Under the post-war recovery programmes launched by the Sri Lankan government, people in North and East cultivated many more paddy fields as increasing numbers of refugees returned to claim their own agricultural lands. This was a hopeful beginning for young people, many of whom have spent much all their lives between conflict zones and refugee camps.
Despite the political support for this war recovery programme, the skies seem to be against these projects. Two weeks of heavy rain has destroyed 404,163 acres of cultivated paddy fields and 967,155 have been directly affected by unprecedented levels of rain and floods.
These Internally Displaced Peoples (IDPs), whose lives have only very recently begun to see a new dawn, have again been herded back to refugee camps. The worst affected district, Batticaloa has barely begun recovering from the devastating effects of the conflict and 2004 tsunami. According to the government, 122,047 people from 32,641 families in the Batticaloa district are housed in relief camps. 1,727 houses have been completely destroyed, and a further 13,878 houses damaged.
While this is indeed unfortunate, we can find small comfort in the fact that people are joining together irrespective of cast, religion, ethnicity and colour to support each other to escape from and overcome the disaster.
People everywhere, including Colombo, are collecting food and medicine as organised groups and individuals instead of waiting for government or international aid. The beauty of this sad story is that harmony of the people in Sri Lanka that appears at times of disaster, as it did following the tsunami, despite years of conflict.
Many local organisation have already started to support affected people in the North and East. Some of these organisations are featured here on Insight on Conflict, such as the Sewalanka Foundation, Centre for Peacebuilding and Reconciliation (CPBR) and Sarvodaya. These organisations, together with many others, are already supporting the severely affected people in the North and East. Mr Nirosion Perera, Peace Coordinator of Sewalanka, comments that they have already dispatched five teams to the affected areas with food, medicine and other essential goods for people.
We need to remember our histories, histories of the people living in different areas of the country and their unique experiences in tackling humanitarian issues, even though these are emergency relief provision. Our actions at a time like this can be woven into different narratives, with the potential of becoming either divisive or cohesive. We need to consider this latent impact of our actions and act in a way that will promote harmony between different ethnic communities in Sri Lanka and pave the way forward for all of us to move to a new era of harmony and reconciliation.