Children under threat as monsoon weather exacerbates COVID19 situation in Sri Lanka

Friday 31 July 2020

Colombo, July 02, 2020. As the South Western monsoon rains begin, the threat of flood looms on the horizon as the country struggles to cope with returning to normalcy in the wake of the COVID19 lockdowns. The flood-drought-flood cycle has become the norm in Sri Lanka, which has progressively faced the crippling effects of climate change over the past decade. Sri Lanka was named the sixth most affected country in 2018 and second most affected in 2017 according to the Climate Risk Index (GermanWatch, 2020).

The COVID19 epidemic has only exacerbated this situation. The impact that COVID19 has had on the country is tremendous with both social and economic consequences.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has forecast that the Sri Lankan economy will contract by 0.5% this year due to the epidemic. There is, meanwhile, a strong association between socio-economic status and the overall well-being of children and their families in the country. COVID19 exposes children to potentially massive disruption to theirhealthcare, education, access to basic needs and serviceslike food, protection and social interaction with familymembers, teachers, peers and communities.

The effects of extreme weather patterns have had a devastating impact on countless Sri Lankans including the country’s children. Flood, drought, landslides, heavy winds, lightning and cyclones have adversely affected people’s health and livelihoods and, especially in the case of children, their education and mental well-being.

The prolonged drought of the past few years has directly affected over 1.8 million people in the country, while another 200,000 to one million experienced the results of other natural phenomena.

The Disaster Management Centre (DMC) said that, as of October 2019, 188,970 families, totaling 634,081 people have been affected by the prolonged drought conditions prevailing since 2016.

Drought has had a severe impact on no less than seven of Sri Lanka’s nine provinces with the Northern and Eastern provinces recording the highest number of affected people Livelihoods, particularly of those engaged in agriculture were affected. Daily wage earners were particularly vulnerable to the situation as the demand for labour dropped. Daily wage earners also faced economic difficulty during the COVID19 lockdowns which prevented them from going out to work.

Children’s education during the COVID19 lockdowns was similarly affected. Despite efforts by the Ministry of Education (MOE) to provide alternatives, many children did not have the same access to necessary technologies as some of their peers.

Sri Lanka has always been vulnerable to cyclones due to its location at the convergence of the Arabian Sea, Bay of Bengal and Indian Ocean. The island has been hit by at least six storms since 2016 with warnings issued as recently as May this year for tropical storm Amphan.

As floods threaten the country, children whose schools are designated as camps for the displaced face additional problems. Their education, already compromised by the lockdowns, is in danger of being set back yet again.

Save the Children International (SCI) has a strong record of emergency relief in its 45 years in the country. The organisation has, in recent years, provided relief during the flooding in Kolonnawa and Kaduwela in the Colombo district in 2016, landslides in Kegalle in the same year, flooding in the South, Galle and Matara, in 2018, as well as in the North in 2019. SCI also provided emergency and long term relief during the 2019 drought, and, this year, emergency response for the COVID19 epidemic.

SCI especially focuses on the protection of children, their ability to continue learning, psycho-social wellbeing and access to health and nutrition. SCI interventions are implemented in strong collaboration with the Government of Sri Lanka and other organizations. SCI strongly believes in the participation of the community, especially children, and that even during an emergency they are part of all interventions from beginning to end. We empower people to hold us accountable through our processes of participation, consultation, information sharing and feedback.

Sri Lanka’s  repsonse to emergencies, while effective has been reactive rather than pro-active. SCI’s anticipatory flood response was planned to address this issue. When the DMC warned of heavy rains and potential flooding due to the monsoon, SCI stepped in to make sure that designated camps in Kaduwela and Kolonnawa were prepared for a possible influx of displaced families. They will also ensure that the threat of COVID19 spreading among the displaced is mitigated as far as is possible.

SCI had to make a special case to include the Colombo district in the programme. Julian Chellappah, National Director, Save the Children explained that, “it is a common belief that because Colombo is an urban area, its children do not suffer as much as their rural counterparts.” Chellappah pointed out that there was, in truth, a tremendous impact on children in Colombo owing to urban flooding.

Chellappah said SCI worked on anything that impacted on children including disasters. He said the organization always kept children at the center of its work and supported systems to ensure that children and their well-being were safe guarded.

SCI has begun anticipatory relief for 48 planned camps in schools and temples in Kolonnawa and Kaduwela taking the COVID19 situation into account. The assistance is based on historical data provided by the Ministry of Health (MOH) and the DMC. The response will cover an estimated 28,600 people in 2,098 households in the area, however SCI warns the numbers may rise.

SCI is partnering with World Vision, Oxfam and ACTED in the anticipatory relief which is funded by STARTFUND and Save the Children Australia.

SCI stepped in to support the MOE in providing 175 schools in the South and North of the country with WASH stations as 4.2 million children begin the return to school starting with fifth graders on July, 6. Washing hands being the first step in COVID19 prevention.

 

100 schools in the Elpitiya and Udugama educational zones of the Southern province, and 75 schools in the Kilinochchi and Thunakai zones of the Northern Province will receive the WASH stations benefitting approximately 17,500 children. SCI will provide 23 water tanks to schools in need of them – 22 in the South and one in the North.

 

The WASH stations are funded by Dubai Cares which also funds SCI’s Literacy Boost programme taking place in the same schools. SCI works with the MOE and the National Institute of Education (NIE) on these programmes.

The WASH station initiative is phase II of the project.

Literacy Boost is our signature early grade reading intervention which provides training to teachers, community volunteers and parents to help them improve knowledge, skills and practices that promote literacy.

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