Sri Lanka Parliament Select Committee on Natural Disasters was setup to investigate whether there was a lack of preparedness to meet an emergency of the nature of the Tsunami that struck Sri Lanka on December 26, 2004 and to recommend what steps should be taken to ensure that an early warning system be put in place and what other steps should be taken to minimize the damage caused by similar natural disasters.
Mr L R K Perera, Head of the Geology Department, Peradeniya University spoke about the Geology of Earthquakes; Mr Sarathchandra Weerawarnakula, Director of the Geological Survey & Mines Bureau spoke about the Past, Present and Future in terms of the tsunami; Mr G H P Dharmaratne, Director General of the Meteorology Department spoke about Extreme Weather Events; and Prof Kapila Dahanayake, Senior Professor of Geology, University of Peradeniya gave an overview of the tsunami disaster and discussed landslides.
The main concerns brought up were whether there was prior knowledge that Sri Lanka was within an earthquake zone and thus prone to tsunamis, and whether more people’s lives could have been saved since there was a time lag between the tsunami hitting the northeast coast and southern coast.
The Geological Survey & Mines Bureau and the Meteorology Department recommend that Sri Lanka set up a strong national multi-hazard warning system, join an international tsunami warning system, develop a good communication and information dissemination network, and carry out frequent awareness programmes for disaster preparedness, not only about tsunamis as they are rare phenomena, but for storm surges and cyclones as well.Third Meeting of the Select Committee – February 24, 2005
The third meeting of the Parliament Select Committee on Natural Disasters was attended by representatives of the Armed Forces and Police.The officials present were Vice Admiral Daya Sandagiri, Commander of the Sri Lanka Navy; Lieutenant General Shantha Kottagoda, Commander of the Sri Lanka Army; Air Marshall Donald Perera, Commander of the Sri Lanka Air Force; Chandra Fernando, Inspector General of Police; Jayantha Wickramaratne, DIG Crimes; Major General Susil Chandrapola of the Sri Lanka Army; and Major General T T R de Silva of the Sri Lanka Army.
The Chairman of the Committee, Mr Mahinda Samarasinghe, took this opportunity to commend the efforts of the Armed Forces and Police in the aftermath of the tsunami, and emphasized that this meeting was not one to highlight shortcomings but to gather knowledge for future reference.
It was concluded that there was a definite lack of knowledge about the tsunami phenomenon and lack of preparedness on the part of the public and authorities.
Thus the Armed Forces and Police believe that educating the public on environmental phenomena, responsibly utilizing the media, coordination amongst different authorities, and developing community-based awareness systems are the best methods to tackle future natural disasters.Fourth Meeting of the Select Committee – March 1, 2005
Representatives of NARA (National Aquatic Resources and Research Development Authority), the National Disaster Management Centre, International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and the UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) as well as a psychiatrist attended the fourth meeting of the Parliament Select Committee on Natural Disasters.
Dr Kapila Perera, Chairman of NARA and Mr N D Hettiarachchi, Director of the National Disaster Management Centre, both stated that although their respective organisations had the appropriate expertise, they were understaffed and lacked resources to provide better service.
Dr Perera emphasised the importance of having a central authority that links all institutions and contingency plans together, in order for the efforts in evacuating people, in case of natural disaster or emergency, to be coordinated.
Dr Athula Sumathipala, a psychiatrist attached to the University of London, assessed the harm caused by the tsunami from a psychological point of view. He stressed the need to develop a forensic and genetic facility in Sri Lanka to enable victims to be identified, which would give surviving relatives closure and the opportunity to formally bury their loved ones, instead of a mass burial. He also recommended that the mental health sector be strengthened at a grassroot level by training teachers and members of the armed forces.
The representatives of the IOM and UNDP highlighted the requisite for developing expertise in the field of disaster preparedness in Sri Lanka.NDM_INDIA MHA_18th Mar'05Fifth Meeting of the Select Committee - March 3, 2005
Professor Kapila Dahanayake, Head of the Department of Geology in the University of Peradeniya, Mr D W R Weerakoon, Director General of the Irrigation Department and Mr G T Dharmasena, the former Director General of the Irrigation Department made their presentations at the fifth meeting of the Parliament Select Committee on Natural disasters. Representatives of the UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) and the IOM (International Organisation of Migration) also attended the hearings.
Prof Dahanayake, who had the opportunity of visiting Japan to see how the country’s tsunami warning system and emergency preparedness plans worked, shared his experience with the Select Committee. He emphasised that it is the combination of setting up a tsunami warning system linked with the media to disseminate news, the preparedness of local authorities and medical teams to handle a crisis, and educating the public of what to do are key to minimising the devastating impact of a natural disaster.
Mr D W R Weerakoon spoke about the secondary effects the tsunami had on the country’s irrigation system. He stated that according to the Atomic Energy Agency, earthquakes and earth tremors are increasing and this can have an accumulated effect on Sri Lanka’s dams. Thus inundation mapping on the occurrences of flooding and dam break studies are being conducted by the Irrigation Department for research purposes.
Mr G T Dharmasena stressed that floods and landslides cause loss of life and destruction to livelihood in Sri Lanka every year. Hence he highlighted the need to have emergency preparedness plans for people who live in areas that are prone to natural disasters.Sixth Meeting of the Select Committee - March 7, 2005
Issues of land use and disaster management were taken up at the sixth meeting of the Parliament Select Committee on Natural Disasters.The Director of the Land Use Policy Planning Institute made several recommendations to the Select Committee on how to mitigate natural disasters; one of which was the importance of implementing a proposed national land use policy. He also stressed the necessity of preparing scientifically based zoning plans for land use - demarcating separate zones for residential, agricultural and other areas. The misuse of land, he said, along with the destruction of natural buffers like mangroves have led to an increase in the magnitude of natural disasters.
Mr Nishantha Kamaladasa, Director of the Centre for Housing, Planning and Building and the Director of Sri Lanka Multi Hazard Disaster Mitigating Project, drew on his wide experience in disaster management for his presentation. He spoke on the basic paradigms of a natural disaster and the need to have a coordinated disaster management mechanism in place. He also spoke of the vital role the media played in the aftermath of the tsunami through the dissemination of news and the role it can play in the future. He stated that the three key means of mitigating a disaster are detection, judgment and implementation.
Mr Nimal Seneviratne, an expert on earthquakes from Faculty of Engineering, University of Peradeniya, Mr Nihal Rupesinghe and Mr A A Viraj Dias from the Central Engineering Consultancy Bureau (CECB), and Malith Mendis, Chief Executive of the Hydraulic Group, made their presentations to the Select Committee.
Mr Nimal Seneviratne, an expert on earthquakes from Faculty of Engineering, University of Peradeniya suggested that all experts should collaborate under one umbrella. He also stated that although focusing on emergency management was important, priority should be given to risk management. The use of science and technology as the basis of disaster reduction, having a volunteer programme and having meteorology data available through websites were some of the recommendations made by him.
Mr Nihal Rupesinghe from the CECB focused on landslides. He said that some natural disasters have a slow onset, referring to the time gap between the earthquake in Sumatra and the tsunami hitting the east coast of Sri Lanka. Natural disasters cannot be prevented but its impact can be mitigated if an early warning system is in place. He also said that a proactive approach is needed from the disaster situation to being prepared for any crisis in the post disaster period.Mr A A Viraj Dias from the CECB spoke about mitigating disasters through science and technology. He began by posing a question - how can science and technology contribute to improved safety for the greatest number of people? He stated that through a system of mapping and having an early warning system, disasters could be mitigated. For this to work, having a direct linkage to a global warning system is a necessity.
Chairman and Deputy Chairman of Sri Lanka Telecom (SLT) Mr Anil Obeysekera and Mr Chandrasena Maliatta, Dr Hans Wijayasuriya, CEO of Dialog, Mr Malith Fonseka, General Manager of the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB), Kirthi Jayawardena, Additional General Manager for the Generation Sector, CEB, Mr Ranjith Gunewardena, Additional General Manager for Transmission, CEB, Mr G M Wijeykone, Additional General Manager for CEB, and a representative from the IOM attended the eighth meeting of the Parliament Select Committee on Natural Disasters.
Mr Malith Fonseka, General Manager of the CEB stated that their immediate reaction to the tsunami was to safeguard the Kelanitissa Power Station and disconnect power supply. He said that currently the overwhelming need is to have extensive reinforcement for the new housing and infrastructure. Based on that they have the ability to redraw power lines.
Mr Kirthi Jayawardena, Additional General Manager for the Generation Sector, CEB spoke on the gravity of a dam failure and the need to safeguard it. He said that priority should be given to having a Reservoir Dam Conservation Project in order to prevent such a disaster from occurring. Speaking on behalf of the CEB, he said that they have laid down procedures whereby they warn people living in vulnerable areas about when there is a threat. However, the system is localized.
Mr Anil Obeysekera, Chairman of SLT, said that although they had a warning system in place, their system was not built to cope with a disaster in the proportions of this tsunami. All the equipment and the SLT buildings were affected in the coastal areas of the country, in many cases they were washed away. Although their system was paralyzed, they reconnected telephone lines within four days. He also stated that SLT was capable of providing telecommunication facilities to affected areas now.
Mr Chandrasena Maliatta, Deputy Chairman of SLT emphasised the need to separate risk management and disaster management, and also to have an emergency system in place to warn the public of a disaster.Dr Hans Wijayasuriya, CEO of Dialog, represented the private sector at the hearings. He said that if a disaster is localized, his mobile company immediately blocks the phone lines so the emergency services get priority. During the recent tsunami, both SLT and Dialog did not do this on humanitarian grounds. He recommended use of mobile networks as a tool to warn people of an impending disaster and that public education was key in this regard. He also stressed the need to have a responsible source of authorization for the required information to be disseminated.Ninth Meeting of the Select Committee - 17 March 2005
An Italian delegation led by the Italian Ambassador to Sri Lanka, HE Salvatore Zotta, and comprising experts in the field of disaster management made their presentations to the Select Committee at the ninth meeting. Professor Kapila Dahanayake, Senior Professor of Geology from the University of Peradeniya and Dr Lochana Guneratne, Architect and Urban Planner also attended the meeting.
Professor Jeninee began by giving an overview of the recommendations the Italian delegation had to make. She stated that they would like to adopt an exchange programme to share cultural and scientific knowledge between the two countries. She then outlined the disaster prevention plan that is in place in Italy.
Professor Feruchchi spoke on the need for a digital model construction, focusing on geomorphological studies on the coastal belt of Sri Lanka. He stated that the Italian government would like to extend their cooperation to Sri Lanka in going forward with this system. Digital monitoring of a country done by an overhead satellite can identify areas vulnerable to natural disasters.
Professor Kapila Dahanayake said that Sri Lanka has the appropriate mechanisms in place but it needs to strengthen it by focusing on all natural disasters. He stated that education is the key with regards to mitigating the impact of natural disasters and thanked the Italian delegation for the assistance offered.Tenth Meeting of the Select Committee - 22 March 2005
Dr Greg French, the Australian High Commissioner for Sri Lanka, Mr Matthew Hyndes, Deputy High Commissioner for Sri Lanka and Mr Alex Knox, an AusAID programme development officer made their presentations to the Select Committee along with Dr N P Wijeyananda, former Director General of the Mines Bureau and experts from the Meteorology Department.
Dr Greg French, Australian High Commissioner for Sri Lanka, thanked the members of the Select Committee and the Government of Sri Lanka for their assistance and generosity to Australian nationals who were affected by the tsunami. He also stated that he was in communication with the Federal and State governments on the proposed visit of a Sri Lankan delegation to Australia to learn about how disaster management is handled in Australia and the mechanisms in place to support it.
Dr N P Wijeyananda, former Director General of the Mines Bureau, spoke on the seismological movements in Sri Lanka. He stated that although Sri Lanka has the University of Peradeniya and the Mines Bureau monitoring the local seismological movements of tectonic plates and the Pallekelle Station in collaboration with the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) monitoring global seismography, they currently operate separately. In order to pinpoint the epicentre of an earthquake and the danger it could pose to Sri Lanka they need to pool resources and work together. He also stated the importance of having access to other seismography stations globally and having a coordinated centre to receive the information and disseminate it to the relevant authorities.
Representatives of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Mr Kamal Kishore, the Regional Disaster Reduction Advisor and Mr Ramraj Narasimhan, Consultant on Disaster Management along with Mr Jeff McMurdo, Programme Official, and Mr Robert Thomson, Consultant for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) made their presentations to the Select Committee.
Mr Kamal Kishore, Regional Disaster Reduction Advisor, UNDP presented a report titled ‘Towards Effective Early Warning System’. He started by saying that 90% of natural disasters worldwide were hydro meteorologically related and any early warning system should be focused on that. He also stressed the importance of having four key components - preempting, forecasting, communicating and acting - within such a system. Dwelling on his expertise he feels that the only way to survive a chaotic environment is through a complex yet adaptive system that provides relevant information to people on the ground. His presentation also drew examples from other countries that are prone to natural disaster and how they have adapted. Featured in his presentation was that although creating public awareness is an imperative, it is equally important for dissemination of information by scientists to be understood by the people affected.
Mr Robert Thomson, Consultant for IOM, made his presentation on Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) in Sri Lanka in the context of the tsunami. He stated that coordination of all stakeholders within a disaster is important because a lack of it affects the long-term recovery and reconstruction of a country. He observed that the existing disaster management structure was too weak because it had no legal mandate and there was no national policy plan in place. He also spoke of the imbalance in the distribution of relief aid and that there was no consultation with the affected community with the issue of permanent settlement. He also stressed the need for the government to impose standards regarding the reconstruction phase and to also monitor and evaluate the quality of construction work. Speaking on IDP’s he stated that Sri Lanka had a unique problem to deal with, as both IDP’s from conflict zones and the tsunami zones require the same relief.
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