundred people still missing and feared dead. Government reports said 19 districts were severely affected by the heavy rains, storms and landslides. Even in Colombo residential areas, with rivers and canals overflowing, hundreds of residents were rescued by the Navy. One resident who had taken refuge upstairs said he had to come downstairs and swim to safety holding a rope thrown by the Navy so that he could reach the Navy boat.
Military Spokesman Jayanath Jayaweera said yesterday that nearly 700 Army personnel including 40 officers had been deployed for relief and rescue work in the Aranayake and Bulathkohupitiya areas where hundreds were affected by landslides. He said nearly 200 Navy personnel had been deployed in the flood affected areas while the Air Force had deployed about 100 personnel mainly for life-saving operations. A Bell-212 helicopter and an MI-7 chopper were being used in this new battle against the terror of raging waters.
President Maithripala Sirisena speaking at the war heroes memorial service on Wednesday, as Commander in Chief thanked the security forces for the front-line, deeply committed role they were playing in the search and rescue operations. Presidential Secretariat officials said the President was playing an active role in the relief operations and any affected people who did not get aid could contact the Presidential Secretariat on the hotline 1919 or the Disaster Management Centre hotline 117. The Military Disaster Management Room could be contacted on 011 2674502 and 011 2674503.
The government, several media groups and other organisations have also launched relief operations, with clothes, dry rations and other relief materials being collected in convoys of trucks and containers and rushed to the worst hit areas.
Several Buddhist prelates over the past few days have appealed to the people to cut down on non-essential expenses for Vesak festivities and arrange for a more useful ‘pinkama’ for hundreds of thousands of people suffering in different degrees of desperation, despair and destitution because of the floods and landslides.
The ancient Dansal principle had originated from providing a meal or drink to pilgrims who travelled several miles often by cart or foot to worship at sacred places. But the Buddhist prelates said that in recent years there had been a trend towards putting up dansal almost at every street corner where people were sometimes forced to stop and eat items ranging from rice and curry to ice cream, chick peas, sago and short eats. In some cases some crafty people had turned it in to a business, insulting the Buddha. We agree with the Buddhist prelates that even if the dansal have already been setup today, the plans be cancelled and the money diverted to provide relief for flood victims. While pandals are attractive and draw huge crowds they cost several lakhs of rupees and are taken down after a few days. This year the presidential secretariat has taken a commendable initiative for a Vesak zone at Bauddhaloka Mawatha where only small pandals up to a maximum of 15 feet and creative Vesak lanterns will be displayed. We hope such positive trends would continue to restore the sanctity of this thrice-blessed day and save it from commercialization or wasteful expenditure.