Trinco Needs More Help
By Maryam Azwer
While the country battled the recent floods caused by torrential rains across the island, The Sunday Leader learned of an additional predicament the people of the Trincomalee District have had to face – a delay in, and allegedly inefficient co-ordination of, emergency aid relief.
According to people of the Mutur division, including those involved in aid work, the worst rains and flooding had begun on January 8 (Saturday), but even by Monday (10), the state had not properly responded with emergency relief measures.
When contacted on Monday, Convener, People’s Forum in Mutur, Mohammad Jihad, said that among the difficulties the people faced was a lack of support and coordination. “This time around there are no NGOs to step in and provide relief, and the government has done very little,” he said. Initially, the delay in aid reaching the people was attributed to inaccessibility of certain areas that were completely flooded, and disconnected from the main roads.
Mutur Divisional Secretary, N. Selvanayakam, explained that state support to flood victims seeking shelter in welfare centres included the provision of cooked meals and dry rations. One of the greatest challenges they faced, he said, was the lack of transport facilities, with most of Mutur being accessible only by boat. However, two days later, when the aid trickling in was still deemed insufficient, concerns were raised, and the people concluded that there was a lot more the state could do.
“Our situation hasn’t received enough attention,” said Jihad on Wednesday (12). “Things are happening now, but it’s very slow. There isn’t enough food for the people. It is the community that has had to step in to help, with the assistance of the mosques, churches and local organisations,” he added.
The people of Kinniya, too, faced a similar state of affairs. “The government’s response, their capacity to act quickly in terms of giving aid, is not happening as we expect it to,” said Executive Director of Kinniya Vision, Mohamed Saifullah. In Kinniya, said Saifullah on Thursday (13), some villages had been disconnected from the rest of the town, when bridges and link roads were either broken or inaccessible due to floods. “Access is only through boats. There are requirements not being met yet. It is the people who are sympathising, and reacting,” he said, adding that there were stranded families in certain areas, who may need to be evacuated.
“The government has taken up most of the work, managing welfare camps,” said Kinniya Divisional Secretary, M. Mubarak. However, he added that many people had also opted to stay with family and friends, in which case it was less likely that aid would reach them. “If they are in camps, we can help them,” he explained.
When The Sunday Leader contacted Trincomalee Government Agent Major General (Retd.) Ranjith de Silva, he claimed that his office was doing its best to see to the needs of the people.
“The government machinery is functioning properly. We have organised boats, and the navy, army and police are helping,” he said.
He added that his aim was to protect the lives of the people, to provide shelter and other basic needs like medicine. “We have ensured that nobody is hungry. Our officers have been working with no break. We are happy with what we are doing,” said the GA. Despite these claims, there have been concerns raised regarding the situation in certain parts of Trincomalee. “People at camps sometimes expect more and may be dissatisfied. There are some essential items that the government cannot provide. Also, the stranded people require special assistance. We can mobilise people and resources to help, if the GA coordinated these efforts,” said Saifullah, whose organisation is among those involved in relief efforts.
There were also claims that certain organisations had been asked not to carry out aid work in Kinniya and the Trincomalee town, and to focus on other areas instead. The Government Agent, however, denied these allegations, saying that all NGO support was welcome.
“I released instructions on the 9th in writing. My officers are doing a very good job,” he added.