I’LL DO MY CRYING IN THE RAIN: While the heavens weep, and people go to watery graves, politicians and planners whose principal duty is the welfare of their electorates drown in hypocrisy and cupidity. Then, as the flood waters recede, struggle vainly to defend their ignorance and apathy or salvage their sorry soggy reputations. Now, we the people are asking harder than ever questions of cabinet and committee. Still it may not suffice until the political culture – and not just the countenance of patina of governance and state agency/instrumentality – undergo a sea-change – Pic by Shehan Gunasekara
Have you heard the one about the two idiot meteorologists who were leaving the Met Dept after work?
Said one to the other, “Shall we take our umbrellas?” And the other replied, “Yes, because you never know when it is going to rain…” – well, just substitute ‘idiosyncratic disaster managers’ for ‘idiot meteorologists’ and you’d be in the same boat… as an entire demographic of sad, angry, tried, Sri Lankans on social-media.
Today, just about everybody (who have blood in their veins instead of blessed ichor or embalming fluid) is bleeding all over the show with rage… and outrage – because of the idiosyncratic idiots who begin to shut the stable door only after the horse has bolted, or after benighted hundreds have drowned, or died from the entirely avoidable disaster ravaging the nation – again.
By now, the flood waters may have begun to recede together with a stress- and sorrow-drowned nation’s pique or ire. Good. Not so ‘good’ that we’ll forget, and forgive the criminals who can or must be held culpable for their failure to alert and then inform the potential victims. And ‘bad’ that after years of the same or similar disasters – tsunamis, landslides, annual floods come which May – the relevant authorities have yet to appropriate and appreciate and act on the aphorism that “a hazard is a potential disaster that can be prevented with the proper information and helps”.
There is also the ‘ugly’ element in all of this… that while helpless people flounder and many go to watery graves, and while sundry seemingly uncoordinated under-resourced ill-prepared disaster-related agencies founder in hapless panic at best or apathy at worst, the water-hating fat-cats in state and government sit pretty – safe and dry, silent as the watery graves to which so many members of their respective electorates go, subversively muttering about considerately deferred supplementary estimates that will delay the delivery of their super-luxury cars, designed to enable smoother visits to the very electorates where the same watery graves have swallowed the babies and grandmothers they consider it their bounden duty to kiss and coddle!
So there! I’ve worked off some steam on behalf of a soggy, sodden, national conscience. Now – keeping in mind that average citizens who mindlessly practise poor environmental control are as much to blame as heartless corporate entities fixated on the bottom line or state agencies unfocussed on any line – let us turn to the res. Seems that there are a few thoughtless eventualities that can or must be set right in the future interests of the weeping seeping sense of national welfare.
The tsunami showed lacunae. Scared animals sensed it coming;state agencies were slow to deploy contingency planning and crisis management measures. Lamentable preparedness by line ministries as much as sundry departments resulted in the unnecessary loss of lives and preventable damage to property. Even specialist-driven initiatives such as P-TOMS in the aftermath of the unprecedented disaster of 2005 only showed that amidst the outpouring of international goodwill and the extraordinary largesse of a broad swath of Sri Lankans to their fellow citizens in dire need, divisive politics held sway and squandered an opportunity for true national reconciliation at a deep water level – to say nothing of scuppering relief and rehabilitation efforts on behalf of the distressed.
The torrential rains of the past three years in quick succession have highlighted the lapses in the state of the state’s preparedness and proactive response to predictable hazards. Then as now, the largesse of local populations have drowned out the damnable lassitude of government departments mandated with a vital service, save elements of the military and a few surprising heroes in the shape and form of previously suspect thug-politicos (maybe it’s just propaganda). There was then as now a regrettable concern among the senior echelon of so-called statesmen for their own sorry reputations and the widespread philosophy that the demigods of weather were displeased with the present dispensation.
Today, nothing much has changed. While concerned citizens step up to the plate to spearhead relief efforts or partner the military in rescue operations, ‘responsible’ politicians (they must be held responsible) remain overseas at their leisure – or fly out for personal reasons after superficial enquiries after the electorate’s well-being. True, stout hearts bleed behind the scenes – this writer among others being witness to the spontaneous breakdown of people-oriented leaders at the plight of their wards and charges. But, emotion to be recollected and praised in tranquillity is cold comfort to the half a million who got more than their eyes damp… and it won’t raise the ten-score dead so far, leave alone restore house and property or recoup livelihoods. It is with mixed feelings of admiration commingled with anxiety at what it portends that spectators observe media houses among other private enterprises take on the mantle of national agencies.
Today, something has changed in the limit, however. This is that after a rain-lashed battering of a trio of bad years, certain state agencies are beginning to capitalise on technology and the not-so trivial reality of ‘a phone in every hand’ to issue early warnings and alert affected populations of developments through text updates and even tweets. Still, the messages sometimes come at the eleventh hour… or too late… But it is heartening progress in a milieu where even available technology was not availed of to pre-empt preventable disaster, and ensuing tragedies of death and destruction.
Trusting in the clemency of the weather-gods to spare our blessed isle because our rulers are potential bodhisattvas or pretend bhikkus is about as perilous as trusting ‘good governance’ to deliver the goods of governance – and about as efficacious. There are charts and graphs of past weather patterns for what they’re worth, which is not much, as mundane meteorology as much as good governance is subject to chaos and entropy. The usual suspects – National Disaster Management Centre, National Building Research Organization, Department of Irrigation and Waterways – seem to be working better together than ever before, and perhaps ‘the farmer in the field’ could begin to trust their agency and the instrumentality of available technology to avail themselves more efficaciously of hazard warnings before disaster ensues.
Trusting in the conscientiousness of the demi-gods who rule our daily lives to spare our benighted island because our people are frail and their plight is frightful is about as foolish as expecting ‘good governance’ to be any different from authoritarian antidemocratic regimes – except that the regime actively took lives while coalitions let them pass into oblivion by default. The rest of the overall design of the way government interacts with state and agencies are instrumental in saving the lives of imperilled citizens remains the same.
This is not surprising, as the DNA of what passes for democracy in the national arena has not undergone that desired sea-change or been swept away by any tide forceful enough to cleanse the Augean stables of corruption and criminality and cupidity that grows like a cancer in cabinet and committee. There is something macabre in the sensitive ethosof our leadership’s decision to defer the purchase of super-
luxury vehicles for its government prop-ups, when the cords of life are fraying at the edges year after year for the people who still worship their local politico when they blithely visit flood-affected areas to kiss babies and coddle grannies.
As Sir Arthur C. Clarke once said, we can expect clemency from a human judge; but nature is a blind force. May it judge our politicos.
The ABCs of a Flood Water Mark
- Accuweather can predict rainfall
- But not even Doppler technology can control flooding
- Concerns must centre on harvesting heavy precipitation in the Central Massif
- Discontinue several conflicting existing agencies with no clear mandate, shoestring budgets, yesterday’s technology
- Empower a well-funded Central Agency embracing the remit of NBRO, NDMC, etc. to monitor weather, survey construction land, inform people in hazard zones, alert state agencies on time, mobilise relief efforts
- Fire the culpable ministers, secretaries, department heads, et al. – to show this government is serious that those commissioned and paid to ensure public safety and health are held responsible, shame culture notwithstanding whereby cabinets and coalitions play the realpolitik game