Sri Lanka has abandoned an initiative to use satellite technology during natural disasters, leaving Rs 72 million worth of equipment unused for four years before finally dismantling it, the Auditor General (AG) has found. The project was initiated in 2011 and given up despite the country facing severe natural disasters in previous years, states the latest report of the AG on the Disaster Management Centre (DMC). The DMC found out that the satellite technology equipment was not compatible with its other systems, only when the full system was installed.
When it comes to monsoonal rainfall, the saying “when it rains, it pours” is usually an apt description. With that said, the rains that fell across Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Malaysia, southern Thailand, and Australia during the second half of December and beginning of January were unusually heavy, even for this extremely wet region of the globe.
From December 14 through the first two weeks of January, more than 39 inches (1000 mm) of rain fell in parts of Malaysia. On the Malay Peninsula, in just 24 hours between December 21-22, the city of Kuantan observed up to 10 inches (255mm) of rain.
The rains extended as far south as the remote Dampier Peninsula in northwestern Australia, where, during the beginning of January, more than 400mm fell in 24 hours in Cape Leveque. The 400mm nearly double the previous 24-hr January record at the station. In fact, the number could have even been higher except the rain gauge overflowed. It was the tenth highest daily rainfall amount on record in Western Australia. Overall, rains since December 14 were 150-600% of normal across Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Malaysia, southern Thailand and northern Australia.
Reservoirs, urban drainage systems not designed to absorb water in such massive quantities
Last week, it rained so hard in Mannar that the rain gauge notched 350mm (12 inches) within a day. The waterways overflowed. It was a downpour of tremendous proportions. But, beset like the rest of the world by climate change problems, it was hardly unusual for Sri Lanka.
There is no sugarcoating it. Sri Lanka faces issues due to global warming. The most notable one is a change in rainfall patterns. There were more floods and more droughts. And each episode was more severe than the one before it.
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[COLOMBO] Sri Lankan officials say the country is prepared to face the El Niño weather phenomenon in the last quarter of 2015 and take precautions based on the experience of the recent past. Continue reading Sri Lanka ready for El Niño→
A mysterious kidney disease that has killed over 20,000 people in Central America since 2002, and now spreading to other countries including India, may be caused by chronic, severe dehydration linked to global climate change, says a new study.
“This could be the first epidemic directly caused by global warming,” said one of the researchers Richard Johnson, professor of medicine at the University of Colorado, School of Medicine in the US.
As of 5 Nov 2014, the Disaster Management Center (DMC) reported that search and rescue teams have recovered 10 bodies at the Koslanda tea plantation in Badulla estate. The DMC reported 1,875 people affected, five people injured and 28 people still missing.
Following the advice of the Ministry of Disaster Management, a joint rapid needs assessment, originally planned for 5 and 6 Nov, did not take place. A secondary data and desk review is currently underway in Colombo with enhanced coordination and information management capacity. UNDP is preparing to fund a longer term multi-agency assessment of new evacuation sites being created across the district and potential landslide areas.
COLOMBO, 4 November 2014 (IRIN) – Nearly one week after a central Sri Lankan village was hit by a deadly landslide on 29 October, officials are reviewing how dozens of injuries, at least six deaths and hundreds of displacements could have been avoided with better disaster preparedness.
On 4 November, the government’s Disaster Management Centre (DMC) noted that following the landslide that hit Meeriyabedda village, Badulla District, in the country’s centre, six bodies have been recovered and 32 people are listed as missing
Only six days before the disaster, the government had carried out evacuation drills nationwide tailored to tsunami, flood and landslide risk. Simulations were carried out in two villages near Meeriyabedda (Boragas and Gavammna) identified by DMC as having similar landslide risk levels – but not in Meeriyabedda.
DMC noted that “many” other locations in the district at high risk of landslides have also not been covered by recent drills.
DMC spokesperson Sarath Lal Kumara said Meeriyabedda was not selected for the drill last month because it already had a drill in 2009 during a disaster preparedness training.
Ten years after a tsunami battered the island nation, killing at least 31,000, national evacuation drills are held every three months to cover tsunamis, floods, and landslides. DMC headquarters selects sites for the drills, prioritizing places that have not had any disaster preparedness training.
After the landslide in Badulla District, experts are advocating that rigorous early warning and evacuation procedures – now more focused on tsunami threats – be adapted to landslide-prone areas in other parts of the island as well. The National Building Resources Organisation (NBRO) estimates 20 percent of the country is prone to landslides, mainly in hilly parts that host the country’s prosperous tea plantations, but also have some of the country’s highest poverty rates.
Sri Lanka’s tea cultivators, also known as the estate community – an estimated 900,000 people – are among the country’s poorest. In Badulla District (part of the country’s tea basket) the percentage of people living below the poverty line (12 percent) is almost twice the national average, based on April 2014 government figures.
According to NBRO district official N K R Seneviratne, disaster-prone villages in Badulla District are mostly populated by tea cultivators who have been living for generations in buildings often constructed haphazardly, with little regard to zoning permits.
Many Meeriyabedda villagers remained in their houses despite days of NBRO warnings, the first of which came on 25 October, four days before the landslide hit.
“They stayed at the village because they did not have a clear idea on how to move out or where to move out,” Indu Abeyratne, head of Early Warning Systems at the Sri Lanka Red Cross (SLRC), told IRIN.
“Ideally a government agency should have taken the lead in such an evacuation process, as happens in other parts of the country,” Kumara added.
SLRC’s Abeyratne said that even if an evacuation alert had been issued, it would have led to chaos. “An evacuation plan cannot be set in motion suddenly. It needs planning. More importantly, people should know what they need to do and whose directions to follow.”
Very early warnings
In 2005, NBRO carried out a survey in the area after a smaller landslide hit. Seneviratne, the NBRO chief geologist for Badulla District (who held the same position then), recommended that the entire village of Meeriyabedda be relocated.
“What we found was that the area was heavily built-upon with houses, but the soil was very loose and prone to landslides,” Seneviratne told IRIN.
Another survey in 2011 made the same recommendations. In 2009, the DMC, with the Sri Lankan Red Cross and NBRO, trained villagers to be alert for landslide danger signals. Villagers were advised to form citizen committees to coordinate these efforts. Some villagers received mega-phones and basic rain gauges.
There was no official follow-up to check whether committees were formed. NBRO’s Seneviratne said there were no efforts by the government or the private plantation company that owns the land to relocate the village.
Relocating the village is included in a long-term government plan released by the DMC.
NRBO has active landslide warnings for the districts of Kalutara, Nuwera Eliya, Badula, Kandy, Matale, Kegalle, and Rathnapura, which have a combined population of 5.3 million people.