The actual heroes of Aranayake
In the aftermath of any natural calamity, a necessary exercise is to
find out what went wrong and whether or not the tragedy could have been
avoided. Thereafter, it is all about making sure that there won't be a
Wading through the waters
to rescue flood victims (chattar.lk)
It cannot be stressed enough that there should be systems that can
anticipate such calamities and also mechanisms to make sure that the
threat to lives and property are minimized.
For example, every single person who was at risk in Aranayaka,
Bulathkohupitiya and in areas that were in imminent danger of
inundation, should have been evacuated before the landslides. One hopes
that the relevant authorities will do the needful as outlined above and
For now, let us focus on those who rose to the occasion on behalf of
their fellow citizens, sometimes even putting their lives in danger.
They should be recognized and applauded because they demonstrated a
sense of civic responsibility that is at the heart of our cultural
ethos, a quality we have seen on numerous occasions, especially in the
aftermath of the tsunami in 2004.
They stepped in without a thought for self-preservation and certainly
with no notion whatsoever of subsequent recognition or reward - all the
more reason as to why they should not be forgotten or such efforts be
taken for granted. Let me begin by saluting the late Eranga Vikumsiri,
Development Officer of Eligipitiya! We do not know if his message to a
superior officer, A.M Faizal, Divisional Secretary of Aranayaka, would
ever be included in a compilation of famous last words or if compilers
of such texts would even hear about him, but they warrant mention.
"Sir, I can see the landslide in Eligipitiya colony. The villagers
informed me. My brother is helping me evacuate the villagers. Please
hurry and send ambulances."
His efforts as well as those of his brother helped save 80 lives. He
perished along with his brother. Eranga's body was never found.
Was he answering a call of duty or was he going beyond the call of
duty? The truth is that whatever we call it, it was an act of utmost
selflessness and heroism. In fighting unforgiving elements to save the
lives of fellow citizens, Eranga Vikumsiri set a standard not just for
state officials but for the general citizenry. He deserves our
Eranga Vikumsiri was not the only state official involved in relief
work. I am sure that in addition to the relevant line ministries and
institutions, there would have been innumerable men and women in the
public sector who directly or indirectly assisted relief efforts. They
all deserve our praise.
There are of course many others who braved the rains and disregarded
the risks to help out fellow human beings in distress.
People called for relief, collected and delivered relief items,
provided shelter, cleared debris, asked relevant questions about early
warning systems, mechanisms to mitigate disaster and procedures to
ensure that there is minimal damage to people and property.
It was reported that a man from Turkey, a country that has had its
own share of natural disasters, had been amazed by the response to the
tragedy from the general public. He had seen lots of people buying water
and dry rations in supermarkets, all to be sent to people who had been
displaced. It was unthinkable in Turkey, he observed. All these unsung
heroes deserve our praise and gratitude.
To the rescue
We cannot and should not devalue the good work of these individuals
and institutions, and we must emphasize on the spirit of sacrifice
demonstrated by that exceptional citizen and official, Eranga Vikumsiri.
We must also recognize that there are others who spared no thoughts
for self or preservation when offering assistance to the
I am referring to the Security Forces personnel involved in search
and rescue operations as well as relief operations.
They made a monumental difference, working tirelessly around the
clock with absolutely no fanfare - not even the harmless indulgence of a
It was reported that we almost lost two Army units involved in search
and rescue operations in the landslide-affected Aranayaka area.
There was no way to predict the gorund situation and what pitfalls
awaited unknown to them. Every step could have been the last one they
took on this earth. And yet, they stuck to their task, braving the
terrible weather and disregarding the imminent threat to their lives.
Clearly, they were disciplined. Clearly, they were as empowered by
the regimen to follow orders as they were inspired by the best ethics
relating to civic behaviour. Indeed, we have seen the Security Forces
raise their hands whenever the nation faced a crisis of this kind.
Rarely, if at all, are these efforts acknowledged, leave alone praised.
Heroism is not only something that happens in a battlefield. But the
off-field work of these men and women are seldom acknowledged.
It is as though the Security Forces are the A-Z of all the back-up
plans of all State entities. They are like the unofficial national
insurer. "Saves them all, big or small" is a popular slogan.
Isn't that what they've done and what they continue to do? The
difference is that they don't advertise. They don't say what they can do
and they don't say "we did it," after doing it and claim credit.
This does not mean that we, as beneficiaries, should take them for
granted or remain silent. The government has a responsibility to correct
all flaws in the State apparatus that necessitated the deployment of
Security Forces. It cannot leave it to this 'fall back option' and the
general good-heartedness of the people to rise to the occasion of a
Whether or not all this is treated as a wake-up call by the
government, the least we can do as citizens who saw what the Security
Forces did and who might very well need their assistance when tragedy
hits next, is to state and demonstrate our gratitude.
So here's to every single individual who demonstrated a sense of
concern to fellow human beings in distress and especially to our
Security Forces personnel: "We are grateful and proud, and we just don't
have the words to express these sentiments in ways that reflect what we
feel in our hearts."