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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. 

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Natural disasters from a national perspective

Daily News: Feature: "05/04/2005 Dealing with natural disasters from a national perspective, Extracts of a speech delivered in Parliament by Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Prof. W. A. Wiswa Warnapala on disaster Management

I would like to intervene in this debate in order to raise certain pertinent points relating to disaster management in Sri Lanka. It is interesting to note that disaster management has now become a new concept in public administration and public management.

This concept of disaster management has been given prominence in countries where disasters have taken place, and the development of an academic and professional interest in the context of disaster management has resulted in introducing a variety of techniques and technologies required for disaster management.

We define public administration as co-ordination of individuals and group efforts to carry out public policy. For the proper implementation of public policy in any country, we need two basic requirements.

One, organization, which is the structuring of individuals and functions for productive relationships. Two, administration is concerned with the decision-making and the direction of individuals to achieve ends that have been determined by the political leadership.

Disaster management, therefore, is primarily an administrative task and it is expected to manage and administer a large variety of tasks within a short period of time. Therefore, disaster management is public administration in an extraordinary economic and social environment where there were both death and destruction.

Therefore, it is my view, that traditional administrative forms and institutions cannot tackle such an extraordinary situation where thousands of people have died, properties have been destroyed and millions of people have been made homeless.

The question, therefore, is whether such a calamity, such a crisis of that magnitude could be contained within the given administrative structure in the period of the aftermath of the tsunami.

It was clear that the very administrative institutions in the affected areas could not be activated, because they have been destroyed; they were non-existent. The very officers have been made homeless.

Therefore, the disaster management apparatus needs to be brought into those areas to organize and administer the needs of the initial phase. The initial phase is very important.

What are the major issues of the initial phase? What are the major consequences of the disaster? How to administer them in the context of the massive destruction and damage that has taken place in the given areas? These are questions to which the public administration institutions or public administration officials have to find answers.

The first phase of the crisis consists of search, rescue, evacuation and organizing the burial of the dead. In the second phase, people have to be provided with immediate relief in the form of food and shelter. Sanitary facilities have to be organized to prevent an outbreak of diseases.

In the third phase, which is the most important phase, people need to be provided with permanent housing. Their establishments have to be resurrected or restored. This is the stage at which both rehabilitation and reconstruction have to be planned and implemented.

Therefore, the most important question is whether the existing public administrative machinery, the existing public administrative institutions could undertake the administration and management of all three important stages, which I mentioned.

Most significant thing, is that our traditional administrative institutions have not been attuned to this particular task. They have not been trained to manage a crisis of this magnitude.

In such an extraordinary situation, in such an extraordinary environment, a responsible government has to respond immediately and the entire administration needs to be activated to provide immediate assistance to the affected people.

I think that the Government was able to realize this objective, with the help of the people, as Mr. Karu Jayasuriya rightly said. The religious organizations and the voluntary bodies came to their assistance. Relief assistance too has been provided though there are criticisms that it has not been properly done.

The magnitude of the disaster was such that the existing administrative institutions were insufficient both in terms of manpower and institutional capacity.

The existing administrative institutions could not cope with the situation because the manpower was not enough. And the institutional capacity was not there to meet the challenge.

It is in this context that we need to look at this piece of legislation, which now proposes to establish a mechanism for disaster management.

The purpose of this legislation is to take necessary measures to protect human lives and property of the people and the environment of Sri Lanka from the consequences of natural disasters and human disasters.

Fourteen such disasters have been listed in the Bill and there it proposes to establish institutions for the purpose of preparing a national policy and plan for the prevention and containment of such disaster. The idea is to deal with these disasters from a national perspective. Excellent. That is the point, which I need to emphasize.

In the past such disasters were regional or local in character and they were treated as local issues, which could be tackled with the available administrative machinery and resources in the given area.

Tsunami was a major national disaster and it covered a good portion of the island. Now all people have realized that need for a national policy. It has been proposed that a National Council for Disaster Management needs to be set up as the apex body.

It consists of Her Excellency the President, the Hon. Prime Minister and fourteen Ministers responsible for various subjects connected with the rehabilitation and reconstruction. It is this body, which expected to formulate a national policy and various programmes for disaster management.

It is expected to attend to the following functions as well.

(1) Development of disaster affected areas.

(2) Effective use of resources for preparedness, prevention, reconstruction and rehabilitation.

(3) Enhancement of public awareness.

(4) Capacity building among those living in areas vulnerable to disasters.

(5) Pre-disaster planning.

There are very vital requirements in the preparation of a national plan. The aim is to take various measures to prevent a disaster and to manage the consequences of a disaster.

This fundamental objective cannot be easily realized unless you take measures to strengthen the public administrative institutions in those particular areas.

The next important proposal in this Bill is the establishment of the Natural and Human Disaster Management Centre. I my view, this is much more important than the National Council for Disaster Management. It is to be assisted by various technical committees consisting of experts and professionals.

In this piece of legislation, Ministries have been given extra responsibility in taking measures in countering an impending disaster. I am not sure that the Ministries are presently equipped for that particulars function.

There is a provision in the legislation to declare a state of disaster. It is virtually a state of emergency, probably with a different set of regulations. It is on the basis of such a declaration that institutions of Government, particularly those administrative institutions in the given area would be activated to direct and co-ordinate the resources.

In addition to the established public administrative institutions, NGOs are also to be mobilized for the purpose. Though they are expected to function under the guidance of the National Council for Disaster Management, one has to be careful with the NGOs in this country. I need to emphasize this point.

In my view, all NGOs have different agendas. In this country, a plethora of NGOs have become the saviours of the rights of the minorities.

It has developed into an organized network associated with the country's ethnic question. With the tsunami disaster several hundreds of NGOs entered the country as saviours of the people in the tsunami affected areas. This sudden growth in the number of NGOs is the reason for concern.

We do not object to genuine NGOs. But there are NGOs with a secret agenda. Some of them are trying to infiltrate political parties and I see this as a very dangerous trend.

The Ministry of Finance and Planning has announced about it a couple of days ago and has taken steps to establish a center for non-governmental sector under which certain conditions have been laid down to monitor their activities.

I was amazed to see the list of NGOs published under a special announcement by the Ministry of Finance and Planning in the 'Lankadeepa' newspaper of 5th March 2005. I had tabled that special announcement to be included in the Hansard.

There are 143 NGOs. This is only a fraction of the number operating in Sri Lanka. I am happy that the Ministry of Finance has laid down certain conditions. In my view, they are insufficient. The country needs an effective mechanism to monitor the activities of the NGOs.

NGOs specializing on the question of ethnicity; then there are others who are self appointed experts on elections and electralism and there are still others who are self-appointed experts on good governance.

I need to tell you that all these NGOs have a political agenda. I would like to dub them as organizations, which are servile to the West. Some NGOs openly display their servility to their neo-colonialist masters and there are others who try to infiltrate universities and promote a form of academic colonialism.

In conclusion, I would like to emphasize the point that NGOs would want to create a political culture of their own and impose it on the Sri Lankan nation. It is this, which needs to be opposed in the larger interest of our country.

One last point. As I mentioned earlier, accepted bureaucratic rules and procedures should not guide disaster management. I totally agree with the Hon. Nimal Siripala de Silva. In other words, the main characteristics of Bureaucratic Model expounded by its foremost theorist, Max Weber should not be used in disaster management.

It is my contention that disaster management cannot be effectively done on the basis of rules, procedures, systems of authority, the status, the principle of hierarchy and rationality.

I am trying to say that traditional characteristics of bureaucracy cannot be totally useful in the context of a management of a disaster of this particular magnitude.

Bureaucracy alone cannot do this. What I say is that political leadership has to play an equally powerful role and an effective role without which the objectives of disaster management cannot be realized in this country.

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