A deserted urban jungle in Sri Lanka as survivors slowly return to their devastated villages

Aerial shots have caught Sri Lanka’s coastal capital of Colombo turned a ghost town with the mushroom-like neighbourhoods of lush green farms sitting on streets filled with rusted cars and abandoned houses

The tiny apartment building is barely recognizable as anything but a living room.

The back wall is littered with plastic bottles, foam peanuts and the odd empty carton of beer. Plastic cans hang on the ceiling and some books, discarded across from the kitchen, are available for recycling.

Inside the door, an electric fan sits idly on the floor beside open trash cans scattered in the kitchen and bathroom. The only visual remnants of the house’s previous life are two heavy mattresses, on the floor.

Photos taken by the Reuters photographer Vishal Srivastava show the tiny home of Amiweena, a fisherman and vegetable vendor who has lived in this location for decades, sitting empty as it piles up with other abandoned homes across Kandy, Sri Lanka’s second largest city.

Up to 300,000 people have been forced to flee their homes across northern and eastern Sri Lanka since September 2017 due to monsoon rains, according to the UN. The floods and landslides that followed have killed over 800 people.

More than 7,800 people are still reported to be missing in the disaster.

Abandoned houses in the capital city of Colombo washed away by the recent floods and landslides and left only with the rubble of past lives pic.twitter.com/Jz8qwCkG2j — Reuters Top News (@Reuters) May 30, 2018

Plunge Into Organic Farming

Reuters first became aware of the story through midwives and humanitarian workers working in the region who told them of people who had resorted to living out of their cars, tents and on a temporary island. The workers found a nation “crawling with humanity”, says Wayne de Brito of Caritas Sri Lanka, who was part of the team trying to rescue the people.

Ganga Tipunathan from Global Disaster Response Aid, a Catholic charity, was on a boat rescuing a man’s family at a broiling hot beach on the east coast when he found a man sitting on his truck. There was no water or electricity.

“I gave him 20 shillings (just over a dollar) and told him to take some cloths and plaster some walls on the walls he had. We tried to give some food for him to eat and water, but no one would help,” Tipunathan says.

The pictures captured by Srivastava show a coastal city flooded in the north and east in an urban wilderness of jagged concrete shells. The people who lost their homes to the floods and landslides are either staying with relatives or friends. A handful of schools have been taken over by community groups to help reintegrate survivors.

It’s not easy for fishermen Amiweena and his two sons to come back to the place they called home for decades. The year-round tropical heat has destroyed the fish that provide his livelihood. Amiweena said the young children suffer from respiratory illnesses. It’s not easy to make ends meet as the government provides assistance for relief, but the price of fish still remains high due to smuggling.

“To put it simply, Sri Lanka is sinking in an environment of corruption and poor governance,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a speech in Geneva on Thursday. “The country is home to multiple corrupt elites and a generation of young people mired in misery,” he said.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says: “Sri Lanka is sinking in an environment of corruption and poor governance” | The New York Times

Welcome To The Jungle

As a war-ravaged country trying to rebuild its battered economy and social infrastructure, officials, farmers and humanitarian workers alike view the country’s latest disaster as a sign of things to come. It’s all about population growth, says Maramugambiya Rathnayake, the chief of an organization called the Tamil Farmers’ Assocation in Kandy, who has lived on a driftwood island for years in a world overwhelmed by destruction.

In such a desperate place, Rathnayake’s life can serve as a good example for all the country’s older generation of fishermen who have lost everything. He shared his lessons in survival with Reuters.

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