Today marks the International Day for Natural Disaster Risk Reduction. While Sri Lanka’s chequered past with disaster management, natural or manmade, leaves a lot to be desired, it cannot be denied that, ever since the December 2004 tsunami and the devastation it left in its wake, the country has treated the matter with the seriousness that it deserves. Successive governments have taken various measures to keep the people of Sri Lanka safe in the face of both slow and fast onset disasters, with the Ministry of Disaster Management and the numerous institutes that come under its purview working round the clock to protect the country from nature’s wrath.
This is, of course, not to say that things cannot be better. There is a lot of room for improvement, as was evidenced by the landslide catastrophe in Badulla in October, last year, that killed 16 people leaving an estimated 200 missing and many more displaced. According to reports following the disaster, the National Building Research Organisation had issued a warning of possible landslides on the night before the incident, but the Disaster Management Center (DMC), which was responsible for broadcasting the warning, had failed to deliver the message to the Badulla area. It was clear that there had been some miscommunication that had taken place. A sound warning mechanism, while it wouldn’t have completely averted the disaster, could’ve at least helped save a few lives.
Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR), according to the UNDP, aims to reduce the risk of damage that can be caused by natural hazards through a system of preventive processes and actions. The severity of these disasters, the UNDP country director has pointed out, depend on the choices we make, in relation to government policies, how we grow our food, where and how and where we build our homes, town and cities. Each decision, he points out, either makes us more vulnerable to disasters or more resilient. In other words, DRR is all about choice.
With some help from the UNDP, the Ministry of Disaster Management developed in 2012 the ‘Sri Lanka Comprehensive Disaster Management Program’ (SLCDMP), a program which ensures the ‘safety of Sri Lanka’ by reducing potential disaster risks and impacts on the people, property and the economy. According to the UNDP, the program will be the key instrument of the Government to achieve the new Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (SFDRR), which was endorsed by 189 countries, including Sri Lanka, in March, 2015.
This year’s celebration will focus on local knowledge that complements modern science, such as early warning signals that occur in nature. The UNDP opines that, combined with scientific knowledge such as reports generated by meteorologists, local knowledge is vital for preparedness and can be passed on from generation to generation. We are inclined to agree.
A strengthened implementation of the SLCDMP will not only build a more resilient Sri Lanka but also help us face the oncoming threat of global warming and other manmade horrors. It is hoped that the new government continues to take this matter with the seriousness that it deserves, lest we succumb to the error of humanity’s ways.