Flash floods in Sri Lanka affected over half a million people, we were on the ground providing vital healthcare services to those affected

The aftermath of the floods

Incessant monsoonal rains during the last week of May 2017 triggered floods and landslides across Sri Lanka, affecting over half a million people and according to national authorities, killing over 200 people.  Natural disasters like this disproportionately affect women and girls. They experience sexual violence, unwanted pregnancies and are vulnerable to sexually transmitted infections. Healthcare facilities are often compromised, so pregnant women miss out on essential prenatal care.

The Family Planning Association of Sri Lanka immediately responded to this catastrophe through the distribution of dignity kits and holding awareness sessions on gender based violence. To provide further care and support, a series of mobile medical clinics were established.

Priyanka, 32, is eight months pregnant when we meet her at one of the many mobile health clinics established after the floods. “I was five months pregnant when the floods came. I had to go to my friend’s house up the mountain for safety with my 2.5-year-old daughter,” she said. Standing outside her house later, a stone’s throw from the river banks, you can imagine how terrifying it would have been to watch the flood waters rise to your house. Priyanka and her family were unharmed, but her husband’s business was destroyed, affecting their livelihoods.

Over 1,000 dignity kits distributed after flash floods in Sri Lanka

  • The rains and flash floods caused widespread destruction to buildings and roads.
    The rains and flash floods caused widespread destruction to buildings and roads.
  • The flash floods caused devastation leaving many homes ruined and families homeless.
    The flash floods caused devastation leaving many homes ruined and families homeless.
  • Nimal* and her family were asleep when the floods came into their house. She and her husband took their young children to safety upstairs. Since the floods, Nimal and her family attended the clinic set up by The Family Planning Association of Sri Lanka (FPA-SL), and received medical care and gender based violence training. “We were all sleeping in this house when the flood came in the night. When we woke up we were surrounded by four feet of water in the house. Our van and bicycle were damaged."
    Nimal* and her family were asleep when the floods came into their house. She and her husband took their young children to safety upstairs. Since the floods, Nimal and her family attended the clinic set up by The Family Planning Association of Sri Lanka (FPA-SL), and received medical care and gender based violence training. “We were all sleeping in this house when the flood came in the night. When we woke up we were surrounded by four feet of water in the house. Our van and bicycle were damaged."
  • "A tree fell on to the roof of my house, and a sheet of metal fell right on top of me. Almost everything inside the house was destroyed, so now we stay in a hut behind the house, all sharing one bed. the children lost all their books. We didn't have clothes or food so our neighbours helped us. We received a letter about the dignity kits being distributed by FPA Sri Lanka." Roshini lives in the Southern Province.
    "A tree fell on to the roof of my house, and a sheet of metal fell right on top of me. Almost everything inside the house was destroyed, so now we stay in a hut behind the house, all sharing one bed. the children lost all their books. We didn't have clothes or food so our neighbours helped us. We received a letter about the dignity kits being distributed by FPA Sri Lanka." Roshini lives in the Southern Province.
  • FPA Sri Lanka distributed over 1,000 dignity kits to women and families. They contain much-needed items such as sanitary pads, towels, sarongs.
    FPA Sri Lanka distributed over 1,000 dignity kits to women and families. They contain much-needed items such as sanitary pads, towels, sarongs.
  • “When the flood came, my husband was feeding my eldest child and the baby was asleep in the bed. I was outside of the house. My mother was brushing her teeth outside the back of the house. I looked up and saw trees falling near my neighbour’s house up the hill. My neighbours died.   I couldn’t take any possessions – I just had to run for my life. My husband took my younger child. They were all screaming."
    “When the flood came, my husband was feeding my eldest child and the baby was asleep in the bed. I was outside of the house. My mother was brushing her teeth outside the back of the house. I looked up and saw trees falling near my neighbour’s house up the hill. My neighbours died. I couldn’t take any possessions – I just had to run for my life. My husband took my younger child. They were all screaming."
  • Prijani and Chandana were forced to flee their home during the floods of May 2017 in Sri Lanka. They didn’t have time to take any belongings, so ran with their two small children. After the floods, they attended gender based violence training run by Family Planning Association of Sri Lanka, where they learned about child protection needs.   “We weren’t informed that the floods were going to come, but when the water reached our knee level we knew we have to move. We just took the kids and left” says Prijani.
    Prijani and Chandana were forced to flee their home during the floods of May 2017 in Sri Lanka. They didn’t have time to take any belongings, so ran with their two small children. After the floods, they attended gender based violence training run by Family Planning Association of Sri Lanka, where they learned about child protection needs. “We weren’t informed that the floods were going to come, but when the water reached our knee level we knew we have to move. We just took the kids and left” says Prijani.
  • A woman waiting for a pre-natal check up at the Nagoda Health Clinic, Southern Province.
    A woman waiting for a pre-natal check up at the Nagoda Health Clinic, Southern Province.
  • Access to maternal health care in times of emergencies are vital.
    Access to maternal health care in times of emergencies are vital.
  • Midwife Chaturika Lakmale was on the ground during and after the floods providing family planning services and contraception to women affected by the flood. "After the floods, we arranged several special clinics just for family planning, and distributed condoms and emergency supplies of the pill to camps in case women missed their regular form of contraception like injectables, implants or IUDs."
    Midwife Chaturika Lakmale was on the ground during and after the floods providing family planning services and contraception to women affected by the flood. "After the floods, we arranged several special clinics just for family planning, and distributed condoms and emergency supplies of the pill to camps in case women missed their regular form of contraception like injectables, implants or IUDs."
  • Priyanka was five months pregnant when the floods came. "I had to go to my friend's house up the mountain for safety. I have a 2.5 year old daughter. My husband's dahl business was destroyed - the machines were damaged by the water. All the people in the village came to help clean up our house. The doctor came to the village to check all the pregnant women. This is my second visit to the clinic."
    Priyanka was five months pregnant when the floods came. "I had to go to my friend's house up the mountain for safety. I have a 2.5 year old daughter. My husband's dahl business was destroyed - the machines were damaged by the water. All the people in the village came to help clean up our house. The doctor came to the village to check all the pregnant women. This is my second visit to the clinic."
  • Our clinics ensure that women still have access to contraception during the aftermath of natural disasters
    Our clinics ensure that women still have access to contraception during the aftermath of natural disasters

 

“When the floods came into our house, all my husband’s machines that he used for his dahl business were destroyed by the water. We are having them repaired now. All the people from our village came to clean up my house. The doctor came to my area and checked all the pregnant mothers. This is my second time now visiting this health clinic.” The clinic, located in the Nagoda District, reopened mere days after the floods, Midwife Chaturika Lakmale tells us proudly, despite some of the midwives being unable to return to work themselves due to the floods. ‘We offered condoms and emergency supplies of the pill’, she tells us.

FPA-SL are one of the most expansive and well-known NGOs in Sri Lanka that offer family planning, sexual and reproductive healthcare. Because of this, in times of emergency, they are well positioned to understand the local context. ‘We told women to keep one packet of the contraceptive pill in their handbag, and one in their home, should they ever have to run quickly in an emergency’, said Chaturika.

Staff in our mobile health clinics, like Dr Rohan Jayasuriya, are strongly committed to sexual and reproductive rights in Sri Lanka. ‘Abortion is illegal in Sri Lanka, except if the mother’s life is at risk. It costs 30,000 – 40,000 Sri Lankan rupees for a backyard abortion. If complications arise, they have to go to hospital, but then a legal case might be filed against them. That’s why family planning - in stable settings but also emergencies - is so important.’

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