(HN, January 15, 2011) - Still recovering from the devastating Indian Ocean tsunami and the long-term effects of armed conflict, the island nation of Sri Lanka now finds a quarter of its territory under water.
Recent catastrophic floods have decimated crops, driven tourists away at the height of the season - and caused a spike in food prices. The freak weather has even caused a plunge in temperatures. On Thursday, the capital city of Colombo hit 18.8 Celsius - the coldest day on record in more than 60 years.
Today, in its Twitter feed, the Sri Lankan Red Cross said initial estimates of damage is in the $500-million range.
The rains started December 26 and in one day alone on January 12, 300 millimeters fell, said a spokesperson for the UN Office of Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Elizabeth Byrs.
Already 27 people have died, and more than 1-million people have been affected - roughly a third children.
The country - a major tea and rice producer - faces loosing as much as 20 per cent of its harvest due to flood waters. The UN says about 300,000 people have been displaced; one UN official described eastern parts of the country as "a lake." The worst hit areas are Batticalao, Trincomalee and other regions in east-central Sri Lanka and the central provinces. Many roads have been rendered impassable.
More than 360,000 people are living in temporary shelters, Byrs told a media briefing in Geneva, monitored by HUMNEWS.
About 200,000 acres of rice fields are reported to be under water. Emilia Casella of the World Food Programme (WFP) said the floods had come just before the harvest season in February and March - in what was expected to be a bumper crop. The Rome-based food agency is gearing up to meet the food needs of about 500,000 people over a period of six months, Casella said.
Mahinda Rajapaksa, the president of Sri Lanka, has warned of a major food crisis in the country and his ministers have been ordered to develop an emergency plan.
- HUMNEWS staff, UN
Donations for flood victims can be made to the Red Cross in Sri Lanka