Koslanda Still Weeps
Six months since the Meeryabedde Koslanda disaster where a monstrous landslide claimed the lives of over one hundred people when they were buried alive and thousands of estate workers were left homeless, some of them are still living in temporary shelters.
For many of them who lost everything they ever possessed and were left only with the clothes they were wearing, the dilemma still continues with no hope in sight. While the rest of the country celebrates the dawning of the New Year, for these people who had lost everything, their only hope is that the New Year would bring them hope, hope for a roof above their head, where they could rebuild their shattered lives.
At the Ampitiya Makanda temporary shelter there are over 300 people forced to live cramped up in fifty five 10×10 feet rooms. Mothers with young children are helpless and desperate as they are unable to even provide the basics for their children. Even the building that they are housed in is in a dilapidated condition where water leaks from the roof and many other cracks on the walls, exposing these people, especially the children to illness. Making a bad situation worse, by last week the people living in Makanda, were further traumatised, as the water and electricity to the temporary shelter had also been disconnected leaving these people in darkness.
Further due to these people being shifted from their original homes in Meeriyabedda to the temporary shelter in Ampitiya, the children have not been attending school as they have to travel around 17 km to school. For many of the adults too the distance in travelling to their workplace has affected their ability to report for work and thus is now out of work, adding to their despair. For these poor children who have lost so much, its only their will to continue their studies, that keeps them picking up whatever books they can to try and keep up with their studies.
These innocent children have not only fallen victim to a natural disaster that has taken away all their worldly belongings, now six months since that horrible incident, these poor children have also lost hope even for just the basic requirement of having a roof above their heads. The terrible catastrophe that engulfed the residents of Meeriyabedda on the 29th of October 2014, buried alive 37 of the 354 villagers that lived there.
Shortly after the disaster, Badulla District Secretary Rohana Keerthi Dissanayake said that steps were underway to provide housing facilities to those individuals who had been displaced, owing to the landslide in Koslanda. He said that a suitable land had been selected in accordance with the advice of the Physical Planning Department and the NBRO.
The government promised that they would provide the necessary funding while the armed forces were to assist these people with the building of the houses. 75 houses were to be built for these families who had been affected by the disastrous land slide.
In addition to that the government had also promised to construct houses for families who currently reside in landslide prone areas.
The previous government vowed to construct these houses within three months. Furthermore, the government had also approved to carry out a special housing program which was to be spearheaded by the Urban Development Authority. Nine Thousand (9000) houses were to be constructed under this program and given to estate workers living in line houses situated in landslide prone areas.
Under the previous government the foundation stone was laid to build a village for the displaced people in the Malwan Division of Ampitikanda, belonging to the Maskeliya Plantations, on the 18th of December 2014. But, those who were displaced were reluctant to settle in this remote area due to the distance they had to travel to their children’s schools and their work places.
Since the new government took over on the 1st of March, the Uva Provincial Council Chief Minister Harin Fernando and Minister of Estate Infrastructure Development Palani Digambaram visited the area. Subsequently another foundation stone was laid to build 75 houses for these displaced people in Division Three of Punagala in Makaldeniya which comes under the Maskeliya Plantation.
Two hectares were allocated for this purpose. However to date no construction has begun and the people are still living in despair. Even if the new location is also in a remote area and the people who will be resettled will have to travel quite a distance to reach the town area, the people are desperate enough to at least want these houses that are to be built for them.
For many of them they expected to settle in their newly constructed homes in timer to celebrate the New Year. Unfortunately however, their dreams have been washed away just like the landslide took away all their worldly belongings.
Speaking to The Sunday Leader the minister of Disaster Management A.H.M. Fowzie said that as he had made arrangements to visit the site that was chosen for the building of houses for these displaced people next week and he would assess the situation and make necessary arrangements to expedite the construction of the houses. “We are also looking into other lands that are safe for building houses and we initially hope to build 36 houses for these displaced persons.
In some instances the people do not want to be resettled in areas that are away from where they were living and this is a problem as finding lands that are safe from landslides is difficult to find, especially in the same location. However we are also looking into the possibility of submitting a cabinet paper to grant these people more money in the event they have to resettle in lands that are in a different location to where they were living prior to the landslide.
Currently Rs. 100,000 is given to those who’s houses were completely damaged and Rs. 50,000 for the houses that were partially damaged,” said the minister.
The construction of the houses falls under the purview of minister in charge of estate housing P. Digambaram. However several attempts made by The Sunday Leader to contact the minister proved futile.
Meanwhile the Assistant Director, Disaster Management in Badulla E.M.L. Udaya Kumara told The Sunday Leader that his ministry had taken all measures to provide these displaced families with all possible facilities and that it was disheartening to note that despite all their efforts, its only the minor shortcomings that are highlighted even by the media and the efforts made by them are ignored or taken for granted.
“There are 83 families and 275 individuals living at the Ampitiya Makanda centre. However the resettlement is being done by the estate housing ministry under Minister Digambaram.”
He said that all facilities have been provided for those living in the camp but there are others who visit the camp only with the intention of receiving the benefits but they are not permanently residing at the camp. “Further it was recently reported that the people living at the camp had no electricity and water. This is a deliberate attempt to distort the truth.
There was a temporary power breakdown and we did everything possible to restore power at the earliest, and the very next day power was restored. However even during the power outage, the people were not left in the dark, but they were provided emergency lamps. The food and even sanitary facilities are all provided for the families that are being housed at this camp,” added Udaya Kumara.
He said that even the educational facilities of the children at the camp had been taken care of and savings books had also been opened for the children of the camp where money received by donors have been deposited for their future. “All household equipment too has been provided in abundance for these people.
In fact most of the donors that come here want to help the people of Meeriyabedda and thus we facilitate the process and these people have been provided all the facilities.
They have also been provided a television set for their entertainment. I agree that providing them the housing facilities expeditiously is of vital importance, but as that is not in our hands, we do our best to take care of them while they are at the welfare centre,” said Kumara.
However Udaya Kumara highlighted the fact that in most cases and as seen with the residents of the Ampitiya welfare centre, these residents have now become totally dependent on the services provided by the ministry of disaster management and do not even take care of the hygienic conditions of the area they live in.
“We provide them all the facilities that is required, but these people do not even take the trouble to clean up their immediate surrounding areas and the toilets that they use.
They wait for us to employ people from outside to do the cleaning of the toilets and the drains.
This is a sad situation as they can take the trouble to at least clean and maintain the facilities that have been provided to them instead of only complaining.
However no matter if they are ungrateful to us, we will still continue to provide them with the required facilities and hope they will be resettled soon so that they could commence their lives,” said Udaya Kumara hopefully.