September 20, 2017

The plight of the estate workers of Sri Lanka lies not merely in their high vulnerability to various natural disasters and passing illnesses but in their inability to overcome this vulnerability. Most often, the management of these estates turn a blind eye to their needs, leaving them at the mercy of local politicians who manipulate these workers to further their own agendas. In the recent flood situation, a number of estates including low country tea plantations, rubber estates and palm oil plantations were inundated. The slopes on which these crops grow collapsed on to the homes of these workers, killing, injuring and displacing many. The estate workers were also left out of many of the relief efforts and aid distribution conducted by various organisations because they live in interior areas accessible only through small, broken roads.

The ADT team reached out to two more estate communities living in the Kalutara District on 19 July, 2017. It distributed dry ration and non-food relief packs to a total of 72 families who were left in dire straits following the flood and landslide situation; 62 of them hailing from the estate sector. The dry ration packs which were distributed among 68 families, included 6kg of rice, 1kg of dhal, 2 packs of soya, 1kg of green gram, 2 packets of biscuits, 500g of tea, 400g of milk powder and 1kg of salt. The non-food relief packs distributed among 72 families were complete with a torch light, 2 cakes of antiseptic soap, 2 cakes of laundry soap, 4 toothbrushes, 1 tube of toothpaste, 2 packs of sanitary napkins, a portable mattress, a bedsheet, a mosquito net, a travel mat, Panadol, a box of matches and a box of mosquito coils and cooking utensils.

The people living in Walgama, Bulathsinhala area pick tea for a living. While some of their homes were inundated when the nearby river overflowed, the others were stranded for about 4 days with no access to the hospital or market. Even though there was a boat that set out to rescue these villagers, the current of the floods were so strong that the rescuers could not reach this community. Nirasha who lives in this village is a mother of four who also cares for her mother and mother-in-law. A relative’s house was completely flooded while the water levels reached quite close to their doorstep even though she lived at an elevated level. Like many of her neighbours, Nirasha too had to depend on the fruits and yams that grew in her garden until the flood waters were at a level at which the men were able to swim across to the nearest market. “The water level reached all our homes when the river overflowed” explained Nirasha, pointing towards the murky river gushing nearby. “We were stranded in the middle with the floods surrounding us. We did not know what we should do!” With a household of eight members, Nirasha is extremely grateful for the packs she received. “Except for the initial relief pack from the Grama Sevaka, we received no other form of assistance. We are very happy to receive these packs!” she exclaimed.

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The community of estate workers living in line-houses in the Mahagama area have worked in the rubber estates of the Cuilcugh plantation for a number of years. Every year they go through untold hardships when the river overflows due to the heavy rains in the monsoon season. However the floods of this year was the worst they have ever faced. The elders of this community say that even though they recall a terrible flood in 2004, it was this flood that caused the most damage. As Yesumani shares a small house with his in-laws and his brother’s family, he had constructed a little kitchen in front where he could prepare his meals. It was with great difficulty that Yesumani constructed this little kitchen with whatever resources he could afford. Sadly, his efforts to build a kitchen were washed away with the flood waters. “People came to see what happened to us but very few helped us out in anyway. We are happy that you came to see us and gave us these packs” expressed Yesumani.

Ten other families in the Neboda area were evacuated from their homes when a landslide occurred in their neighbourhood. These families have sought shelter in their church and have lived here for the past 2 months, depending on the goodwill of benefactors for their survival. Sharing one toilet and cooking their meals in a makeshift kitchen, these 10 families face several hardships especially with little children to care for. Winifreda is a 73 year old grandmother who too has been displaced by the landslides. As the younger women do not permit her to cook or do any work, Winifreda spends her time in prayer, pleading for the safety of her daughter’s family who also lives in a landslide prone area. These 10 families too received packs of dry rations and non-food relief items to help them in these desperate times. “We are living through a lot of difficulties” said Winifreda, explaining the difficulty of sharing a common toilet and the problems caused by the lack of privacy. “Thank you so much for coming to see us. I cannot express the gratitude I feel in my heart!” exclaimed Winifreda who now has a mattress which will help her sleep better on the cold tile floors.

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