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Government vows to aid devastated farmers

After Sri Lanka's ruinous floods, the blame game begins

Government vows to aid devastated farmers
A public bus struggles to cross flood-filled streets in Chilaw (Photo by Jayasanka Fernando)

Published: January 23, 2013 06:47 AM GMT

Updated: January 23, 2013 03:41 PM GMT

Farmers across Sri Lanka have had a bleak harvest after a season of heavy rains, flooding, and landslides.

The government estimates 78,559 hectares of paddy have been completely destroyed and 158 irrigation tanks have been damaged.

Vincentipaul Theivanithi, 42, a farmer with almost one hectare in Murippu village, looks out over her field where she sowed seeds twice in just three weeks.

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“God is punishing us,” says Theivanithi, a mother of six. “Farming depends entirely on God’s mercy. If nature doesn’t bless us, the farmer can do nothing.”

Almost 400,000 farmers in seven districts were affected by floods and landslides. They  destroyed 4,191 houses and damaged another 21,674. Floods hit Theivanithi's village three times this season.

“We still live in a temporary hut, which is covered by tin sheets,” she says. “We don’t have electricity, my children study by lamplight.”

Many farmers say they cannot sow seeds again as they have no money to invest.

Now the government has stepped in with a promise to provide 25,500 metric tons of fertilizer as well as paddy seeds to farmers affected by the floods and landslides, according to Udeni Wickremasinghe, Secretary of Agrarian Services Ministry.

However, many rural farmers missed the annual harvest festival, Thai Pongal, on January 14.

“Most devotees didn’t celebrate the festival and fewer people came to the temple,” says Kalimuththu Sivapathasundaram, chief priest of the Kali Hindu temple in Munneswaram.

The Hindu priest blames the bad weather squarely on the politicians, because last September the government put a stop to animal sacrifices.

“Animal sacrifice is a vow to God for his blessings, but we could not do it and we all suffer now,” Sivapathasundaram  says. “I pray to God for a peaceful Thai Pongal next year.”

Environmentalists, meanwhile, blame the floods on climate change.

“Increases in air pollution have strongly affect cloud development and the atmosphere,” says Nirosan Bandara, who works on air and water pollution.

“There is clear evidence that dust and other small particles in the atmosphere affect weather and climate."


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