THE numbers are coming in and they do not look good. The heavy rains have caused much damage to the rice crops of Ampara District and many fear that the harvest in March will be well below expected. This means that the current cost of living escalation is likely to continue longer than expected and increase problems of finding adequate relief for the affected as well as other citizens.
As we all know, Sri Lankans cannot live without rice. As the staple food, not only does it feed millions, it also provides livelihoods for millions more. If the harvest is destroyed, then the food security of the entire country will be decreased, not to mention the fact that recovery of the flood affected will take much longer. The natural economy of the region that can assist affected people to get back on their feet has been literally washed away and the Government will have a hard time finding a way to balance out relief efforts while reducing the cost of living in other parts of the country.
The Government has already asked for relief supplies to aid the flood affected. Those who are still trapped in their homes are being sent uncooked dry ration packages while the others are being fed from community kitchens that have been hastily step up in camps. Shelter, clothing, sanitary wear, medicine and food are urgently needed and time is short; unless measures are taken now not only will these people suffer more, but their recovery period will be much longer as well. This means that the dependency on the Government will be stronger and public monies will have to be used for assistance which, while necessary, might not be beneficial to the overall economy.
Given that the previous harvest was record breaking and its stocks are still being released to the market, perhaps the cost of living situation can be managed with better planning and execution. However, compensation and livelihood options will have to be given to the farmers who have had their crops washed away. Moreover, this is not a guarantee against future losses and the Government will have to take steps to store food against market shortages and weather catastrophes. Yet the challenge is to do all these things in a practical and efficient manner while encouraging the private sector to assist in the process.
Unscrupulous traders have long been a thorn of contention. Given the precarious situation at present, with over half a million people displaced by floods, perhaps the time has come to relook this issue. Stronger laws that are actually implemented, efficient Government departments and more transparent networking with private traders might provide some measure of solace to the people. Business ethics are needed to assist the people in their time of need, for otherwise they will not have the capacity to keep buying products at the same level. Therefore humane considerations aside, assisting these people is just good business.
Corporate social responsibility is more than just a buzz word. It is the intent to do good for the sake of all stakeholders. The time has come for corporate Sri Lanka to show their intentions to the displaced and deprived people of the east as well as the rest of the country.