Caritas hands out aid to flood victims and homeless people
by Melani Manel Perera

Heavy rains hit 237,000 people, including some 62,000 forced out of their homes. Death toll now stands at 102. Government has set up 250 sites for people displaced by floods. Catholic bishops have appealed to fellow Sri Lankans’ solidarity, and churches have opened their doors. Catholics and Buddhists are donating money slated for other uses, like personal birthday, and the Buddha’s own birthday.

Colombo (AsiaNews) – Caritas Sri Lanka has raised funds and is providing aid to people who were displaced or lost everything the last week when heavy rains fell on the island nation, causing major landslides and violent floods.

The worst incident involved a mudslide that buried hundreds of homes in three villages. So far, 102 bodies have been recovered, but at least another 100 are thought to still lie buried.

As soon as tragedy struck, the Catholic charity launched an emergency plan to deliver water, food and other supplies to thousands of people. Currently, it is actively involved in 13 flooded districts.

"We have activated our mission in coordination with government authorities,” Caritas national director Fr George Sigamoney told AsiaNews. “We have already allocated 6.5 million rupees (US$ 45,000), but we will increase the amount if necessary. "

At the same time, churches have opened their doors across the country to the displaced and the homeless. Ordinary people have also spontaneously reached out to those in need.

According to Sri Lanka’s Disaster Management Centre, more than 237,000 people have been affected by the heavy rains, including some 62,000 forced to flee their homes. In Aranayake, Kegalle district, a landslide destroyed 558 houses and damaged 4,312 more.

Most of the displaced have been housed in 250 sites set up by the government.

The Bishops' Conference of Sri Lanka reacted by calling on Catholics to “bring help any way they can."

The response has been swift. Parish churches have offered their facilities as shelters. So have many individuals, like a Catholic journalist who gave the money put aside for her 50th birthday.

"With that money,” she said, “I'm buying medicines and health products for women, children, the sick and elderly. I thank Jesus for giving me the opportunity to make myself useful."

Shankala Cooray, a young mother, also decided to offer her birthday money. "We cannot celebrate when our thoughts are on the victims."

Many Catholics and Buddhists have also decided to use for those in need the money earmarked for Vesak celebrations (Buddha’s birthday) on 21 May.

"With the donations collected for the party, we can cook 300 meals a day for the people of Pubudu Gama, a village in the diocese of Colombo,” Anil Silva, a young man from the city of Jael, told AsiaNews.