Floods and landslides in central, south, and west Sri Lanka on May 25 and 26, followed two days of heavy rain. The mud and rain covered houses, shops, and roads, which has slowed rescue efforts. The state’s Disaster Management Center has said by Wednesday 202 people were killed, with more still missing, and about 600,000 people were displaced. As some areas are still under 10 or more feet of water, the military along with domestic and foreign aid organizations are working to distribute food and supplies and conduct rescue operations. As they continue to search for survivors, the Sri Lankan military has brought in heavy equipment where possible to dig through the mud and debris.
There has been a growing worry about disease as more displaced people crowd into temporary shelters. Already this year, 125 people in Sri Lanka have died due to mosquito-borne dengue fever, up from past years. As 16 hospitals have been fully or partially evacuated, foreign aid has arrived in the form of water-purification tablets and tents, among other survival necessities. Naval ships and personnel have come to Colombo from both India and Pakistan to help with recovery, set up medical facilities, and aid in water decontamination efforts, alongside the Sri Lankan military and volunteers. By May 31, 16 different countries had sent relief supplies and medicine to assist those affected by the disaster.
The President of Sri Lanka, Maithripala Sirisena, has said that the government will replace the homes that were lost.
Prior to the monsoon, Sri Lanka had been experiencing a prolonged drought, negatively impacting agriculture and hydropower generation, among other sectors.
This is not the first time Sri Lanka has had to contend with this type of disaster; last year a mudslide killed more than 100 people and flooding in 2003 due to monsoons killed 250 and damaged 10,000 homes.
Deforestation, as much of the land is converted to grow cash crops, has led to much more frequent landslides during monsoon season in Sri Lanka. The government is also placing some of the blame for the large number of casualties on the tens of thousands of unauthorized constructions on river banks and mountain slopes, both prone to collapse. The cabinet of ministers has said they will take action against such illegal buildings, including homes.
There were similar issues with deforestation and precarious building when flooding and mudslides hit Colombia in the beginning of April.
Sources and Further Reading:
Heavy rains cause deadly landslides in Sri Lanka – Al Jazeera
Sri Lanka floods leave 600,000 people displaced – Al Jazeera
Floods in Sri Lanka Displace Half a Million – The New York Times
Over 100 Are Killed in Floods and Mudslides in Sri Lanka – The New York Times
Deadly Flooding, Mudslide in Mocoa Colombia – Global Resilience Institute