Sri Lankans Displaced After Meeriyabedda Landslide Still Waiting To Leave The Danger Zone
After Sri Lanka’s worst natural disaster since the 1994 tsunami, survivors were promised new homes. Two years later they are still living in the same danger.
It has been almost two years since the tragic landslide in Meeriyabedda, in the Koslanda area, that claimed the lives of over 30 people after a massive slip in the area, following three consecutive days of rain.
The earth that came down destroyed accommodation there, pushing housing as far as 300 meters from its original position, and over 400 people were evacuated from the area. Many remain displaced to this day.
The land slide was Sri Lanka’s worst natural disaster since 1994’s deadly tsunami. And at the time, the whole nation grieved with the victims, who had to wait for days to see if their loved ones would be the next unearthed by rescue teams. At the time the Sri Lankan authorities promised the survivors, many of whom were living in poverty and who lost the little they had, that they would be helped into new homes.
However much of what was promised back then has yet to materialise and many of the survivors still live in the same area, where landslides continue to be a danger. To them the 2014 tragedy is not in the past; they live with the same fear every day.
“They say landslides will occur again,” says local woman Pushparani, 53, who survived the 2014 landslide and is a member of one of 75 families who were rehoused in an abandoned tea factory in Meeriyabedda. “So when it rains heavily we leave here, we take the children far away.”
“Officials often come here and say we should leave this place, it is dangerous,” says R. Manoharan, who lost four members of his family in the 2014 landslide. “But where can we go?”
“During the days after the landslide, we were told houses would be built for us,” says another survivor, Weraman Pandiyaraja, a 39-year-old father of four. “But nothing has happened. We clear the land to build. But it gets covered with weeds again.”
There are also still some houses left in the area where the earth came down. Families still live there, in what are known as line rooms in Sri Lanka – basic accommodation built in a line, often especially to house tea plantation workers. One of the lines has twenty homes – but, as the inhabitants say, they also live in constant fear. The people here were also promised new accommodation out of harm’s way but nothing has eventuated for them either.
“They told us that, when it rains, we should go and stay in the factory,” says Jothimalar. “So whenever it rains we run there.” Fifteen families have left the area permanently, he adds.
Sri Lanka’s Minister of Disaster Management, Anura Priyadarshana Yapa, agrees that the situation in Meeriyabedda is a difficult one. “About 500 new houses are to be built in the area. But it’s not an easy job,” Yapa explains, noting that 61 houses have been completed and another 14 are under construction.
The task of building the houses also seems to have been shuttled around the various ministries. The local authorities spend about LKR1.8 million (about EUR10,700) on essential goods and services for the Meeriyabedda displaced every month too.
“But that’s not what we want,” says another of the survivors. “We want a place where we can live without fearing for our lives, and where we can support ourselves with dignity.”
Photography: Rahul Samantha Hettiarchchi