Sri Lanka (MNN) – Flood waters in Sri Lanka are slowly receding now, revealing the extent of the damage from last week’s torrent. Asian Access’ Joe Handley says what they’re hearing from their partners is that, “It’s the worst disaster to hit the nation in the last five years.”
The UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in its situation report, “Many of the affected population, particularly in the rural areas, were already amongst the most vulnerable in the country and have now lost everything, including their homes, possessions, agricultural land and means of making a living.”
The water’s surge forced more than 350,000 people from their homes. Government officials also anticipate the death toll to rise well beyond too. “They’re estimating”, explains Handley, that “at least the last I’ve seen, over two billion dollars’ damage that occurred across the country.”
In fact, last week’s deluge is considered by some aid groups to be the worst natural disaster in the Indian Ocean region since the 2004 tsunami.
“I’m getting reports that there are still places that are under eight feet of water after four days of rains”, he notes, adding, this disaster hit families living in both rural and urban areas; it destroyed more than 125,000 houses and triggered deadly landslides. Many people have returned home to find it in ruins, buried in mud or filled with stagnant water.
The government’s asking for help supplying mats, bed sheets and mobile toilet units for the displaced people. Damage estimates are expected to exceed US$2 billion. Although the government has promised compensation to survivors, details remain unclear.
However, because A2 responded 12 years ago with the tsunami, they know how to respond to this crisis, too.
“These churches have been reaching out in the midst of this disaster, and many of their friends, family, communities have been hit. They’re trying to come alongside and provide shelter, provide food, provide encouragement, emotional healing in the midst of the pain.”
Figuring out the next step prompted an early recall of Sri Lanka’s parliament. They met yesterday to discuss reconstruction and rehabilitation. In the urban areas, it’s easier. The further out you go, the harder it gets to mobilize any help, says Handley. “Colombo is the biggest city, but most of the areas hit are rural areas that don’t have a lot of resources.”
Because A2 has experience in crisis, they’ve gained respect. “We’ve even seen Buddhist priests who have blocked renegade activities against the church simply because they have seen the body of Christ come in and help the community so much in the midst of these disasters.”
Nothing is sure. A2 Sri Lankan partners are in the thick of the disaster. Right now, they’re doing a situation assessment. Until they know what they’re actually dealing with, Handley says, “People are always surprised that ‘what, tangibly, can I do?’ and oftentimes, the most important thing you can do is start with prayer. Prayer fuels the power of Christ in those regions, and stirs in our own hearts so as we pray, we’re mindful of what God is doing in those areas.”
The cyclone pummeled Sri Lanka for four days before moving on to swipe at Bangladesh. Information is still trickling in about recovery efforts there. For details on how the Church is acting in the name of Christ in disaster, click here.