23 Jan 2011

Sri Lanka: life after the floods

After what seems like an eternity, the rains have stopped. But as families leave their makeshift camps, what awaits them at home? Save the Children reports for Channel 4 News from Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka: Save the Children's Andrew Lazarus reports on life after the floods (Image: Getty)

Children and their families have started to leave the camps that they have called home since floods forced them to flee earlier this month.

While people are looking forward to getting back, they know it’s going to be an uphill struggle to rebuild their lives. The rains have washed away everything; houses, crops and livestock.

All over the districts I work in, people are arriving to find the damage is even worse than they imagined.

None of the houses here were constructed to withstand flooding on this scale and almost every home- including my own- has been damaged in some way. Some, particularly the clay houses, have been completely destroyed.

Channel 4 News special report: Sri Lanka – civil war

The next few weeks here are going to be all about recovery. Any spare cash that people have is going to be spent on repairs long after the flood water- and the international media attention- drain away.

For the farmers I have met this week, this is nothing short of a disaster.

The situation is complicated by the fact that many farmers have lost their crops and livestock. In my home district of Batticaloa, 80 per cent of the rice crop has been lost, and many animals have drowned.

For the farmers I have met this week, this is nothing short of a disaster. Take Kamal, for example, a farmer and young father who owned paddy fields and 30 cows before the rains came.

I met him while he was on his way to inspect his rice crop, which he was sure had been completely destroyed. He’d just found that more than half his cattle had died in the rains.

He told me that all his income came from rice and cow’s milk. Without financial help, he could not see how he was going to recover.

Another farmer I met, Selvanesa, had 25 cows. 15 died in the floods. He also doesn’t know how he is going to earn enough money to survive the coming months. He’s really worried about providing for his family and doesn’t know what he’s going to do.

Andrew Lazarus, programme manager for Save the Children, in eastern Sri Lanka

It’s not just farmers who will continue to suffer as a result of the floods. Many people here are day-to-day labourers who work in the paddy fields, but the colossal damage to the crop means there will be no work for them and less food available than normal.

Children’s health and lives are also at risk- the lack of money and food mean that many face going hungry in coming weeks unless they receive assistance, at least until the next harvest.

If they don’t get it, malnutrition in eastern Sri Lanka could soar, along with the diseases that may come with it. For children, especially the very young, one bout of hunger can cause health problems that last a lifetime.

They are resourceful – they’ve already dealt with the tsunami and the war in recent years

I’m hopeful that people here will recover from this – but only with support from the outside world. They are resourceful – they’ve already dealt with the tsunami and the war in recent years, but they need help to ensure they are given the best possible chance to rebuild their lives. That’s where Save the Children comes in.

We’re providing people with essential items for every day use such as tarpaulins, cooking pots, bottled water, hygiene kits, and clothes, and have teams of relief workers helping children in the worst affected areas.

The people here are facing an uncertain future, and every time a cloud appears on the horizon you see fear in their eyes. They know better than anyone that the effects of a flood last long after the rains have stopped.

Andrew Lazarus (pictured above right) is a programme manager for Save the Children in eastern Sri Lanka, where he is on the front-line of the aid effort to help flood victims.

To donate to Save the Children’s Sri Lanka appeal please visit http://www.savethechildren.org.uk/donate/srilanka or call 020 7012 6400.