Hunger and despair in Sri Lanka

Life improved for Pakyarani's family when the war ended, but then the floods came and washed away their hopes.

    Pakyarani and her four children have returned to their flood-damaged home in a remote village, but with their crops destroyed they have no way of affording food or repaying their debts

    Recent flooding in eastern Sri Lanka destroyed thousands of homes, devastated the rice crop and drowned thousands of livestock. A million people, 40 per cent of them children, are at risk of serious hunger as a result. Some of the worst-affected areas were only just recovering from decades of conflict and the tsunami when the floods hit, and the people who live there are facing their third humanitarian emergency in less than 10 years.

    Among those at risk of the impending food crisis is Pakyarani, a 32-year-old farmer's wife and mother of four. She lives with her family in a remote village in Batticaloa, one of the districts most affected by the floods. She tells her story:

    "I live with my husband, Ravicandran, and my four children: Ravikumar is 13, Nivedika is eight, Rujanika is six and Mohana is two.

    We own a paddy field and that is the main source of income for our family. My husband also works as a brick-maker and sometimes as a daily labourer. For many years our village was caught up in the war and we often had to run from shelling and hide in the ditch for safety. Once, during the shelling, my husband fell and broke his leg. We were not able to get proper treatment and he has not been able to work properly since.

    After the war ended, things got better for us. We were able to start growing crops and we bought two cows. Although some people in our village moved into brick houses, we didn't. We stayed in our two-roomed clay hut until earlier this month, when the floods came.

    The rain started on January 6. It didn't stop for days - there was thunder and lightning, and the wind was blowing extremely hard. I was sure there would be a cyclone. Eventually we were warned that the rivers and lakes were about to burst their banks. We were afraid that we would be caught in the flood, so we decided to leave.

    First we moved to a brick house nearby, which was empty. We thought we would be safe there, but before we could move our things, the flood water started to rise and we decided to leave the area. It just wasn't safe.

    We took the children and headed for the school, where people whose homes had been flooded were staying. As we ran, I heard an enormous crash and when I turned, I saw that one wall of our house had collapsed. It fell on the exact spot where we usually sleep.

    We were given dry rations at the school and we stayed for a few days. Then, on the 14th, the rain stopped. It didn't take long before we were asked to leave; they wanted to prepare the school for lessons again. We had nowhere to go so we returned to what was left of our home. As we left, we were given a bag of rice - a couple of kilos - but it's not enough to feed my family.

    All the rice in our field has been ruined by the floods. It will be May before we can sow new rice seeds, and July before we can harvest. We have no savings to buy food, let alone to repair our house. It's not safe to live like this; the area is full of snakes, and if my children get bitten we have no transport to take them to the nearest hospital, which is 10 kilometres away.

    I hope that my husband will be able to earn some money. We really need it. Before the floods, I'd taken loans to help with our farming, but now our crops have been destroyed, I have no way of repaying them. At the moment we are only eating one meal a day. We really need help to survive."

    Save the Children is helping Pakyarani and other families facing hunger in eastern Sri Lanka by providing them with food, household goods and children's clothes. Click here to donate to Save the Children's Sri Lanka appeal.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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