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Sri Lanka appeals for help as floods foul water supply

Flooding is seen in Sri Lanka’s Matara district on Monday. —AFP

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka appealed yesterday for volunteers to help with a massive clean-up after landslides and floods left at least 193 dead and tens of thousands without safe drinking water. The government sought help to purify wells contaminated by the floods, the worst in 14 years after record rainfall in the island’s southwest. The Disaster Management Centre said nearly 600,000 people had been forced from their homes. Just over 1,300 houses were completely destroyed in landslides, while nearly 7,000 suffered structural damage, according to official figures.
Water supply minister Rauf Hakeem said 40 percent of those affected had no access to piped drinking water, and there was an urgent need to purify contaminated wells in flood-hit areas. He said 400 people had volunteered so far for a major clean-up of wells and appealed for donations of water pumps. “Our workers have volunteered to join a major (well) clean-up,” the minister told reporters in Colombo. He said flooded pumping stations had been restored but an area just outside Colombo was still without piped water.

Government spokesman Rajitha Senaratne said many victims had started moving back into their homes as floodwaters receded but authorities remained concerned about the spread of disease. “We have started sending additional doctors, nurses and medical supplies to prevent any outbreak of diseases such as rat fever (leptospirosis) and diarrhoea,” said Senaratne, who is also health minister. “We could also have a dengue outbreak in about two weeks. We are very conscious of that. Additional medical teams will be checking on mosquito breeding grounds as well.”

The military has deployed more service personnel in addition to the thousands already involved in distributing food and other essentials to flood victims in the districts of Kalutara, Ratnapura, Galle and Matara. Sri Lanka has experienced scattered showers in many parts in the past 24 hours but flood waters are rapidly receding, officials said. In addition to the official death toll of 193, another 94 people were listed as missing as of yesterday afternoon. In May 2003 250 people were killed and 10,000 homes destroyed after a similarly powerful monsoon.

Aid on its way
The government announced yesterday it would cut back spending on new vehicles to save money as Colombo sought international assistance for the clean-up. “The cabinet decided today that we will not purchase any cars for ministers or the government this year in view of the natural disaster,” Senaratne said. A third aid ship was expected to arrive from India later Tuesday, Senaratne said, adding that three ships from China and another from Pakistan were also expected in Colombo this week. Australia, Japan and Singapore were among the other nations rushing to donate inflatable boats and other aid. The UN was donating water containers, water purification tablets and tarpaulins while the World Health Organization will support medical teams in affected areas. – AFP

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