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Sunday, 05 June 2016

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Post disaster, communities complain:

No relief, no support

As the victims of the catastrophic cyclone which ravaged through the island struggle to recover from the damage caused, indifference and bureaucracy is slowly setting in. The authorities have already started receiving complaints on aid distribution and are yet to establish a transparent mechanism to effectively channel the monetary aid flowing into the country, for recovery efforts.

Indian Air Force carrier offloading relief material at the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA)

The National Disaster Relief Service Centre has received 678 written complaints on aid distribution. This is apart from the complaints received through their 'hotline 117', of which a count is yet to be taken.

Complaints

A little over 200 complaints with regard to food distribution have been settled by the Disaster Management Ministry. However, serious complaints regarding housing assistance and long term relief have been referred to the respective Government Agents for verification of facts. According to official data, 688 houses are fully damaged and 5,194 houses partially damaged in the affected districts.

The victims complain, the return to normalcy is moving at snail's pace with officials still grappling to come to terms with the scope of the disaster.

"Relief distribution has been completely messed up, sans an effective mechanism to reach the victims, and there is lack of coordination," complained M. Akbar a resident of the Wallampitiya area. His house and property have been completely destroyed in the floods, leaving them with nothing, he said.

Lucky are those who receive people-donated dry rations, said an officer engaged in aid distribution at ground level, who requested anonymity due to government regulations.

Some flood victims in Colombo complained of receiving rice packs with the expiry date reading 2014 among the government sent rations acquired from Cooperative outlets, the officer said.

As Sri Lanka experienced the Roanu many countries rushed in with humanitarian aid in the immediate aftermath. The cargo arrived in aircraft and ships, to be distributed among the severely affected.

Foreign aid

Japan was the first to send in foreign emergency assistance on May 20, followed by India, our closest neighbour. India dispatched two ships of the Indian Navy from Kochi on May 20. The same day, an Indian Air Force C-17 transport aircraft was also sent with additional supplies. The relief items started to pour in from other countries thereafter.

The US, Nepal, Australia, Pakistan, Singapore, Germany, Turkey, Israel and China were among the countries who extended condolences and expressed solidarity with the people of Sri Lanka at their time of need. The European Union too sent in emergency assistance for the worst affected people in five districts.

The material aid received from foreign countries was directly sent to a warehouse in Orugodawatte, and distribution carried out based on a needs assessments done by Government Agents, said Additional Secretary of the Disaster Management Ministry Dr. S.Amalanathan.

District level

"We have set up, district level coordinating committees to handle the aid distribution," he said, adding that these committees comprise ministers of the area and community leaders.

The local and foreign donations are stored at the Orugodawatte facility. When a request is made for an item, for instance, tents or purification tablets, the Ministry will issue directives to release the goods from their central warehouse. But the stream of complaints indicates that there are issues that need to be addressed urgently, Dr Amalanathan said.

The Aranayake and Bulathkohupitiya landslides and the floods in the Western Province have affected 411, 809 people belonging to 104, 667 families in 22 districts.

Immediate relief requirements were for tents, clothing, blankets, medication, generators, water purification units, etc. The goods were received within hours with the generosity of foreign governments as well as local donors.

"We have reviewed the needs and now the requirement is for 600 family tents and 1,200 tarpaulin tents," Dr.Amalanathan said, adding that these are for people who have fled after more landslide warnings were issued by the National Building Research Organisation (NBRO), in the Central and Sabaragamuwa Provinces.

Most of the people displaced by floods have gone back to their houses, but the Aranayake and Bulathkohupitiya landslide victims have no place to call home. The government has discussed the possibility of building cluster houses or condominium type houses for the victims. President Maithripala Sirisena directed the officials last week to complete the acquiring of land within two weeks.

By May 31, the number of displaced have reduced to 14,327 (4,373 families). They have been put up in 167 IDP camps by the government, in the Kegalle, Colombo, Gampaha, Ratnapura and Kalutara distrits. There is a significant number living with relatives.

Although the floods spared many lives, the people affected said they were as good as dead. Many of them who owned home based SMEs, have been left with nothing.

Bank account

Within days of the disaster, the Foreign Affairs Ministry announced the opening of a bank account to receive donations in foreign currencies to help rebuild the disaster struck areas. The idea was to facilitate Sri Lankan expatriates and others who want to contribute to the relief efforts.

However, a Foreign Ministry spokesperson said they do not keep accounts of the collection. There was no way of knowing how much monetary aid was received to this account, and what happens to the funds.

Many countries at the outset commended the Sri Lankan authorities for their effective response to the natural disaster under such difficult circumstances. But the affected people, today, are still waiting for an opportunity to build a new life and forget their sorrows.

Rebuilding their lives should not be another struggle faced with bureaucracy and red tape. To wipe away their hopelessness, all they need is a little help from the state and a lot of encouragement from the nation.

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