ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, May 06, 2007
Vol. 41 - No 49

Drowning in excuses

As some parts of the country including Colombo city were flooded after incessant rains, relevant authorities play the usual blame game

By Chathuri Dissanayake

The Colombo Municipal Council (CMC) has once again come under fire as the rains came down last week resulting in many of the roads in the city getting inundated leaving thousands of people stranded. However, as is always the case, yet again no one took the responsibility for what has now become a regular occurrence in and around the city.

The tragic death of a young woman falling into a drainage hole in Colombo-07 underlined the seriousness of the problem . (See story on victim).

A mini river at Wanawasala

It is the same old story that is trotted out by CMC officials who placed the blame on the drainage system that has not been renovated nor upgraded to meet the requirements of the city.

“The drainage system in the city is an old one which has not been renovated in keeping with the infrastructure changes in the city. The sewerage system is more than 100 years old. So it is only inevitable that this kind of situation will arise. It is the same in Galle too,” Colombo Deputy Mayor A.K.M. S. Rajendran said.

He also said another factor was the clogging of the drainage system and unauthorized structures that have been built obstructing the drainage lines and canal system, making it difficult to carry out renovations and cleaning up.

When asked why the CMC did little or nothing in the way of renovations and cleaning the cannals on time, the blame was placed squarely on the previous local administration. “Those who held office at the CMC previously had not taken timely action to renovate the drainage systems and not prevented unauthorized buildings obstructing the drainage and canal networks,” Mr, Rajendran charged.

However, Sri Lanka Land Reclamation and Development Corporation (SLRDC) General Manager G. Alawattegama said that the canal network was being well maintained but the localized flooding which happens in the city was due to the problems in the sub drainage systems which did not come under their purview.

Gushing waters at Horton Place, Colombo. Pix by Lakshman Gunathilake, Gemunu Wellage and J. Weerasekera

These officials also say the rapidly decreasing areas of retention land (wet lands) around the city were another major cause for the flooding. The unauthorized structures which have come up in such lands in Dehiwala, Sri Jayawardanapura, Kolonnawa were a contributory cause for the unusually heavy flooding and reduced the 1000 acres of retention land to 700 in and around the city.

As is the case when a disaster occurs, the CMC is holding discussions with the Ministry of Urban Development and the SLRDC to address the situation, The Sunday Times learns. The CMC however says that the necessary renovation would be costly and it would be a long term project as most of the pipe lines in the city would have to be replaced. “A long term solution for this would be to build a pumping system in Gothotuwa. We have not discussed the details yet, but it would be costly with high operations and maintenance costs,” Mr. Alawattegama said.

Another major obstacle the authorities say they face is the lack of an updated map of the drainage system of the city. The available map is an outdated one that has not been updated with changes that have occurred in the infrastructure of the city . “This makes it impossible to locate the exact problem area in the drainage system. The development of this map alone would be a huge project and would be very costly. However, it needs to be done,” Mr. Rajendran said.

RDA officials say that the long unsolved problem of garbage disposal was also contributing to the flooding of the city. “Many of the drainage networks in the areas that were flooded had been blocked because people in the area had dumped garbage in the drains. When the garbage gets stuck in the pipe lines it is very difficult to clean them as the lines run deep underground and to clean it is a costly process. Some of these systems are so old that the pipes would have to be replaced if they are dug out for cleaning,” RDA chairman M.B.S. Fernando said. He strongly believes if the city garbage problem could be solved the problem of flooding too could be addressed. “If a proper garbage disposal system is in place, there won’t be any garbage blocking the drainage systems and this would solve a lot of environmental and health issues as well,” he said.

He also said that the government would have to spend about Rs. 25 to 30 million per kilometre if they were to replace the drainage system.

A tragedy was inevitable: Residents

Anoma Gunadasa was the young life that was swallowed up by a pit of death, in Colombo 7, when the city was lashed by incessant rains followed by floods on Thursday.

An employee of Save the Children, Anoma was an accomplished young woman with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural economics and a Masters in Business administration.

Anoma was at the threshold of a new chapter in her life when death in the most unbelievable and shocking form snatched her away.

Anoma and her family paid dearly for the sheer negligence of CMC workers.

Anoma’s family members who are grieving over their loss, say their only plea is that corrective action be taken before more innocent people fall victim to such death traps. The CMC has admitted that the tragedy occurred due to the negligence of the CMC workers who had failed to replace a concrete slab over the drain to protect pedestrians from falling in to it. However no action has been taken to bring to book those who were responsible. “No complaint has been made yet. We are waiting for a formal complaint to be recorded to take action,” Colombo’s Deputy Mayor said.

After the tragedy: CMC workers cleaning up the death trap

Residents of Wijerama Junction in Colombo 7 had reportedly complained to the CMC on many occassions about the dangers of the unprotected drain. The last complaint was made only three weeks ago. However, little had been done to remedy the situation.
A resident told The Sunday Times that she was not at all surprised that such a tragedy occurred. “There are many unprotected drains and gullies in the area. People could fall in and get injured even on a normal day. On a rainy day when it’s flooded you cannot see the drains so people fall in. I have seen a person fall in and get injured some time ago too. Thankfully, he was only injured.

“If there is even a little rain the Wijerama area goes under water. Authorities raise rates but nothing is renovated or maintained properly,” she charged.

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Copyright 2007 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.