25 July, 2024


The Floods: Get Me A Pencil

By Yudhanjaya Wijeratne

Yudhanjaya Wijeratne

Yudhanjaya Wijeratne

If there is such a thing as too much goodwill, I think I’ve seen it. Gripped by a desire to help out our fellow Sri Lankans, we’ve cooked, screamed, delivered, run supplies by the truckload and picked clean the shelves of our supermarkets.

The result? Incredible good – people fed, clothed, supported to another day by people they’ve never even heard of; and at the same time, incredible waste – truckloads of spoiled food, supplies being shuttled with no tracking or double-checking, massive oversupply to areas like Aranayake and Wellampitiya while camps like Wattala struggled to make do, well-meaning volunteers heading out to areas they’re barely capable of surviving in, let alone helping. And chaos on every possible front.

I don’t blame anyone. To be honest, I’ll take the good and the bad over indifference any day. And yes, there’s plenty of indifference – I see enough of it walking into work. But enough people reached out to truly make the gigantic task ahead of us bearable.

The situation right now

Major areas that were hit – judging by severity and freqeuncy of donation requests – are Aranayake, Wellampitiya, Kelaniya, Wattala. Secondary points seem to be Kilinochchi, Kolonnawa, Biyagama, Malwana, Athurugiriya, Avissawella and Kaduwela. New camps have been set up Atkalupahana, Digala, Maniyangama and Boralankada. There are isolated pockets popping up all over the map that are unaccounted for – usually clusters of between 100 and 200 people.

Aranayake is landslide turf. It’s getting the most amount of media attention, and is oversupplied with dry rations (rice, dhal, soya, milk powder) and in need of with what I call Stage 2 essentials – candles, clothes, soap, underwear – all the requirements that come immediately after a meal in the belly.

Kelaniya is muddy diseased hellhole 101 from what I’ve seen. Water is everywhere and disease is spreading, even among the volunteers. It’s undersupplied on every front but badly needs medicine, medical personnel and swimmers to combat the conditions.

Wellampitiya is returning to normalcy. While most of the electricity grid is out, people are moving back in and cleaning up.

Wattala is a network of 9 camps held together mostly by one central Army camp, and it’s the subject of sporadic lack of cooked food. Dry rations are being stocked and it’s limping along two days at a time.

Atkalupahana, Digala, Maniyangama and Boralankada are brand-new camps sorely in need of everything, including dry rations.

Biyagama, Malwana, Kolonnawa/IDH and Athurugiriya are flooded in pockets, and while they’re sorted for rations, they need underwear, candles, soap, toothbrushes, medicine – more Stage 2.

A complete list of items required has been released by the DMC and is available here.

Note that this may or may not tally with our observations. I make no claim for the accuracy of the DMC. Here’s a general list for cleaning and reclamation put together by one of my co-workers for donations. For posterity, here’s the old Google sheet we were using a couple of days ago.

What is the government doing?Maithripala

Touching children who clearly don’t want to be touched.

Oh, and they’ve allocated Rs 150 million for flood relief, apparently. Let me put that in perspective. Here’s the math, courtesy of Dr. Sanjiva Weerawarana.

“Sri Lanka government has reportedly spent (budgeted? not sure) Rs. 150m for flood relief.

In April, our parliamentarians voted to give themselves a USD 62,500 car permit to themselves: https//www.colombotelegraph.com/…/new-year-kokis-to-luxur…/. Each permit has a street value of at least Rs. 20m – and for every such imported vehicle effectively way more in lost taxes. CONSERVATIVELY lets assume that the lost taxes is Rs. 25m.

So 225 parliamentarians * 25m = Rs. 5,625M. So, the government has offered 2.66% of the LOST REVENUE only as floor relief.

Put another way, they gave THEMSELVES a Rs. 20m*225 = Rs. 4,500M cash bonus in April. Flood relief is 3.33% of that.

I’ll leave it to you to decide which section of hell you want to reserve for the Parliament.

What are volunteers doing?

A combination of running around like headless chickens and planning for the next steps.

On my personal networks, the volunteer forces have coalesced into a handful of rough networks all relying on each other for transport and caching. We’ve got the Without Borders crew hitting Aranayake and other centers relentlessly; a Kelaniya has turned into a full-fledged packing and distribution op with the help of Jessica Ferrari and others; the JCI center is running massive stockpiles and supplies out to every corner of the map; I’m coordinating a loose cabal of people and supply caches servicing Wattala and Kelaniya; Aman Ashraff and others have been running to Avissawella and so on.

There are others not recorded here, not because they’re doing any less, but simply because this is where my tracking capability stops. We’re operating mostly off a couple of Facebook and WhatsApp groups; it’s chaos. On the ground, every day, are people who’d warrant a Medal of Honor if we had that here.

Private companies have done their part. JKH has reportedly inject 10 million worth of goods into the system. Takas.lk’s handled over 2 million rupees in flood donations. I believe we (WSO2) have sent in about a quarter of that amount, and we definitely aren’t the only ones. This money and goods are generally sent to the Air Force. PickMe is, of course, the hero of the day. And Sirasa seems to be fielding a veritable army of volunteers.

And of course, you have the poseurs. Smile, kiddies.

The mad rush for food is coming to an end. While we’ll probably be stockpiling dry rations for the month, that’s a job for the government. We’re entering the second stage: sanitation. The need of the hour is Dettol, gloves, brushes, soap, personal sanitation stuff, rubber boots – things you need to recapture territory, so to speak. The third stage is, of course, cleanup and recovery. Some of us have started prepping for the long, slow climb – post-flood relief.

What should we be doing?

Collect money.

No, seriously. Unless you’re a survival expert, unless you can pilot a 4×4 or have heavy transport at your command, stay home. Collect money.

At some point we have to transition from packing off x amount of supplies on a mate’s jeep to a system of camps, close to the ground, that can monitor need and spend. That’s where we’ll need money. This is where the government needs to come in.

The good news is that the government is finally getting off its ass and doing making noises. They may not be the right noises, but one hopes this stupid beast will come around – we can’t keep this up forever.

If you are a volunteer, be careful. Disease is spreading

Anyone coming into contact with the water should be aware of cuts, wounds and the possibility of dengue, dysentry, typhoid, tetanus and flat-out infection. Get gloves, talk to a doctor, arm yourself. Anisha Niyas pointed out that 200mg of Doxycycline taken weekly should help you, but don’t take my word for it – double check, triple-check.

As Faizer Shahied pointed out, cleaning up is difficult. I’ll quote him: “Make sure you wear the right kind of SHOES and not slippers (A mistake I made today). Use EKEL BROOM and not ordinary brooms. And cleaning a mess of this nature is very difficult without chemicals. Take pohora bags or any other suitable alternatives to put in the dirt, or its pointless simply cleaning without taking out the dirt. Make sure you and your team/s are properly equipped.

Why are you using Facebook? What about Sahana / DEWN / <insert software here>?

People diss Facebook for being the chief cause of waste and overzealous volunteerism, but what they don’t know is that it was tools like WhatsApp and Facebook that made even the slightest co-ordination possible.

I was reminded today that tools like Sahana exist – but they don’t exist for us. They exist only for a bunch of people in a government office. Apparently the National Disaster Relief Center had the tech. What use was that to us when the time came?

Disaster Management tech’s a wonderful thing – on paper. In practice, it’s bollocks, especially when it comes to being used by volunteers. Here:

I’m sure these systems are masterpieces of engineering, but unless they’re deployed and deployable, they’re just fancy PR writeups. In practice, Facebook and WhatsApp have done more than these things are doing right now.

I’d like to end this post on this note:Flood Sri Lanka Photo Isuru Perera

This photo by a guy called Isuru Perera. It’s a reminder that, even in the midst of madness, life goes on.

And it is beautiful.


*Yudhanjaya Wijeratne is a contributor to Colombo Telegraph, his articles can be found on his blog, icaruswept.com

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Latest comments

  • 2

    Yudhanjaya Wijeratne –

    RE: The Floods: Get Me A Pencil

    “Oh, and they’ve allocated Rs 150 million for flood relief, apparently. Let me put that in perspective. Here’s the math, courtesy of Dr. Sanjiva Weerawarana.”

    “So 225 parliamentarians * 25m = Rs. 5,625M. So, the government has offered 2.66% of the LOST REVENUE only as floor relief.”

    “Put another way, they gave THEMSELVES a Rs. 20m*225 = Rs. 4,500M cash bonus in April. Flood relief is 3.33% of that.”

    So, this is called Yahapalanaya Math?

    Wimal Buruwansa said 2/2 =0.

    Has Wimal Buruwansa turned All the Yahapalanya and MP’s into Greedy Buruwos, Donkeys?

    Do they think that they can get away with it just because the average IQ of Sri Lanka is 79?

    Amarasiri will leave it to you to decide.

    • 4

      Very good article.

      The question to ask is what happened to all the funds that the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) has consumed and expended in the name of so-called DISASTER PREPAREDNESS in Sri Lanka?
      And also the corrupt politicians and their cronies who lack any expertise who run the Ministry of Disaster Management?

      What is the cost benefit of UNDP’s huge sums spent for environmental disaster prepardness and prevention? Who is monitoring and evaluating and preventing corruption in waste of funds in these organizations which should have helped develop the Institutional and Management and governance structures and expertise to COORDINATE RELIEF and AID?

      This was supposed to have been done after the Tsunami disaster in 2004. Instead, Ministry of Disaster Management and its Donors are a Disaster!
      Big JOKE!

      The UNDP and Red Cross after the Tsunami spent billions on so called Disaster Prpardeness training and Drills.

      • 4

        Quite right Dude!

        The Government institutions and international organizations that do so-called “CAPACITY BUILDING” in LDC have failed Sri Lanka in this disaster, as they continue to do all over the world.

        The United Nations World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) in Istanbul is going to be another expensive joke. No serious questions will be asked about Where has all the money gone, spent over the years on disaster reduction?!

    • 3

      I can’t see the point of making this a pointless YAhapalanaya vs Deshapremi aanduwa argument. Are you honestly implying a UPFA government wouldn’t pull this exact same move?

  • 4

    So we have,

    – The Disaster Information Management Centre
    – The National Disaster Relief Services Centre
    – The The disaster Ministry Centre

    The work was done under yet another committee setup under the President I believe. There are no efficiencies when things aren’t consolidated.

    Where was the opposition leader? The guy is paid to do a job but missing in action.

    The Minister concerned was a disaster himself. The first thing does is running to other countries with a begging bowl! Where was the disaster co-ordination centre with emergency numbers?

    The Finance Minster says there is no need. The funds are there and large fully equipped army of 3-services are there idling.

    In the end the most excellent service was rendered by the “Ada Derana” TV station!

    There are 4 people paid by tax-payer to remove a single light bulb! Although none can do a good job.

    The outside good Samaritans comes in and removes the bulb in the end. They did a yeoman par excellence service – very impressive!

  • 6

    A Message to all these People who criticise the Relief and Aid that is being distributed to the Flood Afflicted.

    If you can see the Mistakes that are Being made, why don’t you Pitch in and Help?

    I am too old now, but I remember a Time when we could ‘Walk the Talk’!

    • 6

      Because it is exactly this kind of logic the folks in power keep abusing to not actually do anything about planning a coherent national response to events like this.

      Let’s put aside the obviously pointless “why dont you do something to help instead of criticizing” argument you old-timers love making for a minute (other than asserting your generation’s ‘superiority’, it serves absolutely no purpose): did the monsoons suddenly appear in our country just this year? Are landslides, torrential rains and flooding unheard of in this country? Is this the first time we’ve had deaths from a natural disaster? Since you love reminding us of olden times, I assume you’ll also remember the answer to all these questions is a resounding ‘No’.

      So, using this line of reasoning, let’s go a bit further. In the nearly 70 years we’ve been independent, what exactly have successive governments done to formulate a response to situations like this? We still depend on the goodwill and generosity of the general population to deal with crises which, in any sensible nation, would have proper, planned state-mediated actions to deal with. In Lanka? We’ve got army boys poking their bare hands into feet of mud to find the buried bodies at Aranayake- pearl of the Indian Ocean can’t even afford a pair of rubber gloves from Arpico, but has money for luxury cars. This is apparently all we’re capable of doing as a society- pay taxes that aren’t available when the people need it, and pay for politicians to do absolutely nothing. If you can’t see why this situation has gone beyond the point of being a joke, and why this warrants criticism, you’re part of the problem. No one is asking people not to help, and no one is criticizing common citizens that are helping. We’re calling out the people whose job it is to formulate an efficient response to situations like this who aren’t.

      By the tone of your reply, I’ll just go ahead and assume you’re a blind UNP supporter- no better than a blind UPFA supporter. Neither side actually wants to fix things, just clear their party’s name, and sling mud at everyone else. If only we can remember a time when the people in power actually did their jobs…. I doubt you’re old enough to remember the colonial period, so it’s safe to say not many people alive today can hark back to such a time.

      What a country we live in.

      • 3

        kp:-” I doubt you’re old enough to remember the colonial period, so it’s safe to say not many people alive today can hark back to such a time.”

        Actually I am old enough to remember the ‘Colonial Period’, although I have managed to learn how to operate a Computer.

  • 1

    This is the time that a wise President would immediately revoke these vehicle permit scandal, preserve the foreign currency drain and put them into good use for the benefit of the people and country’s infrastructure that needs mending urgently.

    What is the point of requesting help and financial assistance from countries for flood and disaster relief, when Sri Lanka as the recipient is spending money that is already in hand in foreign countries for luxury transport for 300 greedy pigs in the Parliament and several hundred more similar pigs in provincial governments and their hangers on. Have these so called representatives of the people, saw or felt or bothered to live with the dirty, black sludge and shit that has poured out in the sliding and slithering garbage mountains? If the people could live like that, then Parliamentarians must also be forced to live like that instead of flanneling them in luxurious motor transports.

    What is point of declaring disaster regions of the country as high security zones and areas for redevelopment without the threat of inundation, if there is no money to spend and realize these objectives. Yet they ()the Treasury) have money to buy luxuries for the fat pigs in the Parliament. So, let us have a practical and beneficial move first. Cancel the decision to buy luxury motors for the fatties in the big show house, and divert all that for the benefit of common people, as well as the infrastructure development through disciplined and accountable processes that is badly needed.

    This is the moment in time, and the God Send Eye Opener to act immediately, to change the course of senseless spending for the benefit of fat pigs, and do something for the country and its people.

    • 1


      “This is the time that a wise President would immediately revoke these vehicle permit scandal….”

      It is too late now.
      People who took up Politics, did it for the Perks they would enjoy, while in Government!

      The President knows this, and has to be careful that the Raja Aanduva does not come back, by taking Remedial Action too soon!

  • 1

    Great write up Yudhanjaya Wijeratne, it opened most of our eyes.

    Governments are governments and the Government of Sri Lanka of course takes the cake for fraud and mismanagement. Well $150 million is peanuts as we all know for such a massive emergency.

    Good luck to all those who put in so much effort. Thanks to all those who contributed both money, goods and services. Like Yudhanjaya pointed out the support must be ongoing. Stages 2, 3 and 4. Find a good organisation and send what ever you can. I did and will do so into the future. Do not send money to the any government organisation. They will, I assure you they will pocket most of it, if not all.

  • 1

    BBS Rep:-

    ” They will, I assure you they will pocket most of it, if not all.”

    Is this supposed to be a Buddhist Country? Which is supposed to Practise Generosity and Honesty?

    • 1

      Sri Lankans are not Buddhists and will never be.

      Of course they label themselves as Buddhists and do all kinds of rituals. Some eveb dressing up in monks garbs for free meals and to lap up all the worshipping. But they do not have a clue that what Buddha preached had to be really practiced if one is to call himself or herself a Buddhist.

      Where is the room in the Sri Lankan minds to practice dhamma when it is chock a block with super heated egos, hatred, anger and unfettered greed.

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