More than 1.5 million Sri Lankans now affected by weather disasters as drought cripples the north and east, floods ravage the south

Thursday 1 June 2017

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Extent of education crisis beginning to emerge after floods

[Colombo, June 1] – The number of Sri Lankans affected by weather-related disasters has hit more than 1.5 million as the nation simultaneously battles crippling drought in the north and east of the island and deadly flooding in the south.

An estimated 630,000 people have been affected by severe floods across sevensouthern districts, including 75,000 who still cannot return home, while more than one million have been impacted by drought.

“Sri Lanka is a relatively small country and yet it’s facing two major humanitarian crises at the same time, both of which are related to weather and climate. On the one hand you have the worst flooding in more than 10 years, and on the other you have a devastating drought that saw the worst harvest in 40 years,” Save the Children Country Director in Sri Lanka, Chris McIvor said.

“While the full impact of the flooding on Sri Lanka’s agricultural land is still being assessed, our team on the ground have already seen large amounts of farmland that’s been extensively damaged, especially rice paddies. This will impact Sri Lanka’s overall food production even further.

“It’s especially concerning when you consider that farmers in several other parts of the country have already lost large expanses of crops to drought. It’s going to be a long time before Sri Lanka’s food production returns to normal.”

Two failed rainy seasons in a row saw rice paddy cultivation fall to just 35 percent of total capacity last November, according to the World Food Program, which also recommended immediate rice imports.

Save the Children has been responding to the drought since early this year, including helping affected families buy food, water and other basic necessities, as well as improving access to safe drinking water at schools by providing water tanks, pumps and technical expertise.

Education crisis

At the same time, the extent of the education crisis caused by the floods is beginning to emerge, with early assessments revealing damage – some severe – to at least 58 schools in the district of Ratnapura alone.

Manyschools have also been used as evacuation centres, and it could be a considerable period of timebefore some of these schools can re-open. At least 44 school students were among the 203 people who died from the floods, while eight students are still missing.

“We know that the longer a child is out of school, the lower the chances they will be able to make up for the schooling they’ve missed, so it’s vital we prioritize education, work hard to repair damage to schools and get children back to class as quickly as we can,” Mr McIvor said.

“Not only that, but after a disaster like this, school is somewhat of a sanctuary for children, providing safety, routine and a sense of normality, as well as an environment where they can just be children. It’s incredibly important for their emotional recovery.”

Save the Children has already begun its emergency flood response, which will also include supporting damaged schools to re-open and providing school materials for students, as well as distributing hygiene items to prevent the spread of disease and providing psychosocial support to distressed children.