23 October, 2017

Indifference + Negligence – Political Will = Koslanda

By Tisaranee Gunasekara

“Throughout recorded history, actions or inactions by self-absorbed kings, chiefs and politicians have been a regular source of societal collapses…” – Jared Diamond (Collapse: How societies choose to fail or survive)  

The tsunami came sans warning. The very word was alien to most of us. Towering tidal waves were things which happened to other, less fortunate, countries – or so we thought, until that Boxing Day almost a decade ago.

This week’s landslides are another story. The first warnings about the precarious conditions in the Meeriyabedda division of the Koslanda Estate appeared in May 2005; the National Building Research Organisation (NBRO) issued a second warning in November 2011.

Unlike the tsunami, Koslanda was a preventable tragedy.

Mahinda at Koslanda

The President, in Koslanda, speaks with people displaced by the landslide and relief workers.

Some residents were provided with alternate houses; most were not. Authorities say that the victims were told to move to safer areas. But evidence indicates that proper warnings were not issued, either by the government or by the plantation company, Maskeliya Plantations. Nor were the endangered families provided with alternate accommodation. People cannot leave the only shelter they have, in pelting rain, unless they have a place to go to. This is plantation sector, which has an abnormally high concentration of the poorest of the poor. These are people who have very little control over their lives. Where can they find alternate accommodation, at short notice, if the government and the plantation owners fail to help?

Omens of the coming disaster (the second worst in recorded history, after the 2004 tsunami) appeared just five months ago. Landslide warnings were issued in several areas in Badulla; traffic was halted on the Ella-Wellawaya road. Almost everything the authorities needed to know to prevent the Koslanda tragedy was contained in an article titled, ‘Officials Helpless and Landslide Danger Grow’ by Nadia Fazlulhaq in the Sunday Times of May 11th. RMS Bandara, the head of the NBRO’s Landslide Division argued that “….Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority should look into tourist hotels or inns built on landslide-prone areas. Mr. Bandara said the recent earth-slip at Ella was a result of lack of retaining structure in nearby tourist hotels and weaknesses in road construction.[i] Professor of Geology of the Peradeniya University, Kapila Dissanayake warned, “There has been a wave of road construction without giving due concern to landslides. Such road constructions trigger the landslide process.[ii] Professor of Geography of the University of Colombo, SA Norbert cautioned about the effect of heavy rains after a long period of dry weather: “As there was a prolonged dry period and sudden heavy showers from the onset of the south-west monsoon, landslides may occur in the Central Hills. During the warm weather period the up-country experienced a number of forest fires that caused the land to be directly exposed to falling rain.”

Badulla District was particularly affected by the recent drought; then the rain came.

If some astrologer sounded these warnings, politicians may have heeded them. But the warnings came from professional scientists, so they were ignored.

Currently politicians, administrators and Maskeliya Plantations are busy passing the blame. But the main task, apart from caring for the affected (especially the 75 orphaned children), is to make sure that there are no more Koslandas.

And the first step is for authorities to take expert warnings seriously, at least as seriously as they take astrological predictions.

Combating the Bystander Mentality

One fifth of Sri Lanka’s land mass, housing one third of the country’s population, is landslide-prone: “Twenty per cent of the country’s land area has been identified as prone to landslides – this includes territory in the districts of Badulla, Galle, Hambantota, Kalutara, Kandy, Kegalle, Matale, Matara, Nuwara Eliya and Ratnapura[iii].

When 5,066 square miles in a country of just 25,332 square miles become landslide-prone, none of us can afford to remain bystanders.

Any construction in the ten vulnerable districts, especially mega infrastructure projects, must be subjected to stringent environmental impact assessments by independent experts. (The way in which environmental effects of Mattala were studied provides an excellent example of how environmental assessments must not be done.) And it does not take expert knowledge to surmise that the latest Rajapaksa pet project of building airports in Kandy and Nuwara Eliya must be abandoned.

‘Drill baby drill’ was a favourite Sarah Palin slogan; the Chinese follow a ‘growth at any cost’ economic model. The Rajapaksa approach is an amalgam: ‘Build baby build, at any cost’.

The ongoing construction of two artificial islands off Colombo and Hambantota indicate that the Lankan rulers have become coverts to the insane Chinese model of ‘land creation’. The Chinese are carrying out massive topographical transformation projects in order to facilitate their own construction mania. “In Hechi, southwest China, an airport has just been built by blowing the tops off 65 mountains[iv] and filling in the valleys in-between. The runway is a mere 1.3 miles long, and is followed by a sheer drop of a thousand feet on the other side.”[v] In Lanzhou, 700 mountain tops are being bulldozed to construct a mega-city. Chinese environmentalists call these projects ‘performing major surgery on Earth’s crust’ and warn that “these experiments could affect soil stability and river flow-paths, leading to an increase in landslides and flooding that have already laid waste to other parts of the country.”[vi] It is to be hoped that the Rajapaksas will not try to emulate their Chinese patrons and undertake ‘land creation projects’ in the hill-country to save their dream of building two more (unnecessary and unproductive) airports.

A Bill giving the NBRO the necessary powers to prosecute those who engage in illegal constructions has been with the Legal Draughtsman for 2 years. That Bill must be expedited, so that the NBRO ceases being a toothless organisation. And when legal action is taken against illegal construction, the rich and the powerful must not be spared. It is not the ignorance of the have-nots but the avarice of the haves which seems to be doing the greatest damage to the already vulnerable environment in the up-country. The poor often pay with their lives for their errors, as they build to live. The rich build for profit and pleasure and can afford to depart whenever conditions become uncertain. The law, in implementation, must be not become punitive towards the poor and permissive towards the rich.

Making the residents aware about proper land and water management and ensuring that plantation owners follow these practices must become matters of priority. Where necessary, families must be evicted, after providing them with liveable alternate accommodations. The most vulnerable areas must be allowed to heal, by freeing them of human activity.

We have a central government, provincial councils and local councils – enough politicians of every hue to resolve the issue. What is critically absent is neither money nor manpower but political will.

Until 2002, landslides were mostly minor and uncommon. In 2003, the number of landslides almost doubled[vii]. In the next eleven years, landslides grew from occasional mishaps into an existential danger. According to today’s Divaina, certain areas in Colombo and Gampaha too are vulnerable to earth-slips. Another decade of indifference, negligence and heedless construction, and the effect on all of us would be nothing less than catastrophic.

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Latest comments

  • 3
    23

    Moo Cow moo .

    according to this [Edited out] . it is the fault of the regime .

    Cheers

    Abhaya

    • 28
      3

      This stud bull believes that it is the fault of others and not those who govern, to avert this type of tragedy, just like they blame the passenger for the bad driving and not the driver for bad governance. These cranks will never see reason.

      • 3
        12

        According to Gamani his farts are the fault of the Government .

        Cheers

        Abhaya

        • 6
          0

          Your alma mater will regret to have allowed you to study there.

        • 2
          0

          Abhaya learnt call a spade a spade. Even hallozinated villagers do so today being unable to bear the abuse being practised by Mahhinda Polburuwa Rajapakshe.

          • 0
            0

            When Abhaya to learn to think properly can take many more decades.

            It is like Pigs might fly.

            This kind of meeharakas would never learn it.. That s why majority folks have to face the brutalities of Rajapakshes today.

    • 15
      1

      Abhaya,

      Come on, Moo Abhaya moo! Come on, you can bark as well as squeal, onik onik…. onik onik! [Edited out]

      • 9
        1

        Just leave Abhaya he should be one another hidden relative of Rajapakshe who is said to be a director of a company in REMOTE american village. This man would never see it correct.

        • 0
          9

          Detroit is a remote American village as much as you have a brain .
          Grow a brain while you can .

          cheers

          Abhaya

          • 3
            0

            you prove always that yours is not even comparable to the size of homo erectus. Nianderthals like you can only let the situation worst. WHatever you do being ni Detroit – not worth to see your conscience – which is not even far from average rural folks of the island.

    • 10
      1

      Dimwits of your kind would see it always in favour of over corrupted MR admniistration. You the bitches sons are the curse of this nation.

      • 8
        1

        All the discussions made on the Budget produced by Meeharaka Rajapakshe prove it further that is just an another TOFFEE to cheat the vulnerable masses.

    • 6
      11

      The trash who writes this column says “Koslanda was a preventable tragedy”.

      So why didn’t you go and do something? How stupid are you to balme the government for a landslide? Or are you a just morally bankrupt hymie crap?

      [Edited out]

  • 10
    0

    Most of the politicians as well as their henchmen who would be interested only in making money by wanton destruction of land and agriculture would not understand and would not be interested all all on the impact of mismanagement of land, agriculture, clearing of forest mining and human interventions leading to disasters which may appear natural to many but the root cause is humans. These can only be controlled by proper management measures. Shortsighted politicians of this country would never open their eyes to this grave problem. Unfortunately this time it has affected poorest of the poor. Yet their leaders believed that they were king makers but not taken far sighted polices in management of environment. Horoscope reading and total confidence on stars for political decisions of the island is not going to take this Paradise far.

  • 8
    3

    The number of land slides seems to have grown with increasing rain fall.

    The polar ice caps are melting in the north. The rainfall in tropical regions is also increasing fast.

    The melted ice caps must pour down on earth somewhere. It must be falling near the equator.

    The mountains will eventually adjust to the new climate. The island may expand but have less elevation as mountains are washed towards the shores.

  • 8
    1

    One question. Why didn’t the Leader of the Opposition visit the affected people?

  • 1
    11

    When does this [Edited out] hopes to stop being a critic?
    She has not had enough of it?

    [Edited out]

  • 9
    0

    Our thoughts should be with the suffering victims. Poor helpless people, creatures of circumstances.

    This is NOT the first earth-slip that has claimed lives. This may not be the last.

    This IS something preventable by GOOD governance.

    We have learnt nothing from the many previous. Our politicians over the years have crossed their fingers and ‘hoped for the best’ after all, with luck, only a few poor people will suffer. If something does happen, there is always the opportunity for a visit and a photo-call, surrounded by fawning sycophants.

    When will we ever learn?

  • 3
    1

    Yes, it may not be a good-idea to put the blame here and there aftermath of a tragedy like this. But when it comes to governing a country there are two things congruous that no other can put their shoulders on to than the government: Responsibility and Accountability!

    Under this stupidest ruler, MR, he does not want to undertake that vital part as the ‘Almighty President’. He only wants credits, good name, and better marks…and things like that. For instance, if there is a cricket match win then its good for him to summon the entire national team before his knees and irrationally show that the win was made possible because of him etc… and so many examples like these throughout his (stupid) presidency)

    Now, in this tragedy, as that is a disaster, he doesn’t want to be on the responsible side. Immediately what was done by him, before doing anything else, to put the blame on the Company (MPL Plc). By yesterday, MPL made an official announcement vehemently refusing the fact that there was a warning prediction notice being issued to them as claimed by the gov. (Maybe he has something against Richard Peiris & Co.?)

    Assuming that the warning was given in advance, then it would not be the company that had to provide safe shelter to the poor residents but by the government. The company, MPL, is not 5% responsible inasmuch as the government and its negligence. That is why that this stupid idiot must be held responsible and be sent in to prison for this tragedy, no one else, after the new constitution is enacted under its new law repealing former president’s are having prosecution immunity.

    Can you not see the type of presidency we have in this country today?

    Thank you
    @SenakaDeZS

  • 12
    1

    Maskeliya Plantaions PLC is a company owned by Richard Peiris PLC. Therefore all the directors should be charged for manslaughter. They must face jail for other private sector captains of industry to learn not to take workers lives for granted.

  • 4
    1

    If this is another Tsunami, we do not have another Sarath Silva to tell us of the monies that were pocketed.BENSEN

  • 5
    5

    The poor estate workers are not Buddhists. So why should this government care

    • 0
      2

      Rodrigo:

      If those people were not Buddhists, as they were tamils, most probably they were Catholics or Christians.

      Then be happy. That was ALmighty’s wish. Most probably they went to to the creator.

  • 5
    2

    It is the responsibility of the government to take care of ALL people, not only the majority. These poor victims who worked to help our tea industry should have been warned and moved out of any dangerous areas. If there were signs they were in a questionable area, something should have been done. But then, when it comes to the rajapaksa’s, if they or their favorite supporters do not personally benefit from any action, why should they do anything? The rajapaksa’s have failed these poor people, like so many others in the nation.
    Now they expect every one’s vote.

  • 2
    1

    This is just a election time propaganda to get votes for UNP. Thondaman was given a helicopter and ordered to stay in full swing to take the fullest advantage of this to the coming election. UNPers are not just that inferior. They are swinging as hard as possible. They are tracing the evidence for this tragedy exactly back as 2005. The day the LTTE appointed the King to the post of EP against the will of the Sinhala Intellectuals.

    Let say it was nature’s tragedy the Tamils youth’s education was destroyed. That was not preventable. So, as per some US universities estimate, a more 325,000 Tamils has to be killed to remove 5,000 fighters, the number government calculate. Those died in the nature’s unpreventable tragedy, not created by the Sinhala Intellectuals’ electioneering tactics of dive and rule. (They just don’t divide on the racial, religious lines, they even divide Tamils within Tamils if anyone one of them tries to talk for their rights, in categories as Indian Tamils, diaspora Tamils. LTTE rumps… . Forget about they dive their community as Sinhala Buddhist, Sinhala Intellectuals) But the preventable tragedy of not taking care of Sinhalese youths caused another 120,000 in the south too.

    The Chinese destroyed the entire Lanka, to roll it and take it to Pacific Ocean as their soft pillow to preserve their sleep not to be destroyed by the backyard activities of America and India. I did not hear any help from them so far. (So far, with Chinese, not even a drama acted, like the one in Rizana Nafeek’s murder, that Athaulla handed over a fake check with Saudi Prince to the Mother and she rejected it and yet, excused Saudis). America and India offered help. So many blocks have been placed. The reason is Just for the death of some Indian Coolies Lankave’s sovereignty cannot be compromised! Period! Diaspora offered helps. Tigers cannot be allowed to return to this land again. Period! CV offered help to take care of these 75s rather than them going as free home servants to Sinhala Intellectuals homes. Why that is not taken up? NO way! The reason is, it has to be democratic solution according to the majorities’ will. But the truth is this has to be the opportunity not be missed to have given a birth to another CJ Silva. This is the best chance to crown the next King of the Lanka, whether it is UNP or SLFP.

    This is nature’s tragedy, whether predictable or not. Never ever somebody did any kind of damage to the Tamils like DS did. He made those people as can be done anything to them, but they have to stay silently and take it, not to wiggle when the whip swing. They are not the third grade citizen on this country; they are not citizen of this country even if they vote.

    Will some of these political leaders come and write, Mano Ganesan like honest southern politician take charge of these 75s and take the help of CV and provide them a future instead of falsely tracing some fake evidences to make LTTE involved in this and manipulate this tragedy for their political advantage? That is a Tamils’ solution for the Tamils with the help of international community.

    Give break man from this electioneering writing at least on this tragedy!

    • 3
      7

      Another Tamil Braniac . lmao . you superior dimwit . The Sinhalese really did not pray for rain . and the Indian gods did not deliver it in bucketfuls . Moron ! . Land slides happen . your hero parba deiio died a coward . just like you and your kind are . living in another country paying for cannon fodder to die for a fake eelam .

      Cheers

      Abhaya

      • 0
        1

        “Another Tamil Braniac”? . “lmao “? . you “superior dimwit” . What is all these Man? Don’t read any more superman like comic books pal. They create dangerous effects in in the brains of Sinhala Buddhist, like in Ramith Laksen Rambukwella, Vijitha Muni, Sepala Ekanayake, Sir Chrris Norris (who cat-talked with a woman in a party, still his fellow attendee did not beat him up for that obscene behavior; there are 28 witnesses)……

        Anyway, thanks for not reading my comments. It is not meant to Sinhala Buddhist like you. It was meant only to Sinhala Intellectual. Thanks the gos, even if you had read it, there would not any sin committed from your part as you would not have got it.

        Next time, sheepishly, Don’t write like “cannon fodder to die”. King and Brother prince will be damn mad at you. UN made a direct request that the heavy artillery should not be used as using them may be counted as war crime. The King made a promise to not do that and Brother prince kept to that promise and made zero casualty.

      • 1
        0

        Abhaya

        Only maniacs like you laugh all the time.

        Cheers

  • 3
    1

    You cannot play the blame game on this one. It is a natural disaster. I have been to this area many years ago. It is a beautiful valley. What should be understood is that climate change is impacting on Sri Lanka with longer and harsher droughts and shorter but harder spells of rainfall. The whole land mass below Haputale, which includes Balangoda, Halpe, Haldummulla to Koslanda and beyond are in danger of landslides, mudslides, and rock falls. How can you translocate a population exceeding a million people?

    And this is not the only area! Beyond Haputale, Kahagolla, the Southern and Northern slopes of the Namunukula mountains, Passara, Lunugalla, even the Badulla Mahiyangana stretch is disaster prone. And what about the Nuwara Eliya, Hatton, Ramboda, Ginigathhena,. The whole of Sri Lanka’s hill country is disaster prone.

    NBRO has done it’s job many decades ago. The SLSPC/JEDB as well as some plantation companies commissioned a study by the Geology Division of the University of Peradeniya. Those reports were comprehensive and indicated where to relocate as well as what action is needed to mitigate effects of heavy rainfall.

    A significant method of alert was to monitor rainfall (plantations have recording instruments) based on the behaviour of land determined according to past behaviour, and issue timely warnings for evacuation if the intensity of rainfall is reaching a dangerous threshold. It is imperative that this and may be more sophisticated methods are put in place if only to avoid loss of life.

  • 1
    2

    This is just the blame game.

    If it rains it is the govt’s fault.

    If it does not rain it is the govt’s fault.

    [Edited out]

  • 1
    1

    Koslanda was not preventable. The deaths as Koslanda were preventable. Is that hard to understand? Or is another’s life not a valuable as yours?

  • 1
    3

    Ms T seems to be an expert on Weather Patterns and Fault lines as well.

    Being the number one mouth piece of the Opposition , Ms T will go to any length to discredit Rajapaksa and the Govt,, even using natural disasters which even Gods can’t control to help the poor Earthlings. ,

    The majority who suffer from these disasters are the poor.

    The recent Tsunami killed over 26.000 people in Japan.

    But Ms T picks on China because they have been the main supporters of the great majority of the inhabitant population who now don ‘t have to beg Ms T’s West for a bowl of rice or a loaf of bread.

    Would the Gods have prevented this natural disaster,if we had a UNP TNA Diaspora Govt in charge of Koslanda with Ranil as the President?…

  • 2
    0

    Facts are stubborn things to accept. Several problems with our Baiya’s approach to building things in a hurry by waving the need for The environmental impact study have been highlighted. Warnings that went unheeded and the indifference shown to the poor estate workers have also been pointed out. But the morons with their heads firmly planted up their rear ends comment on blame games, flatulence, election vote getting tactics etc. Let this be a warning to all such morons. Your will full ignorance regarding this and future natural disasters which are undeniably linked to global warming and the resulting climate change will come back to bite you big time.

  • 0
    0

    SL is not run by “we the people”as required in democracy but by Economic elites, organised business groups, rotten politicians and thugs. Tamils do not have social justice, equality and dignity.

    Average citizen and mass based groups have little or no influence in government.

    Why were big trees not planted between tea bushes to avoid soil erosion and disastrous mud slide? Government has failed to supervise that.

    Was it done because the workers are Tamils? Is it not racism?

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