Floods: Natural or man-made?
The sudden outburst of
torrential rain during the past few days has caused widespread
floods and several earth-slips in many parts of the country.
Over 270,000 people belonging to about 60,000 families have
been affected. Some are still marooned. Some have found
temporary shelter in high ground and are accommodated in schools
and temples. In its scale, extension and damage caused by the
current floods are among the worst in our experience.
As usual the politicians, the administrators and the civil
society are working round the clock to provide food and shelter
to the affected. As soon as the flood waters recede life would
return to ‘normal’ with life going on as if nothing has
happened. The grandiose schemes put forward by politicians to
effect long-term solutions would gather dust in the boardrooms
or drawing rooms until the next flood comes.
As a rule, it is the poorest and the marginalized that get
affected worst. Often their houses or ramshackle dwellings would
be totally submerged or destroyed together with all their
belongings. Just because they live on river embankments and
along the coasts they would have no alternative other than
putting up shaky huts once again on the same vulnerable terrain.
It would be easy to blame the weather gods for all the
misfortunes that come along with rains and floods. It is a moot
point, however, whether all this suffering was inevitable or
whether at least a part of it could have been avoided.
Floods are not new phenomena. It is a recurrent occurrence.
However, it is possible to avert floods by proper planning, with
proper flood protection systems which are not unknown in the
modern world. The tragedy is that none of the proposed flood
protection programs have been implemented. To that extent nature
cannot be fully blamed for the present predicament.
The worst affected areas are in the Colombo and Gampaha
districts. Ironically these are the relatively better developed
districts among those affected by the floods. Obviously there
should be something wrong with development if floods are a
consequence. It is no secret that indiscriminate land fillings,
especially filling of low lying lands which used to hold the
excess water during heavy rains is a cause for much of the
An example is the vast tract of low lying land surrounding
the Diyavanna Oya in Rajagiriya, Navala, IDH and Kolonnava areas
being indiscriminately filled with no alternative means provided
for drainage of excess water. It is a tragedy that the
authorities did not do anything even after the worst floods of
recent times that took place during the first half of the 1990s
when even a marooned Minister was evacuated by navy boats to a
The Colombo city was much affected not so much by flooding of
the Kelani river but due to blocked drains and the construction
of unauthorized structures blocking drainage.
As President Mahinda Rajapaksa has underlined there is an
urgent need for remedial measures, both short-term and
long-term. The Ministries of Environment, Water Supply and
Drainage, Local Government and Economic Development should get
together along with civic organizations and initiate long-term
flood protection strategies and implement them without delay so
that the same pathetic tale of woe need not be repeated often.
It is necessary to study the flood pattern which showed some
unusual characteristics this time. The reasons for such novel
features in the flood pattern as well as the normal features of
flooding should be studied and appropriate counter measures
should be taken.
A study would show that flooding is due to a combination of
natural and man-made causes. While the former could not be
controlled the latter could be avoided completely. Also the
effects of natural causes could be minimized with proper
scientific human intervention. Water management is a science our
forefathers had mastered long ago.