Friday, May 27, 2016

Natural disaster: Right to life of the Plantation People

Situation of Meeriyabadda, Aranayaka and Bulathkohupitiya repeats at Deltota area of Kandy Districts.
By: P.P. Sivappragasam

While the earth slip disaster of Meeriyabadda, Koslanda remains undenied and indelible in the history of Sri Lanka, earth slips in Aranayaka and Bulathkohupitiya last week have claimed many lives and property. Earth slips and cracks appearing on the land have displaced over 250 families (around 1200 People) on Galaha - Dunally, Ambalammana, Kithulmulla, Deltotam, Deltota - Pattiyagama and Loolecandura Estates of the Deltota Divisional Secretariat in the Kandy District,
Aranayaka and Bulathkohupitiya in the Kegalle District, Sogama and New peacock Estates in the Pussellawa are and Lindulla, Uvakella, and May Field estates, Kotagala in the Nuwara Eliya District. The people thus displaced have been in temporary sheltered abodes, have lost their normal life and livelihood rights; Mr. P.P.Sivapragasam, Director of Human Development Organization which has engaged in relief activities, has in a  statement on behalf of the HDO. Fact Findings team states that the future of the displaced has become questionable.

The weather condition due to the prevailing heavy rains has affected over 500,000 people with thousand s of houses destroyed. The list of disappeared records that over 150 have got buried in the earth and 73 of the dead bodies unearthed have been identified. The calamity affecting the hill country plantations in the recent past has increased. The hill country plantation sector people have been the worst affected mainly due to the fact that their places of living have been located in hilly areas which are prone to earth slips and floods.

While the plantations in the Kandy, Nuwara Eliya, Badulla and Kegalle Districts have been badly affected by the natural disasters, it is only on Kalupahana estate in the Bulathkohupitiya that 16 people are reported to have been dead in the earth slip and at the same time hundreds of people of this estate have displaced due to the Danger of earth slips. The lines in question of Kalupahana estate appear to be uninhabitable making it necessary and urgent to provide them safe land and housing facilities.

In the Kandy district, earth slips and other disasters have taken place in various areas. Displaced people of Dunally, Upper Galaha, Galaha Group, Kithulmulla, Deltota Estate, Pattiyagama Estate and Loolecondra Estate coming under the Deltota Divisional Secretariat, have been moved in to 5 temporary camps. Over 10 lines of these estates have been exposed to earth slip or cracks, holes or cavities appear on the floor. Floor areas of some lines are wet with water oozing from the cracks. Kithulmulla Estate has been cut away from the rest by a earth slide of about 100 feet appearing on the road. It is confirmed that it the cracks and cavities appearing on the floor of the lines persists, it will lead to heavy loss of lives and properties.

About 200 families removed from the lines have been moved to other areas thanks to the Grama Niladharies who took immediate steps.

At the same time various social problems are likely to arise due to the fact that girls, boys, women, men and others have been thrust in to school premises and transit camps without privacy. Food and medical facilities have been made available to refugees with assistance from the public, the Divisional Secretariat and HDO 

Anyway, the question nagging the people is what next now that a stage has come for them to leave the premises where they have been sheltered temporarily. A question where to go and of their future beg answer. All lines affected cannot be safe anymore for them to live. They need a safe and livable house and they need land to build such houses.

The affected estates in the Kandy Districts are JEDB owned, and therefore, it is incumbent upon the government to ensure the people’s land rights. The DS states that possibility could be explored in discussion with JEDB to obtain land for Housing for the affected people, while the estate management says it is the JEDB and the government should take a decision concerning the land allocation. In the circumstance, the following questions arise;

  • Who is the rightful authority to grant land Rights and land ownership to the affected People?
  • Is there a policy planning to provide land to the disaster-affected people, with specific reference to those of the plantation sector, in Sri Lanka?
  • Can houses be built no sooner than the land is provided?
  • What is the source of investment to build houses?
  • Where will they live until then?
  • Where and how can they found Temporary Shelter or relief tents?
  • What is the guaranty of their livelihood? And education and health of their children?
These are questions, rather confronting the people concerned. But no appropriate and clear answers are elusive.
The people opin “for generations estate management, trade unions and politicians failed to guide us property. Those who speak about election times, should find a lasting solutions to our problem with a correct understanding of same. We could find our food and clothing. A plot of land for housing is all what we need for us to live fearlessly and peacefully”. They trust that the Government of good governance in power will safeguard the plantation people of hill country who make the economy and politics of the country stable.  
Current Situation
As far as the Kandy District ( HDO concerned Areas ) is concerned, most of the affected  plantation people have been  sent out of the temporary  shelters/ welfare centers - established in the schools. Presently, they have been accommodated in weighing sheds and temples on a temporary basis.  Some of the temporary abodes are in a bad and unsafe condition.
The relief activities (providing food, water and basic health facilities) are being carried out through Private Institutions and Divisional Secretariats.  Well over a week after the relocation now, the relief activities should be replaced with rehabilitation activities. The affected people too wish it was so. Needed now are;
      1. Relief tents.
      2. Bed spreads (Matrasses,  beds)
      3. Bed Sheets/  Warm cloths.
      4. Temporary  Shelters
      5. Rain Coats
      6. Lightening (lamps, torch lights, electricity)
      7. For children  rehabilitation
a.      Education – Classes
b.      Play things ( Toys etc..)
c.      Stationery – bags
  1. Counseling  for children/ women
  2. Developing plan on a long team basis
a.      Safe land
b.      Housing Project
c.      Water facility
d.      Electricity
e.      Home wares - Furniture
f.       Cooking utensils and other goods
g.      Road Construction

Assistance and co-operation
As far as the affected plantations in the Kandy District are concerned, assistance is being rendered by the Deltota Divisional secretariat, private individuals and organizations like HDO. It should be noted that there is no International organization interventions, though there is much of it in the Aranayaka and Bulathkopitiya areas.
Human Development Organization, although not identified as a relief institution, under the existing situation, is compelled to look not only in to the rights aspect of the displaced, but their welfare as well. For the last one week, HDO in addition to its usual activities, carries out relief works in the Aranayake and Bulathkohupitiya Areas.
As per discussions with Government Officers, HDO provided goods which were not available from other institutions. The goods included:

  1. Feeding Bottles 250
  2. Baby Milk 250
  3. Women’s Sanitary Pads 250
At the same time, as no institution had come forward to render any assistance to affected plantations in the Kandy area, HDO distributed the following items;
1.      Food Stuff (Rice, Sugar, Dhall, Milk Powder, Biscuits, Soya Meet, Salt)
2.      Tooth paste and Brushes
3.      Soap
4.      Women’s Sanitary Pads
5.      Children’s toys/Play things
From our experience of the last one week, we observe that the attention given to the situation of the Kandy District Plantation people is lowest compared to that afforded to Aranayake and Bulathkohupitiya areas.  Hence a decision had to be taken to give more attention to the Kandy District plantations, more because the affected plantations fall within the HDO target area.
Ten of the HDO trained volunteers are at work in the above welfare centers giving special attention to the welfare needs of children and women and monitoring and assisting in the rights and welfare matters. At the same time, maintaining contacts with the Divisional Secretariat and Medical Officers of Health, they visit the welfare centers meet and console the affected and discuss with them rehabilitation and long term development programmes.  They also lobby the media about the needs and problems of the people.
The affected people are unable to return to their houses since most of those affected have become quite unfit to live in. Hence a situation seems to have arisen for them to remain in the temporary quarters until such time as they will be given land and permanent housing facilities. It is hard however, to say for how long this situation will continue. From the past history and experiences it is hard to state that any development activity had been implemented at a short time span.

Be consider that as far as the plantations are concerned, the existing land issue, management problem and line life will further aggravate the issue.  The dawn for them is a distant dream. 

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