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Costly natural calamities and Govt foot dragging

26 May 2016 12:00 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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Many lives were lost, property damaged and tens of  thousands displaced in the recent weather related calamities. What mitigatory plans does the govt. have to handle similar catastrophes in the future?

The floods, landslides and inclement weather that wrought havoc in the country appears to have been an eye opener for policy makers to adopt mitigatory measures to minimise  natural -disaster-related damages in the future. 
After past experience and scientists’ predictions, it has to be accepted now that Sri Lanka too is not immune to natural calamities triggered by global warning.  Unfortunately though, the  lackadaisical approach   by successive governments in developing policies to respond to emergencies with the aid of the latest technology remains in the forefront. 


Heavy rains poured down on the lower and upper catchment areas of the Kelani River which reaches the sea after originating from the Samanala range in the central highlands. The intense rain both upstream and downstream falling simultaneously resulted in a huge volume of water in the Kelani that swelled to overflow its banks inundating areas in close proximity to the river. The flood caused extensive damage to property while displacing tens of thousands of people from their homes. Many lives too were lost in the rushing waters.


It is pertinent to examine now, whether we could have mitigated this damage even in a small way if we  had acted in advance. The Department of Meteorology forecast for May 10 was ‘heavy rainfall’.   On May 15, a collective rainfall of 300 milliliters was reported in both upper and lower catchment areas of the Kelani around the same time. It created an unprecedented volume of water escaping into the sea through the Kelani that was not big enough to handle such a mass of water. If the rain was experienced only in one catchment area of the river, that problem would not have arisen, said experts. 


During this period of extraordinary weather, the National Building Research Organisation (NBRO) warned of landslides and rock falls.  It also transpired that in weather forecasting,     the authorities concerned were ill equipped to arrive at ‘quantitative precipitating estimates or numerical weather predictions’. As such the department could not conduct an analysis of the exact volume of rain, degree of intensity, or reaching estimates of disasters that bore the potential to cause damage to certain areas prone to flooding and landslides.


At a post-disaster press conference last week in the parliamentary complex, Disaster Management Minister Anura Yapa Abeywardane admitted that there were lapses on the part of the Department of Meteorology. Later, Director General of the Department Dr. Lalith Chandrapala   elaborated on the need to have access to the latest technology to enable the institution to make accurate weather forecasts well in time to establish modes of control to mitigate adverse weather related damage. 


This is not the first time focus was placed on the need for a better approach to deal with natural disasters. When such a need arose on an earlier occasion the then subject minister Mahinda Amaraweera mentioned it after 50 fishermen perished in mid sea in adverse weather. But again foot dragging authorities left people in the lurch, a situation that continued right up to the recent calamity that promises to be a more frequent feature in the future. 
Admittedly, many meetings were held to take stock of the post-disaster situation and to work out measures to achieve normalcy. But numerous lacunas in current   laws were identified at these gatherings. Consequently as a follow up to such meetings, the Sri Lanka Land Reclamation and Development Board is to be empowered with more powers to deal with the reclamation of land in vulnerable areas in Colombo and its suburbs.   Likewise, it has been decided to evict families living in shanties   blocking waterways and canals.   However, because a political element is involved in the relocation of such people, it will not be a popular measure.  Consequently, the authorities concerned have to grapple with politicians representing the areas as people earmarked for eviction will look to them to prevent relocation. 
 

President wants more powers for State Ministers  
President Maithripala Sirisena, at the weekly Cabinet meeting held on Tuesday, spoke about a complaint he received to the effect that Cabinet Ministers were not sharing responsibilities with state ministers.  The President is reported to have said that he received a complaint from a state minister who was not quoted by name.  


Afterwards, the President submitted a list to Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and asked him to assign responsibilities to the state Ministers.
Vocational Training and Skills Development Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe remarked that he received flak even when he had shared work with his state minister. 
 

Gayantha perturbed by scurrilous pamphlets 
Media Minister Gayantha Karunatilake was in for a rude shock when he found scurrilous pamphlets against him delivered to his parliamentary colleagues and constituents in the Galle District.  In one such leaflet, it has been mentioned that Karunatilake was reprimanded by President Sirisena over some alleged wrongs.


Having noted such rumours, the President   had contacted Karunatilake and pacified him over the situation. “I never scolded you; but there are reports to that effect,” he had reportedly told Karunatilake.  
 

Joint Opposition to talk to TNA 
After the recent natural disaster, the Joint Opposition met to discuss the way forward. A great deal of attention was paid to what was termed ‘the lack of democratic space for its members’ in Parliament. 
At this gathering, it had been decided to brief the Inter Parliamentary Union (IPU) headquarters in Geneva on this matter. The Joint Opposition also decided to initiate a dialogue with the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) on this same question.


It was also of the view that the social, political and economic environment of the country was not conducive to investments and asked how investors can make decisions after a budget that lacked clarity. 
 

Ava Group inspired by Tamil Cinema?
Ava , a violent gang, known for their violence robberies and even murders has instilled fear among the people of Jafffna. Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP) Leader Douglas Devananda raised this matter in Parliament earlier, and sought an answer to the problem from the government.    In the North, there is a public perception that this violent group of youngsters have been influenced by South Indian Tamil cinema portraying violence as a component of heroism.


Although the police have made arrests, it has become a serious problem compelling political representatives to take it up at every level.  In fact, Rehabilitation, Resettlement and Prisons Reforms Minister D.M. Swaminathan, hailing from Jaffna and nominated to Parliament on the National List, met with Inspector General of Police Pujith Jayasundare on Tuesday and discussed the issue. 


IGP Jayasundare had said that some more arrests have to be made to contain the criminal activities in the Jaffna Peninsula. The gang has been involved in sword attacks and other violent acts during the past few weeks.
 ‘The meeting with the IGP was very successful. Both parties agreed that swift measures have to be taken to curb such criminal activity in Jaffna. I also suggested to the IGP to direct his attention towards the setting up a hotline through which people can report such incidents immediately to the police using the Tamil language, ’  Minister Swaminathan said.

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