Floods and landslides: Whose Responsibilities?

floods 2By Raveendra Kariyawasam.                                     

According to government reports, recent flooding and landslides in Sri Lanka have caused widespread disruptions across the country. At least 200,000 people have been displaced by the floods, many casualties have been reported and dozens are feared missing. Government try to say this is a result of climate change. According to me, climate change is like a god. God does not take any responsibility and he doesn’t have to do anything to conserve people or nature.

This is not a normal situation for Sri Lanka. We were discussing this disaster since 2010 and we hoped it. Our precise reports explained this situation before it comes and those have handed over to the Sri Lankan president and Environment ministry and other responsible persons and institutes.

Through the reports and campaign’s we were asked much time to stop the destruction of sensitive environment areas ,while implementing national physical plane .But Government does not care about happiness of people . This capitalist system increases the profit for business and decrease the quality of life.

That’s why; if people die day by day the government destructs nature continuously. This article explains which are the reasons for flooding, landslide and other disasters in the country.

The government is implementing mega unsustainable development projects through the natural sensitive areas.

The Government has developed a National Physical Plan to be implemented from 2011 – 2030 with the aim of developing the country following the easy paths open under globalisation. It is important to analyse the plan considering its implication on an environment and the socioeconomic and political situation of the country.

This plan intends to develop the country as a centre of naval and air travel, trading, power and education but not as a centre of environmental protection or farming.

The Government has signed an agreement with 36 countries including India and China on 4th July 2005 to build a network of highways in Sri Lanka and link it with the Asian Highway network. As per this agreement, highways will be constructed between Matara and Hambantota, Kandy and Colombo, Hambantota and Ampara. Finally, it will be connected to Asian highway network via Mannar and Danuskody in India. In addition to these main highways in the country, the other main towns will also be linked through a similar highway network. The length of this road network will be around 11697 km and they will be constructed by sand and earth filling as in the case of Kottawa – Pinnaduwa highway.

In addition, an island-wide railway network will also be constructed and linked to Indian railway network through Adam’s bridge at Mannar via Danuskody in India. It has also been planned to charge exorbitant rates for these travelling.

The tourism industry is going to receive a priority in the development plan. There will be tourist hotels constructed along coastal belt, beaches and lagoons and at ecologically important places to promote tourism. The proposed hotels will come up in areas from Chillaw to south and north in the country, in ancient cities like Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa and forest areas of Bibile and Nilgala and other locations.

The countries such as the United States of America, China and India wish to develop Sri Lanka as a centre of air travel. For this purpose, Katunayaka airport will be expanded and improved. Two new airports are also going to be constructed at Mattala and Higurakgoda. It has also been planned to develop the existing airports at Palali, Trincomalee, Puttalam, Batticaloa, Kalutara, Ampara, Vavuniya, Anuradhapura, Galle and Ratmalana. From 2013 onwards, new airports will be constructed at Kandy, Nuwara Eliya and Dambulla. According to this plan, there will be 19 airports in Sri Lanka by 2030.

The national physical plan proposes to develop areas like Anuradhapura, several places in the North and Monaragala for the production of export oriented crops such as vegetables, groundnuts, sugar cane, farm oil and timber for market. Investors will be allowed to start new industries. Municipal council zones, special towns and district capitals will be established in agriculture based areas like Mannar which have now been earmarked for development of industrial zones, investment zones, information technology centres and commercial centres and not as centres of agriculture. The areas from Gampha district to Kalutara, from Matara, Hambantota up to Tanamalwila are going to be declared as Municipal zones. Similarly, the areas between Ampara and Batticaloa will be renamed as Eastern Municipal zone while Trincomalee, Polonnaruwa, Dambulla and Anuradhapura areas will come under the North Central municipal Council area. Mannar, Killinochchi and up to point Pedro will be renamed as North Municipal Council zone.

The other development activities proposed are mining of minerals in the coastal areas, different types of hydropower generation activities, nuclear power and coal power generation and development of 40 fisheries harbours and increasing the number of fishing crafts in use up to 40,000. Development of fibre optic information network from Batticaloa up to Hambantota connecting Lahugala, Yala, Udawalawe Wildlife sanctuaries is also included in the plan.

The national Physical Plan to be implemented from 2011 – 2030 creates serious negative impacts on the ecosystems which have not so far been disturbed from development interventions. The proposed Municipal zones, highways, coal power and nuclear power generation projects and commercial crop cultivation activities will impact on environment significantly.

As a result of Colombo – Matara highway, Sinharaja forest declared as a World heritage, will be fragmented twice and 39 forests including Sinharaja will be destroyed due to the proposed development activities. The Udawalawa wildlife Sanctuary, Wetahirakanda, Lunugamwehera, Madunagala, Weerawila, Nimalawa, Bundala, Ussangoda, Kataragama, Katagamuwa, Ruhunu Yala, Sagama, Buddangala, Ulpassa, Egodayaya, Mahakanadarawa, Anuradhapura, Mihintale, Ritigala, Kahalla, Pallekele, Sigiriya, Mnneriya, Giritale, Elehara, Bakamuna, Kavudulla, Somawathiya, Neval headwork, Chundikulama, Wilpattu, Yodawewa, Wenkaladi, Madu Reservation, Muthurajawela, Kalametiya, Priyakachchi Wildlife Sanctuaries and forest reservation will be highly disturbed due to highways. Bibile Nilgala area would have tremendous repercussions as a result of the proposed hotel complexes. Land grabbing for these purposes will continue hitherto unknown scale in future. Forests are the barrier to prevent soil erosions and at the same time, it prevents debris making in wet areas and hill country. Roots systems in trees hold the soil layer and protect the earth from the landslide. Destruction of forest cover increased soil erosion, debris and landslide in the country.

The percentage value of available forest area in 2012 is around 16.5 and by 2030, this will be further reduced to 13% – 10% with the decrease of forests due to the implementation of national Physical Plan.

In 2011, around 65000 acres of land was given to the Dole Multinational Company and CIC Company from the reserved forest areas in the country for banana cultivation. If this trend in granting lands to private companies continues along with the proposed development activities in the National Physical Plan, the percentage value of the existing forest area will reduce below 10%.
At present, out of the land area of 65525 sq. km in the country, 83.5% is already in use for tea, coconut and rubber cultivation, construction of towns, human settlements and other crop cultivations, the remaining land area under forest cover is 16.55 only.

As the result of these deforestation activities, Sri Lanka that now in the fourth place among the countries destroying the primary forest, will become the first among them. This will lead to the extinction of the biodiversity in the country threatening the following flora and fauna species.

The unsustainable development activities plan to be implemented up to 2030 will lead to an extinction of valuable flora and fauna species in the country. Even at present Sri Lanka is considered as one out of 24 biodiversity hotspots in the world threatened with extinction.

With the continuing large-scale deforestation, the forest areas in the country will reduce to 13% – 10% with which groundwater levels in the forests will deplete and the rivers will suffer from acute water shortage and go dry. It has been identified that 103 rivers will become dead rivers as in the case of Maguru Oya which is almost dead by now.

There are riffles and pools midstream of every river River According to our research observations, Riffles and pools of rivers have been covered by concrete buildings and roads and micro hydro projects and mega development of government , people have blocked water feeding channels, for example in Kelani River. Riffles and Pools are located in Kaluaggala, Awisswella, Waga and Hanwella areas. Colombo Awissawella road and many buildings were built while blocking and destroying Riffles and pools. It creates flood and landslide in many areas in Sri Lanka.

The flow of water in the bed should be natural. River beds downstream Sri Lankan Rivers are filled with sediments. Both stream’s beds do not have a regular and natural flow of water.

Transport in sediments in rivers come from flood plains; erosion and construction around Rivers have been affected increase flood and landslide in Sri Lanka. For example ,due to the construction of Pico hydro power on the top of Laxapan’s waterfall and Kitulgala, Kelani River receives tonnes of sediments. And it has been increased flood in Hanwella and Colombo’s area. Most of the rivers receive lots of sediments from the concrete jungle of construction of mega-highway and another mega-development site from in Sri Lanka.

In the process of building of large cities, Highway, airports, Tourist hotel and roads, a large number of minor tanks will disappear and tank cascades will be blocked disturbing the natural water flow conditions. As a result of that, droughts and floods will become a recurrent feature In Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Trikunamlaya, Kurunegala and other areas.

The floodplain is the neighbouring part of River or Stream. That stretches from the banks of its channel to the base of the enclosing valley walls and experiences flooding during periods of high discharge (Goudie, A. S., 2004). Floodplains of Buddha Nullah are located in the entire length of Ludhiana city. Kelani river’s floodplains are located from Kaduwel Bridge to a tributary of Kelani River.

Many floodplains are been destroyed by Mega development projects. As an example, a highway was built while destructing Muturajawela wetland and other wetlands in the country, before built the highway, there were not a flooding in Kaduwela and J –ela areas. Encroachment of floodplain has caused massive disaster,

Many river flood plains have been taken to build sites of homes, businesses, and other urban development.

More evident in Kelani River, when the rain comes, the water level of Kelani River goes high and flooding, human settlements of floodplain get trouble year by year around flood plain areas.

The Mahaweli Development Plan which started with the anticipation of achieving a tremendous development within a short period resulted in ecological disasters, such as landslides, flood increasing, human-elephant conflicts, land fragmentation and commercialization of agriculture and the pauperization of peasantry, losing biodiversity. The country is still paying debts to international funding agencies that provided funds for Mahaweli Accelerated Development Program. This trend continues with the development activities proposed under the National Physical Plan.

Another example, Meeriaybadda landslide affected to one village and many people die in 2015. The cause of the landslide must be imputed to the Uma Oya project in which the drilling and blasting method is used for rock breaking and tunnel drilling. The vibration of this process is felt by the area where there is an inevitable risk of landslides in future like many other countries which underwent projects like Uma Oya around the world.

Landslides in Aranayak are also a result of this mega development and destruction of nature. People of Aranayak talk with us few months before this incident and there was a risk .When I write this article many people have died in the area due to the landslides.

We have more than enough environment laws to protect nature and prevent disaster but all laws are under pressure of political power and money .The government of Sri Lanka does not care about people or nature’s life even they sell our kidney and blood to find out money to sustain the politicians .

Funds for the destructive National Physical Plan are provided by the funding agencies like the World Bank and Asian Development Bank. People like John Parkinson who wrote the Book “Confession of an Economic Hitman” says that Countries like America believed in a rapid tremendous development through their development interventions and when they found them fail one by one, they made efforts to maintain their economy strong, exploiting other countries by way of high-interest rates and conspiracies to topple down governments acting against their policies and so-called development programs.

In Parkinson’s view, the capitalist countries build hope in the minds of leaders in poor countries through their imaginary models for rapid economic development. One such example is Norochchol Coal Power Project in Sri Lanka. The project has failed to provide any benefits promised at the inception. It is finally at a loss and we have lost not only the anticipated profit but also the land provided for the project.

Parkinson further says people like him serving foreign companies are trying to convince the other developing countries of their development strategies and provide loans through which those countries can be caught in an everlasting debt trap. The capitalist countries make huge profits through interest charged for loans and exploitation of natural resources of the countries concerned. They are also concerned with appointing people who obey their policies and commands as the leaders of these countries and also changing leaders who work against their interests.

This development policy is now being implemented in the country through the proposed National Development Plan. The life of people , Sustainability of fauna and flora, lands, water are less important to them in their development. Any country pursuing development goals with due regard for the environment, especially its sustainability has not been able to achieve desired economic and political developments. Mega development does not sustain the world .It has proven again in Sri Lanka. The government is accelerating environment destruction .It creates flooding, landslides in the country. This is not the last incident if they continue environmental destruction people will face huge disasters in the future.

Luxury apartments, Highways, Airports, Megacities, supermarkets are not a socio-economic indicator of a country. The happiness of the every citizen should be the vital fact of a society. Though capitalists regimes unconditionally stand for National Physical plane, World Bank and Asian development bank agendas. They do not bother about the priorities of the vulnerable majority.

People have to understand what is going on; no gods come to protect nature or human, we have to protect our self, for our protection we wanna aware each other and have to fight against destruction and capitalist agenda.

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