Welfare programs continue for landslide areas
One month after the Meeriyabedda landslide tragedy the plight of the
affected people can be heard only occasionally. Immediately after the
incident this poverty-hit community in the estate sector captured the
world's attention as the incident made global media headlines and
generous donors and kindhearted people came to support them.
According to statistics given by the officials there are 1,213
displaced people belonging to 342 families in welfare camps. In the
Mahakanda factory welfare camp 275 people belonging to 82 families are
residing. Another 341 people belonging to 108 families are living in the
Poonagala Tamil Mahavidyalaya welfare camp. In the Poonagala Sinhala
Mahavidyalaya welfare camp 52 people belonging to 11 families are
living. In another camp called “Gapkade Camp” there are 292 people
belonging to 75 families and they are from a landslide-prone risk area
in Poonagala. In the welfare camp situated at the Kovil another 180
people belonging to 55 families from a risk area are living. There are
73 people belonging to 11 families in the Makaldeniya welfare camp
situated close to Koslanda.
The welfare program is managed from the main welfare centre located
at Mahakanda factory. This abandoned tea factory used as a firewood
storage facility had been converted to a welfare centre by Sri Lanka
Army. The army is still supporting the Bandarawela Divisional Secretary
office staff to manage the welfare service and security of the welfare
Until the end of November the Army provided cooked meals thrice a day
for the people living in all the welfare camps except Makaldeniya camp
which is located separately. Last week people in the Mahakanda factory
camp staged a protest against the decision to terminate cooked meal
supply and provide dry ration. The people in other camps agreed with the
new arrangement, cook their meals, at the common kitchen in each camp.
Later, after mediation of the political leaders people in the Mahakanda
factory camp too have agreed to new arrangements but refused to
voluntarily cook their meal and finally the estate company has to pay
the wages for the cooks.
Though the displaced people receive assistance and care
satisfactorily at the moment, they cannot live like this for a long
period. Solution to their housing issue is urgent. In the Mahakanda
factory camp people are living in 100 sq feet room divided by thin
plywood boards and in some rooms around 7-10 people are living.
In the camps located in schools around 30-40 people are living in a
classroom. Now they have been living over one month and the young people
are expecting a house or land and other kind of assistance.
Officials who manage the welfare program said that contribution of
the Disaster Management Ministry officials of the Badulla district is
K. Manogaran from Meeriyabedda in Room No.1 complains about
discrimination of distribution of aid receiving from donors. He said
that everything is given to the people living in Mahakanda factory camp.
The people said that they don't even have the basic needs; milk powder
for kids, and cloths. But officials deny this and they said that all the
supplies come to the main store in Mahakanda factory and they are
equally distributed to all the displaced people. However, now the
distribution of aid has been limited to encourage them to return to
their houses after the risk is reduced.
The views expressed by the displaced people are varied and all of
them are expecting a kind of assistance in material, cash or housing.
According to estimates socio economic status, 61 percent of estate
sector households are in the poorest category compared to 20 and eight
percent in rural and urban sectors (IPS Blog).
Officials said that 57 houses have been damaged in Meeriabedda
division of the estate by the landslide and eight houses are in the high
risk area. There are 342 families in all five camps and all of them
expect houses. But the officials said that only 75 permanent houses will
be provided and the conditions for receiving a house are; they should be
employees of the estate, should not have a house in the housing scheme
and they should have been directly affected by the landslide or are in
the high risk area.
According to the officials, a land for these permanent houses has
been selected and construction work will commence soon. Others in middle
risk areas will not get permanent houses but there is a plan to provide
temporary houses for them.
D.A. Karthik (33), a community leader said that houses should be
given to the affected people. He has five in his family and said that it
is difficult to live here without any work. “We get food and other
essential things but we want to leave here as soon as possible and start
work again, he said. Karthik's house had sunk in the landslide and he
has lost everything they had. Luckily they were not in the house when
the tragedy struck. His wife Kanagalechami who returned from Riyadh,
Saudi Arabia after three years working as a housemaid just 12 days
before the tragedy, said that all she earned were lost and they have to
start life again.
The claim for new houses is much higher than the actual number of
houses affected and situated in the vulnerable areas. There were several
families living in these households and at this occasion each family is
seeking a new house. The people who left the villages and lived or
worked in Colombo or other areas too have come back and now living in
the welfare centres and claiming new houses. This situation has created
a division among the community and the people who actually lost houses
said priority should be given to them. M. Kokila who lost his mother
together with his house claims that families who did not suffer any
damage too are in welfare centres to receive aid and expecting a new
Meeriyabedda had been identified as a high risk landslide-prone area
and alternative lands had been provided to construct houses. Lands have
been provided for 63 families under this housing scheme located around
one km away from the Meeriyabedda landslide.
Only 13 families have shifted to this new housing scheme and most of
the other houses are partly completed or not even started construction.
When we visited this housing scheme only one family was living there and
all other 12 families had gone to the welfare camps.
Thangeshwari (40) a mother of two who remained in their house said
that immediately after the landslide they too went to the welfare camp
and later returned considering the children's education and
inconvenience in the crowded camp. Bandarawela Divisional Secretary
Jayasundara said that this housing scheme area too has been recognised
as a landslide prone area in the long term and mitigation work has been
done for the time being.
The landslide area is now abandoned and a few people, few stray dogs
and debris of houses and the temple could be seen at the site. The
initial estimate of the death toll of the landslide was over 200 but
today the official figures confirmed that only 37 people died.
According to Divisional Secretary Jayasundara, the death toll was
confirmed at 33 Meeriyabedda residents and four outsiders who stayed
with their relatives. The figure has been confirmed after interviews
with the people who were fortunate to escape the tragedy and official
documents with the Grama Niladhari and the plantation company.
Now reasonable time has passed and if there is anybody missing there
should be complaints to the police, Jayasundara said. Thiyagarajah who
we met at the landslide location said that his six-year-old daughter
Nilushika died while she was walking to the school.