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RIO+20 The Future We Want

RIO+20 the future we want

Predicting the Unpredictable in Sri Lanka

By Senel Wanniarachchi

Floods in Hambantota-Tissamaharamaya.

Sri Lanka is taking all measures to gear up for potential disasters in the future. Implementing disaster management plans may not completely guarantee the safety of all people and their possessions, but it surely reduces the risk posed by a disaster.

As the world remembers, Tsunami hit the island on the day after Christmas in 2004 swept around 30,000 people away, and displaced some 1.5 million people. The tragic experience brought the Government of Sri Lanka and international agencies together to develop a comprehensive disaster risk management mechanism.

Disasters hit the most unexpected regions at the most unexpected times.  The need to prepare is real. “When a disaster strikes a country, it’s the poor that is predominantly affected in most cases,” says Dr. Ananda Mallawathanthri, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Sri Lanka’s Assistant Resident Representative in Sri Lanka. “This is partly because the poor reside in areas which are more vulnerable and prone to disasters, such as the coastal belt.”

Prepare, Mitigate and Manage

Roofs swept away by cyclone.

After the killer waves of the 2004 Tsunami, Sri Lanka’s focus changed from disaster response to disaster risk reduction. In 2005, UNDP supported the establishment of the Disaster Management Centre as a focal point for disaster management. The Centre is an around-the-clock emergency operations center, acting in liaison with ministries, authorities and agencies, private sector companies, non-governmental organizations and the military. It also issues warnings and conducts evacuations.

UNDP also provided training at the national, district and community levels so as to streamline warning and evacuation systems in the event of a disaster occurring. The training curriculum includes first aid to victims, rescue strategies, managing the elderly and the disabled, and identifying safe and fast evacuation pathways.

UNDP Regional Centre in Bangkok set up a database of past disaster incidents since 1974 as well. The database analyzes disaster trends and their impacts in a systematic manner. With increased understanding of the disaster trends and their impacts, better prevention and mitigation measures can be planned to reduce the impact of disasters on the communities. In order to facilitate this, UNDP also funded a detailed landslide mapping exercise that covers eight districts of Sri Lanka that are prone to landslides. 

To provide a scientific base for disaster risk reduction and develop hazard vulnerability profiles, various agencies established the Coast Conservation Department. With the participation of the Sri Lankan government agencies, academia and international agencies, the Department developed a coastal risk profile for coastal hazards such as sea level rise, tsunami and coastal erosion, as well as cyclones, draughts, floods and landslides.

The United Nations continues to support the Government to meet the urgent needs caused by various natural disasters. For example, it assisted the government in securing shelter, food and drinking water for one million people affected by the second wave of floods early last year. In 2011 alone, the UN and partner agencies provided nearly USD 26 million in assistance to flood victims in the eastern, northern and north central provinces, while communities recovering from the war received USD 99 million in support. In addition, United Nations Children’s Fund dispatched around 4,600 tarpaulins; the International Organization for Migration supplied 9,000 plastic sheets and tarpaulins; and the United Nations Refugee Agency provided 400 tents, in aid of the victims for the second wave of floods.  

Integrated Environmental Assessment

UNDP Sri Lanka Disaster Management Team visits the field.

Starting with the conflict-affected northern province, UNDP has begun developing Integrated Strategic Environmental Assessments for land use, conservation, infrastructural development, service delivery and urban planning. It is aimed at better understanding the natural resource base in the northern province after the conflict and providing strategic information to facilitate rapid development. Assessments will be carried out in advance to identify potentially adverse effects on the environment.

Over 25 agencies including Government agencies worked together on this venture to capitalize on their diverse technical strengths. UNDP provided technical, coordination and financial assistance in new data generation including mapping of water resources, mineral and archeological resources, boundaries of forests and wild life to facilitate the process. The United Nations Environment Programme’s Post Conflict and Disaster Management Branch lent specific technical assistance as well. The global partnership and the Government’s support strengthen Sri Lanka to better prepare for future disasters.