re-monsoonal rains by May 26 have resulted in 16 deaths and 138,292 persons from 35,129 families being displaced. The monsoon proper has not even commenced, but the number of deaths and displaced continue to rise
According to the Disaster Management Centre, in May 2016, 301,602 people were affected by the floods and landslides. 104 people died and 99 people went missing.
An estimated 623 houses were destroyed and 4,414 damaged. Due to a landslide in Aranayake, in the Kegalle District which devastated three villages, at least 104 people are known to have died and 99 reported missing.
In the aftermath of the floods in May 2016, media reports quoted Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe and then Finance Minister Ravi Karunaratne, as saying affected persons would be compensated through disaster insurance which the government purchased the previous year.
Unfortunately though government officials visited affected homes and entire villages which were badly damaged, drew up lists of the quantum of damages incurred, most of the the victims of the May 2016 flood still await the promised compensation for the damage they suffered.
A year later, in May 2017, according to statistics provided by the Red Cross and the UN, over half-a-million million people were de-housed after two days of incessant rain, with 46 deaths reported in Ratnapura alone. By 21 June that year, according to UN estimates 415,600 people were affected. A total of 213 deaths were confirmed and 76 people remained missing. Over 3,000 houses were destroyed, 21,000 partially damaged. Over 3,400 people remained temporarily displaced even after the floods subsided.
According to the Disaster Management Centre 213 people died as a result of flooding and landslides caused by heavy rainfall and strong monsoon winds that hit on May 25 and 26, 2017.
The worst damage has been taking place in the hilly areas of the country as a result of landslides.
Landslides are not new to this country. Statistics over the past two years show ever increasing numbers of deaths, damage to house and numbers of people displaced. Yet again on May 20 this year, the National Building Research Organization (NBRO) issued a landslide warning for districts of Kalutara, Kegalle, Nuwara Eliya, Badulla, Kurunegala, and Galle - the hilly regions of the country. Landslides keep occurring with monotonous regularity, year-in-and-year-out .
Much of the hill country was heavily deforested to make way for export crops such as tea and rubber, leaving the near treeless hillsides exposed to possible landslides. The NBRO has pointed out that 4/5th of landslides occur due to continuing human activity.
While villages in hilly areas have been subjected to landslides during the monsoon seasons, city dwellers and those living in sub-urban areas too have on an annual basis been subject to flooding
Back in May 2016, the Acting Director-General of the Irrigation Department pointed out a major contributory factor to floods in the city has been the filling of marshlands for development purposes, shrinking open spaces, illegal constructions, the lack of proper waste disposal and inefficient drainage systems.
A government survey in 2006 shows 54% (647,100 persons) of Colombo city’s population live in slums; in illegal constructions. Most of these shanty dwellings are built up in low-lying areas which get flooded during heavy rains, a result of migration from villages, in search of employment in Colombo. With the low status afforded to agricultural workers and the poor economic returns for their labour, even today, more and more people keep coming to the urban centres to better their economic prospects and social standing.
Many of these unfortunate people end up in the city slums in overcrowded dwellings and some of which are built beside canals, or river banks on state-owned highway/railway reservation lands.
The 2006 survey found that 43,462 families in Colombo do not have access to clean drinking water. The shanties often suffer from inadequate drainage and accumulated garbage. The majority of the residents do not have any form of solid waste collection service.
The solution to the problem of landslides in the hill country districts and flooding in the urban areas, calls for massive tree-planting programmes and planned storied housing in the urban areas. But the government has insufficient funds to implement such programmes. Corruption on a massive scale drains funds which could be used for these purposes into private pockets.
Unless stern action is taken to root out the unbridled corruption taking place in the country, there is little chance that the cause of landslides or flooding could be tackled in the foreseeable future.