Let’s Talk Floods – Part V

I found myself panicking during last year’s floods. It was probably the first time in my “adult” life that I had seen a calamity of that extent and moreover, affected to those closest to me. Devastated would be a more accurate word to describe what was going on. You know how ‘news becomes news’ to you noh, “if it is in vicinity” or something to that extent they teach you in journo class. It changed how I saw things. It gave more perspective to how I see consumption in the light of climate change and God forbid, it probably even made me more sensitive.

But then see, it is happening again.

Let’s be honest, sensitivity to those of us, don’t come easy and it actually comes by only once.

This time around, I am angry. I am furious.

Yes, I agree that people can’t sell their houses just like that and move away to higher ground. I understand not everyone has means to do so. But at least take precaution?

Let’s be honest, you had an year to prepare.

And no, this is not me blaming the government.

This is me blaming those who live by these riverbed areas who assume that their aeons of non-technical layman experience can overstep the word of science, measurements and accuracy. Almost, accuracy. 

True, our DMCs and other organisations responsible need to up their game. They need to have better management, better organisation and the works. But for the latter, our private-funded ish volunteer-led associations have stepped up to liaise with them and there are better deeds happening. Or at least it seems so from behind this laptop screen.

But you, yes you who lives in these disaster-esq areas. WHAT ARE YOU DOING? Are you taking precaution? Have you even looked into purchasing an insurance for your house? Do you have that emergency bag stacked up in a corner to take and go? The latter was a little practice we used to have (or imagining because I was little) during the time of the war, 94-96. We don’t have an emergency pack truth be told (I have one in my car), but should the necessity arise, my parents and I, will leave.

No material thing in your household is more worthwhile than your lives.

Yes, you might not be able to replace them for a long time, but someday you might or you could just steal them, I don’t know.

But this lack of preparation and organisation among the people affected really makes me angry. Why are they STILL not co-operating? Didn’t they lose enough last year? Christ, this scares me from behind a screen. Is this not real enough for you?

Also, has anyone posted a disaster-selfie just yet?

Let’s Talk Floods – Part IV

It’s been nearly three weeks two weeks and four days after those terrible floods and landslides. By the time you read this, most likely on Monday or something, it might even be three. The “big rains” have now ceased and the monsoons have taken over. People have moved on in life, Muhammad Ali died at the age of 74, an armoury blew up some place close to home and caused massive fireworks in the skies, newer “news” has happened.

The flood victims too have moved “on” to their old homes. Most washed away by mud and other loathsome things with dead fish and rats floating about the place. There is only little left besides themselves, the possessions they took along with them and the ones unharmed as a result of having been left on a slab or second floor that can be saved.

Last week I drove to my Grandmother’s place to drop off some stuff. There is an unsustainable situation in the house as a result of having a few vehicles in the house, but at times like this, small vehicles are great for transport and deliveries I feel.

On my way to Mummy’s (I call my Grandmother “Mummy”) all I saw was rubble. Piles and piles of rubble. Clean roads, most likely washed away by the flood, but clean, yet rubble. Not just any rubble either, but possessions of rubble. Mattresses. Furniture. Beds. Cushions. Rubble that cannot be replaced as easily as buying a few groceries off the supermarket. Just piles of it, neatly stacked in the corners of the road every five to fifteen feet. What do they live with now, if most or all of what they own have been stashed against the sides of the road? 

Then the lorries collecting these rubble. A line of lorries parked on the side of the road one behind the other, filling up the back of their vehicles with these piles of rubble. That’s all I kept thinking of as I drove to Mummy’s: rubble, rubble, rubble. 

For those who saw (or went to see)

the flood.

While multiple reports and rescue missions warned everyone on how people should stay away from the flood, something inside me asked how it would’ve been had I not “seen” the flood when waiting to get my grandparents out.

It’s something that I am still unable to explain nearly three weeks after but those who saw knew. Those who saw felt. Those who saw realised what was at stake and what we lost. Those who saw also took selfies, but that’s a conversation for another time.

Not a big fan of adding flood pics but this.
Not a big fan of adding flood pics but this.

I’m glad I saw what I did. While a lot of what was planned and expected did not turn out as it was supposed to, it did provoke within me a need to do something about what’s happening. And trust me when I tell you that such needs have not arisen before.

But then, part of me wishes that I did not see what I did. Because once you did, there is no going back really. There is no break from unseeing what you saw and that leaves you a little broken inside every time you buy something new or spend on something you shouldn’t because then you wonder on how that money could’ve benefited someone else instead.

The rains are yet to leave us. I will soon write on what’s in my handbag and carry-on bag, but until such times, #ThinkSunny

Let’s Talk Floods – Part III

I’ll be honest with you. I thought this would be a one-off post. But we’ve made it to three so yay for me! I’ve turned into a poet in the process as well, eek. In today’s post, we speak of two things: racial or ethnic preferences and vulnerability. The latter is a bit of a hot topic in the development world so apologise in advance for the ranty-panties. 

Preferential Treatment 

Not too long ago, the former government was responsible for teaching us the definition of the word,  nepotism. Trust me, some English majors are not walking dictionaries or language gurus. However, once the new government came in we did see a bit of preferential treatment extended towards immediate family members and what not too – I don’t know what that is called to be honest or if that too is another form of nepotism. But don’t worry, I’m not here to rant about the government. I’m an apathetic “youth” that cares less about what it does with this country and frankly, I don’t know enough to speak on it either and hence I will not.

But somehow, this newly defined (by new I mean, new to our vocabulary as a result of not having used it as much in the past) term seems to have extended itself to the general public as well.

While I do agree on helping those close to home or reacting to the manner in which a news bulletin would and report what is most familiar, urgent and / or near to us; at times of crises when those not so near to us are among those near to us, I don’t see the need for the implementation of this newly defined word. Do you get what I am saying?

See, I’m a mix-bred child. In school I studied one religion, which I did practice up until a certain time of my life. Then in the name of education and supposedly worldly experience, questioning became a part of nature and the importance of balance and all that jazz became pivotal.

Shamelessly stolen off the internet
Shamelessly stolen off the internet

Hence at times like this when you hear a particular religious or ethnic group attempting to reach out to their own kind, the only thing I will do is discourage such practices and attempt to write long posts speaking on my displeasure towards this, because let’s face it: we all want to be an internet hero. 

Vulnerability 

So excited to speak on this because, this word is something most NGO folks cannot get enough of.

V-u-l-n-e-r-a-b-l-e: doesn’t that sound magical to you?

Now there is this little notion floating around despite the drop in water levels, on how we should help the most vulnerable. 

Another shamelessly stolen image from the internet
Another shamelessly stolen image from the internet

Pray tell me, who is the most vulnerable over here? Women and children? Senior citizens? The disabled community? Are we also throwing in a LGBTQ (++ other letters) over there too – no offence to you guys, just that the particular community keeps expanding a lot.

Today is about stealing copyright images
Today is about stealing copyright images

Let me tell you what happens on our side of the world. When it comes to provision of donor funds or drafting of proposals or tackling potential funding opportunities, we try to throw in a bit of the vulnerable because why not, the donors love it! I won’t say that it’s a bad thing as some countries here in South Asia and most countries in Africa are surviving to date because of the great work carried out by NGOs and other non-governmental entities especially when compared to the bare minimum done by the government.

However, in this context how does it work out?

  1. Houses 1-5 are situated in an affected area.
  2. Houses 1 and 5 are built on a relatively elevated-foundation (pray there be such things) with a second floor.
  3. Houses 2-4 are not as fancy with a single story with the exception of house 3 that has gone up to slab-level and a staircase but stopped because building houses is expensive.
  4. During the time of the flood, house 1 and 5 are lucky enough to remain in the house as they have another storey and remain there. The water level marks up to around 3 feet.
  5. However houses 2-4 are not as lucky and reported a rough marking of 5 feet of water.

Now, when you go about your post-disaster work, will you provide rehabilitation equipment or facilities for only houses 2-4 while houses 1 and 5 looks on? 

I just stole this as it was irrelevant and hilarious
I just stole this as it was irrelevant and hilarious

That’s all I have to rant about today. Until more flood times, haha. I joke.

P.S. – The sun is more or less out there and I suggest you go dry your clothes. Haha.

Let’s Talk Floods – Part II

So yesterday was a bit of an unproductive day for me and Mum. We went to Angoda, IDH and Wellampitiya areas and while the water levels seem to be chilling while they are at it, so at the moment, there isn’t a lot that anyone can do. In a modified statement inspired by Dickens,

It wasn’t the best of day, it wasn’t the worst of days, ‘twas a meh day.

For most of the part, the day was unproductive. Given that we are not directly involved in the gathering of rations etc, there wasn’t a lot that we could do.

It was frustrating. Walking up and down, trying to be of help, but often being mistaken for the “tourists” from yesterday, because yes we may have broken a laugh there or giggled a bit over here while navigating our way through the crowds. Let’s also casually throw in there about how these tourists casually pick up rations and food meant for victims – but I guess that’s okay because of the excess supply we have to deal with (read below).

Continuing on the frustration, I for one felt really hopeless because I couldn’t physically do anything. However, after coming home, tired and disappointed I realised that I was good with co-ordinating things, keeping track of stuff and making endless lists, so that’s exactly where I put my skills to use.

Rescues are still going on. People are still being trapped wanting to come out but let’s spend a while talking about those still in their houses.

No, I cannot empathise with your cause, I agree and hence it might not be my place to comment. But I will anyway. Do you realise that so many people are still sending out cooked food water and rations for you and boats and 4×4 are extremely expensive to maintain and operate? Yes, we should not look at things like money at times like this but if I were honest, we are a poor country and most people don’t have a lot to give, which is why some of us are offering labour, skills for post-flood. 

While your possessions are important, you should also realise that if everyone was in a common area or base camp, if not with their own friends and relatives, the security personnel and relief teams can successfully conduct their operations and set some order to this chaos. 

But no, you decided to stay in your house. Sorry not sorry but this makes me really angry. There is also a deep concern for the rise in water-borne and other diseases but clearly we are not worrying about that are we.

*This is not applicable to those in camp sites surrounded by water.

For those Still Eager to Volunteer

If you are still desperately trying to get involved though, do go through Facebook for about an hour and there will be people who need help with packing goods and all.

Also if you have the means, take goods and set out to Colombo to Puttlam or Kilinochchi.

Other ideas include trying to find contacts, make deals and proposals with those supplying mineral water and other products for post-flood. Currently I am told that supermarkets being sold out and it would be good to have these numbers to give it those with means.

STOP GIVING FOOD

In the areas we were there yesterday, a lot of food is going to waste because people are just pouring in with it. Here are a few things that we observed:

  • There is an excess of food. Yes, everyone wants to help but this is just crazy.
  • Food is usually cooked in the morning hours and sent for distribution towards afternoon and chances of food getting piled up, is high. Mum saw a little mountain of it.
  • If you are still eager and adamant to give food, kindly ask volunteers if you could prepare meals for them.
  • Another point to note if you are providing cooked food, do not wrap it when it is too warm and keep in mind what you are adding in there too. Not to sound fussy but those who cook would know that food like salmon, raw coconut (for pol sambol) and  coconut milk causing food to go pretty bad quick.
  • Continuing on the excess of food, we are told (specifically in the areas we were at) that people are now refusing to eat and keep throwing away half-eaten packets due to the monotony of it. An excess of supply results in these things like fussy eaters, it seems, even in times of crisis.
  • Which brings to my final point, waste. There are no proper waste collection methods in place, animal rights advocates are asking for people to bring them to the animal shelters and realistic-tree-huggers like myself think that we should throw it in a biogas unit or compost bin. Whatever floats your boat, but please do not litter.
  • Please read this if you have the time, it’s something that we can all learn from the Nepal Earthquake and how to go about rescue, relief and aid.
  • Two points after my final point, let’s not forget that it’s Vesak.

Post-Relief 

I spoke on this yesterday as well, but Mum and I putting together and I’m going to casually keep plugging this in over here. We are putting together a very small but realistic plan that will hopefully help those living in a small area. We know our means and are well aware of our capacities and hence are narrowing it down smaller places just so we could do an effective job there as opposed to a simple general sweep.

For those curious on floods in general and are still not convinced, I urge you all to read this.

Please stay safe and well. The sun is almost upon us.

Let’s Talk Floods – Part I

I know this sounds all ridiculous and shiz, blogging during times like these but seriously though, there is a lot that needs to be written during this time, which I would not want to Tweet out or share through Facebook posts because between you and I, I’ve been a bit of an overshare these days and I just am not liking it. Tough times.

Also as a disclaimer if I may add, the most of the following is based on the 1/gazillionth of what I witnessed and a few pointers here and there were from if-I-was-in-their-shoes thinking times while driving all the way back to dotèy. But as a Millennial in Colombo, I had not seen a “live flood” before and I think what I saw shook me beyond words can say.

  1. For Victims

Leave your homes if you must or are asked to. Yes, there are looters and thieves who will boat themselves into your house and steal your things but if there is a God and there is Karma, they won’t get very far.

Yes, you would not want to leave either your newly built and furnished house, trust me, we just shifted and I wouldn’t want to either. But if you are supposed to evacuate, please co-operate and do so.

Do not keep asking for food parcels to be sent to you, because these boats can instead carry people back to safer higher land.

If you do not leave your house with those who have come to rescue you, do not think that boats and 4x4s will come to your at your beck and call.

You should realise that there is no electricity and access to clean water and what will you drink or cook with?

Are you also aware that water-borne diseases, mosquitos, rat fever, waste water and Heaven knows what else are floating in the water you might be calf-deep walking in?

So please evacuate and most importantly co-operate with those co-ordinating these rescue missions. On the same lines, if there is a God and there is Karma, genuine people will always be rewarded and given back.

Avoid posting on social media while important yes, is not vital. Remember that there still might be people who will be in a danger zone in a few days time should the rains not stop. The last we should do is cause them unwanted panic and stress.

Unless you think that it helps deal with the grief, try to avoid generating conversation around the topic. Honestly, talking about it is not going to bring your things back and it makes us sad too as we are genuinely helpless and cannot do anything to better the situation either.

Finally, on the lines of co-operation, I know it’s hard and maybe I don’t empathise, but please do not complain. I don’t mean to sound like a bit of a coloniser and sound like a bit of a slaver type, but seriously, people are worried for you and we are doing our best to help you. We make the food with care for you so yes, it might not be a luxurious meal as we are looking at cooking for masses.

2. For Volunteers

For those on the ground, thank you for all that you are doing. It is making a difference and people are being saved, so thank you.

For those at home not able to go out and are behind a screen online, thank you as you help with the dissemination of information.

For those who are interested in volunteering, seek out volunteering opportunities first. Facebook is a good place to start and most of these posts seem genuine. At the moment, the main focus is rescue missions and cooked food, so if that is something you do not have the capacity to accommodate, think of putting together lists or helping out with co-ordination and getting information across to the correct channels.

Another way you could volunteer would be offer to drive around people. There is a lot of food and donations going up and down. Offer to pick up and drop off things, so that’s a great thing you could do. If you own boats, tippers or 4x4s, offer to go to the flood affected areas, it would be so great of you.

If you live in the area or in a neighbouring town, open your doors to others. Make tea and give water to those on the ground. Give them your phone chargers or wifi so they can get through to their other family and friends.

For the Forces, Disaster Management Centre and other local authorities, thank you for all that you are doing. While there are many things we feel that could’ve the extent of this calamity, we will save that conversation for another day.

On the other side of things, try to keep your phones charged and families and friends informed. You are doing great things, but remember that you too have people who care about you and await to hear from you. Wear protective gear or shoes or be aware of what you are getting your body into, just like for the victims, you too have the risk of stepping into something you would rather wish you didn’t.

Also on the social media side of things, it’s great to post the work you do and all, let’s try to refrain from being a bit of an overshare with the pictures and be mindful of what you post. People are sensitive in times like these.

3. For Donors

Thank you again for what you are doing. A lot of these people would not be where they are if not for you.

There is however something that concerns me. This collection of dry rations. While you might have your own reasons for collecting what you do, I think it’s important to give people food they can consume. So if you cannot cook for a large group of people, a loaf bread and a bottle of jam per family is better food than ten kilos of rice.

Other donate-worthy items during my if-I-was-in-their-shoes times, I thought would be good include:

  • Torches
  • Candles / matches
  • Shoes / slippers
  • Towels
  • Dettol
  • Soap
  • Pillow / sleeping items
  • Medicine items for injuries
  • Mortein / mosquito coils

4. For General Public

Yes, you are concerned and so are we. But if you do not have the means to help or volunteer, STAY AWAY FROM THE FLOODS (or landslides). The guy helping us get my family back to safe land called the “tourists” who would park their “little vehicles” (not to sound demeaning, I too drive a little car but at times like these, we need big vehicles at times like this) and go for “walks” in my over-mentioned water-borne disease-d, mosquito-ridden, rat fever-infected, waste water-ridden water, WITH FAMILIES and little children, if I may add.

Please stay away damnit. For fuck’s sake, stay away. If there is an emergency, volunteers and forces have a lot of other responsibilities and saving these “tourists” are not on their priority list.

Yes, it is important to see this disaster and take to heart the extent of what has happened, if I hadn’t either, I don’t think I would be as driven to do what I do with my Mum, but it’s not a spectacle or something we ought to take a selfie in.

Also, please try to be civilised and please refrain from taking food packets and water brought for those in need and for volunteers.

Post-Disaster

This is the section where I feel require the most amount of importance. At the moment, from what I see, there is a lot of help coming in from all over, which is great. But what happens after the quake (or flood and landslides)?

My Mum and I thought long and hard about this because we know our capacity and what we are capable of: we are neither lifeguards nor rescue mission workers nor own big vehicles. What we are good at is co-ordination, putting together medical camps and gathering people. Hence, the two of us and a couple of other close friends are planning on putting together a post-flood relief stall or hut that would have cook-in stalls (for meals), cleaning up (for houses) and trauma counselling in the Kotikawatte and Wellampitiya areas as we have a few basic connections to get things moving. What we need then will be written in a later post, so till then, stay safe out there.

P.S. I know that there are other affected areas in the country and Kegalle is suffering from landslides, and all I can think of is sending them my hope and sunshine all the way from here.