Sri Lanka mudslide deaths passes 150 mark as more bodies found

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Sri Lankan villagers cross a landslide site as military rescue workers and villagers search for survivors in Athweltota village in Kalutara on Sunday. (AFP / LAKRUWAN WANNIARACHCHI)
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Sri Lankan villagers watch as military rescue workers search for survivors at the site of a mudslide in Bellana village in Kalutara. (AFP)
Updated 28 May 2017

Sri Lanka mudslide deaths passes 150 mark as more bodies found

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka: Sri Lankan rescuers on Sunday pulled out more bodies that were buried by enormous mudslides as the death toll in the disaster climbed to 151, with 111 others missing.
Although the weather has cleared, more rains are forecast for Monday, threatening to bring further misery to over 100,000 people displaced in western and southern regions of the island nation that were lashed by two days of torrential rains.
Taking advantage of a lull in rain, soldiers cleared road access to most of the affected areas while others were reachable by boat, said Maj. Gen. Sudantha Ranasinghe, who is heading the search and rescue mission. People waded in knee-deep floodwaters to get to army trucks transporting relief supplies and taking away those waiting to be evacuated.
Ranasinghe said he didn’t expect to find any more survivors.
Health minister Dr. Rajitha Senarathna said 102,218 displaced people were being sheltered in 339 relief centers. Special medical teams have been sent to the affected areas, while medicine has been sent by air to hospitals for which access has been cut off, he said.
Access roads are still blocked in some areas due to flooding, and fuel shortages have been reported, Senarathna said.
The UN said it was assisting in relief efforts in response to a government appeal. It also promised to donate water purification tablets, tents and other supplies for the displaced. India sent a shipload of goods, while the United States and Pakistan also promised to send relief supplies.
Sri Lanka’s Department of Meteorology warned that heavy downpours were expected in some of the affected areas.
Mudslides have become common during the monsoon season in Sri Lanka, a tropical Indian Ocean island nation, as land has been heavily deforested to grow export crops such as tea and rubber. Last May, a massive landslide killed more than 100 people in central Sri Lanka.


A tale of two cities: Project aims to retell lost stories from Lahore, Delhi

Updated 44 min 9 sec ago

A tale of two cities: Project aims to retell lost stories from Lahore, Delhi

  • Will give migrants a virtual tour of their childhood towns and homes torn apart by partition of 1947

NEW DELHI: Sparsh Ahuja and Ameena Malak grew up listening to their grandparents narrate stories of the partition from 1947.
Ahuja’s grandfather, Ishar Das Arora, was 7 years old when the Indian subcontinent was divided into two by the British, creating India and Pakistan. 
More than 14 million people were displaced at the time, and about one million perished in the fighting that followed.
Arora moved from a Pakistani village, named Bela, to Delhi after living in several refugee camps and escaping the violence.
Meanwhile, Malak’s grandfather, Ahmed Rafiq, moved from the Indian city of Hoshiarpur to Pakistan’s Lahore.
Now in their 70s, both the grandparents yearn to go back home and see the places where they were born and spent their childhoods. 
However, the constant uncertainty in the relationship between India and Pakistan and their old age has made the task of visiting their respective birthplaces extremely difficult.
To fulfill the wishes of their grandparents, and several others who yearn to visit their ancestral homelands, Ahuja and Malak decided to launch Project Dastaan (story).
“What started as an idea for a student project last year at Oxford University became a larger peace-building venture,” Ahuja, the director of the project, said.
Project Dastaan is a university-backed virtual reality (VR) peace-building initiative reconnecting displaced survivors of partition with their childhood through bespoke 360-degree digital experiences.
Backed by the South Asia Programme at Oxford, it uses VR headsets to give these migrants, who are often over 80 years old, a virtual tour of their childhood towns and homes. It shows them the people and places they most want to see again by finding the exact locations and memories that the survivors seek to revisit, and recreates them.
“It is a creative effort to start a new kind of conversation based on the direct experience of a now-foreign country in the present, rather than relying upon records and memories from the past,” Ahuja told Arab News.
He added that Pakistan-based Khalid Bashir Rai “teared up after his VR experience, and told us we had transported him back” to his childhood.
“At its heart, the project is a poignant commentary on its own absurdity. By taking these refugees back we are trying to highlight the cultural impact of decades of divisive foreign policy and sectarian conflict on the subcontinent. This is a task for policymakers, not university students. In an ideal world, a project like this shouldn’t exist,” Ahuja said.
Other members of Project Dastaan — Saadia Gardezi and Sam Dalrymple — have a connection with partition, too. Gardezi grew up with partition stories; her grandmother volunteered at refugee camps in Lahore, and her grandfather witnessed terrible violence as a young man.
Dalrymple’s grandfather had been a British officer in India during the twilight years of the British Empire. So scarred was he by the partition that he never visited Dalrymple’s family in Delhi, even after 30 years of them living there.
“I think Dastaan is ultimately about stripping away the layers of politics and trying to solve a very simple problem: That children forced to leave their homes, have never been able to go back again,” Dalrymple told Arab News.
Ahuja added: “The partition projects are a peace offering in the heart of hostility. It is an attempt at creating a wider cultural dialogue between citizens and policymakers of the three countries.”
The project aims to reconnect 75 survivors of the partition of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh with their childhood memories, when the subcontinent observes 75 years of partition in 2022.
Project Dastaan is also producing a documentary called “Child of Empire” that will put viewers in the shoes of a 1947 partition migrant, and will be shown at film festivals and museums.