Friday, 23 May 2003

Colombo (Fides Service) – Since severe floods hit southern areas of Sri Lanka, “the local Church has been among the first to offer relief with great speed and concern” Archbishop Thomas Yeh Sheng-nan, Nuncio to Sri Lanka, told Fides Service. From many parts of the world funds for the victims have been sent to the local Church for distribution. One of the first benefactors was the Rome based Taiwan Embassy to the Holy See which immediately sent a donation in aid of the flood victims to the Nuntiature in Colombo. The money will be forwarded to the Bishop of Ratnapura, one of the worst hit dioceses.
“We are happy that we are able to help these non Christian brothers and sisters. We want to do our best to show Christian charity and to be witnesses of the Redeemer’s Love for all people” Father Sidath Wilegoda of Caritas Sri Lanka told Fides Service. Caritas Sri Lanka has been organising relief aid since the flood disaster hit the area on 17 and 18 May. Father Wilegoda says “priests and laity are working hard in collaboration with NGOs and aid organisations of other religions. Everyone is very grateful for the efforts made: this is a real time of solidarity”.
Bishop Harold Anthony Perea of Ratnapura visited some but not all of the affected areas because many roads are still flooded. The diocese has opened an emergency office in collaboration with Caritas Sri Lanka national office, assigning two priests to coordinate the relief aid. Tents, food and blankets collected in parishes and families throughout the diocese are being distributed through Caritas and a local organisation Sethmini.
Heavy rains caused flooding and damage all over southern Sri Lanka. The floods are said to be the worst in fifty years. Some 250 people are reported to have died (figure given 22 May), but the number is bound to increase because rescue workers keep finding more bodies and many districts are still inaccessible. About 44,000 families in Ratnapura area have seen their homes destroyed or flooded and have taken shelter in public buildings and temples, but as many as 180,000 families have been affected by the disaster. Some 5,000 homes have been totally destroyed and more than 10,000 flooded, while hundreds report missing family members, at least 500 people. No damage is reported to churches in the area. The waters are beginning to recede but schools will remain closed for at least another week. Local observers warn that the floods will have a negative effect on the economy of which agriculture is the main support. PA (Fides Service 23/5/2003 EM lines 32 Words: 396)