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Serving Sri Lanka

This web log is a news and views blog. The primary aim is to provide an avenue for the expression and collection of ideas on sustainable, fair, and just, grassroot level development. Some of the topics that the blog will specifically address are: poverty reduction, rural development, educational issues, social empowerment, post-Tsunami relief and reconstruction, livelihood development, environmental conservation and bio-diversity. 

Thursday, April 28, 2005

How to avoid the effects of another tsunami

Online edition of Sunday Observer - Features: "by Dr. J. G. de Zoysa

In the wake of the tsunami disaster what has not occurred to the authorities and the powers that be is that preventive measures should be adopted and put in place side by side with reconstruction. All that is reconstructed could be washed off if there is another tsunami. It is the height of folly to believe that we cannot be struck by another tsunami.

The answer is not only to run away, protecting our lives, but also to protect our property and belongings.

We have missed the woods for the trees, and lulled ourselves into a state of complacency that there could not be another tsunami for quite sometime. We are wrong. We could have been hit by the quake of 28/03/05 if it developed into a tsunami, particularly as the quake registered 8.7 on the Richter Scale.

We are becoming increasingly vulnerable to tsunamis, as there is a tectonic plate developing just 300Km south of Sri Lanka, and as there is a grave possibility of the Australian plate and the 'Sundar' plate coming into collision. It is impossible for scientists to predict when, where and how this plate collision could cause tsunamis.

All they can say is that it will reach Sri Lanka in 2 or 3 hours after a tsunami has occurred, depending on the intensity of the earthquake. It is believed that even a quake measuring over 7 on the Richter Scale can endanger Sri Lanka.

How do we ward off the evil effects of a tsunami? Speedy and immediate measures should be taken to identify the most important and vulnerable areas of the country. The port of Colombo is the most vulnerable and an important spot. If the Colombo Port is struck our economy will come to a standstill.

The Fort, adjoining the Colombo Harbour is the financial hub of the Country. All the Head Offices of all major Banks are situated in the Fort, viz the Central Bank, Bank of Ceylon Tower, Twin Towers, Grindlays Bank, Seylan Bank and various other banks, the President's House, the Telecom Towers, Naval Headquarters, Army Headquarters and Police Headquarters...etc.

Apart from all these institutions and installations, over 250,000 people work in the Fort.

If one traverses the areas struck by the tsunami, one would see that areas with coral reefs and/or mangroves were not affected at all, or their damage was minimal.

We suggest adopting the following strategies to ward off the evil effects: immediate root-balling and planting of huge mangroves, with the assistance of a foreign government; undertaking forthwith the construction of a breakwater. This breakwater can be built very close to the shore, so that there is no interference with ships coming into the harbour.

A rock wall 20-25 feet in height spanning a length of less than a maximum of 1/2 a mile, and a thickness of about 7-10 ft commencing from the light-house area to about the Pettah area would suffice to protect the Fort - the Financial Hub of Colombo.

This whole operation will cost less than Rs. 100 million. If the experts are consulted, they will probably inflate the estimate to about 1 billion, either foolishly or cunningly so that Rs. 900 million can be shared between themselves and the contractors.

Some of the unintelligent so called experts will pooh-pooh this plan as not being feasible. There are quite a number of unintelligent professionals in this country.

This is a sensible and intelligent approach to minimise damage. If we don't take timely action, all the millions spent on reconstruction will be reduced to zero if we are struck by another tsunami, and those experts should be held accountable if there is another catastrophe.

We will not have international assistance a second time, if we don't take preventive measures.

Those in charge of rehabilitation, have lost sight of the possibility of another tsunami. The warning of the possibility of another tsunami given to us on the night of March 28, should open the eyes of these so called experts.

Pose on yourselves the question as to how the Fort of Galle was not affected by the tsunami of 26/12, whereas the immediate adjoining areas were badly struck. This is because of the existence of a break-water in the form of the ramparts - though built 350 years ago, and exposed to the elements day in day out. This strategy on a smaller scale can protect the Fort of Colombo and its environs. The cost will not be so heavy as compared to the destruction if hit by another tsunami.

You don't need engineers to see the wisdom of this. Any intelligent person with common sense will know that such a structure should be built forthwith to protect the Port of Colombo, the Colombo Fort and its environs. This way, we will avert the damage to hundreds of buildings, all built cheek by jowl in the Fort, not to mention the protection of the lives of about 250,000 people working in the Fort.

If this is ignored, it will be damning to the powers that be, for ignoring common sense and advice tendered free of charge.

Instructions should be given by the government, forthwith to those who have offices in the Fort to immediately relocate in a safer area in Colombo or its suburbs, till such time as the Fort can be made and declared a safe place to work in. This is something that the Government owes to the people who daily work in this trapped environment. If danger strikes, it will be a stampede to get out of the Fort, unlike any other place in Colombo."

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