The deluge again
Colombo experienced the heaviest rainfall in 18 years
on Wednesday. In a matter of a few hours it received a rainfall
of 440.2 millimetres resulting in the inundation of many areas
in the city and the suburbs.
Of course, there is a precedent. In 1992 it received the
highest ever recorded rainfall of 493.7 millimetres in a similar
number of hours.
Sri Lanka is used to heavy downpours, flash floods and all
calamities that go with them. However, these two incidents are
exceptional due to their sheer magnitude and suddenness.
Nature is unpredictable. However, the consequences are not
totally so. With foresight and understanding the adverse
consequences of such disasters could be mitigated.
The main reason for such heavy floods following heavy
downpours is the elimination of low-lying lands in the city and
its suburbs, especially in Sri Jayawardhanapura Kotte and
Kolonnawa. There has been indiscriminate filling of low-lying
land with no consideration for the consequences.
Today Sri Jayawardhanapura has totally lost its bird
sanctuary. It was completely filled up and sold by a real estate
developer to individuals who have now built houses. This was
despite huge notices displayed on either side of this tract of
land which said filling land was illegal. Common gossip in the
area revealed that Municipal and higher authorities of several
dispensations had been patronized by this developer.
There is also a private school now in the old bird sanctuary.
Its owner not only raised the ground level several feet above
the canal bund but also forcibly occupied the canal reservation
zone denying villagers access to it by strong arm methods with
the help of his political patrons. Even the Municipal
authorities who tried to safeguard the canal reservation had to
retreat hastily in face of physical and political intimidation.
Most of the marshy lands on either side of the Parliament and
the new Kandy road have been developed with no consideration for
flood protection. Many lands adjacent to the canals in the
Jayawardhanapura area are being 'developed' by persons with
'right' political connections and financial means. Cynically
they even distribute dry rations and meals to the displaced poor
at times of periodic floods for the occurrence of which they
themselves are partly responsible.
There are plans and plans to drain off excess water in
situations like the present. It was, for example, planned to
drain off some of this excess water to the Kelani river,
especially in view of the threat of inundation faced by the
Parliamentary complex. Though 18 years and several
administrations have passed during then and now the plans are
still in the realm of fantasy and not reality. The law makers
reaching the House in boats and armoured carriers had a record
sitting Thursday for eight minutes passing almost as many pieces
of legislation in that time wading in the waters of the Chamber.
Hope they would pay enough attention to get the flood protection
schemes moving lest they would have to wade not four but eight
feet in water when the next deluge occurs.
The low-lying lands around the Diyawanna Oya have been
essential in retaining excess water for years. The
indiscriminate filling up of it has caused floods and the
destruction of property. It is always the poorest of the poor
who bear the brunt of the calamities. The utter insensitivity of
the administrators and political authorities to their plight is
Unplanned and unscientific use of such low-lying land has
been the main cause of these unprecedented floods. Though it is
not possible to prevent such huge downpours it is possible to
prevent floods. Unfortunately there has not been any flood
prevention scheme implemented despite the recurrence of
calamities. The Land Reclamation and Development Authority whose
office is also in the environs of the Diyawanna have miserably
failed in its duty.
After the first deluge in 1992 the authorities vowed to
prevent a recurrence of the destruction. They outlined grandiose
plans of flood protection. The media faithfully reproduced their
promises and schemes. In the end everybody including the media
This time too the same stories, the same dreams, the same
fairy tales will be told to placate the public. It is hoped
(without hope) that the authorities would be sensitive to both
the concerns of the poor and the imperatives of development and
take adequate measures to prevent another deluge in the not too
distant future. At the rate unplanned 'development' is going on
the next deluge would come sooner rather than later. It is up to
the authorities to prove this prediction wrong.