Sri Lanka: Being prepared for natural disasters

  • Emergency
  • Sri Lanka

Five years ago a serious fall changed Arumugam Pakkiyam’s life forever. Arumugam, now 60, was left paralysed.

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Arumugam lives with her daughter and two grandchildren. Her village is regularly affected by severe floods.
Arumugam lives with her daughter and two grandchildren. Her village is regularly affected by severe floods.
Arumugam lives with her daughter and two grandchildren. Her village is regularly affected by severe floods.

Being unable to walk impacted on Arumugam in many ways, but in her village of Redbanapuram, she faced a particular danger, floods. The village is prone to floods and Arumugam’s lack of mobility meant that she would be completely dependent on others when they hit.

“I suddenly found myself immobilised”

With support from DIPECHO (the Disaster Preparedness Programme of the European Commission's Humanitarian Aid department) Handicap International provided Arumugam with a wheelchair and tricycle. As a result a lot has changed for Arumugam who was left feeling isolated after the fall.

“Here in the village we make a living selling handmade goods, working the rice plantations, raising livestock and growing crops. I have always earned a living by selling the pottery I make. From one day to the next, I suddenly found myself immobilised.”

Living with the danger of floods

“Shortly after my accident, there was some extremely heavy rainfall which caused severe flooding in the village. There was nowhere dry for me to do my pottery. I fell ill with a very high temperature. My doctor advised me not to touch any clay as it might aggravate my illness. So I stopped everything.”

Arumugam continues, “We all took shelter in the village school. There were hundreds of families and around 80 people with disabilities. There were no sanitary facilities, so washing in these conditions was really very difficult.”

Joining the Disaster Management Committee

Once back at home, Arumugam felt excluded, “My family didn’t inform me about flooding or the risk of natural disasters. I was totally passive, entirely dependent on my loved ones.”

Things are quite different now. Not only has Arumugam been able to start making pottery again, but she is now a vocal member of the village’s Disaster Management Committee.

This all started when she received a new wheelchair and a tricycle from Handicap International and DIPECHO to help her get about more easily. She also received support to start up her pottery again and joined the village’s Disaster Management Committee.

“At the meetings, I learn how to protect myself in the event of a natural disaster with regards to my disability. I can also get advice on how to adapt my house to my circumstances. Of course, I also give my opinion!”

Arumugam's determination and commitment has made her an example for other people with disabilities in her village.

Marie-Catherine Mabrut, Handicap International’s Projects Officer, says, “This project, implemented in the northern and eastern provinces of Sri Lanka, aims to involve the most vulnerable people, in particular older people and people with disabilities, in disaster risk management and to meet their specific needs (notably in terms of rehabilitation). The aim is to strengthen the communities’ resilience and ensure that everyone is taken into account and involved in managing risks.”

With support from ECHO, Handicap International, in collaboration with ACTED, Oxfam and Save the Children International aims to involve the most vulnerable in disaster risk management. The project benefits 37,000 people in the northern and eastern provinces of Sri Lanka.

Published 19/03/15

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