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Sri Lanka Struggles to Deliver Aid to Flood Victims

Sri Lankan men push their bicycles through flood waters after heavy rains in Batticaloa, about 320 km (199 miles) east of Colombo, 13 Jan 2011
Sri Lankan men push their bicycles through flood waters after heavy rains in Batticaloa, about 320 km (199 miles) east of Colombo, 13 Jan 2011

Sri Lanka is struggling to deliver aid to about one million people affected by the worst floods in the country in recent decades. At least 27 people have died in the flooding, which was triggered by unusually heavy monsoon rains.

Trucks loaded with relief supplies reached the eastern Ampara and Batticaloa districts Friday. The two areas have borne the brunt of the flooding and mudslides.

Of the one million people affected by the floods, nearly 400,000 have been forced out of their homes and have sought shelter in relief camps. Thousands of soldiers have been deployed to rescue marooned people and distribute aid.

Ashoka Peiris, the deputy director of the Disaster Management Center in Colombo, says the governments are making every effort to deliver food and medical supplies to the affected families.

"Government has requested relief from different agencies. We are also collecting relief items and distribute[ing] it to those districts. For the moment we are giving cooked food," Peiris said.

The floods were triggered by a more than a week of unusually heavy monsoon rains in northern, central and eastern Sri Lanka.

Although the rains eased on Thursday, vast tracts of land are under nearly a meter of water. The situation is especially grim in far-flung villages, where communication links such as rail lines and roads have been flooded making it difficult to reach relief. The number of camps is increasing daily as more and more people stream in for help.

The government says the flooding is the worst natural disaster since the 2004 tsunami. The flooded region was also affected by that tsunami and also endured a civil war, which ended in 2009.

Mervyn Fletcher, a spokesman for the United Nations Children's Fund in Colombo, says the affected communities are among the countries most vulnerable.

"The communities there are truly facing what is a triple blow, a triple whammy,” Fletcher stated. “Clearly these are communities in much need of as much assistance as we can give."

UNICEF says the priority is to ward off the outbreak of disease by ensuring access to safe water and hygiene for the flood-affected people. It says children need special attention.

While the focus for international agencies and the government remains on delivering relief, there is mounting concern about damage to infrastructure and crops. The Agriculture Ministry estimates that at least one-fifth of the country’s rice paddy crop could have been destroyed.