Monsoons cause floods and landslides, disrupt children’s lives

Friday 13 June 2014

The southwest monsoon came late to Sri Lanka. But when it arrived on June 1, 2014, it cut a swath of destruction through the hillside village of Kithulgoda, about 40 km south of the capital Colombo.

The monsoon dumped 200 mm (8 inches) of rain within 24 hours. The rain swelled rivers bursting its banks and causing numerous landslides. It killed at least 24 people. Of the 109,000 affected by the storm, more than 26,000 were forced to seek shelter in temporary camps.

A Save the Children team found 18-year-old Sandun and his family sheltering in the village temple, one of the dozens of makeshift camps set up in schools and places of worship.

“While we were asleep at night, we heard the villagers shout alerting the flood. We got so scared when the water level was suddenly increasing at about 11 at night up to 5 feet,” he said. “Some parts of the mountain also were sliding. Families with their children came out of their houses. We came running to the temple that is in a highland area, and also not affected from landslides.” 

Tears filled Sandun’s eyes as he described his family’s escape, “Landslides destroyed some houses in the village, killing about 5 people. Two children aged 4 and 8 are among them. We had to leave everything back home to save our lives.”

Sandun has been studying for the exams that will decide if he will be able to attend university. The school term ends in July. “Now the schools are closed, and children stay at home. Their books and other needed materials are not in good condition or flood destroyed those.”  

He pointed out another serious issue that the village children face. The village primary school is situated on a hill undercut but the storm’s runoff and at high risk for landslides. “The lives of children in the school are in danger when it rains," he said.

Six hundred village children go to the 78-year-old school. “These children are not from well-to-do families. Most of their parents do daily paid jobs or tea and rubber cultivation,” he said. “When it rains they do not have regular jobs to do and their cultivation gets affected. Added to that, now they are worrying about their children’s lives who go to this school,”