After the floods: Deluge of promises for long-term solutions

By Nadia Fazlulhaq, Pic by J.Weerasekera

The torrential rains that flooded many areas in the districts of Colombo, Gampaha and Kalutara with water levels rising above six feet, have hopefully reminded officials of the urgent need for long-term solutions that go beyond temporary measures such as distributing relief to those affected.

In the usual blame-game that occurs in the state sector, each institute blames the other for the floody hell.

Knee-deep in flood waters, two traffic policemen push a three-wheeler to higher ground after it broke down at Colombo 7’s Wijerama Mawatha.

Newly appointed Disaster Management Minister A.H.M. Fowzie said, there has to be better coordination among authorities handling disaster situations. He said local government authorities, should work together with ministries including irrigation and water resources, water supply and drainage, power and energy, environment and even education to come up with an overall contingency plan to prevent such disasters in the future.

“The former government spent Rs. 300 million on a cleaning up project of drainages and canals, but the local authorities failed to maintain it thereafter and the public also gave very little support,” he said.

Spelling out some of the areas that have to be looked into, the minister said the sewerage system in Colombo city had to be completely revamped before a major disaster occurred, while construction should be prohibited in low-lying areas and water retention areas especially in the Gampaha district.
He said the ministry was hoping to conduct a feasibility study on the sewerage system in Colombo city and submit a proposal to a donor country or organization for funds.

“To overcome the lack of water retention areas in Colombo district, President Rajapaksa has ordered to build three or four huge ponds or lakes in the district,” Minister Fowzie said.

Deputy Minister of Irrigation and Water Resource Management, S.M. Chandrasena told the Sunday Times that many of the natural waterways that lead to the sea have been blocked by unauthorized constructions. He said these will be removed with immediate effect.

Omar Kamil Minister Fowzie Deputy Minister
S.M. Chandrasena

“There are constructions that have been built over canals, drainages while some bridges are built blocking the canals. Those who have built houses on river banks and over canals should be given permanent houses on state land because many of these families are from low income groups,” he said.

He too said, an overall feasibility study would be carried out on the canals and drainages in Colombo city and the report handed over to the President. He said if necessary, legal action would be taken against those who dumped waste on a large scale into these canals.

Meanwhile former Urban Development minister, Dinesh Gunawardene charged that local authorities abetted in the construction of unauthorized structures over drainages and canals despite warnings from the Urban Development Authority.

“The local authorities should notify higher authorities when these structures are being put up not after they are completely constructed,” he said. Minister Gunawardene said, although a drainage and sewerage project was started some years back the Colombo Municipal Council failed to coordinate or accelerate the project.

He also charged that Colombo Municipal Council did not cooperate with the UDA over the reconstructing of the drainage system which is more than 100 years old.

Special Commissioner to the Colombo Municipal Council Omar Kamil said after road constructions are completed other institutions such as the Electricity Board, Water Supply Board and the RDA dig them up for hasty repairs and in some instances leave the soil on either side, which gradually gets pushed into the gullies.

He said some construction companies too leave behind rubble after the completion of condominiums and apartments, which lead to drainages and gullies getting blocked over time.

Commenting on the problem of filling up water retention areas he said, “The area where the BMICH was built was a water retention area but after this land was developed there was no place for water retention, the same occurred with the development of the Lake Drive area in Rajagiriya. The lands were developed with no thought for proper drainage system or water retention”.

He said that the present storm water system is more than 100 years old and was built when the city had a population of 80,000. “Now the population is 700,000 excluding the 500,000 floating population. A master plan should be drawn by the Disaster Management Ministry to construct a storm water drainage system”, he said.

The Special Commissioner also said that the CMC was in the process of de-silting drainages with the assistance of the Central Engineering Bureau. He said there was a need to increase the number of gullies to accelerate the water flow to the sea.

He said the canals at Torrington, St. Sebastian, Wanathamulla, Kelaniya, Beira Lake, Mutwal, Jampettah and Kotahena are clogged up with garbage, discarded tyres, branches, polythene and king coconut husks, blocking the flow of water into the sea.

(Additional reporting by Hubert Fernando)

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