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Churches mobilised as Sri Lanka floods death toll passes 200

Posted on: May 31, 2017 9:27 AM
Photo Credit: Diocese of Colombo

Clergy in Sri Lanka have been urged to prepare their churches and church halls to provide refuge for people displaced by serious flooding in the country’s Southern and Sabaragamuwa regions. This morning (Wednesday) Sri Lanka’s Disaster Management Centre said that 202 people had died as a result of the devastating floods and landslides caused by severe rains which have hit the country since Friday when Cyclone Mora hit the island.

China’s national news agency Xinhua reports that at least 83,200 people are seeking shelter in safe locations and many are unable to return to their homes due to fully damaged or partially damaged houses.

Residents of seven districts – Ratnapura, Kegalle, Galle, Kalutara, Matara, Hambantota, and Nuwara Eliya – have been served with evacuation notices. The UN, which is supporting relief efforts in the country, has urged residents to “follow evacuation orders to minimise loss of human life.”

In a statement, the UN said: “With the increasing number of displaced people and lack of space in safe locations, temporary shelter and ensuring access to health services is needed. Disease surveillance and vector control is also a priority with the risk of communicable diseases.”

They say that 16 hospitals in the country have been fully or partially evacuated as a result of the disaster.

The social responsibility co-ordinator for the Church of Ceylon’s Diocese of Colombo, Binnu Jeevarajan said that churches were providing meals and temporary shelter for those affected by the disaster.

“We appeal to the churches to pray for those affected by the rising waters and the floods in various parts of Sri Lanka,” he said. “Some of our churches and many of our parishioners have been affected along with many others from all communities.”

In a message to clergy, he urged them to “get a group of lay people together and make all arrangements to collect relief items when required and volunteers who may be able to take a couple of days each to help in the disaster recovery efforts.

“Keep your churches and parish halls arranged and on standby to accept displaced people if you are in the vicinity of an area that may be affected,” Jeevarajan said. “We need you! Be prepared to help!”

International aid is arriving in Sri Lanka from neighbouring Asian countries and further afield, including from China, Pakistan, India, Australia, the US, UK, Norway and the European Union.

The Anglican Alliance is helping to co-ordinate responses from churches in the Anglican Communion. It has “reached out to the Church in Sri Lanka to learn more about the situation and to offer prayers and solidarity,” the Alliance’s co-executive director Rachel Carnegie said.

“The Anglican Alliance will work with the Church of Ceylon to help convene support from around the Communion as the Church shapes its response to communities impacted by the disaster.”

Nagulan Nesiah, the disaster response and risk reduction senior programme officer for Episcopal Relief & Development, the international aid agency of the US-based Episcopal Church, said. “Sri Lanka has not seen a flood this severe in over 15 years. With the flood waters slowly subsiding, the relief and recovery phases will be long. Episcopal Relief & Development’s partner, the Diocese of Colombo, has already mobilised local resources and parish communities to respond.

“The diocese is distributing essential relief needs through church networks to the most affected. It also is addressing flooding in several churches and diocesan properties. Previously, the diocese had formed and trained regional disaster teams, and these teams are assessing evolving humanitarian needs and developing plans for a long-term engagement in affected communities.”

Cyclone Mora has now moved on to Bangladesh, where it has caused widespread destruction and left an estimated one million people homeless. The Indian Navy has rescued 27 people who were swept out to sea some 100 miles south of Chittagong. Navy spokesman Captain D K Sharma that search and rescue operations were being “drastically hampered due to prevailing rough weather.”