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Illegal Constructions, Main Cause For Flood Disaster – Gamini Jayawickrema Perera

By Camelia Nathaniel and Ashanthi Warunasuriya

Minister of Sustainable Development and Wildlife, Gamini Jayawickrema Perera said that the reason for most of these natural disasters is that people have encroached on nature and have abused the resources. In an interview with The Sunday Leader on the recent floods in the country, he said that one of the main reasons for flooding in many areas was that people had constructed many illegal constructions and as a result the water drainage does not happen properly. He said that the politicians too are to be blamed for this situation as they are the ones who do not allow the government department officials to carry out their duties effectively and influence these officials to allow most of the illegal constructions. The minister said that as a result nature has its own way of taking back and punishing us for these acts and this incident is one such situation. The minister added that we need to respect nature and live in a manner that nature is preserved. If not, he pointed out that we will have many such disasters in the future too.

Following are excerpts of the interview:

 

Q:  With the recent floods in the country do you think the government mechanism was prepared to handle such a situation?

A: We the human beings are the culprits for things like this to happen. We go and destroy nature and this causes all these unnecessary issues. If you take Colombo or anywhere, we are putting up houses through the intervention of politicians where we should not be building.  The politicians are actually responsible for these disasters. The politicians should allow the government mechanisms/ policies of the government to take effect. Sustainability Ministry, UDA, town planning, etc., when these officers take the trouble to carry out their duty in the proper manner the politicians put pressure on them and then they are unable to do a proper job and then these disasters take place.

The President and Prime Minister visited the affected areas and arranged for relief measures.  For example, nature is also like the problem with these wild elephants. They are used to a certain path and then the human beings go and try to take over these areas trying to chase the elephants away. The elephants come and destroy everything and go on their way. Likewise even nature creates problems for us when we encroach on it. Take for instance the Kotte parliament area. Nature has given us a system for ground water but we go and start sand digging, dig for clay using bowsers, so now nature is punishing us. We have now decided to be firm and irrespective of any political connections, remove all illegal constructions and let the water flow to the sea. Now imagine the amount of the people’s money the government has to pay for one flood – millions and billions – the disasters in the world in time to come is water. One is this type of unexpected floods and the second is the world going to face a shortage of water. If you take the European countries, and India, Pakistan, etc. they all have major rivers flowing. But if you see India, they have faced many major droughts and floods. Sri Lanka has been very lucky. We haven’t faced many disasters like this. We didn’t have severe temperatures going up or floods. The next disaster won’t be fuel, it will be water. So to understand this problem the government has to reform and think of sustainability. So we will take action.

 

Q:  Don’t you think that now, where the relief measures are concerned and the response of the government in a situation of disaster shouldn’t be a more localized mechanism that essentially coordinates government relief?

A: Let’s say another tsunami came – a flood tsunami - the tsunami never expected to reach the lower lying areas, earth slips, etc. But these are manmade disasters. You should be proud of the government’s response because they received the people’s support at every stage. This is one and the second is that for the first time in history we have decided to give Rs. 2.5 million to put up houses. The government has made arrangements to make this available to the people through long term bank loans since development must continue with the people. Then we are also going to give the children books and education support; uniforms, etc.

Sectoral vise, Minister Sajith Premadasa is arranging for housing schemes. When putting up houses in the Wellampitiya area for instance, we will be taking the expertise of former Dr. Gunasinghe’s theory, which is to put up concrete pillars, then the first floor, then the beams and this is costing only 30%. We must be prepared like this so that when a flood comes the people can take their possessions to the first floor. In the earth slip areas, people must evacuate. I warned and said that Nuwara Eliya people will have the curse of God because nature is going to punish us. There will be earth slip disasters. People use chemicals and the rivers will be full of these and mud. I don’t know where we are going to end. Nature will punish them and all the upcountry people will have to come down to the low lying areas like Kurunegala.

 

Q: With regard to the funds that are being collected to assist these people without letting a situation like Helping Hambantota to happen again, shouldn’t there be a proper mechanism for collection?

A:  We will not allow that to happen and proper management of the funds will be ensured. No funds will be misused and our government will see to it.

 

Q:  In a situation like we witnessed recently, don’t you think that when individually people organize relief measures, only certain sections of the affected get more of the relief while those in remote areas are left with nothing at all?

A: I agree. In a situation like what we just witnessed, the people should first contact the AGA or the GA and coordinate the relief measures through him. There are many crooks who are now exploiting this situation. The innocent people, who are affected by the floods, are not the ones who are getting the funds and the necessities. What the government should do is to collect the goods and the funds and coordinate the relief and assistance and distribute these items and the funds accordingly. In my electorate in Kurunegala too, we collected our ministry’s salaries and we will utilize these for the affected people through the government.

 

Q: Many have charged that politicians have been making use of this disaster in order to promote themselves, and this is also hampering the relief measures. Do you agree?

A: No, I don’t agree with this. The politicians are the people’s representatives and at a time of disaster they should be among the people and they should spearhead the relief measures. They should also share the people’s sorrows. Politicians should also go and supervise the relief measures in order to ensure that all people affected by the flood gets the assistance equally.

 

Q: Was there a devastating effect on the wild life due to the flood?

A: No actually the animals have a sixth sense and they know when a disaster is impending and they quickly escape from those areas and they stay safe.

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