Daily News Online

Tuesday, 1 February 2011






Marriage Proposals
Government Gazette

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 a catastrophe.

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 landslides.

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.

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