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Red Cross warns of post-flood water-borne diseases

(UDHAYAM, COLOMBO) – The Red Cross said yesterday it was concerned about the spread of water-borne diseases in the aftermath of the catastrophic floods and landslides that have engulfed south-western Sri Lanka in recent days.

The floods – triggered by the beginnings of Tropical Cyclone Mora – were the worst to hit Sri Lanka in 14 years.

According to the Government, more than 630,000 people have been affected, including 70,000 who remain in temporary shelters having been forced to abandon their homes. More than 200 people have been killed and close to 100 are missing.

The flooding has contaminated drinking water sources and damaged toilets and sanitation systems, raising the risk of water-borne diseases, including dengue.

“Tens of thousands of people are still unable to return home,” said Sri Lanka Red Cross Society (SLRCS) President Jagath Abeysinghe. “Dengue is endemic in Sri Lanka and with so much standing water, conditions are ripe for mosquitoes to breed and spread the disease. Providing clean water and sanitation together with awareness on preventing communicable diseases is a critical part of in our humanitarian response.”

SLRCS disaster response teams and volunteers have been on the ground supporting the emergency aid effort. Many of the volunteers are from affected communities and have been responding to the crisis since the floodwaters started to rise.

Red Cross teams have helped to evacuate more than 7,500 people to safety in seven of the worst affected districts, performing life-saving first aid and delivering food and other emergency relief items to affected people.

As the floodwaters begin to subside one of the priorities has been decontaminating wells to ensure that people have a safe drinking source and to prevent outbreaks of diseases such as dengue.

In response to the urgent humanitarian needs, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and SLRCS have today launched an international emergency appeal for two million Swiss francs (approximately $ 2.1 million or EUR 1.9 million). Through this appeal, Red Cross volunteers and staff will assist 40,000 people with emergency relief items including shelter materials and household items; provision of medical and first aid services; support to schools and community health centres; clean water and sanitation; and cash grants to help people recover their livelihoods.

“This is the beginning of the monsoon, more rain is expected and our goal now is to help these people recover so that they can cope with any further challenges and begin to rebuild what they have lost,” said Gerhard Tauscher, IFRC Operations Manager in Sri Lanka.

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