ri Lanka’s vulnerability to succumb to natural disasters was probably the pick among the topics spoken on Boxing Day (December 26) as the island commemorated the horrifying tsunami experience we had 14 years ago.
The main commemoration programme this year was held at the Peraliya Tsunami Memorial in Thalwatte, Galle. As those affected by this tragedy, which happened in 2004, wiped away tears and remembered the dead on Wednesday, the people in the north are reported to be negotiating a flood situation which has caused havoc in several areas.
All these issues point out that Sri Lanka as a whole is not prepared fully to face a natural catastrophe; especially when water is the mode of disaster.
Sri Lanka’s Disaster Management Centre is vocal when there is a threat of a catastrophe; via floods or landslides. But the disparity that exists regarding what can be done and what is done eventually by the authorities puts us to shame.
Sri Lanka’s tsunami story is riddled with guilt and shame. The islanders received ship loads of aid from donors in attempts made by the outside world to heal wounds, both physical and mental. But much of it went into the wrong hands as the island paid its price for not having an honest and efficient distributing system.
Critics point out that if that aid was used properly Sri Lanka could have recovered fully from the damage caused and also saved some of it for future economic development. The questionable activities which took place at the Tsunami Aid Centres and the Help in Hambantota Project underscore the fact that we did have authorities who had hearts of stone.
It didn’t come as a surprise when some organisations, knowing the set-up here, decided instead to take the tsunami aid to other nations affected by the tidal disaster.
Back then the brunt of the damage caused by the tsunami was experienced by the people living in the north and the east. That was a time when the island’s northern and eastern parts were affected by the war against terrorism. The biography penned on the late Thamilini Jeyakumaran (An ex-tiger rebel) and titled ‘Thiyunu Asipathaka Sevana Yata’ gives an account of how the Sri Lanka Army and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam were engaged in aiding those affected by the tsunami. According to the book there had been heated arguments between the two parties to the conflict when carrying out efforts to distribute aid items to those affected by the catastrophe.
Even in the year that we Sri Lankans first came to learn about the tsunami, we showed that we were not prepared to work in unity.
Now the call comes again from these same war-torn northern areas of the country which are submerged due to floods. The rains are reported to be less, but the people in areas like Kilinochchi, Jaffna, Mullaitivu, Mannar and Vavuniya district can’t still return to their homes.
We have come to know that the Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is preparing to visit these areas. As much as Rs 50 million has been set aside to offer aid to those people affected by the catastrophe; where the number given is in the range of 96,000.
We are helpless when the impending disaster is greater than the technology we possess and our resolve to face it. Given the geographical placement of some areas of this island, their people are vulnerable to be effected by floods. This is a time when the initiative of the authorities must be carried out in full force. This is a time when the authorities must forget the past conflict and give with both hands the donations that have come from Government and Private collectives.
It is heartening to hear that the Northern Province authorities have already taken the initiative to clean up drinking water resources in flood affected areas. This is vital to stop the spreading of waterborne diseases.
The tsunami taught us that a catastrophe doesn’t distinguish between whether one belong to the majority or minority. When disaster strikes the pain is the same, regardless of who you are.
Let the feeling of brotherhood spread as the flood waters recede.