The country is experiencing natural disasters nearly every year where we witnessed floods and landslides claiming many innocent lives in Koslanda three years ago and in Mawanella last year followed by several areas in Sabaragamuwa, Central and Southern Provinces this year.
After a lapse of a few years, floods too showed their fury for two consecutive years, due to the overflowing of the Kelani Ganga last year and Kalu Ganga, Nilwala Ganga and Gin Ganga this year. Every time the authorities warn the possible victims before the disaster and totally forget them thereafter or soon after the disaster recedes from memory.
For instance, immediately before the floods hit the lower Kelani Valley areas last year the authorities warned the people living on either side of the down-stream to leave their homes and move to safer areas. Very few people obliged before the flood waters touched their doorsteps and many others had to be evacuated by boats by the volunteers and the navy later. Still thousands of people remained marooned in their homes. They were fed by the navy with the food supplied by voluntary organizations and the ordinary people.
Flood warnings were issued this year as well for the same people who took the matter seriously this time and more people removed their belongings to safer places. However, people did not evacuate their homes as they did not wish their homes to be burgled. Fortunately for them the Kelani River overflowed only to inundate many roads in majority of the areas where there were catastrophic effects last year, saving the houses, despite houses in areas such as Kaduwela and Hanwella being marooned.
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? 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 gets 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 to the problem of landslides is at least thought of. Ministers warn the people to introduce laws for the forcible evacuation of those in the flood and landslide prone areas. But it would be a tricky issue as every warning does not transform into real time disasters, as happened in the Kelani Valley this year. Had a forcible evacuation scheme been implemented there this time, authorities would have been accused of issuing false alarms so as to endanger their properties.
Authorities blame only the unauthorized constructions for the floods without considering the huge flow of water after the heavy monsoonal downpour that occurs in the central hills. Even in respect of unauthorized constructions they did nothing after the last year’s catastrophe. Did they take follow up action on President Maithripala Sirisena’s instructions following last year’s floods to stop filling marshlands?
The Meteorological Department’s predictions normally do not help people to know whether they are in danger as the rainfall prediction is not specifically localized. They just repeat it like a mantra that rain or thundershowers may occur in Western, Sabaragamuwa and Southern Provinces or South Western slopes of the island which is also repeated hundreds of times a year and does not make any sense to the ordinary people. Also rainfall in millimetres or water levels of rivers in feet do not make sense to the people unless they are translated into specifically localized warnings.
It is important for the people as well as the authorities not to forget the lessons learnt during the past and present disasters so as to mitigate the effects of future disasters.