As the floodwaters start receding, the authorities concerned are now taking stock of the damage. Against this backdrop, the Meteorology Department, as in previous disaster situations, drew flak at Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting over its incapability to predict the amount of rainfall to be experienced. In fact, it can forecast accurately but not by volume.
Sri Lanka, once again, experienced high-intensity rain in a matter of three days. The unexpectedly high volume of rainwater swelled rivers such as the Kalu, Gin and Nilwala, overflowing their banks and inundating both inhabited and non-inhabited lands in the districts of Kalutara, Ratnapura, Galle and Matara in main.
According to eyewitness accounts, the surging waters even submerged rubber trees 40 feet in height, in areas like Ayagama in the Kalawana Division of the Ratnapura district. The floodwaters rose even higher than the high tension power lines in most affected areas. It led to a state of bewilderment in area residents who were helpless.
Much havoc was wreaked by this large volume of rainwater. After the disaster, people thinking back said they had never witnessed a flood of this nature in their lifetimes. According to them, they had experienced floods four or five feet high but not more than that. This time it was as high as 40-50 feet. To them, it is incredible.
Sri Lanka’s preparedness for disasters of this nature is once again disputed. At Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting, the first after the disaster, Megapolis and Western Development Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka was critical of the Meteorology Department for what he called ‘its failure to give localized forecast’ with details on the amount of rainfall and the dangers entailed.
“There are general forecasts that there will be heavy showers in such and such areas. Then, people do not take it seriously. Forecasts have to be localized so that people will get an idea about the amount of rainfall expected in the areas concerned and the dangers associated with it. Then, disaster mitigation is easy,” he said.
He said Bangladesh was ahead of Sri Lanka in preparedness. Bangladesh had taken precautionary measures when the cyclone Mora moved away from Sri Lanka and had its landfall on the coast of that country.
In countries with advanced technology, numerical models have been developed for the Quantitative Precipitation Estimation. The Department says data analysis through such models always produces inaccurate pictures in the local context and therefore Sri Lanka’s model has to be developed
Floods, attributed as phenomenona of global warming, have now become a frequent occurrence in Sri Lanka. They warrant the government and other respective authorities to work out advanced measures for disaster response and mitigation.
Director General of the Meteorology Department, S.R. Jayasekara said though his office could forecast it accurately, it was impossible to assess the amount of rainfall with available resources. As a result, he said the upgrading of the Department and the capacity building of local scientists were needed to some extent for the analysis of data related to tropical weather patterns.
The World Bank has already approved a project to develop a numerical model for Sri Lanka, for what is technically called ‘Quantitative Precipitation Estimate’. Once the model is developed through such a project which will take more than three years, it will allow the meteorological authorities to specify the amount of rainfall and localize it to a certain extent. Once that is done, people will be able to recognise the nature of disasters associated with the volume of rainfall expected in a given area.
Alongside this, the Department believes that community awareness is also needed for the successful mitigation of damage. This means the general public should have the basic sense to understand the gravity of a situation to be triggered by rainfall during a particular time duration in their localities.
In countries with advanced technology, numerical models have been developed for the Quantitative Precipitation Estimation. The Department says data analysis through such models always produces inaccurate pictures in the local context and therefore Sri Lanka’s model has to be developed.
Sri Lanka has long felt the need for it. In fact, it came up for discussion even in the aftermath of the floods that ravaged Colombo last year. Before that, attention was drawn to the technological upgradation of the meteorological authorities after some fishermen perished in rough seas triggered by cyclonic winds. Fishermen, unaware of the change in weather, drowned when their boats capsized.
However, little progress has been made in the development of much needed technology since then.
Mangala praises military for rescue efforts
The government apparatus could not even stand up to the challenge of rescuing people marooned by the floods, and things would have taken a turn for the worse if not for the deployment of security forces to handle the task.
In fact, Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera was full of praise for the service rendered by the security forces in the task.
At the Cabinet meeting, the government decided to evacuate people living on reservation lands and in areas vulnerable to floods. For that purpose, the government will opt to grant loans worth Rs.2.5 million to facilitate the voluntary evacuation. Many hill country lands, denuded for plantation activities, had been washed away by the rising floodwaters.
Director General of the Meteorology Department, S.R. Jayasekara said though his office could forecast it accurately, it was impossible to assess the amount of rainfall with available resources. As a result, he said the upgrading of the Department and the capacity building of local scientists were needed to some extent for the analysis of data related to tropical weather patterns
President handicapped by 19 A in appointing Harsha as a State Minister
A week after the reshuffle of the Cabinet, President Maithripala Sirisena brought about changes in four state ministerial and three deputy ministerial posts yesterday. He swore in Lakshman Yapa Abeywardane as the State Minister of State Enterprise Development, Palitha Range Bandara as the State Minister of Irrigation, Wasantha Senanayake as the State Minister of Foreign Affairs and Eran Wickramaratne as the State Minister of Finance. Alongside them, he swore in Harsha de Silva as the Deputy Minister of National Policy and Economic Affairs, Ranjan Ramanayake as the Deputy Minister of Social Empowerment, Welfare and Kandyan Heritage and Karunaratne Paranavitana as the Deputy Minister of Vocational Training and Skills Development.
President wants Harsha to oversee Colombo Port City Development
At the event, the President remarked that he, in fact wanted to appoint Dr. Harsha de Silva as a State Minister but was handicapped in doing so due to restrictions outlined in the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. The President had apparently consulted the Attorney General in this regard.
However, the President assigned Dr. de Silva to oversee the development of the Colombo Financial city, the mega China-funded project previously called ‘Colombo Port City’. After being sworn in as a deputy minister, Dr. de Silva said he was deeply touched by the President’s remarks. Previously, State Minister Palitha Range Bandara was always on a collision course with his Cabinet Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe. Now, he has a new post. A State Minister is someone above a Deputy Minister. Various institutions, as per the wish of the President, can be placed under the purview of a State Minister. Thus, a State Minister’s capability to deliver depends upon the number and nature of institutions to be assigned to him. Earlier, State Minister Sujeewa Senasighe decried that he had not been assigned with the proper kind of responsibilities to deliver to people. However, he did not receive any additional responsibility yesterday.
MR off to Japan for functions in Temples
Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa was to leave for Japan for ten days yesterday. That is to participate in some functions at several Buddhist temples in that country.