Back in May it rained solidly for four days.
Not in itself unsurprising as May is the start of the monsoon here in the South/West of Sri Lanka. What was surprising was the effect – the worst flooding for fourteen years, and down in our southernmost corner areas that had never flooded before found themselves under twenty feet of water.
The root cause of this would appear to be some major civil engineering works which had taken place over the past couple of years and which had inadvertently created a massive dam which prevented the rainwater draining off in to the river and being carried out to sea.
Life carried on as normal along our little stretch of coast and you would never know anything was amiss but that the ocean was a nasty brown colour due to all the mud and silt being washed down the swollen rivers. Turn inland however and travel for less than a kilometre into the rice paddies and soon you would find your path blocked by water.
I was first alerted to the problem by a Sri Lankan friend whose girlfriend was stranded, along with her her family and about 150 other people, on an “island” of high ground in the flooded paddy. Whilst their houses were dry they had had no water, electricity or food supplies for six days.
A couple of foreign friends and I went and bought a car load of basic supplies – water, candles, matches, dry goods and sanitary items. Meanwhile my Sri Lankan friends organised a boat to be brought up from our local beach and we found a large tin shed on the edge of the flood zone that we could use as a distribution centre.
On the first day, with the help of the locals who assisted with making up “family packs”, we took supplies both to those stranded on the island and also thirty seven displaced people who were living together in a derelict house having had to abandon their flooded homes.
That evening I wrote a Facebook post about our endeavours and invited people to send donations to my Paypal account to enable us to carry on. The next morning when I awoke I was stunned and ecstatic to see almost one thousand pounds had arrived over night.
We continued with the emergency aid for stranded people over the following four days until someone, somewhere realised that the “dam” must be breached and the army came and knocked some holes through the embankment. In one day the water dropped four feet and after another it had almost gone.
Then the cleanup began and we switched our attention to those whose homes had been under water.
As is common which such disasters, those worst effected were also the poorest with little or no ability to replace what was lost and the flood had risen so quickly that many people had been taken completely unawares and not had the time or opportunity to move their belongings to a safe place. For these families we created “house packs” of a double mattress, a set of sheets, three pillows, pillowcases and a mosquito net.
Such things that we take for granted in our privileged lives but which were received with such heartfelt gratitude and emotion that it was as if we had been bearing news of a lottery jackpot win.