government policy on tsunami buffer zone
By Arosha Perera Chartered Architect, AIA (SL) M.Sc.(Arch)
There is a university student in Dodanduwa who, after
the tsunami, is trying to collect money to build a new house. The
curious thing is that her (until recently legal) house which was
outside the Coast Conservation Departments earlier reservation was
not badly damaged by the tsunami and yet she has been asked by the
government to vacate her land and move to flats which are yet to
be built. This girl therefore is not merely a victim of the tsunami
but she has become more tragically a victim of government policy.
100-metre rule that the government is adamant to establish will
create thousands of such victims. What is worse still is that this
100-metre no build zone that the Urban Development Authority is
about to make law has absolutely no scientific basis to it.
UDA will tell you that a lot of thinking went in to this reservation
such as the height of land from the sea level and whether you are
on the East or West side of the island which in turn will vary the
depth of the reservation (they are planning to have a 200-metre
reservation on the East side because it faces the fault lines).
This is all well and good but they won't tell you how this is going
to save lives when and if the next tsunami hits since some of the
devastation had occurred beyond this reservation anyway. To me it
seems as though the government plans to finish off what the last
tsunami missed by destroying every building and community along
the entire coastline of our country.
UDA will tell you that this is not so at all and that if a building
was not damaged by the tsunami it would be allowed to stay. This
may be true however from this point onwards the UDA plans to tighten
the screws on everyone within the reservation so that no expansions
or changes will be allowed to any of the old structures, which essentially
is a way of killing it slowly.
government's plan is to move anyone within the 100-metre reservation
to the next available vacant government land. This could be from
100 metres to 4 kilometres inland. This land will then be cut and
cleared and new roadways and infrastructure will be laid and shiny
new houses will be built in rows, landscaped and handed over by
the local MP to grateful tsunami families that will live and flourish
in the new suburban neighbourhoods. If these families are too far
from the sea, the government plans to create industrial zones that
will give further employment to these families. All those ugly unauthorised
structures which blocked your view of the sea will be demolished
and a 100 to 200-metre public promenade will encircle our lovely
island. The families are saved, our shorelines are saved; everyone
is a winner.
reality at ground level is much different to that. Moving and re-housing
a million people is a huge task and has dire repercussions. I am
one of a group of architects who have volunteered my services to
both the government and the UDA after the tsunami in order to help
in the reconstruction work and I am already beginning to see the
repercussions of this quite ludicrous plan.
government's haste to build new houses has led to large sections
of deforestation. Therefore in the name of safeguarding our coastline
the government is willing to sacrifice and disrupt huge sections
of our inland ecosystems. Also this mechanism starts displacing
people who live inland since some of them occupy land that will
be taken by the government. It just produces more displaced families,
more victims of government policy.
locations themselves are based on the availability of land rather
than the availability of resources such as water, electricity sewerage
and drainage systems and even places of employment, so that some
of these communities will be located in places which will not be
able to support a village. Think Kaju Gama on a national scale.
sociological implications are in even more dire straits. Villages
grow over a period of time and adapt and change to facilitate the
delicate sociological ties of its particular community. It is these
sociological traits that manifest themselves spatially to give a
village a particular character. The government plans to replace
all our indigenous coastal villages with monotonous strip row housing
which will never address these sociological ties and therefore essentially
wipe out all traits of our coastal villages forever.
still is that the government plans to allow members of particular
races to choose which village they would prefer to live in. The
result is that we will have 100% Sinhala villages, 100% Muslim villages
and 100% Tamil villages. In the history of Sri Lanka we have never
had such a thing; we have had villages which have a majority of
Sinhala or Muslim or Tamil but you never get totally racially homogenous
villages. The only places you get such things are in concentration
camps and in South Africa during the Apartheid, the result of which
generally leads to some form of genocide.
governments' response to the tsunami is about to lead to more devastation
than the tsunami or even subsequent tsunamis could ever achieve.
If you are not angry you should be, if you look at government policy,
what they are essentially saying is that they see no difference
between a coastal village dweller and a shanty dweller and that
they are willing to consider both as a nuisance and a liability.
They believe that the coastal areas of our country can be saved
in much the same way the Colombo's Beira Lake was saved. In affect
they are treating with contempt the very people they claim to represent.
victims of the tsunami are people who have been hit by the worst
natural disaster to occur in the world in recorded history. These
are not people you then take and give more grief to. The prerogative
of government policy cannot simply be based on an opportunistic
idea of clearing out the coastline while they still can.
policy should always be to protect our way of life. Isn't this what
we are asking the LTTE to join? If the government has such disregard
for our way of life how can we possibly get the LTTE and the people
they claim to represent to join us? The government's prerogative
in the face of this disaster should be to get these people back
on their feet, living their lives and earning a living as soon as
right now we need to think of rebuilding on the land that these
people occupied or on land close to where they were. By doing this
we can then consider creating denser settlements with better infrastructure
and more open areas and design these settlements to be more environmentally
friendly. In short we can achieve all of what the government requires
with the least amount of sociological damage to the victims of the
tsunami and all those who were never even touched by the tsunami
such as the university student in Dodanduwa.
grandiose plan of resettlement doesn't sit well with the international
donors either. In order to access the vast amount of money that
we have been pledged the government has to promote building projects
that the international donors consider viable and worth putting
their money into. The fact that we have yet to get a single project
off the ground two months passed the tsunami shows that we have
not been able to convince the donors of the viability of our proposals.
This is because unlike our government, the international donor countries
do place value on a society's way of life and find what the government
is doing to be both insensitive and Draconian.
should not waste time and money on half-baked ideas which will lead
to half-baked communities. The government is getting deeper and
deeper into more and more problems that are caused by their policy
and I fear that instead or revising their original policy decisions
they plan to get even more restrictive.