Human folly and nature’s fury
The recent floods and landslides in the country caused
unprecedented destruction and economic loss and an overall
strategy is needed to minimize damage from natural disasters by
addressing the causes that have led to such damage in a more
serious way than is being done now. Such destruction cannot be
treated in isolation. What is needed is a holistic approach to
identify the reasons and effect appropriate remedial measures.
The destruction caused by the recent landslides in the hill
country could have been minimized if the people had been
sufficiently warned and adequate precautions taken.
Now the National Building Research Organization (NBRO) is to
issue new guidelines for development, construction and human
settlement activities in all landslide prone areas. What this
means is in future no settlements will be allowed in locations
designated as landslide prone. A landslide hazard zonal map is
being prepared in 20 districts that have been identified as
landslide prone to guide local decision makers in permitting
constructions in such areas.
This is a sound move considering the recent spate of
landslides even in areas hitherto considered safe that caught
people off guard. The shift in the ecological balance over the
years due to environmental degradation has now made even once
landslide free areas vulnerable today. Therefore steps are
needed to put a halt to indiscriminate development ignoring
environmental factors. The maps will now help sort out the
danger zones so that they could be cleared of all human
habitation. The public will also be sufficiently warned to avoid
such areas and use alternate routes in their travel.
Based on research the NBRO has also revealed that 90 percent
of the recent landslides in the country was due to human
activity. This is hardly surprising given the mindless
destruction of the country’s natural environment over the past
few decades in the name of development and progress.
What our economic planners had failed to grasp is the overall
devastation to the country’s physical well-being due to this
haphazard thinking, which we are witnessing all too often these
days. The recent unprecedented floods and accompanying
earthslips and landslides are all the outcome of the cumulative
effects of this massive destruction of the country’s forest
cover and other ecologically harmful acts such as illegal sand
mining and indiscriminate soil removal all bringing us close to
What is more the destruction seems to be continuing apace.
Today large stretches of land are being earmarked for sale for
housing projects or to be leased out to the hospitality industry
to build hotels. The one time coconut belt on the North Western
Province is fast becoming a barren desert caught in the tide of
the development. Even tea estates are being denuded threatening
one of the mainstays of the country’s export industry. If things
proceed at this rate very soon Sri Lanka too will be ranked
among the disaster countries such as Bangladesh where
cataclysmic floods have become the norm.
In our main story yesterday the NBRO states that haphazard
steepening of slopes for housing and other constructions have
been identified as the chief cause for a majority of the
It is common knowledge that most of these lands are occupied
by squatters with political protection and they are virtually
left to their own devices. Hence the destruction to the natural
order of things we are witnessing today with serious ecological
implications. It is time that such people are evicted from their
unauthorized habitations before they cause further damage.
Politicians should henceforth not be allowed to give free rein
to these destructive elements who are unwittingly taking the
country down a precipice.
The country is in imminent danger of a major catastrophe if
this gradual shift in the ecological balance is allowed to
continue unchecked. Therefore top priority should be accorded to
this aspect leaving aside all development plans in the interim.
For, no development will be of any use if the country is
periodically submerged in floods and entire settlements are
buried under earthslips.
As mentioned the recent floods affected nearly one million
persons and dealt a severe set back to the economy. The
Government should embark on a long-term plan to minimize the
effects of natural disasters. While these natural disasters
cannot be avoided we should take all necessary steps to deal
with those factors that contribute to exacerbate such disasters.
This is by taking steps to maintain the ecological balance
and not disturb the natural setting. Above all we should think
in terms of combining development with environmental protection.
The President who always underlines the need for sustainable
development should appoint a Special Task Force to exclusively
tackle this subject of environmental degradation before the
country suffers further disasters triggered by human folly.