The devastating landslides and floods in several parts of the country took away lives of over 200 innocent people with dozens still missing.
Sri Lanka’s emergency apparatus was a complete chaos as it once again failed to save the lives that were lost went missing.
The country’s disaster preparedness has been under scrutiny for the past many years due to its continuous inefficiency despite facing many catastrophes over the years. This is not the first time that fingers have been pointed at the disaster management authorities for failing to get their act together.
The importance of disaster preparedness and the need for an early warning system came to light when Sri Lanka was stuck by the tsunami in December 2004.
However, despite several initiatives over the past many years, Sri Lanka is yet to establish an effective early warning mechanism. The death toll, the damages to property, and the repeated manner in which they occur in the same locations are proof to this claim. Sri Lanka has the data. We know May is a month of heavy rains, and we have a fair knowledge of flood and landslide prone areas in the country.
But still, last week’s disaster killed over 200 lives, which turned out to be the worst since 2003.
When Sri Lanka failed to evacuate its people, Bangladesh managed to save millions just two days before the cyclone ‘Mora’ made landfall in the country.
If Bangladesh could, why couldn’t we? Disaster Management Minister Anura Priyadarshana Yapa even suggested that they would have to do away with the Meteorological Department if it was of no use for the public. Sadly, no one seems to go by the predictions of the Met Department, which in most cases are contrary to what happens the following day.
But does the solution lie solely on predictability? Predicting alone would not help improve the situation. The floods and landslides will anyway happen. The answer is on how we could mitigate such situations and use the water resources.
The large amount of water ends up being of no use, especially after the country had faced months of severe drought.
On the other hand, the country should also shave a serious look at the environment. The recent extreme weather conditions have placed most of the country in various difficulties. It’s either scorching hot, or flooded.
The people too have a responsibility to be aware of situations. The rain in May is a usual occurrence. Those living in the slopes of mountainous regions have to be alert. At least 18 people had died after they had ignored the warnings of officials and had returned to flood hit areas.
Regardless of the flaws of the authorities, the people too should act in a responsible manner, which would in turn help reduce casualties.
Building illegal structures along slopes and extending their territory by cutting down trees are acts that disturb nature.
Such acts would not have an immediate impact, but when they do, they turn out to be detrimental.
Having been living in such areas, the people need to be more proactive in preparing themselves for the worst.
It has to be a collective effort. Let’s hope that this disaster was a bitter lesson for all of us.
Published in the Nation on June 3, 2017