By Shamindra Ferdinando-May 29, 2017, 12:00
Civil society activist Rajith Keerthi Tennakoon yesterday told The Island that Sri Lanka’s pathetic response to the latest natural disaster highlighted again the absence of a tangible action plan in case of an emergency.
Tennakoon said that precious lives had been lost for want of an efficient strategy. Tennakoon said that successive governments had ignored the requirement for contingency plan, especially a large scale evacuation plan in case of an emergency.
Tennakoon said that in accordance with a disaster management strategy, adequate resources should be made available to set up a cohesive rescue and relief operation.
Responding to a query by The Island, Tennakoon said that there couldn’t be any justifiable reason to deprive Sri Lanka of a well funded project to meet any eventuality against the backdrop of the government allocating well over Rs 2 bn in 2016 and 2017 through supplementary estimates to provide super luxury vehicles for members of parliament. Tennakoon also blamed the previous SLFP-led UPFA government for neglecting its duty by the people. “A shameless few will seek political advantage of current pathetic situation,” Tennakoon, said, urging the media to pressure those in power by taking up real issues.
An Advisor to the Anti-Corruption Front (ACF), Tennakoon said politicians and officials lacked interest in formulating a comprehensive plan. Instead, they would seek international assistance to provide relief to the people in post-disaster scenario, Tennakoon said.
There hadn’t been any cohesive action plan to evacuate those living in vulnerable areas in spite of experiencing worst floods and landslides in living memory last year, Tennakoon said.
Within 24 hours after the South-West monsoons unleashed torrential rains last Thursday (May 25) causing havoc in 14 districts in the western and southern parts of the country, Sri Lanka sought assistance from several countries, including India and China. Sri Lanka requested for international assistance on the afternoon of May 26. Emphasizing that both big and small countries had the right to obtain international assistance depending on the requirement, Tennakoon said the country should be ashamed to ask for rice, flour, dhal, sugar, milk, biscuits, bed sheets and blankets from India.
Tennakoon was commenting on amphibious warfare vessel INS Shardul arriving at the Colombo port on May 28 carrying 40 tonnes of relief material. Pointing out that there had been specialized rescue team among the Indian personnel here, by the time they reached Colombo they couldn’t have been deployed to rescue any people.
INS Shardul also brought in Gemini inflatable boats.
It was the second Indian Naval ship to reach Colombo to provide assistance, after INS Kirch reached Colombo on May 27.
In the absence of Disaster Management Minister Anura Priyadarshana Yapa, who is away in Mexico Deputy Disaster Management Minister Dunesh Gankanda joined Foreign Minister Ravi Karunanayake in welcoming INS Kirsh at the Colombo port. INS Kirch brought in relief supplies, inflatable Gemini boats with diving teams, and a mobile medical team with supplies
SLFPer Yapa was attending the ‘2017 Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction’ in Cancun, Mexico. The five-day conference began on May 22. Minister Yapa is expected back in office in early this week. Gankanda was not available for comment.
A third Indian Naval Ship, INS Jalashwa, with additional relief material, is expected to reach Colombo soon.
Commenting on media reports pertaining to the World Health Organization (WHO) promising USD 150,000, China promising relief items worth USD 2.2 mn as well as Chinese Red Cross granting USD 100,000 to their Sri Lankan counterparts, Tennakoon said that Chinese government relief items included tents, blankets, bed sheets and life jackets.
Tennakoon said the country should develop an emergency evacuation plan spearheaded by the armed forces to ensure swift and decisive measures in the face of an extreme situation. Tennakoon pointed out that though bodies were still being recovered they died in floods on May 26 and 27.
In the absence Minister Yapa as well as our inability to get in touch with Deputy Minister Gankanda, The Island sought an explanation from Disaster Management Secretary S.S. Miyanawala regarding their failure to develop a contingency plan, especially against the backdrop of Third UN World Conference in Sendai, Japan in March 2015. Sri Lanka is a signatory to the Sendai agreement
Miyanawala said that in addition to funds for capital projects and recurrent expenditure, the government provided required funds for the ministry depending on the requirement. He said the ministry played a significant role in post-incident situation. According to him, the ministry had spent over Rs 5,000 mn in 2016 to provide relief to those affected by both natural and other disasters. The official said that the destruction caused by the Army Central Armoury blast at Salawa in June 2016 was among the catastrophies. Miyanwala said that they had a shopping list and was in a position to procure required items in case of an emergency.
However, he couldn’t explain why Sri Lanka had sought from India and China a number of items such as milk, biscuits and blankets which could have been easily obtained locally.
Tennakoon also said that it would be important to take into account relief items collected by some electronic media organizations when working out an overall distribution plan for flood affected districts. Tennakoon said that a major effort would be required to assist those returning to their homes damaged due to floods. Those who had been engaged in their own business were among the worst affected, Tennakoon said, urging the parliament to intervene in the matter.