Colombo’s flood problem | Daily News

Colombo’s flood problem

The all-too familiar scenes in Colombo after a heavy downpour made a reappearance last week after the heavens opened up for several days without a pause. Long lines of vehicles wading through heavily submerged main roads and marooned commercial establishments in the heart of the City once again showed the state of affairs in Colombo after a bout of heavy showers. This state of affairs is now taken for granted, with the difficulties encountered by the public as a result of flooding accepted with quiet resignation.

True, humans cannot always fight the vagaries of Nature which can be harsh at times. But there are actions that could be taken to minimize the impact of natural disasters such as flooding, earthslips etc. through proper vision and concrete plans. Over the decades, there had been many such plans drawn up under successive Governments to tackle the flood problem in Colombo, except that nothing seems to have emerged from these grand schemes. It is a pity that Governments have neglected this vital area of development whilst they have launched many mega development projects. Only a portion of such financial outlays would have been sufficient to plan and execute a programme to halt instant flooding in Colombo even during moderate rains.

The task looks gigantic on the face of it. The project would require the complete overhaul of the derelict drainage system that is of colonial vintage as the first step, to be replaced by a sewerage network that meets the demands of the present day. This is indeed happening in a part of Colombo. But the drainage system in the entire City needs a renovation as times have changed since the early 20th century when the present system was installed. Then the City population was a fraction of the present numbers and the drainage systems too conformed to the prevailing requirements. This is hardly the case today with the City population bursting at the seams which would place a heavy demand on all common amenities, leaving aside the old drainage systems.

On normal weekdays, Colombo has a floating population of over one million. Even with the present travel restrictions in place, around 70,000 vehicles enter the City daily. Tally this to the profusion of businesses, eateries and hotels which lie cheek by jowl in the congested streets in the Pettah and Fort, the epicentre of the transient populace, and one can imagine the strain and pressure being exerted on the fragile, outdated drainage system. No wonder that floods are a common occurrence in the Colombo City, almost at the drop of a hat.

The authorities should at least now take stock of the situation and map out an action programme to keep the Colombo City free from flooding. The economy is in dire straits as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic and there is no time to be lost in working towards economic recovery once the contagion is behind us. This will require stepped up, round the clock business and commercial activity and work on all fronts. Long lines of vehicles trying desperately to wade through submerged roads to get to their occupants to workplaces is certainly not going to help step up productivity or business activity that is so vital for short-term economic recovery.

Besides, the ongoing efforts to beautify the Colombo City which were commenced under President Gotabaya Rajapaksa when he was Secretary Ministry of Urban Development to give it back to the moniker earned for itself as the ‘Garden City of Asia’ would certainly suffer a setback if the Colombo City is prone to frequent flooding. It could also stick out as sore thumb beside the upcoming glamourous Colombo Port City, casting Colombo as a poor relation besides the mega development behemoth.

Hence, immediate plans should be drawn up to redevelop and recast not just Colombo City but even the outlying areas with priority given towards the eradication of flooding in the future. There is a large network of canals and waterways in the City and suburbs that have not been desilted for decades leading to prompt flooding. Much has been spoken about the redevelopment of the Beira Lake but it still remains a polluted water body. Properly developed, the Beira Lake could also be a stunning tourist attraction skirting as it does around many of the Five Star hotels in the City. Ideally, such a project should be in the hands of President Rajapaksa who won for himself many accolades, even from his political adversaries, on the success achieved in his beautification programme of the Colombo City around 10 years ago.

True, the Coronavirus pandemic has shifted the attention of the Government from some of the important tasks at hand. It is hoped that with the steady vaccination programme now in place the pandemic would soon be thrust into the forgotten things of limbo and with the resumption of normal life all impediments now in the way of the growth of the economy would be eliminated. One such hassle - the flooding of Colombo City – would be a thing of the past at last.


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