Sunday Observer Online


Sunday, 29 May 2016





Marriage Proposals
Government Gazette

Unity in adversity

If there is one thing that the floods brought to the fore, it is that Sri Lankans always come together in a time of crisis, forgetting all petty differences. This was seen in ample measure during the tsunami of 2004 and it was apparent during the recent floods.

As shared in social media photos and newspaper reports, there was an outpouring of sympathy - and relief goods - for the flood affected people in many districts from those who were not affected. In fact, supermarket shelves displaying essential goods had run dry in most cities. Yes, the cost of living is high but when your own countrymen are facing a difficulty that does not matter. Most people donated as much as they could, some even foregoing their own lunch packet which they sent to relief camps. No one asked where their aid would be going - they did not care, as long as they were fellow Sri Lankans.

One social media post (they played an active role during the crisis) commented that whilst politicians had tried to divide Sri Lankans for decades, in one spontaneous moment all Sri Lankans came together to help each other, eschewing all those attempts. This should continue if Sri Lankans are to defeat extremists who wish to divide them.


Another trait of Sri Lankan came to the fore during the recent floods. There were many acts of heroism and volunteerism, which are inborn traits of Sri Lankans. There were many who risked their own lives of recue others from the raging waters. True, nearly 100 people perished in the disaster but more people were saved by the actions of others. These stories should be published for others to know about the heroes among us. At least a few of them deserve commendations at the civilian heroes' awards ceremonies.

Sri Lankans are no strangers to volunteering. This is the very core of the concept of "Shramadana" whereby people get together to perform a task in the village on a completely voluntary basis with no fees involved. In a shramadana, if you want to clear up an overgrown path, just inform a few of your neighbours and they will come to your help. That is the essence of volunteerism. This was displayed in abundance during the recent floods when people from all walks of life joined rescue and relief efforts, braving the floodwaters to help others and provide relief goods. Some of them were from voluntary organisations with experience in relief work, but most others joined the relief efforts on the spur of the moment even without any prior experience. Their only motivation was helping their brethren. And now that the flood waters are receding, they have moved on to help clean up the homes and business establishments affected by the floods in a true spirit of brotherhood.


But their assistance was not limited to humans. Many voluntary organisations came forward to rescue helpless and frightened cats, dogs and livestock from the flood waters. Some people, themselves affected by floods, did not think twice about saving the animals first. These organisations and volunteers deserve our appreciation for their gallant attempts to rescue our four-legged friends. This was humanity at its best.

One should also appreciate the bravery and relentless rescue efforts of the Security Forces, Police and the Civil Security Department personnel who worked 24/7 to provide relief supplies to the flood affected. They engaged in rescue efforts in the landslide-hot areas, waist deep in the mud, without any complaints. They did not think about their own comfort or welfare. The officers were in the thick of the operations, just like the other rankers. Coincidentally, the rains came almost to the day seven years ago when they liberated the country from terrorism and now the nation owes them another debt of gratitude for their unceasing efforts to care for the people affected by the rains and floods.

Another aspect that shone through the destruction caused by the floods was the resilience of Sri Lankans in the face even the gravest of tragedies. We saw this back in 2004, when even those who lost everything in the Boxing Day tsunami except the clothes they were wearing shrugged it off and eventually got on with their lives. Even when terrorist bombs were killing hundreds, Sri Lankans did not react in a revengeful way. This time too, the floods could not shake their resilience.


Certainly, there was despair written on the faces of the victims, but there was also hope for the future. Most commentators say that the influence of Buddhism has permeated the Sri Lankan society, cutting across religious boundaries, and given them a sense of resilience in the face of tragedy. The Buddha taught that everything is impermanent and this attitude is certainly prevalent in our society.

The next challenge is rebuilding and there will be no shortage of goodwill and volunteers for those efforts as well. But in this process, it is important to avoid certain pitfalls which led to the floods in the first place. The principle of "building back better" should be applied to the rebuilding effort, as seen in the aftermath of the tsunami. The authorities have already banned land reclamation in certain areas and plans are afoot to give permanent lands in other areas to those affected by the landslides. Those who stayed back without heeding the warnings of the National Building Research Organisation (NBRO) paid a heavy price, so this time the authorities must compel all families to resettle in alternative lands. The Government has already pledged to assist them in this process.


The raging floodwaters also showed us the value of having insurance (with flood/natural disaster cover). Sri Lanka has one of the lowest rates of insurance compared to the total population even among developing countries and the Government should explore the possibility of having a national insurance scheme. The recent floods and the aftermath should be viewed holistically from several angles. It is not possible to entirely to stop natural disasters, but many steps can be taken to reduce the severity of a future disaster event.


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