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qrcode.29154522Sri Lanka needs a National Environmental Policy that can be effectively enforced to deal with current threats. We should not only react, but should develop and implement policies that will reduce risks. In fact the Disaster Management Centre, together with the National Building Research Organization, has developed plans in some sectors. But these institutions need to be strengthened, and given a mandate to ensure implementation of the Risk Reduction Plans that have been produced.

Meeriyabedda tea plantation in Koslanda

…. develop and implement policies that will reduce risks.

It is also necessary to lay down clear guidelines about the relations between such policy making bodies and those who implement. While the DMC has staff in the Districts, manpower for support has to come from the services, the military as well as the police. Active involvement of village committees is also vital. But in addition there must be direction on the basis of clear authority, which is where the Divisional Secretaries, and even the District Secretary, have a crucial role. This should all be laid down in Standard Operating Procedures, which should be known and understood by all officials, including the Grama Niladharis.

Sri Lankans wade through rain water on a flooded road of PiliyanDala suburb of Colombo on November 11, 2010

… continuing problems must be addressed

Particular attention must be paid to landslides and floods. The continuing problems in certain areas must be addressed through coordinated mitigation measures. These should include a comprehensive Water Policy, since otherwise many areas are subject to flood during some periods, and drought in others.

At present interventions with regard to irrigation and to the supply of water, are made with no proper coordination. It is essential to develop methods of storing excess water, which requires greater attention to small reservoirs that could serve a small group of villages. More responsibility for identifying schemes and for implementing them should be given to Divisional Secretariats, which are able to consult the stakeholders in the area. Such consultation should be mandatory and people kept informed of projects in their home areas, with space to object and have their concerns noted and addressed before action is taken. This should be a regular agenda item at consultative committee meetings at Grama Niladhari level, and suggestions should be collated and assessed in the formulation of Divisional Secretariat level plans.

…. ensure that threats to life are eradicated

The Policy should also aim at ensuring that safe drinking water is available to all. In coordination with the Ministry of Health, the Water Board should ensure that threats to life such as the now rapidly spreading kidney disease are eradicated. Fertilizer must be subject to rigid testing, since it seems that excessive use of chemicals is destroying traditional agricultural lands. It is also essential to develop effective information dissemination systems to ensure that necessary precautions are taken. Some time back the DMC together with UNDP produced simple booklets for schools, and such resources must be increased, with time given in the school curriculum to ensure proper understanding. In this regard it would be useful for the Education Ministry to review the Life Skills curriculum, and perhaps reintroduce some of the ideas in the curriculum developed in 2005 which was summarily changed when a new regime took over at the Ministry of Education. The Ministry should also consider making this subject compulsory at Ordinary Level, instead of History, which was hurriedly made compulsory without proper analysis of the benefits to students and the wider community.

An effective programme of Disaster Management will also involve attention to environmental protection, since steps must be taken to protect forest cover and wildlife. But this cannot be at the expense of the lives and livelihoods of rural communities. Now we find that farmers are not permitted to function in their traditional grounds while politicians amass large fortunes through acquisition of what should be common lands, along with excessive deforestation. Read the rest of this entry »

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Rajiva Wijesinha

April 2015
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