Sri Lankan Catholics show ’solidarity’ for flood victims




Sri Lankan bishops have called on the Catholic community to continue to support hundreds of thousands affected by the destruction left in the wake of Cyclone Mora.The Catholic Bishops’ Conference issued a statement, June 1, signed by its president, Bishop J. Winston S. Fernando and secretary Bishop D. Valence Mendis, calling for "continued solidarity" toward humanitarian efforts.The bishops called on Catholics to "extend their fullest cooperation to provide humanitarian help" through the respective Caritas, government agencies and civil society organizations."Any financial, human and material support will be invaluable to those affected who have lost their personal belongings and properties to help them regain their confidence and return to a normal life," the statement read.Some 658,500 people have been displaced by floods and landslides in 15 districts and 68,734 persons are living temporarily in 355 camps, following the May 30 cyclone.With a further 95 missing people now declared dead by the ministry for Public Enterprise Development, the death toll has risen above 300.Father Mahendra Gunathilake, Caritas national director, said they are continuing extensive relief operations and have distributed 60 truck-loads of essential commodities."Every Caritas center, not impacted by the adverse weather, has collected relief items for the worst-affected areas in Ratnapura, Galle and Colombo," Father Gunathilake said.The most severely impacted district was Galle where, according to, 142,149 people, some 36,314 families, were affected."Caritas provided 20,645 packets of cooked meals and 2,614 packets of dry rations in the three days following the floods and landslides," the priest added."Caritas is about to distribute 8,000 rupees-worth of dry rations among 5,000 families. The north-east dioceses [in former war-torn regions] have collected close to 1 million rupees [US$,6550] to support the flood victims."Anton Saman, an organizer of one of collection centers in Negombo said, "Hundreds of people bring large quantities of relief materials from morning until night."The whole-of-community approach has seen religious groups, schools and village groups commit resources to the recovery efforts."St. Mary’s college, St. Joseph’s church, St. Mary’s church, Kithunena pre-school children, Buddhist temples and voluntary groups have all pitched in to collect relief items in the area," Saman said.Charities and community groups are utilizing their premises as distribution centers for bottled water, sanitary materials and dry rations. "The people donate whatever they can, including soap and toothpaste," Saman added.One week after the cyclone struck, the focus is now expanding to help the people return to any semblance of normality.Father Gunathilake said, "We are asking for education materials for school children, hygiene and cleaning equipment for common areas in villages."Some 25,000 school children lost their school books and stationery in the flood-affected areas.The Department of Meteorology has predicted further showers could and issued warnings of more potential landslides.Leading Catholic bishops expressed their concern and said the people need to know and feel that they are not alone nor left to themselves to tide over the difficulties in this situation.The United Nations has donated tents, water purification tablets and other supplies to the Disaster Management Centre. International assistance has also arrived in Sri Lanka from India, Pakistan, China, Australia and the European Union.The floods were the worst since a cyclone hit the island nation in May 2003, killing 260 people.

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