Reuters Pictures :
People stand at where a dam wall used to be, before it was destroyed by flood waters in Anuradhapura district, 206km (128 miles) north of Colombo, February 7, 2011. Heavy rain triggered flooding in Sri Lanka that killed at least eleven people and is threatening up to 90 percent of the island nation's staple rice crop,. heightening concerns over supply shocks and higher inflation,. according to officials.
by Stewart Sloan
(February 08, Hong Kong, Sri Lanka Guardian) Let's face it, if there is one thing that they can do properly in Sri Lanka it's manage a good disaster. Does that sound sarcastic? It is not meant to be. Believe me, there is nothing in the very least bit amusing about 42,000 people losing their lives in a tsunami, or thousands of persons being made homeless and destitute by flooding. There is also nothing amusing about millions of dollars meant for relief and reconstruction going missing.
What does, however, raise a smirk is the endless cant by the government that relief operations are in full swing.
In the most recent tragedy six districts have been inundated by as much rain in six days as would normally have fallen in six months. There was initial flooding and before any real relief or humanitarian efforts could be made another flood hit the same areas. As a result thousands of acres of paddy have been destroyed along with vegetable cultivation. This is the most damage caused to Sri Lankan crop cultivation in history. The cost of green chili, a staple, has risen from Rs.150 to Rs. 1000 per kilogram overnight along with other vegetables. In addition 400 head of cattle died and there is no way of knowing what effect the floods have had on the wildlife. It is, however, known that at least four wild elephants, animals revered and appreciated by all Sri Lankans, have died.
The flooding was followed by landslides in many areas and evacuations have been carried out after tests by government geological engineers. Many schools including 48 in the Central Province have been closed. The inmates of Anuradhapura prison were transferred to other locations. However, given the overcrowded conditions in Sri Lankan prisons this may be more of a boon that a curse.
When asked about the relief being provided by the government a Sri Lankan expat merely laughed.
A government circular provided on relief efforts limits the amount that state officers can hand out to not more than Rs. 230/= (US$ 2) per week per person. This circular was suspended but not withdrawn by the president on his return from the US (while it was a private visit the cost involved in this ten day jaunt could have gone a very long way to relieve the suffering of the affected people of his country).
To-date there is no clear indication of just how much the government has allocated for disaster relief but it is known to be less than Rs. one billion. This is significant as the same government, just a few months ago, allocated 1.5 billion for the import permits for the vehicles purchased by the newly elected MPs. Apparently, keeping 225 MPs happy is more an issue that relieving the suffering of thousands of people.
Six years after the 2004 tsunami there are still questions as to how the millions of dollars donated by countries and organisations has been spent, or misappropriated. It is interesting to note that these countries and organisations have not been so quick to jump in with relief as they were in 2004. Perhaps a final accounting of what happened to the tsunami relief funds and exactly what the government is doing to relieve the suffering caused by the present catastrophe might change this.
Stewart Sloan is the author of three novels and a collection of anecdotes about the Royal Hong Kong Police Force whom he served as a civilian from 1987 to 1997. He works as an editorial assistant for a regional human rights NGO in Hong Kong.