A global effort | Daily News

A global effort

The recent floods and landslides that caused the deaths of over 200 people in several districts also led to a massive economic loss. A large number of houses and infrastructure facilities such as roads, bridges, school buildings etc have been destroyed. The repair bill is estimated at over Rs.8,000 million. The Government plans to finance this massive venture through the Insurance Trust Fund.

While it is indeed essential to undertake rehabilitation and repairs, we need to take a holistic approach to the whole issue. There is an urgent need for a comprehensive flood prevention programme in all vulnerable districts. It is also important to equip the Meteorology Department, the National Building Research Organization (NBRO) and the Geological Survey and Mines Bureau with the latest, highly sophisticated equipment, along with advanced training here and abroad for their personnel. An effective awareness and early warning system (of the type that already exists for tsunamis) is also essential, boosted by further research into the effects of climate change on Sri Lanka’s fragile ecosystems.

These projects will cost an enormous amount of money that we will not be able to afford using our own finances. Sri Lanka did receive a massive quantum of foreign aid in cash and kind following the recent disaster, but those are generally reserved for immediate relief activities. These funds and goods cannot be used for long-term projects.

The obvious solution is to pitch our case to the wider donor community. Special Assignment Minister Dr. Sarath Amunugama says the Government has planned to hold a donor conference with immediate effect aiming to fulfill financial needs and finding a permanent solution to the flood problem. The venue of the donor conference has not been finalized yet and it could be held here or abroad.

According to the Minister, the idea of holding a donor conference was mooted by President Maithripala Sirisena at the last Cabinet meeting, with the aim of finding a lasting solution to the damage and destruction caused by floods and landslides in a few districts from time to time, including Ratnapura, Kalutara and Galle districts. The Cabinet has wholeheartedly endorsed his timely proposal.

There is a precedent for this, though the circumstances were difficult. Sri Lanka’s last donor conference was held in Tokyo, Japan aimed at reconstruction and rehabilitation of war-torn areas. A sum of nearly US$ 4 billion was pledged at this conference, but this was not properly realised as the conflict started again.

Now Sri Lanka has a second chance to “build back better” as many more Western and Asian countries are willing to help. The Helping Hambantota saga that came to light in the aftermath of the tsunami as well as a hostile attitude towards friendly Western nations that was in evidence during the previous regime put off many countries which were otherwise willing to help Sri Lanka.

Today, thanks to the good work of President Sirisena, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and former Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera on the international stage, Sri Lanka has earned the good name of the international community. With the new Foreign Minister Ravi Karunanayake ably following in their footsteps, there is no question of Sri Lanka’s standing in the international community. Several countries have already indicated their willingness to assist Sri Lanka’s efforts to ward off climatic disasters. The proposed donor conference will bring all such parties under one roof. We hope that the conference will address preparedness for other types of disaster as well, including forest fires and earthquakes.

There is every indication that the donor conference could be held within the next two months. A three member committee has already been appointed by the President to work out the details. Accordingly, Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera, Foreign Minister Ravi Karunanayake and Minister Dr. Sarath Amunugama have been appointed to the committee. The committee will submit proposals to the donor conference, where the proposals will be considered by the donor countries.

According to Minister Amunugama, the project proposals prepared on a district or electoral basis provide permanent suggestions to control floods. The aid may be either financial or technological. Just to give an idea of the scale of projects needed to prevent and control floods, US$ 300 million will be needed for the proposed flood control project of Kalu Ganga alone. Under the proposed Kalu Ganga project, three dams are to be constructed at Malwala, Dela in the Ratnapura district. There are also separate proposals to control floods in other districts based on the Nilwala Ganga and Kalu Ganga. Clearly, Sri Lanka cannot afford to implement multiple projects of this nature simultaneously.

In any case, international cooperation is the way forward to combat climate change and its disastrous effects. The Paris Accord on Climate Change is one such international instrument that brings nations together. Rich countries have to do more to combat the harmful effects of climate change and also assist developing nations in this regard. Perhaps the Sri Lanka donor conference will be the first such initiative that is certain to spur wider North-South Cooperation on natural disasters and climate change. 


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