Volunteers during a rescue operation in Ratnapura after flood waters inundated the area in May 2017. The local diocese has provided short and long-term support for the local community. (Photo courtesy Caritas Sethmini)
In the seven months since floods devastated Sri Lanka, the local diocese has helped rebuild lives and futures in southwest Ratnapura, one of the worst-hit cities.
Ratnapura, known as the "city of Gems," suffered more than other regions after mining for precious stones, including rubies and sapphires, had left pits behind which exacerbated landslides caused by the flood waters.
Torrential downpours in May dumped 600 millimeters of floodwater in Ratnapura. Nationwide 213 died, with another 76 people missing, and more than 415,000 people in 12 provinces were left homeless, according to Red Cross figures.
In the immediate aftermath Bishop Cletus Chandrasiri Perera of Ratnapura set-up three care centers, including one at a cathedral, to look after the flood and landslide victims.
Church volunteers cooked meals at the centers which were distributed to displacement camps and places in need. Sometimes transportation had to be arranged by the diocese due to difficulty in accessing flood-stricken areas.
"Under the operations of the bishop of Ratnapura we were able to render a helpful service not only to Catholics but also Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims," said Father Anton Sriyan, director of Caritas Sethmini in Ratnapura.
But since the immediate crisis passed, the church has continued to offer long-term care and support to affected communities, whether it be household items, clothes or money.
The schooling of tens of thousands of children was interrupted after the government ordered the closure of educational facilities for several weeks.
"We helped 3,500 families," said Bishop Perera.
"As the first step, victims were given food and dry rations. Under the second step, victims were given non-food materials. Later educational items such as school uniforms, shoes and cleaning equipment were distributed."
The 70-year-old bishop said dry rations costing 8,000 rupees, about US$53, were also handed out.
The church is also building 16 houses for 16 families which are due to be completed soon, and assisting in the clearing of water canals and damaged small tea holdings. Small financial assistance of 1,000 rupees a day is also being offered to some farmers.
Ratnapura Diocese covers an area of 4,948 square kilometers and has a Catholic population of 21,855 out of all 1.8 million residents.
Father Sriyan said since the May floods, there had been 36 minor and major land slides in the diocese resulting in more deaths and displacements.
The Caritas director said the bishop had offered support to all victims irrespective of their background.
"He does not care for the cast, race or religion of the people who come to him," said Father Sriyan.