- Rice Shortage Likely In The Coming Months
By Raisa Wickrematunge and Abdul H. Azeez
Heavy rains lashed the island unmercifully this week. The ensuing floods and earth slips have damaged houses, affecting over a million people. Further dangers that will only be truly realised in the months to come are imminent. The floods have begun to affect paddy cultivation across key areas of the island, seriously threatening Sri Lanka’s staple food supply in the future.
400,000 Acres Flooded
“400,000 acres of paddy land have already been lost,” said Assistant Director of Agriculture, K.B. Gunaratne. This is equivalent to 360,000 tonnes of paddy irretrievably destroyed. According to a report by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), a total of 109,670 acres of paddy land in Batticaloa is 50‐100% affected. Four fertilizer stores and 24 culverts are also damaged. The Acting Commissioner, Agriculture Department reports 64 fully damaged and 83 partially damaged irrigation tanks in Batticaloa as well.
In Ampara, the Agriculture Department is unable to assess the crop loss, as water levels are still too high. However UNOCHA said initial estimates indicate that 25,000 acres of paddy and 1,500 acres of highland crop harvests have been lost. An individual consumes 104 kilogrammes a year, on average, Gunaratne added. That equates to approximately two million tonnes of paddy, which means that in the chaos of one week, roughly 20% of annual consumption has been lost. At the moment, the stores are full after the Yala harvest. However after these reach the market, and existing stores get depleted it is likely that Sri Lanka would face a severe shortage of rice come June this year, said Gunaratne.
The Maha harvest, which is set for February and March, is likely to yield much less than usual due to most of the major paddy cultivation areas being under water. Batticaloa, Ampara, Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu have been hit by severe rains and flood damage over the past week. Unfortunately, other areas like Tissamaharama and Kurunegala that can usually provide a buffer crop are also flooded. For the moment, only the Mahaweli B and C zones are unaffected, the Assistant Director said.
“The government has no option but to wait until the water subsides to re-cultivate. There is no short term solution,” Gunaratne noted. However the government plans to provide farmers with seed paddy free of charge, so that they can re-cultivate the land once the water recedes, he added.
More pressing issues
Although the threat of a rice shortage looms, there are other more immediate problems to attend to. The Disaster Management Centre (DMC) stated that as of Friday (14) a total of 1,055,668 people have been affected by the heavy rains. So far 27 persons are dead and 49 people have been injured while 12 are missing. About 363,078 people are displaced in 599 temporary relocation centers.
The east coast bore the brunt of the deluge, with Batticaloa and Ampara the worst hit. Areas like Trincomalee, Polonnaruwa and Anuradhapura are in a bad way as well. 32,337 people are displaced in Trincomalee. The Manampitiya area in Polonnaruwa was completely inundated on Wednesday, making the road impassable, though by Thursday (13) the rain had stopped. 2203 people were displaced here on Friday. In Anuradhapura, 1,983 people sought shelter in welfare centres. In Ratnapura, a mini cyclone hit on Thursday leading to 433 people being displaced. In the North, the sluice gates of the Vavunikulam tank were opened, leading to flooding in Paliyaru village, where the water level rose as high as five feet.
The Ground Situation In Batticaloa
Batticaloa is definitely the worst hit by the elements. “The situation is very bad,” SSP I.M. Karunaratne, stationed in Batticaloa, said. He added that most of the area is flooded, including the camps where the displaced are sheltered. Karunaratne said that communicable diseases were already spreading, with cases of fever, diarrhoea and dysentery reported.
Government Agent of Batticaloa, Sundaram Arumainayagam echoed similar sentiments when he spoke to The Sunday Leader on Wednesday. “The water level is rising. Most of the irrigation tanks are filling, and there is heavy rain today,” he said. He added that 15 teams had already been deployed to welfare centres to look after the people there. “I don’t think that (health issues) will be a problem,” he said.
A situation report by UNOCHA dated Wednesday (12) said that 200 small and medium tanks had been breached and washed away. “Other tanks are spilling over,” it read. Schools will remain closed, as most of the displaced have taken shelter there. Reporters in the area on Thursday said that the rain had stopped, but it remained cold. Although water levels had fallen a little, some interior areas remained cut off due to flooding. UNOCHA noted that the Vavuniyathivu bridge was damaged, and that nearby villages had no access into Batticaloa town. Meanwhile, the electricity supply had been cut off in many places and ‘hospitals, government offices, shops are unable to function,’ the report said.
(Figures as of Friday (14) according to the Disaster Management Centre)
Number of people affected by floods: 541,688
Number of families affected: 145,131
Number of people in IDP camps: 165,494
Number of welfare centres in Batticaloa: 275
Reported deaths: 9
Houses destroyed: 1553
Houses damaged: 3958
The Air Force is transporting supplies to the Somawathi area in the East, Spokesman Janaka Nanayakkara said on Wednesday. “We are transporting dry rations. Our last consignment amounted to 14,000 kilogrammes,” Nanayakkara said. “There is incessant rain, gusty winds, a lot of water, and quite a few hungry people,” Nanayakkara said of the situation.
Later, UNOCHA reported that the Air Force airlifted 3.5 metric tonnes of food rations to Batticaloa and a further 13 metric tonnes to Trincomalee. The Air Force, Navy and Army are all working together in evacuation and rescue operations as well. Over 55 people were rescued between Monday and Tuesday, it was reported. Military spokesman Ubaya Medawala however said that as many as 450 had been rescued. He added that apart from these operations, the military was providing and distributing dry rations and cooking meals for the displaced. “We have managed to find safe areas for people to stay. The rain is continuing, and when it ceases we will provide alternative areas,” Medawala said. He said that all basic facilities had been provided by the Government Agents and District Secretariats.
The Indian Air Force is flying in supplies on Friday (14) and Monday (17) consisting of ready to eat meals, dry rations, baby food and other non food items such as water purification tablets. Peace Winds Japan is providing dry rations to people in welfare centres in Muttur.
In terms of non food items, UNICEF has made available 50 water tanks (1,000 litres capacity each), water tablets able to purify two million litres of water, 7,000 tarpaulins, bleaching powder, 7,000 sleeping mats, 3,000 buckets, 30,000 bars of soap and cooking pots as immediate relief assistance.
(Figures provided by the Disaster Management Centre as of Friday)
Number of people affected by the floods: 418,154
Number of families affected by floods: 112,384
Number of displaced: 157,649
Number of welfare centres: 169
Reported deaths: 9
Houses destroyed: 956
Houses damaged: 4,393
Ampara too was heavily hit by the rains and flooding was rampant. But by Wednesday rain had stopped and water levels were beginning to recede, GA of Ampara Sunil Kannangara told The Sunday Leader. Cooked food was available at the welfare camps. There was dire need for items like mats, bedsheets, towels, water, mosquito coils, biscuits, toothpaste and toothbrushes. However, the government is already collaborating with NGOs to provide these items, he said.
The Disaster Management Centre has released a relief items list. The list calls for everything from sugar, tea and biscuit packets to water purification tablets, mosquito coils, mosquito nets and bedsheets, soap and clothing items. Interested donors have been asked to deliver supplies to No. 07 Stores, Central Food Stores, Department of Food, Orugodawatte – Welampitiya, or contact Lt.Col. Ashoka Peiris, Deputy Director, Disaster Management Centre (0773957902). For a complete list of the items needed, check www.dmc.gov.lk.
The Presidential Secretariat has also opened a collection centre to receive relief material for the flood affected. Those interested in donating are invited to call 0773721202/ 0773929292. The Rotaract Club plans to send a batch of goods through UNHABITAT by January 19 (Wednesday). Director, Community Service Bhagya Ratnayake (0772928151) is the point of contact.
The All Ceylon Jamiatul Ulama will take donations; call 01115373148 or credit account no 1320006768 at the Maradana Commercial Bank branch. The Girl Guides Association is delivering dry rations. Call 2695720. Muslim Aid Sri Lanka accepts donations for hygiene packs worth Rs 1500, at MCB Banking Ltd, Islamic division, AC no 004021000610.
Perhaps the worst news of all is that the Meteorology Department has forecast that the rain could continue until at least Friday (14). The Department has said that the heavy rainfall will ease. However due to the North East monsoon, ‘scattered rainfall’ is expected. More than 360,000 people have had to abandon their homes, with 599 centres to accommodate them. Access to the worst hit areas is particularly difficult due to the weather. Over a million people are affected, and at present, the numbers look set to increase.