Waxing eloquent will not help disaster victims

25 May 2018 02:23 am - 1     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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Do we have a long-term plan to face the situation with lasting solutions? At least do we have proper short-term disaster preparedness?

On Tuesday, around noon, on the bank of the Kelani River at Kohilawatte, about a hundred people had thronged to see the rising river.  


The river had swollen up to the level of the Colombo Ambatale Road. A thin layer of water was slowly overflowing under their feet towards their houses, on which side the overflowed water had made a small stream.  
Having experienced a huge flood two years ago, which had devastated their lives and from which some of them had not recovered yet, fear, frustration and disappointment had drawn on their faces.  
Will it be a perilous flood as the one that had inundated the entire lower Kelani valley area in May 2016, leaving tens of thousands of people in the area between Avissawella and Thotalanga destitute for months?  
While uncertainty was killing, people were translating their hopes and prayers into positive predictions. 
There was no reason or knowledge on meteorology and irrigation involved in their predictions, but only their fervent hope and prayer was the only rationale behind their words. They were innocently attempting to deceive each other saying “It won’t be a flood of the magnitude of the last one.”  
With one group replacing another, the men, women and children belonging to various communities including Abaya clad Muslim women were visiting the river on foot, cars, bicycles and motorcycles.  

 

"No solution for the problem of landslides and floods is at least thought of, except for the authorities waxing eloquent"

 

With the river swelling further, the crowds too swelled by the evening. Now, pessimism slowly creeping into their predictions replacing their fragile optimism, while some were still firm that it would not be a major flood.  
Among the pessimists were the sadists and supporters of the Opposition political parties, who were ludicrously seen praying for the river water to gush through their own houses, so that they can humiliate their neighbours who are still supporting the ruling parties.  
Inside the villages of Kohilawatte, Brandiyawatte, Wennawatte and Sedawatte, people in single-storey houses were carrying their valuables to the two storeyed and three storeyed houses belonging to their relatives and friends.  
Those who had no such relatives sat devastated in their houses. By the experience, they had two years ago they knew that everything that can be termed as their wealth would be gone in case of a major flood.  
Those living in storeyed houses have started to empty the ground floor while travelling to the river bank now and then to gauge as to how much their preparedness corresponded with the water level in the river. 

 

  • Will it be a perilous flood as the one that had inundated the entire lower Kelani valley area in 2016

  • Through experience, they knew that everything that can be termed as their wealth would be gone   

  • No solution for the problem of landslides and floods is at least thought of, except for the authorities waxing eloquent


Some residents started to leave the area to safer areas, leaving their abode and the valuables to the mercy of those deities they believed in.  
This was the modal of the agony people were undergoing with the announcement by the Meteorological Department on a possible flood. 
One has to imagine the real situation in areas on the banks of the Kelani Ganga, Kalu Ganga, Nilwala Ganga and other rivers that had already been marooned in flood waters.   
The anguish in landslide-prone areas is worse, as nature would not provide such a grace period for them to move away from the danger. They would have to pay the price for their indifference, delay or helplessness with their lives.  
This has been the norm of the people living in river valleys and steep slopes. Pathetically and ridiculously only thing the Sri Lankan Governments do and apparently know in such situations is to tell the people to evacuate the hazardous areas and toss off a small number of relief items to the victims after the disaster struck them. 
In the meantime, the Opposition parties would look for holes in those relief activities, not out of the love for the people but to take political mileage out of the real and perceived indifference, shortcomings, blunders and lethargy in the government machinery in rescue and relief measures.  
This time also the Joint Opposition demanded a Parliamentary debate on floods, interestingly while the water level was still rising in several rivers. 
Going by the previous experience, people know that the Government would let them down in case of disasters. 

 

"Sadists and supporters of the Opposition political parties, who were ludicrously seen praying for the river water to gush through their own houses, so that they could humiliate their neighbours who were still supporting the ruling parties "

 

 

During the major flood in 2016 in the Kelani Valley ordinary people, as well as religious and voluntary organisations, were far ahead of the Government in rescuing and providing relief to the victims.  
Fishermen from faraway places such as Beruwala and Wattala had sent in their boats to rescue the marooned people in Kotikawatte, Kohilawatte and Sedawatte and to provide food for the marooned people before the government authorities did so. And the navy continued the effort thereafter for about a week.  
The disaster warnings by the authorities in most of the times did not make sense for the victims or the would-be-victims. Rainfall in millimetres or the water level in rivers in feet does not inform a particular family whether it is really in danger. 
There must be a specifically localized warning mechanism.
In last two years, while showing on TV the shiploads and planeloads of relief items being unloaded the authorities provided only a pack of essential food items worth Rs. 1,500 (valued by them) for each affected family for the whole first two months after the tragedy, while getting the victims to fill so many forms with promises to pay compensation for their losses and damages.  
It was after two months and after a poster campaign by the JVP demanding the payment that had been promised to cover their immediate needs a sum of Rs. 10,000 was provided to each family.  
After distributing several forms over a period of 18 months, on the eve of the last year’s Local Government Elections Government authorities paid compensation to the victims ranging from Rs. 25,000 to Rs.200,000, on a criterion well-known to them.

 

"On the eve of the last year’s Local Government, Elections Government authorities paid compensation to the victims ranging from Rs. 25,000 to Rs.200,000, on a criterion well-known o them"

 

High-level meetings were held during the 2016 disasters where politicians and officials waxed eloquent on short-term and long-term plans for the prevention of floods, especially in the Colombo District and mitigating landslide damages.  
They talked about removing unauthorized structures that hampered the waterways and their maintenance, clearing of all canals in the downstream of Kelani Ganga, stopping forthwith the unauthorized filling of wetlands in Colombo and the suburbs.  
Interestingly, they exposed their credence this time by again calling for the removal of unauthorized structures in the same areas.  
The Daily Mirror had editorially discussed this issue last year and following is a very pertinent paragraph of it.  
“Are the same people in the Kelani Valley to carry their belongings to safer places with the onset of next year’s South Western Monsoon as well? This applies to the people living on the banks of other rivers flowing through the wet zone, as well. Are people in many landslide prone hills to run away with their children and feeble old parents to a school or temple building every time authorities alert them of landslides? 
“With environmentalists and the scientists predicting that the severity of precipitation and the drought would mount with the climate change affecting every country in the world, (They say “dry get drier, wet gets wetter” (DGDWGW) ”) we would also have to expect more and more floods, landslides and droughts in Sri Lanka as well.” 
Do we have a long-term plan to face the situation with lasting solutions? At least do we have proper short-term disaster preparedness? 
No solution for the problem of landslides and floods is at least thought of, except for the authorities waxing eloquent. 

  Comments - 1

  • Thiagarajan TVS Friday, 25 May 2018 05:35 PM

    Climate change is a design by God to change the world from the ground up - from materialism to spiritualism of meditation., No one can survive without meditation as God is in charge of our body. Every country is being devastated by climate change,and USA is the hardest hit in the world. You need to peruse through my daily write up to know more. God spelled out his agenda more than 15 years ago. I am from Bengaluru, India.Thiagarajan TVS, Meditation Guide, Writer, Speaker on Body,Mind and Soul, Researcher on God, Man and Woman.


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