28 September, 2020

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Why So Much Of Flooding & Natural Disasters? Who Is Responsible? 

By Laksiri Fernando

Dr. Laksiri Fernando

Why so much of flooding and natural disasters? Already one ‘answer’ is given by Galagoda Atte Gnanasara of the BBS. He has said “disasters occur in a country when the rulers are unrighteous and wicked,” clearly aiming at the Yahapalana government (Ceylon Today, 29 May). Even Karu Jayasuriya said a similar thing in June 2014 during the landslides in Ratnapura and Matara areas (Ada Derana, 6 June 2014). Gnanasara is undoubtedly irked by the orders given to the police to arrest him for anti-Muslim provocations, whether those orders would properly be implemented or not. He is trying to circumvent the ‘rule of law’ with his crooked rhetoric, ‘abusing’ Buddhist philosophy; abusing in the sense of misusing.

Although the government is burdened with responsibility and extra-work, the actual victims are not the government, but the unfortunate poor people. Even the funds used for flood relief would be tax-payers’ money, local donations and foreign aid. Only the JVP Members of Parliament have sacrificed their monthly salary, while it might be soon followed by the others in embarrassment. Just one minister’s house was flooded. On the other hand, nearly 200 people are dead, many still considered disappeared; houses, businesses, properties of ordinary citizens are destroyed.

Different Reasoning

Even one can argue (just for the sake of argument) that ‘this is a curse that is bestowed by the gods or nature, because of anti-Muslim activities conducted by the BBS in the country.’ Some of the areas affected are the areas where the Muslims were attacked. This kind of an argument or counter argument should not have any footing in contemporary Sri Lanka. These were for the archaic days. No Muslim has done so, although they could have argued such against Gnanasara. 

This reminds me of what some of the conservative nationalist leaders allegedly claimed that ‘people must be suffering for their Karma’ during the Malaria epidemic in the 1930s (see ‘Revolt in the Temple’). The Left movement and the other rationalists those days had to counter these arguments both in assisting the malaria victims and also pressurising the government to extend health and other social facilities in the country. That is how the Welfare-State largely emerged in Sri Lanka. The welfare-state is nearly destroyed today because of the mad rush for money, competitive profits and the unmindful or otherwise so-called ‘liberalization’ of the economy. Sri Lanka after all and still is a poor country, although it has marginally got a middle-income status because of lopsided factors. Even the poor people have become victims or part of this mad rush under unmindful liberalization.

‘Liberalization’ is a good word, but in its actual practice it neglects not only the ‘labour,’ to here mean primarily the poor people, but also the Nature and climate change. The neglect of the nature must have been there in different proportions almost from the beginning of human civilization, but climate change or its aggravation is a recent phenomenon. There is a clear correlation between the rapid climate change and the advent of particularly the neoliberalism. Andrian Parr calls it the wrath of capital (‘The Wrath of Capital: Neoliberalism and Climate Change Politics,’ Columbia University Press, 2014). It is this wrath that we are seeing in Sri Lanka today. The old and new advocates of neoliberalism, and ‘unbridled free market’ are usually the climate sceptics. 

Deficit in Government Policies

On the surface, the government policies on climate change or its mitigation do not appear wrong, judging by the international conventions. In this sense, our leaders are better than Donald Trump. It must be noted, however, that these international conventions are for overall mitigation of climate change. For example, the revised version of the National Climate Change Adaptation Strategy 2011-2016 (NCCAS) submitted to the Paris Convention in 2015 by Sri Lanka could be considered sufficient for those purposes. I am not an expert on these matters, but basing myself on reliable information and other people, expressing myself as (still) a citizen. Public policies are my concerns or expertise. There were 5 Thrusts in the Strategy, but none of those clearly address the increased flooding and earth-slips, to mean the natural disasters under climate change.

One can of course argue that increased flooding and earth-slips are matters for disaster management. Yet there should be coordination between the two and the climate change strategy should take the initiative. Uncoordinated efforts are one of the debacles in Sri Lanka.

After taking over the climate challenge under the Ministry of Mahaweli Development and Environment by the President, there has been much progress in the overall climate change management, indicated in the Progress Report 2015 and Action Plan 2016. However, while there is much progress in the areas of conservation (forest and coastal) and environmental protection (marine and major irrigation projects), there is no clear planning or implementation in the field of climate-change-effects.

Lunwa Lake Today

Among the 11 divisions in the Ministry, Climate Change Division appears to be the weakest. In terms of future planning and functions, there are 30 areas or functions identified, but no clear mentioning of the climate-change-effect mitigation or on the increased flooding and earth-slips. Even among the climate change advocates, the attention is usually paid on gas emissions (CO 2), rising temperatures and rising seas. While these are crucial, and Sri Lanka should mitigate them, there are so much of other nitty-gritties that must be addressed. 

Before rising sea levels, there are rising river levels during torrential monsoon rains because of excessive soil deposits. In addition, the river basins are clogged due to unauthorized constructions, land fillings and obstructing natural water flows from higher lands. This is common sense.

At a personal note, I do remember my young days, looking at the Lunawa Lake (Moratuwa) during the school lunch time, sitting behind our class room with friends (at Prince of Wales College), even imagining how it could be converted to a grand fishery. Because we could see one or two fishermen on makeshift canoes irking out a living by catching Lula or Pethiya. Lunawa Lake today is like a big filthy pond; in most places garbage dumped. Whose responsibility is this? It is the responsibility of the Municipal Council. The local government system has much to do with environmental protection.     

Closer Reasons

As quoted by Rashmin De Silva (Daily Mirror, 30 November 2015), Margaret Gardner, an international environmental activist, had expressed an early warning after the Tsunami experience. As she has stated,

In the next 55 years the greatest threat to Sri Lanka will be not from war, but from climate change. Sri Lanka is particularly vulnerable to rising sea levels and weather-related disasters have the potential to set back any gains made in agriculture, fisheries and even services such as tourism.”

This is plainly true. What the country has experienced today is a ‘weather related disaster.’ This is one reason why all communities and political parties should unite for a common cause, rather than quarrelling each other. 

This is not only the knowledge from outside. De Silva had interviewed Buddika Hemashantha, and had asked among other questions: “What are the current effects of climate change on Sri Lanka? I am quoting this in appreciation of local knowledge and perception. Hemashantha had been the CEO of the Sri Lanka Carbon Fund, a private-public partnership company. That was in 2015 and I don’t know what is he doing now. His reply was the following. 

The tourism and agriculture sectors are those that are the most affected currently. There are also several effects of climate change that all Sri Lankans are experiencing as of now in terms of floods and heavy rain. The University of Peradeniya Agricultural Unit has also found in its research that the temperature of the country is increasing. The temperature rise will also cause an increase in mosquitos in the colder parts of the country such as Nuwara Eliya which may lead to the spread of mosquito borne diseases. With regards to tourism there will also be negative effects that will have to be faced by the sector since tourists will be less willing to come to the island when there is more rain and the temperature is rising. There is also the treat of landslides that they will take into account.”

Yes, floods and heavy rains. Not only that, the spread of mosquito borne diseases as the country has experienced in recent times. Also, the landslides. When it comes to increased flooding, landslides or even in the case of spreading of diseases, much responsibility is placed on the local government institutions. The reason is that the control of buildings (including approvals), drains and water ways are under the control of local government institutions, unless the building approval and control directly come under the Urban Development Authority. If you take the Pradeshiya Sabhas Act (No. 15 of 1987), as an example, it is very clear. The overall purview to be to “charged with the regulation, control and administration of all matters relating to public health, public utility services and public thoroughfares and generally with the protection and promotion of the comfort, convenience and welfare of the people and all amenities within such area.”

The above undoubtedly is a broad spectrum. But more concretely, the Act specifies the powers and functions related to “measures for the relief of distress caused by rain, floods, gales, fire, earthquake, famine or epidemics.” This is under Section 19. It is about the cure and not prevention. One may also ask the question; ‘how can those be undertaken today as the local governments are dissolved and elections not yet held? But in terms of prevention, it is mainly the PS officers who are very clearly assigned the tasks of laying and maintaining “drains, watercourses, trunks, tunnels, plats, or bridges” (Sec. 45). Of course, they must do these tasks in coordination with the Divisional Secretariats. There are other relevant sections in the Act, which are not quoted here to be brief.

Neglected Responsibilities

Why the responsibilities are neglected? There can be several answers, both at the local and the national level. My answers also can be partial or limited. This does not mean that increased flooding or even landslides can be completely prevented. Because the climate change is a global calamity not limited to Sri Lanka. Even in Australia there had been extreme flooding in recent times. However, the death toll is minimal to one or two. There are no major landslides as the building constructions and mountainous landscapes are well regulated.    

In recent flooding in Queensland, for example, there were advanced early warnings given by the meteorological authorities. The police, the red cross and even the army assisted the timely evacuations. It was not left for the people to evacuate themselves or blame them thereafter as our ministers do (see The Island report ‘Met Dept. can be closed down,’ 1 May). Of course, the affected populations were sparsely, unlike in Sri Lanka. Given the thick populations and socio-economic conditions in our country, there can be an element of unruliness or neglect in evacuations. This is why the governments are there to assist.   

Broadly speaking, at the national level, it appears that the prevention of climate-change-effects are neglected for more fashionable or trendy issues of global warming. There is no coordination between the macro strategies and micro implementation in cooperation with both the provincial councils and the local government institutions. Why, for example, the local governments have neglected their responsibilities? This has much to do with the economic thinking, apart from the local politicians allowing their families, friends and benefactors to do whatever they want: haphazard building, garbage dumping, land encroachment, sand mining, landfilling etc.

There are no major housing projects for the poor, ‘thanks’ to the unmindful neo-liberalism. Therefore, they have to construct their huts and dwellings in dangerous places. For the slightest natural calamities, they collapse and the people often get drowned. Most vulnerable are the children. In this instance, 44 school children have died in vain.      

Of course, unnecessary bureaucracy or regulation can hamper business and economic development, but the neglect of environmental protection or people’s welfare in the process of deregulation can cause environmental disasters and social dislocations. The state-sector responsibilities are neglected because the engine of growth is declared solely as the private sector. This is an easy excuse for the politicians to laze, do their own businesses, gratify family, friends and benefactors, and preach ‘bana’ to the people, not to speak of corruption. This has happened before and this is happening even today.    

Postscript

I have just received a poem ‘From a Tamil youth in the North to a Sinhala youth in the South’ on the flood disaster, courtesy of Yahapalanaya (network). It is long. So, I reproduce its first three verses only.

I want to cry for you.
But I have no tears to shed!

I could have rushed to save you
But I couldn’t,

I couldn’t come to save you as it is in this month you severed my legs
You may have forgotten.

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Latest comments

  • 9
    1

    The writer laboriously flounders among the technicalities of responsibility for mere procedural matters when the whole country is ridden with a glaring lack of accountability at every level with no leadership and no statesmanship being demonstrated at the highest levels.

    I would suggest that the woes Sri Lanka periodically suffers from, emanate from this culture of impunity where the powerful have scant regard for the largely apathetic majority of citizens who happen to become victims each time.

    • 5
      1

      Lasantha Pethiyagoda————————————————————
      —————————————————————————————
      “the whole country is ridden with a glaring lack of accountability at every level with no leadership and no statesmanship being demonstrated at the highest levels. I would suggest that the woes Sri Lanka periodically suffers from, emanate from this culture of impunity where the powerful have scant regard for the largely apathetic majority of citizens who happen to become victims each time.”—————————————————————————-
      Thanks, succinctly stated. What is observed are the symptoms of the core-problem you are describing – no leadership and no statesmanship .——————————————————————Given that the Average National IQ is 79, what else can you expect, from the politicians as well as the populace who elects them, and in turn screwed by the corrupt politicians?

    • 5
      0

      Lasantha Pethiyagoda, you seem to have views similar to those held by Laksiri. Please express them through articles. Agree with you that in general “……….the woes Sri Lanka ……. suffers from, emanate from this culture of impunity………..”. Fail to see the connection to adverse climate changes!

    • 0
      0

      This is not the time for an article like this. Maybe in a month or two. Why isn’t the actual ground situation been reported on? I just spoke to people from Ratnapura who lamenting on the lack of disaster management by the current regime. I know disasters happens in every country but they’re isolated or they have measures to reduce losses. Our politicians sit on their hands till a disaster happens and sticks their hands out to beg everyone for relief. Some I talked to said the the Kukulaganga project opened all the spill gates at once flooding the Ratnapura area while they should have opened them one by one to ease the force of water and to let people know to expect more water. Supposedly they didn’t do that for 6 hours meaning someone was asleep at the job and to save the dam they opened all at the same time. We didn’t learn anything from the Tsunami the government is still allowing construction along the coast. I’m afraid this too will be swept under the rug by politicos wanting to pocket aid money.

  • 3
    2

    Laksiri Fernando: What I see in western countries is if something destructive happened and if the people were killed, all come and rally around thiose people and support them. See how so–called Sri lankan academics, what they do, they investigates who is wrong, some other one is teaching the govt to be good. another one does not talk about elections. See how pathetic people are. They expect good from the country when they are just selfish and greedy people who are fighting for they themselves.

  • 3
    1

    Dear Dr. Laksri Fernando,
    Very analytical & informative. But only point I differ is “there is much progress in the areas of conservation and environmental protection “.
    All the major mega projects carried out by MR regime contributed substantially to the flood run off due to the unusual torrential rain because natural forests , vegitation all were damaged and canals and rivers were not taken care. MR regime did not pay much attention to climate change and its effect on the coastal areas and provinces that comes under the South West Monsoon, Also the floods due to urban run off of rainwater. Tributries that feed flood water to the rivers are not maintained properly. The river mouths and canal mouths at the sea fronts were not sufficently improved and maintained.

    Similar floods can occur again during the NE monsoon at the year end.

    The major problem in SL is corruption when mega & major projects are carried out with the tax payers money or foreign funded.

    It is high time all the priests from various religion spend more time preaching moral values and make sure their political patrons practice honesty.

  • 6
    1

    Everything will be alright as long long the rule of law reigns, when this is not there, there will be calamities and destruction everywhere, this has been the law of nature throughout history, mighty kingdoms vanished without a trace.

    Look at the lies at the damn lies spread by these idiotic monks led by the thug, he his responsible for so many destruction and loss of life but they law just watch and wait, he is spreading malicious non existed facts that the muslims are trying to destroy the Buddhist heritage and taking over the country and openly advocating destruction of muslims lives and properties ; Buddhist has been living in Sri Lanka for over 2500 years, and muslims has a history of closer to a 1000 years in this country, at the time the muslims came to this country, the muslims were ruling two third of the known world from southern spain to India, and if they had any intention of invading this tiny island, it would have been just cake walk, but this was never the idea then nor now, so why this sudden spread of hatred and lies, who is is going to benefit from this? why the government is not doing anything about when they know very well that these are just damn lies, why are they allowing this to continue?

    When the rulers have no back bone and justice takes a nose dive, calamities and destruction will becomes the order of the day. until this is reversed, this country is going to see calamities after calamities.

    • 3
      0

      Stop distorting the truth Buddhism only arrived in the island 2300 years ago approximately and the king who converted to Buddhism was a Tamil speaking Naga ,as he father was king Mutta Sivan or the great Siva in Tamil. Buddhism is only around 2500 years old.
      As for the Muslims a few stray Arabs arriving in the island is not Muslim history. Islam is only around 14000 years old and within 400 years they were not arriving in the island on a large scale. Most of Arab traders who arrived in ancient times were not Muslim but Christian. More than 95% of the Muslims arrived in the island only a few centuries ago and they were not from any ruling class but poverty stricken low caste Tamil Dravidian Hindu converts from what is modern day Tamil Nadu and Kerala. They fled their South Indian homeland fleeing poverty ,persecution and some to trade. At the time they arrived there was no Muslim rule in any part of Spain and other than the Ottaman Empire, Islamic rule in other parts of the world , including Mughal India was in decline. Stop distorting history like all Sri Lankan Muslims you want to fawn to the Sinhalese racist claim a fake Arab origin and deny your actual Tamil origin. You people shamelessly joined the Sinhalese to kill discriminate and commit war crimes on the Tamil and even went to the UN and many Muslim nations and told lies and defended the Sinhalese racists and are now howling when the same Sinhalese racists have turned on you.

  • 2
    2

    Why does this flooding/landslides etc,etc always should happen in May

    The Ghost of”mullivaikkal” plays the game.

  • 5
    0

    Much of the indiscipline in the country stems from non- enforcement of existing regulations left behind by the much-maligned Brits. In those days, all electricians had to be licensed, one could not build a house in a railway reservation, let alone fill up a paddy field; even bicycles had license plates. Miscreants were locked up regardless of the colour of their robes.
    The sanctimonious idiots we ( most of the electorate being functionally illiterate) elected for leaders have got rid of all this for political advantage.
    WE are responsible.

    • 2
      0

      old codger ——————————————————————————————-
      You are describing the resulting symptoms as a consequence of the average national IQ being 79. The British had an average National IQ of 100.—————————————-National IQ Scores – Country Rankings ———————————————————http://www.photius.com/rankings/national_iq_scores_country_ranks.html

  • 2
    0

    Laksiri asks “Why So Much Of Flooding & Natural Disasters? Who Is Responsible?”. Of course climate change is the culprit. The response of GoSL may appear “too little too late” even lethargic. It also shows the un-enthusiasm of NGOs, volunteers. However developed countries have shown inability to handle disasters – remember Katrina?

  • 2
    1

    How about handing over that LKR 3400 Million and pay 1.7 Million each to the families and dependents of the dead , and distribute the rest to people who lost their properties and live stock….., Is n’t it better than the lousy monthly salary of these Balumakkas in Kotte ,.. who are now making political capital out this sad, unfortunate people….What is the lousy 100,000 is going to do to recover from this disaster…..That 3400 Million is Tax payers money…If the rich people were allowed to go through the legit channels to buy those cars….So refunding that money is the best deed the whole country can do for their less fortunate brethren…..Think about it Professor and demand they hand back that money to the poor flood victims……

  • 1
    2

    The housing minister sajith premadasa is boasting that he is going to build 15,000 houses for the homeless, but on the other hand the government turns a total blind eye when it comes to the Muslim IDPs of the north even after 25 years, they are not even allowing them to return to their traditional homes they use to live because the saffron clad thugs hate campaign saying they are encroaching the forest, again damn lies, if that’s the case why can’t these thugs file a case and take legal action, this alone shows that these just fake claims, now see what happens, one flood thousands and thousands of houses have gone under water, when there is no justice for the oppressed, these calamities are going to continue.

    • 1
      4

      It is not saffron clad thugs who prevent Muslims from going to their traditional homes in Jaffna. It is Tamil politicians. Blame them without barking at the wrong tree. Even Sinhalese who went back to Jaffna to claim their property were chased away by Tamils. The Government did not do a damn about that. Encroaching forest reserves by Muslims is not a damn lie. Gnanasara has provided solid evidences and brought this to the attention of those responsible to take action but those guys are turning a blind eye because they want the support of Muslim politicians for their survival.

  • 2
    0

    Nothing but curse. Karma is catching on Gnanasatha who is on the run with clanking B***s.

  • 0
    1

    EE,

    This is the problem, the concocted lies have become facts, there is ample proof with deeds and old structures to prove that these people were living in this place, during MR time they issues a gazette declaring part of it as forest land, and now MS have issues another gazette depriving the balance land.

    why do you think nobody is filing case at the supreme court, no politicians are preventing these saffron clad thugs to file a case, anyway they act as if they are above law, the reason they don’t do this is because if they do all the facts will come out, so they just spread fabricated stories.

    If you think this is not true, i challenge you to furnish the facts.’

    WHERE THERE IS NO JUSTICE, THERE WILL BE CALAMITIES AND DESTRUCTION. THIS WILL CONTINUE.YOU CAN WAIT AND SEE

  • 0
    1

    This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy.For more detail see our Comment policy https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/comments-policy-2/

  • 0
    1

    Rohan

    It’s you evil minded dirty bastards who distort history, when the Portuguese came to Sri Lanka even the navy of this country was arabs/Muslim, before that so many saints have settled down in Sri Lanka and theee was a sizable community

    The day your people ethnically cleansed the Muslims out of the north mercilessly, we have disconnected totally from the Tamils , we don’t want anything to do with you, not even the language, now we actively promote our children to study in Sinhala medium, whatever it is they are better than your evil minded people

  • 0
    0

    Laksiri & readers
    Please look at the following(CT, pl allow the weblink): there have been too many examples like the following:
    https://twitter.com/AHemmathagama/status/835729327606099968/photo/1
    Too many examples of unlimited and unregulated mining of sand, gravel and rocks.
    There have been many articles by Geograhy academics on this disastrous mining in the last 3/4 decades. At last there appeared a govt circular in 2015:
    Sand and gravel mining, 29 September 2015, http://www.environmentmin.gov.lk/web/images/pdf/circular%2002-2015%20english.pdf

    This circular did not generate discussions among the apathetic public and media.

    There have been even murders when voices were raised against reckless mining of sand carried out by politicians with the collusion of the military in the military-ruled North – of course such murders remain uninvestigated.

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