Sri Lanka needs laws to enforce evacuation orders: minister
ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka needs laws to enforce evacuation orders to minimise casualties from natural disasters some of which could have been avoided had people heeded warnings, Minister of Disaster Management Anura Priyadarshana Yapa said.
Casualties from last month’s landslides and floods triggered by heavy rains would have been higher had not the government activated its disaster response plan, he told a news conference.
“We need more laws to ensure people at risk from natural disasters heed evacuation orders,” he said. “And we need laws to prevent people going back to flood- and landslide-prone areas.”
Yapa said the disaster management centre had issued evacuation orders ahead of forecast heavy monsoon showers with police and local authorities using loud speakers to warn people.
“The death toll was higher because some people did not heed evacuation orders,” he said.
The biggest problem facing the government was how to prevent people returning to their homes which have now been identified as being at risk of floods or earthslips.
“For example, after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the government declared a 100 metre buffer zone in the coastal areas but people nevertheless ignored the rule and have resettled within the zone,” Yapa said.
“The government plan must be implemented whether people like it or not. Otherwise future calamities will be much worse than this.”
Previous disaster risk plans were no longer effective as demographics and land use patterns had changed and there were large communities living in areas identified as prone to floods or landslides, Yapa said.
Small farmers in the southern part of the country, the worst hit by the May rains, had extended tea cultivation up the slopes of hills, disturbing the natural flow of water, he said.
Low grown tea, produced mainly by small farmers, now account for the bulk of the island’s main export crop and fetch the highest prices.
“Certain places will have to be categorised as places people can’t settle,” Yapa said. “In some places people have to be relocated, and in other we have to work together with existing residents to prepare better for future disasters,”
Certain areas of river banks will have to considered as buffer zones, Yapa said.
Most problems created by excessive rainfall Yapa said.
The irrigation department had reported that in the May rains 400mm of rain had fallen in parts of the wet zone, the most in 200 years.
(COLOMBO, June 05, 2017)