“For the past 32 years, I don’t think I have slept soundly a single night during rains,” Shermila, a resident of Sedawatte, Kelaniya says. Born and raised in the area and now a mother of two, this young mother says they are gripped with the fear of losing their shelter due to constant floods prevalent in the area.
She lives in a small, wooden shack and the flood caused by the recent heavy rains has left permanent black stains on her walls, marking the water levels that had risen waist-high. “In other areas, it takes heavy rains that last at least 24 hours to cause floods. For the past few decades, for us in Sedawatte, floods have become part of our everyday life because it takes only about five/six hours of heavy rain for the water to flood our homes. . ,” she points out.
Shermila says she and her neighbours that reside in some 400 houses in the vicinity spend only half the year in dry land, while the other half is usually spent in the midst of floods, which usually bring in a plethora of diseases.
Most of the families in the area had returned to their homes only earlier this week, since they had been at the relief shelter prepared at the Gamini Vidyalaya. “When it floods, all the junk comes floating inland and stagnates in the canal. It has become the cause of many sicknesses including dengue. My children often fall ill; this time my younger son (10) fell ill and he still hasn’t recovered from the fever. Our feet are infested with strange skin diseases all year round,” she says, lifting her soles up and pointing at the festering wounds.
" In other areas, it takes heavy rains that last at least 24 hours to cause floods. For the past few decades, for us in Sedawatte, floods have become part of our everyday life because it takes only about five/six hours of heavy rain for the water to flood our homes "
The residents of Sedawatte have been affected by constant floods for the past two decades and they say that time and again they have voiced their grievance to the area politicians. But a sustainable solution, which the residents claim is as simple as restoring the anicut doors has not been carried out by any they pleaded to, so far.
M. A. P. Costa, another victim of the floods prevalent in the area blames the entire issue on the area politicians. He is a resident of the Thudugalawatte Mawatha, a line of houses located parallel to the P.G. Perera Mawatha on slightly higher grounds. He points towards the lower grounds and says, “We were not affected by the issue to such a grave extent as those who live down that lane. This area started flooding due to the politicians’ cheap tricks to lure voters to their side,” he says angrily.
According to Costa, each time during election campaigns, an area politician has repaired Thudugalawatta Mawatha which has led to the road level to rise higher than the ground the houses are located in. “The road is repaired on quite low standards and this has not left room for proper water flow. As a result, the rain water starts accumulating into the houses,” he points out.
" We were not affected by the issue to such a grave extent as those who live down that lane. This area started flooding due to the politicians’ cheap tricks to lure voters to their side "
Each time it rains, Costa says his kids or those of his neighbours can't attend school wearing shoes. “I make my child mount the cycle and I push it until we cross the flooded areas. This is such a menace, people should not be made to suffer this way because of cheap political bribing,” he says.
The politicians arrive with relief when the area gets flooded but the residents of Sedawatte claimed that it is time for the politicians to stop playing political gimmicks and find a lasting solution to the issue they face year after year. For two generations the Sedawatte residents have inherited only a living hell following floods and false promises given by area politicians. The residents are still waiting to live in their houses without having to run for shelters every time it rains heavily. However, proper sanitation, clean houses and non-inundated roads during floods are yet to become realities for the Sedawatte residents.
No response from the Sri Lanka Land Reclamation and Development Corporation
Despite the many attempts made by the Daily Mirror to contact the Sri Lanka Land Reclamation and Development Corporation, none of the officials could be contacted to inquire about the preventive measures that have a been taken or could be taken to minimize the flooding in the Sedawatte, Kelaniya area.
The officials at the Corporation refused to comment without the permission of the Chairman of the Corporation Harshan de Silva. Even though attempts were made to contact the Chairman for two days he was not available for comment on the issue.
“Kolonnawa Urban Council is the Council that has the lowest earnings”- Council Chairman
The Kolonnawa Urban Council which is responsible for the proper water flow in Sedawatte claims that they are doing their utmost to prevent the areas from getting inundated.
“We have been doing out utmost for the past several years. But the Kolonnawa Urban Council is the council which has the lowest earnings so we do have financial constraints when carrying out projects. But next year we are planning to implement a development project in the council area which will cost up to Rs. 283 million,” said the Chairman of the Kolonnawa Urban Council, Ravindra Udayashantha.
However he admitted that the anicut needs upgrading and added that the increase in the population in the area has aggravated the problem.
He also noted that the most of the families are occupying low-lying lands illegally and that is why most of them complain about their homes being inundated.
“Certain politicians have distributed these low- lying lands in the area as political favours to these people. Most of their houses are illegal constructions. When I assumed duties I tried to remove some of them and several law suits are also filed. But evicting them is not a solution because these people have nowhere to go. If they are evicted they will be homeless and we cannot make them homeless either. The politicians have to be blamed for distributing lands in such an unwise manner,” he claimed.
He also stated that some of the lands are forcibly occupied by certain companies. He pointed out that when these lands are occupied the rain water has no space to flow making the rain water seep into the low-lying lands.
The Chairman noted that the best solution is to build an apartment scheme for all the people residing in the low-lying lands but he added that that his council should be equipped with resources first.
“We have done cleaning up activities and many other projects. But the mass of rain water that gushes in the area is too big for the anicut to control. So we are trying to find a lasting solution” he assured.