“The drought came first, heaping untold misery upon man and beast. The deluge followed and, with it, a sweeping landslide. A succession of environmental disasters in recent years has proved that Sri Lanka remains ill-equipped to mitigate threats and save precious lives, if anything, the country is racing towards bigger catastrophes.” This is not just [...]


Disaster Mismanagement and self-respect


“The drought came first, heaping untold misery upon man and beast. The deluge followed and, with it, a sweeping landslide. A succession of environmental disasters in recent years has proved that Sri Lanka remains ill-equipped to mitigate threats and save precious lives, if anything, the country is racing towards bigger catastrophes.”

This is not just the beginning of this week’s editorial, but what we said in our editorial of November 9, 2014 in the immediate aftermath of the Koslanda landslide, something already all but forgotten except by families of the victims of that tragedy and those affected.

And the Cabinet Spokesman, the Health Minister whose own district of Kalutara was inundated by last week’s floods typically finds fault with those pointing out the Government’s continuing inaction in the face of calamities, natural and man-made. Blaming global warming is fine, but what about disaster management at home?

Last week, the Sunday Times published as its main front page story the fact that the Disaster Management Ministry was unprepared for the most recent deluge which has cost 200 plus lives, extensive damage to personal property and billions of rupees to the economy of the country. The Ministry admitted they were unprepared, but while the Minister in charge was winging his way back from a conference in Mexico, the Cabinet Spokesman took it upon himself to ‘kill the messenger’.

He blames the hapless Ministry Secretary for talking for too long to this newspaper and the newspaper for writing negative stories on the Government. He goes on to ask if the Ministry is supposed to keep blankets and water bottles for an impending disaster. The answer, Mr. Minister is, “Yes”. And, blankets don’t have expiry dates. No wonder the Government has now decided to have an additional Cabinet Spokesman to offset the outrageous ranting of the Health Minister.

The story was not just about blankets and water bottles, however. It was about a document that the Ministry shared with the UN and other international donors, seeking their assistance saying they had no stocks of drinking water, blankets, life jackets, mobile toilets, umbrellas, torches, boxes of matches – totalling some 23 urgent humanitarian needs and the extent of the shortage. This is what the Indians and other countries do. They are prepared for disasters. And this is why the Prime Minister has to keep calling the Indian Government and other countries for assistance each time there’s a drought or a flood in this country. All this great Cabinet of 45 Ministers can do is get the PM and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to appeal to other countries and the United Nations for help.

The Foreign Affairs Ministry was also quick to seek foreign assistance. In the process they asked for things other countries laugh at. A request was made for helicopters from a country thousands of miles away. The Indians did not send their Special Disaster Management Teams; they only sent their Navy teams because they would have known we had no Action Plan in place. We don’t take disaster preparedness, nor post disaster management seriously.

Fortunately, the Sri Lanka Navy was up to the task and on hand to work with the Indian Navy boys as a rapid deployment team – in the Health Minister’s devastated Kalutara district.
It had to take a flood of this magnitude to have the President stop the import of top-of-the-range vehicles for Ministers, in addition to the duty-free car permits given to MPs who made a ‘killing’ through their re-sale. Unfortunately the ‘stay’ is only temporary and one can expect the order to go through once the flood waters recede and last week’s disaster goes into the limbo of forgotten things. The examples that are being set by the country’s leaders have already set in motion a flood of protests and landslides of disillusionment among the ordinary folk. l;dj foda<dfjka .uk mhska (talk is by palanquin; walk is by foot) is an apt local idiom to describe what the people feel about them, and the wrath of the half million people now suffering due to their inaction, inefficiency and incompetence.

There is something called self-respect for nations, even if Governments don’t seem to care about it. As India economically developed, they put their act together on matters like disaster management, and now avoid asking for foreign assistance when faced with a calamity. It is also called self-reliance.

Global duplicity and to hell with Planet Earth
In the backdrop of these floods and landslides in Sri Lanka, US President Donald Trump has shocked the world by withdrawing from the Paris Climate Accord. It should come as no surprise though to those following his embattled Presidency that he puts his voter base at home first at the expense of the future of the planet, despite all the visible signs of global warming already hitting the world hard.
This is another indication of how the role of the US on the global stage plays out. “Do as we say, not as we do”, is their credo, it seems. The decision of the UN Security Council last week to rise to a moment’s silence in memory of those, mostly young persons who died in that crazed bomb attack at a Manchester concert was touching, but it also raised some eyebrows around the world – provoking some caustic comments.
While hundreds of children are getting killed by bombardments – and crippling sanctions in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya etc. that have inspired and instigated the likes of the Manchester bomber, the UNSC should be having a moment’s silence every time they sit.

It betrays how this great organisation that was formed with the noble ideals for world peace, works. It is more than symbolic that they not only preach, but also practise double-standards.
This week, 80 people were killed in Afghanistan in a bomb inside their high security zone. In Mosul, Iraq and in Syria it is hell on earth. Yemen is falling apart with children dying of starvation and the US just signed a multi-billion dollar arms deal with Saudi Arabia, which is engaged in the sectarian violence in Yemen. Ironically, Saudi Arabia is being accused of funding ISIS, by the US and the West.

The starvation of children started in West Asia almost two decades ago as a result of an economic embargo that was part of US foreign policy to punish Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein. Then came the so-called ‘war on terror’, which was unleashed on the false premise that Iraq had ‘weapons of mass destruction’. Today, this war has spread to Europe as a blow back to the war in West Asia. And now, the US President says; to hell with Planet Earth.


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