n 18 May, the long drought the country had been facing came to an end. The rains came and came, and came in an abundance. In fact 89.9 mm of rain fell in a few hours. Before the rains came, the situation was getting so bad a few religious groups had taken to praying for rain and calling on the Gods to perform miracles.
The government meanwhile, called on the populace to prevent waste of the precious commodity and minimize its use for essentials only. In rural areas ‘peasants’ were asked to take only drinking water from reservoirs. But this rule did not extend to tourist hotels in the same areas.
The authorities at the Meteorological Department were able to forecast the oncoming drought, sadly however when the rains broke and storm conditions overtook the country on May 18, 2017; the department suffered a ‘breakdown’. While the rain was at its fiercest, the Met Department’s digital screen boldly displayed 0 rainfall! Unfortunately, this is the sad state of affairs in this country. In May, 2016 - exactly one year ago, according to the Disaster Management Centre, as many as 223,687 people were forced from their homes; around 230 houses have been completely destroyed and 2,647 abodes were damaged.
The rains that lashed on Thursday (May 18) again this year was the South-West Monsoon. It is not a new phenomenon and is part and parcel of the weather pattern which affects our country from time immemorial. Yet, during the past few decades, the monsoon has brought in its wake floods, landslides, death and destruction. The calamities which follow the monsoons have been worsening annually. Last year saw some of the worst destruction.
Let’s face it, it is not only climate change that causes flooding and allied calamities during the rainy season. It has much to do with the cavalier manner in which our political leaders treat their minions - that is you and me. The newly installed government which came into power in 2015 informed the people via the media, that the Prime Minister had insured the entire country and victims of the disaster would be compensated for the damage they suffered. In fact the Sunday Times broke the story.
Government officials, the Grama Niladharis accompanied by Development Officers made their rounds collecting data of damages and estimated damages. The damages in most instances ran into hundreds of thousands of rupees. The victims were promised compensation within two months. Earlier this month these very officials informed the victims of the May 18, 2016 disaster that in the aftermath of the Meethotamulla disaster, compensation would be further delayed!
Now a year since the last floods, the south-west monsoon is back. But the victims of last year’s disaster are still awaiting compensation. A few persons received a sum of around rupees ten thousand and a majority much less...
The bigger question is what has government being doing through the past year, to ensure that there would be no repetition of the floods and earth slip disaster which overtook the country a year ago. Have the waterways and drainage channels been cleared? or their capacity to carry the rain water away been enhanced? Has the filling of lands which helped drain rain water stopped? Has large-scale replanting of trees on hillsides to prevent landslides been undertaken?
In fact last week, the Sunday Times presented a batch of photos of blocked drains, waterways and huge collections of garbage not collected by the city authorities. Yet these are basic activities needed to prevent a recurrence of the flood situation which occurred in May last year.
Like the compensation which never came, promises to tackle the source of the problem which led to the disasters, have been limited to word. Everyone in Sri Lanka knows politicians make promises simply to get over a particular issue. Does anyone really care for the country? Whichever party that had ruled the country, we have been left with only a litany of broken promises. This has been part and parcel of the system. The use of words, words to overcome particular problems and broken promises.
Is it possible the present regime, which has in fact, kept a number of promises it made prior to its gaining electoral power; provide a long-term solution to the perennial problem of flooding and displacement?
The next few months will tell.