Preventing tragedies | Daily News

Preventing tragedies

Monsoonal rains have once again wrought havoc and brought in its wake untold misery to tens of thousands – many of them displaced – in Gampaha, Kegalle, Ratnapura and Galle Districts while landslides and earth slips have, as usual, been reported in the Hill Country.

Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena as Public Administration and Provincial Council Minister has ordered prompt relief to be dispatched to the affected areas and all necessary measures to be taken to ensure the safety of those affected.

Accordingly, Ministry Secretary Priyantha Mayadunne has instructed all District Secretaries to issue ‘Red’ warnings in disaster prone areas and for plans to be put in motion to deal with any emergency. Already, several main roads and trunk roads in the Hill Country have been obstructed as a result of earth slips and landslides and the Road Development Authority (RDA) is busy trying to clear the obstructions including the giant trees that have fallen due to gale force winds lashing along with torrential rains during the last few days.

TV showed hundreds of homes submerged by the floodwaters and children taking boat rides in the floodwaters that are fraught with risk. The heartrending tragedy in Kurunegala where a 14-year-old schoolboy drowned after falling into a damaged and unprotected culvert filled with floodwaters has been blamed by residents on the numerous illegal constructions carried out in the vicinity, that had left such death traps on the road.

The moving visuals shown on TV of the frantic rescue operation by workers of the Kurunegala Municipal Council (KMC), Police and villagers had even prompted the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) to conduct an inquiry to get to the bottom of the actual reasons for the tragedy. If negligence and/or unlawful constructions are found to be the cause none of those responsible should be spared including officials and Local Government (LG) members in whose hands lie the protection of the ratepayers.

True, natural disasters, as the term implies, cannot be averted, and have, even prior to this, claimed lives. But there should be no room for manmade disasters of the type that claimed the life of the 14-year-old and all measures should be taken to ascertain as to why no safety measures were taken to mitigate the danger by the responsible authorities.

Residents at the scene of the tragedy blamed the KMC for its callous neglect in ensuring safety precautions. They also cried foul that the KMC which went into undue haste to demolish a controversial ancient structure that was a bone of contention some time ago between the Mayor and the Opposition, in the same vicinity, failed to take steps to reconstruct the culvert and ensure the safety of the people using the road during rainy days.

Perhaps, monetary gain had taken precedence over the more important priorities - in this instance ensuring public safety. It is this very same callous disregard displayed for the immediate needs of the public by politicians that has led to other disasters like the recent boat tragedy in Trincomalee where several lives were lost due to the delay by the local authorities in providing a safe ferry service to the residents.

The disaster in Dangolla, Kandy some time ago where a building constructed at an elevation collapsed on a hotel lying at the bottom too was found to be the result of an illegal construction done by oiling the palm of the LG authorities.

Similarly, we now come across the phenomenon of areas that were once deemed flood-free increasingly going under water following torrential rains. Most residents have been heard on television attributing this to the unplanned construction of Expressways. This is now seen mostly in the Gampaha District and in the South where large areas of land had been acquired for the construction of Expressways, in the process clearing marshland, mangroves and biodiversity-rich swathes, which had contributed to massive flooding.

True, development must go ahead and the country set on the path of modernization and advancement. But, equally, care should be taken not to disrupt the lives of the people and cause destruction to the environment and damage the ecological system. This, rather than the advancement of the country, will certainly take it backwards whilst ensuring its destruction.

Now that the damage done cannot be reversed, care should be exercised to mitigate the harm by henceforth strictly adhering to the environmental guidelines and feasibility study reports. Ditto for the massive deforestation being carried out in the name of development with the blessings of certain politicians. The country which had close to a 50 per cent forest cover when we gained Independence has today seen this dwindle to around 20 per cent.

Not only has this destroyed the environment and contributed to erratic weather patterns, but it has been the main cause for the present Human-Elephant Conflict (HEC) which has already taken a heavy death toll on both sides and eluded any solution. No politician should be allowed to interfere in matters concerning the environment and ecological safety. The severest of penalties should be imposed on those flouting prevailing safeguards, no matter how high or mighty the offender is.



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