Communities in Sri Lanka are working to increase their resilience to potential disasters with support from UMCOR
By David Tereshchuk*
May 26, 2016 — Communities in Sri Lanka’s Ratnapura District are taking action, with the support of the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), to increase their resilience to potential disasters such as massive flooding and landslides to which the area is prone.
In Sri Lanka, an island nation in the Indian Ocean, risks are rarely more severe than in Ratnapura, located in the country’s southern, tropical region. The district has a history of disasters — as in the devastating floods of 2008 that displaced nearly 3,000 families, and more recent 2014 floods, and landslides in 2014 and 2015 that also left thousands of people homeless.
UMCOR is partnering with the Lanka Evangelical Alliance Development Service (LEADS), a local humanitarian organization. LEADS was founded in the 1970s and is known for emphasizing human rights as it works to alleviate human suffering. LEADS worked with UMCOR in 2015 in disaster relief and also participated in UMCOR’s Asia-wide regional training that same year.
Now LEADS and UMCOR are working together to help reduce the vulnerability of the district’s disaster-prone communities by increasing local leaders’ awareness, preparation and response capacities in the face of disasters.
Training and equipment
“When communities are organized and learn how to provide first aid and perform search-and-rescue for those who go missing in a flood or landslide, many lives can be saved,” said Yovanna Troansky, executive secretary for UMCOR Disaster Risk Reduction.
Although communities in Ratnapura District have formed village disaster risk management committees, Troansky explained, they need training and tools to better prepare them to assist their families and neighbors in times of flood or other disaster.
“By providing training and equipment, UMCOR is working proactively with LEADS to help the communities avoid the pain of losing their loved ones in a disaster,” she said. “Although they may continue to suffer material losses, the severity of a disaster’s impact can be reduced through disaster risk reduction actions.”
The project also seeks to spread awareness to curtail the kind of harmful mismanagement that too often takes place, such as the environmental damage — and, in turn, heightened risks of disaster — that come from illegally mining gems, cutting down trees, and sand extraction.
Troansky pointed out the value of working through village disaster risk management committees and with the involvement of local and district authorities.
“In a human rights-based approach, governments have the responsibility to ensure that communities in the territory they govern have a safe place to live,” she said.
“When communities and local authorities work together toward shared development goals, the society’s resilience increases,” Troansky added. “Then, communities and the region as a whole are less vulnerable to disasters’ effects.”
Practical work in individual communities will supplement the extensive training programs. UMCOR’s support will enable each village to prepare and practice effective evacuation plans. It also will provide village disaster risk management committees with emergency response materials and early-warning equipment. The plan also entails building stronger networks to better connect government with local communities.
“It is already an important achievement to have the ‘buy-in’ of government authorities at this early stage of the project. We hope that during the project’s implementation local organizations will become proactive and look for ways to maintain its good results for the longer term.”
Your gift to International Disaster Response, Advance # 982450, will help communities like those in Sri Lanka to better protect themselves against the effects of future disasters.
*David Tereshchuk is a journalist and media critic who contributes regularly to www.umcor.org.