The Sunday Leader

Steps Taken To Provide Relief In A Regulated Manner – Anura PriyadarshanaYapa

By Camelia Nathaniel and Ashanthi Warunasuriya

The President has stopped all illegal constructions and land fillings and it has prevented this recent disaster from escalating into a calamity, says Minister for Disaster Management,AnuraPriyadarshanaYapa. Pointing out the necessity of providing housing and property for those who have lost their dwellings due to the floods, the minister says that steps have been taken to provide necessary relief in a regulated manner. The following are excerpts of an interview conducted by The Sunday Leader with Minister Yapa.

Q: The government has been accused by many for its lack of prior preparation in mitigating a disaster of this calibre. Natural disasters are not new experiences for us. Then why wasn’t the government prepared to meet this kind of disaster?

A: On the 10th the Meteorology Department made its first announcement that they are expecting heavy rains and winds on the 13th. We quickly informed the public about the oncoming storm. By 13/14 we had already issued evacuation notices for the people who were living in hazardous areas. Various human activities carried out in highlands normally cause these kinds of natural disasters.

Nowadays people do not pay much attention to the water circulation system. The main reason for these landslides is the bursting of pressurized water trapped inside the soil. So it is going to come out from somewhere. We have now mapped out the areas that could soon fall in to the threat of landslides. But still the complete survey has been conducted only in Badulla district. We should expand these surveys immediately to other areas as well. As a country that is exposed to natural disasters, we must rethink our strategy and plan afresh to meet the next threat.


Q: But there is an accusation that the areas that were subjected to landslides in Aranayake had not been pre-warned. Why is that?

A: We cannot predict exactly when such a landslide could occur. What we can do is to advice the people in the area to be prepared as the areas are prone to landslides. It does not happen at once. There are several signs that provide clues to the oncoming danger. Signs such as the mud mixed water, the increased levels of wetness on the ground are always helpful in identifying an oncoming landslide. But the people must have been educated to evacuate from the area if these signs begin to appear. If not we must fix automatic meters that could warn us of an oncoming landslide. We now have received enough funds to fix such instruments in many hazardous areas. We would soon be able to detect these disasters well in advance.


Q: Although the people living in these dangerous areas have been asked to leave their homes, has the government drafted any plan to provide shelter for those who do not have the financial means to build homes?

A: We definitely must build houses for them. And for that we must find land. The problem in some areas is that there are no suitable lands available. In the recent past the Disaster Management Center had suggested to build condominiums instead of single storied houses to save space. Even now we have identified several areas as safe places to build these condominiums. According to our opinion we must not let people go back to their unsecure dwellings.


Q:  Compared to previous years, this time the government has allocated a lesser sum of money for disaster management. Does this mean that the government is paying less attention to the subject?

A: There is no decrease in funds. Generally when allocating funds for disaster management, initially only a rough estimate is made. It is via the government’s emergency disaster fund, necessary finances are allocated during natural disasters. The Rs. 150 million has come out from an extra allocation made by the government towards disaster management. It is something that I had obtained recently by presenting a cabinet paper. The government took a positive step this year by introducing an insurance scheme regarding all the lives and property of the country. Because of this insurance scheme now the people could receive more in case of a disaster than before. We have already taken steps to give Rs. 100,000 for the family members of a person perished from a natural disaster and compensation ranging from one lakh to Rs.25 lakhs to those who have lost their houses.


Q: Some have claimed that the construction projects carried out by the previous government had caused this disaster to escalate. Is that true?

A: If we take the Expressway for an example the road from Kaduwela is mainly built on pliers that go over the normal road. So it creates less environmental impact. But we have recommended halting all filling of land. That creates problems in draining rainwater. Normally when a development project is initiated the environmental impact is studied.


Q: How are you planning to control illegal filling of land?

A: It was not successful in the past. But now we are strict on the issue. If we take Colombo for an example, due to the development work in Diyawannawa and MoratuCanal, there were less problems of flood water passing out. But in Kelaniya, Wellampitiya areas the waterways had not been cleaned for a long time. Recently I went to observe the area with MP Marikkar and presented the Cabinet an estimate of Rs. 147 billion for lowland development. But suddenly these areas were hit by floods.


Q:  What is your opinion about the accusation that has been leveljed against the government officials on their inefficiency?

A: In certain areas even I too observed certain lapses. So we had to deploy our personnel to manage the situation. A group of ministers, including Minister SusilPremajayantha,was appointed by the President in order to look into the issues in Colombo. But we cannot compare the Aranayake incident with the urban flooding scenario. In Colombo there were those who had never been registered in any official record. There were tenants and illegal residents. So the situation was complex. When we go there with food, everyone in the area are coming to get food. So it is hard for us to identify who has been affected by the floods and who has not. So having management issues is natural.


Q:  What is the government’s stance on illegal inhabitants?

A: The president has stopped all illegal constructions. It is because of these illegal constructions and land fillings this problem has become severe. So we are going to be strict on them in the future.


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