The inclement weather prevailing in the country over the last two weeks has claimed more than fifty lives and has caused a lot of damage to property. Nearly all who died were fishermen, and their small boats were destroyed in the rough seas within a kilo metre’s radius from the land.
As this tragedy struck, the Meteorology Department which had anyway earned little confidence of the people, has come under flack again. People are calling for the resignation of the key officials of the Met Department. Meanwhile, the Fisheries Minister was also seen placing the responsibility of the deaths on the Met Department and the Disaster Management Ministry.
The Met Department said in a recent media conference that they had issued a forecast about the adverse weather conditions but the officials of the Disaster Management Centre (DMC) had apparently ignored the forecast.
The DMC in return said though they received a forecast, since it was not a warning they did not follow up on it.
It is clear the blame game will go on until people forget about the deaths and will again come to the fore when another disaster strikes. Though President Mahinda Rajapaksa has asked for a special report on the matter, it is unlikely that it will prescribe ways to avoid similar disasters in the future, considering the number of special reports called for and the results produced by them on many other matters.
To find out the problems with the Met Department and the DMC one doesn’t necessarily need ‘special reports’. If you follow media reports you will find there are three key issues that hinder the smooth functioning of the Met Department.
The first one is the absence of a proper communication system among the Met Department, DMC, other relevant authorities and the media. The most important feature would be to create an effective level of communication based on the seriousness of reports and warnings issued on possible natural disasters.
Secondly, the Met Department needs to be equipped with state-of-the-art technology used in global weather forecasts. As Sri Lanka is an island and located on the equatorial belt, it is difficult to make precise predictions on the changes in the atmosphere without using ultra-modern equipment.
The government would do well to use the colossal amounts of money pumped into exhibitions like ‘Deyata Kirula’ to buy essential equipment and help avoid possible loss of innocent people's lives and their property again.
The third point is to man the Met Department with qualified personnel to ensure that they make quite accurate weather forecasts quite often. We believe it is time for the authorities to stop the blame game and adopt a genuine, practical approach to address these issues if they really care about innocent people’s lives.