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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. 

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Parliament Select Committee on Natural Disasters

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. Eleven meetings have been held so far. Here are the summary reports of the meetings posted on the committee's website.

Meetings 1 -- 11

12th Meeting of the Select Committee – 29 March 2005
Representatives of the media were invited by the Select Committee to participate in an open discussion on what role the media can play when a natural disaster occurs. Mr W B Ganegala, Secretary, Ministry of Information and Media, Mr S D Piyadasa, Director General of Government Information, Mr M M Zuhair, PC, Chairman of Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation, Mr Newton Gunerathne, Chairman of ITN, Mr Hudson Samarasinghe, Chairman of Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation, Mr Janadasa Peiris, Chairman of Associated Newspapers of Ceylon, Mr Rosmond Senarathne, Director of Swarnavahini, Mr Sarath Kongahage, Director of Sirasa Television, Mr Kingsley Rathnayake, Director of Sirasa FM, Mr Anthony David, Editorial Board, Sunday Times, Mr Bandula Jayasekera, Editorial Board, The Island, and Mr Amal Jayasinghe, Bureau Chief for AFP were all present at the meeting.
All representatives of the media expressed the need for a means through which credible and accurate information relating to natural disasters can be disseminated to the public.
Kingsley Rathnayake, Director of Sirasa FM, stated that although dissemination of relevant information regarding natural disasters is important, it is imperative that the government establishes a system where the media is privy to such information. He recommended setting up a disaster frequency that will cut into the main programmes of all channels and warn the public of an impending disaster. This requires a central authority with the responsibility of disseminating relevant information to the public via the media. He also raised the issue of evacuation where the media has the authority to issue evacuation notices, but they cannot take the responsibility to reassure the public of safety in returning to their homes.
Mr M M Zuhair, Chairman of Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation, spoke about the system in place in Japan. He stated that the best way to disseminate information regarding natural disasters was through electronic media. He stressed the need for a central authority to inform the media of the ground situation and of any official warnings in order for the respective organisations to inform the public. He said that like in Japan we should have one authority that has the best capacity and widest network in public broadcasting to inform the largest amount of people.Mr Rosmond Senarathne, Director of Swarnavahini, recommended that a board of professionals with appropriate expertise is needed to explain what the basic guidelines should be for the media and the public to follow when faced with a natural disaster.
Mr B Ganegala, Secretary, Ministry of Information, stated that the government should be responsible in giving out relevant information to the public and the central authority should be a government-controlled one. He also stated that current licensing guidelines should be changed and they should be inclusive of issues the media has pertaining to natural disasters.
Mr Amal Jayasinghe, Bureau Chief for AFP, stated that natural disasters should not be treated as a news event but as a means of telling the public what to do in an emergency. He also stressed the legal implications involved because not all warnings will culminate into a disaster. He said that creating public awareness is important and the media can be utilised to do so.


13th Meeting of the Select Committee – 30 March 2005
HE Salvatore Zotta, Italian Ambassador to Sri Lanka, Dr Wilbert Kehelpannala, Senior Research Fellow for the Institute of Fundamental Studies, Dr N P Wijeyananda, Former Director General of the Mines Bureau, Prof Kapila Dahanayake, Senior Professor of Geology, University of Peradeniya, Mr Sarath Weerawarnakula, the Geological Survey and Mines Bureau Director, and Mr P H Dharmaratne, Surveyor for the Geological Survey and Mines Bureau, attended the 13th meeting of the Select Committee.
Ambassador Salvatore Zotta briefed the members on the agreements reached between the Italian delegation and relevant local authorities. He presented three substantive project proposals, which were agreed upon with the consultation of Tissa Vitharana, Minister of Science and Technology, and professors from the universities of Colombo and Moratuwa.
The three projects proposed are:

• High technology impact assessment aimed at providing Sri Lankan experts with the technology needed for emergency management and natural disaster mitigation - particularly from meteorological, hydrological and oceanographic hazards. This technology is imperative when it comes to advance territorial planning - helping to identify areas vulnerable to natural disasters.
• Creation of a coordinating network, which is composed of chancellors of the involved universities in both Italy and Sri Lanka. This will help to integrate a university course in disaster mitigation from both a practical and theoretical perspective.
• The promotion of cooperation among both the higher education institutions and emergency management agencies of Sri Lanka in order to foster development and exchange of disaster knowledge among scientists, practitioners, decision-makers, legislators and citizens.
These project proposals will be financed from Sri Lanka’s remitted debt to Italy.
Mr Sarath Weerawarnakula, the Geological Survey and Mines Bureau Director, stated the need for Bathymetry models in order to delineate the coastal zone and identify areas that are safe to proceed with reconstruction.Dr Wilbert Kehelpannala, Senior Research Fellow for the Institute of Fundamental Studies, made a presentation that was corroborated by years of research. He spoke about earthquakes, showing graphs of the fault lines that ran across the country and evidence that Sri Lanka is vulnerable to earthquakes and tremors especially in the Central Province. He also spoke about the seismic lines that run through the Himalayan Mountains and off the southern coastal belt. He linked the compression between the plates as the reason behind the tremors in the Central Province.
The second segment of his presentation was focused on tsunamis. He stated that through his research he had found evidence of Pallieo Tsunamis in Yala. He showed visuals of historical artifacts that date back to the 2nd Century BC. Speaking on the impact of the prehistoric tsunamis, he stated that they were high-energy waves, which had destroyed the sand bars that safeguard the coast. When the sand bars are eroded, this allows the water during high tide to flow inland.He concluded by giving the committee three recommendations:

• The need to evaluate the coastal belt through ocean topography when taking implementation polices regarding the reconstruction and rehousing effort.
• A buffer zone to be implemented because the coastal zone has been eroded, allowing the water to flow in.
• Creating awareness among the public especially those who live in tsunami-affected areas.
Mr P H Dharmaratne, Surveyor for the Geological Survey and Mines Bureau, disagreed with the research done by Dr Wilbert Kehelpannala. He stated that when going ahead with reconstruction work they should check the height and not the length when implementing the buffer zone. Since the geography of the coast is not consistent, certain areas along the coast were not affected. That has to be taken into consideration when reconstructing. He stressed that if a buffer zone is to be implemented the security of the people, economic development and coast conservation need to be thought about.
Mr Sarath Weerawarnakula, the Geological Survey and Mines Bureau Director, brought to the notice to the Select Committee that an imbalance in funds needs to be rectified at the Pallekele Seismological Centre. The need for a national data processing unit was highlighted and he said that training too was lacking at present.


14th Meeting of the Select Committee - 31st March 2005
The Select Committee, along with media personnel went on a field visit to the Geology Centre in the University of Peradeniya, the Pallekele Seismological Centre and Kuliatta, an identified landslide prone region in Kandy.
Udeni Amarasinghe, Senior Lecturer in Engineering Geology, explained how the Geology Centre in the University of Peradeniya works. He stated that under proposals made by him, the Seismic Station donated by the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JAIC), was set up within the university premises and was for academic and research purposes. The Geology Centre in Peradeniya receives data sent by three other seismic stations located throughout the country. The University of Peradeniya operates these centres, which are set up in the universities of Oluvil, Ruhuna and Colombo. He also stated that it is impossible for seismometres to predict tsunamis since the relevant equipment can only measure vibrations generated by earthquakes. The lack of tsunami detection buoys in the Indian Ocean poses a major problem and he recommended that with the help of UNESCO, an investment should be made to have them in place on a regional level.
The next site was the official Seismic Centre located inside a prison in Pallekele. Operated by the Geological Survey and Mines Bureau (GSMB) the station relays seismic information to the GSMB head office in Colombo. The Select Committee was able to meet up with the experts running the station including Dr N P Wijeyananda, Former Director General of the Mines Bureau. The recommendations made were the need to have trained seismologists in Sri Lanka, a link up between the GSMB and the University of Peradeniya, and for resources that are in place to be developed into a national data centre.
The last leg of the tour was at Kuliatta, a landslide prone site that was recommended by Prof Kapila Dahanayake, Senior Professor of Geology at the University of Peradeniya. A town hall meeting was held at the Waldubula Maha Vidyalaya with the attendance of all relevant officials to investigate whether the area and Kandy district as a whole was prepared for any emergency.
The main recommendation made by the representatives of that area was the provision of building licenses with the consultancy of geophysicists and the Land Department in order for vulnerable areas to be identified.
Prof Kapila Dahanayake, who headed the discussion, stressed the need for a mechanism for the people in the region to be informed of natural disasters since the Central Province is prone to landslides. He also recommended educating children about natural disasters and that it should be incorporated into the school curriculum.
The Parliamentary delegation included Mahinda Samarasinghe John Amaratunga, Nadarajah Raviraj, Rauff Hakeem and Mahinda Wijeysekera.


15th Meeting of the Select Committee - 5 April 2005
Mr Udeni Amarasinghe, Senior Lecturer in Engineering Geology, University of Peradeniya, Mr Asela Weerakoon, Representative for the Foreign Ministry, Mr Sujatha Cooray, Deputy External Officer for the Foreign Ministry, Mr Priyantha Serasinghe, Senior Fellow for Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA), and a delegation representing the Virginia Institute of Technology which was led by Dr Fredrick Krimgold met with the Select Committee.
Udeni Amarasinghe explained the role he played in forming the Geology Centre in the University of Peradeniya. He stated that under proposals made by him to JICA, he received the necessary assistance in setting up the system for academic and research purposes in 2003. The Geology Centre in Peradeniya is the central agency, which receives data sent by three other seismic stations located throughout the country.
Although his aim in installing this was for academic purposes, he recommended that it should be upgraded as a seismic warning system. He also stated that JICA was keen to restore the system in Peradeniya, which had a software problem for eight months, causing the system to shut down.
Mr Priyantha Serasinghe of JICA agreed with what was said by Mr Udeni Amarasinghe on extending further cooperation and improving the relationship between the two stakeholders.MP Rauff Hakeem added that apart from the seismology monitoring system, the Asian region needs tsunami buoys to analyze wave height and force, in order to detect a tsunami.
Mr Lakshman Kadirgamar, Minister of Foreign Affairs, in response to the above stated that he is chairing the Indian Ocean Rim Association meeting to be held in Mauritius and he will bring the issue up on behalf of Sri Lanka.
A delegation representing Virginia Tech made their presentation to the Select Committee regarding cooperation with local universities. Dr Fredrick Krimgold stated that strengthening universities’ capacity to handle disaster management especially in the field of research is an important aspect of the overall system. He stated that the delegation was an initial exploratory mission, which was here to assess the needs of local universities with regard to incorporating disaster studies. The proposal being made by the mission is the establishment of a centre for disaster studies, which will integrate natural science, engineering and sociology.


16th Meeting of the Select Committee - 25 April 2005
The Select Committee summoned a wide range of NGOs to share their views on the tsunami and to participate in an open discussion about the role the NGO sector plays in the event of a natural disaster.Representatives from Rainbow Bridge, Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies, National NGO Council of Sri Lanka, Sarvodaya, Sri Lanka Red Cross, Lions Kashyapa, St. Johns Ambulance and Brigade, Save the Children, Sahana Foundation, World Vision, Tamil Rehabilitation Organisation (TRO), National Peace Council, YWCA, All Ceylon Buddhist Congress, Habitat for Humanity, and World View participated at the hearings.
An overview of the three study tours the members of the Select Committee took to Australia, Japan, South Korea, Turkey and Germany were presented at the hearings. Mahinda Samarasinghe headed the delegation to Australia while both the study tours to Japan and South Korea and to Turkey and Germany were led by Professor Tissa Vitharana and John Amaratunga respectively.
The Australian government sponsored the study tour to Australia where Dr Greg French, the Australian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka provided the necessary assistance.Mahinda Samarasinghe spoke on the three-pronged approach present in Australia’s national disaster management policy and how Sri Lanka could use that to our benefit. Sri Lanka is lacking expertise in Disaster Victims Identification (DVI) and an advanced course in this subject in Canberra was one such proposal made by Australia. The training and mobilization of youth to volunteer in the event of a natural disaster and the federal system the Australian government bases its natural disaster policy on were the other criteria Sri Lanka could benefit from in the long term.
Kate Wanderwood, Manager of Rainbow Brigade - an Australian NGO, spoke on the work they are doing with respect to psychological trauma of children. They are providing a link between schools in both Australia and Sri Lanka to help build relationships among the children in order to learn about the different cultures.
S. Sivasupramanium, a representative of the TRO, spoke on the difficulty of delivering relief to tsunami-affected areas especially in the north and east. He stated that Sri Lanka needs a mechanism to regulate the flow of aid to the country. Through this, the government can ensure that aid sent by donor countries and INGOs is what the Sri Lankan people actually required.
Dr Vinya Ariyaratne, representing Sarvodaya, spoke on the need for a national policy on disaster management and the role the NGO sector should play in that framework. He also stressed that NGOs should voluntarily disclose the amount of funds they receive so that accountability and transparency is not undermined. He recommended that it is a facilitation mechanism that is required as opposed to a coordination mechanism alone.
Lal Hevapathirana of World View Sri Lanka stated that one of the main shortcomings in the aftermath of the tsunami was the lack of coordination between NGOs. He also spoke about the problems they faced regarding the clearance of goods from the Sri Lankan port.
Dr. Jayathilake, the Field Commissioner of the St Johns Ambulance, recommended the incorporation of first aid programmes into schools. He also stated that the services offered by organisations like St Johns were not given due recognition by the government.Lydia Lechman, a representative from World Vision, stated that community-based volunteer programmes were needed in Sri Lanka.
Dr. Jehan Perera of the National Peace Council raised the issue of the buffer zone and stated that he was concerned about the different treatment meted out to different districts.Professor Tissa Vitharana, Minister of Science & Technology, responded to the query by explaining the scientific evidence backing the need for a buffer zone. In 1981, the Coast Conservation Act set aside 300 metres as a buffer in order to protect the coast from exploitation. Besides the tsunami, global warming has a huge effect on island nations like Sri Lanka. With the threat of land inundation because of the sea level rising during high tide combined with catastrophic weather, every country needs a buffer zone. He went on to explain that the Indian Ocean has two earthquake belts running across Sumatra and the Maccaran, which have seismic activity. At the Kobe meeting, Professor Katayama, a leading analyst in seismic events, in a discussion with the minister, stated that the Asian people must understand that there is an increase in seismic activity in the region. The only way to mitigate the risk is by encouraging coast conservation programmes that involve the growth of mangroves and coral reefs.
Responding to the issue of different treatment to different districts with regard to the buffer zone, he said that the implementation of the buffer zone was not motivated by discrimination but that the government is responsible for protecting the lives of people as well as property.


17th Meeting of the Select Committee - 26th April 2005
Representatives from all religious groups along with the Government Agents from affected districts shared their experiences of the tsunami at the 17th meeting of the Select Committee.Tilak Ranaviraja, Commissioner General for Essential Services and Chairman of TAFOR, Kapila Dahanayake, Senior Professor of Geology, University of Peradeniya, Sarath Weerawarnakula, Director of Geological Survey and Mines Bureau, Jean Pierre Massue and Akira Akazawa, representatives from the International Organization of Migration (IOM), and Philip Frayne from the American Embassy were also present.
A Buddhist priest representing the Ampara district said that as a result of the tsunami, people of all castes and creeds came together for immediate relief efforts. He said that this was the manner in which the country should go forward. In presenting his recommendations, he expressed the need for a coordinated body of governance. He also was of the view that all Grama Niladharis need to have a census of the people living in each district and that the role of the Pradeshiya Sabha should be expanded to better cope with natural disasters. Each district should also be informed of the probable disasters it could face and given the appropriate resources to mitigate it, he said.
A Catholic priest representing Tirichovil in the northeastern part of the island spoke on the need for the lives of the people in that region to return to normalcy. The provision of tools to rebuild lives and livelihoods were also important. He stressed the need for psychological counselling for those affected as well as special provisions to be made for school children sitting their Ordinary and Advanced levels this year.
Dinesh Gunawardena, Minister of Urban Development and Water Supply, responded to the query on making special provisions in education. He stated that the Advanced Level examinations have been postponed until mid June, and that all children living in affected areas were issued, in collaboration with UNICEF, with the necessary textbooks and stationery, and those students can opt to take their national exams next year.
Tilak Ranaviraja, Commissioner General for Essential Services and Chairman of TAFOR, briefed the Select Committee on the status of the relief effort thus far. He said that all those living in temporary shelter would be moved into transitional settlements by the end of May 2005. Each family will be provided with 200 square feet of space and electricity. He also stated that 18,500 transitional shelters have been completed and 17,500 people have already moved.The Moulavi representing Sammanthurai stated that although 62 mosques were affected by the tsunami, they continued to provide food and shelter to victims. He said that these venues were congested and the people were psychologically affected. He explained the need for the maintenance of cultural centres and of helping people to reclaim their livelihoods.


18th Meeting of the Select Committee – May 3, 2005
At the 18th meeting, the Chairperson Mahinda Samarasinghe tabled the first draft of the Natural Disaster Bill done by the UNDP. He also announced that the draft report on the recommendations made during the Australian study tour undertaken by a parliamentary delegation was released.
Jeff Murdoch, Akira Akazawa and Ramraj Narasingham from the International Organization of Migration (IOM), Dr A R Subbiah and Lolita Bildhan from the Bangkok based Asian Disaster Prevention Centre, Jean Pierre Massue, Member of the European Mediterranean Inter Governmental Group and of the European Academy of Science and Arts, and Nora Belachchi, expert on natural disasters made their presentations to the Select Committee.
Dr A R Subbiah made an assessment of the Early Warning System for Sri Lanka for the UNDP. He stated that the relevant authorities need to trace the movement of the winds to warn of imminent danger of floods in the area. Sri Lanka’s lack of a flood warning system was a deterrent to the monitoring of the impact of floods. Speaking on droughts, he stated that authorities need to possess the ability to forecast them in advance. International forecasters can predict changes in weather patterns through the use of Global Precipitation Forecasts three months ahead. Dr Subbiah also stressed the importance of delivering locally relevant climate information so that authorities can preempt this and plan the agriculture industry accordingly.Jean Pierre Massue spoke on the local levels of disaster preparedness and emergency response in Sri Lanka. An ISCR survey called ‘Preliminary Lessons learned from the Tsunami’ conducted in Kobe showed that the world is vulnerable to natural disasters and people need to look into the careful conservation of the coast, he said. He stressed the need for Sri Lanka to invest in mapping data called Geographic Information System (GIS). He made several recommendations to the Select Committee based on his research. He stated that there were five key areas that need to be looked into when having an Early Warning System:
• Risk Prevention
• Elements involved in an Early Warning System
• Crisis Management
• Debriefing
• Rehabilitation
He also stressed that there has to be a legal basis when making policy decisions and capacity building should be based on an inter-ministerial and decentralized approach. When speaking on the importance of education he said that children are the most vulnerable to natural disasters and are also the most receptive to risk prevention messages.


19th Meeting of the Select Committee- 4 May, 2005
Dr Ajith Udagama, Dean of the University of Moratuwa, A J W Nanayakkara, Director General of the Census and Statistics Bureau, Dr Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, Serini Siriwardena and Ashantha Welikala representing the Centre for Policy Alternatives, and Dr Deheragoda, representative from the Geography Department, University of Sri Jayewardenepura, made their recommendations to the Select Committee.Jeff Murdoch and Akira Akazawa from the International Organization of Migration (IOM), Jean Pierre Massue, Member of the European Mediterranean Inter Governmental Group and of the European Academy of Science and Arts and the representatives from the UNDP were also present.A J W Nanayakkara released the data the bureau collected in the aftermath of the tsunami to the Select Committee. In all districts, 39,617 houses were completely damaged, 10,660 houses were partially damaged and cannot be used while 38,561 houses were partially damaged but can be used. He stated that officials should depend on police records to confirm the number of people who lost their lives in the tsunami in Sri Lanka. When asked by the Select Committee why there were discrepancies in the statistics released to the public on the death toll, Mr Nanayakkara said that different organisations were collecting data and thus the statistics were overlapping or falling short because the system was not a coordinated one. He stressed the need for a decentralized system of data collection at a grass root level.
Dr Ajith Udagama stated that a system involving the Grama Sevaka Division, District Offices and Provincial Councils was important for the collection of accurate data. He also stated that there should be a central point where all stakeholders can have access to the relevant data in order to conduct a proper needs assessment. He emphasized that in order for that system to work, the data repository needs to be computerized and work across multiple ministries.
Dr Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu stated that the culture of governance in Sri Lanka was to centralize everything. He stressed that it was important to use local knowledge and local structures in implementation and coordination of disaster management for effective data gathering. Speaking on the key problems we face, he stated that coordination and communication between government officials because of the culture of governance in the country was lacking, the political imperative in the country is on the distribution of relief, too many ministries were spread too thin, and there was a lack of involvement of both the local and provincial authorities in the interest of central governance.
Dr Deheragoda stated that one central body of research is needed so that allocation of funds will be easier.


20th Meeting of the Select Committee - 17 May 2005
Mr R A D B Samaranayake, Director of the Coast Conservation Department (CCD) and representatives of both the Urban Development Authority (UDA) and the National Physical Planning Association made their presentations to the Select Committee.Mr Samaranayake stated the importance of coastal conservation and managing the environment. He also showed the legislation, which gives it the authority to implement policies concerning the protection of the coastal belt of Sri Lanka.
• Coast Conservation Act No 57 of 1981
• Coast Conservation Amendment Act No 64 of 1988
• Coastal Zonal Plan 2004 - yet to be enacted
The CCD follows an Environmental Impact Assessment Plan, which helps to enact appropriate acts. The Coastal Zonal Plan 2004, which is yet to be enacted, was prepared before the tsunami. The recommendations made within the act are relevant to the situation in post tsunami Sri Lanka as well. Mr Samaranayake stated his support of the buffer zone.
He presented a three-pronged plan, which they have already given as a recommendation to the cabinet to look into. He explained that a buffer zone would be in place and it will be divided into three sections for easier implementation. The seaward reference line and the reservation area are strictly forbidden areas with regards to development activities. The restrictive area is what the experts call a soft zone where people will be allowed to do development activity in respect to the tourism and fishing industries in consultation with the CCD.
The CCD Director also presented a new plan where they have divided the coastal belt of Sri Lanka into 99 zones. Each of these zones will be analyzed with the Environmental Impact Assessment Plan to find vulnerable areas within the coastal belt. All these recommendations are given to an appointed committee of relevant representatives from the Ministry of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, Ministry of Forestry and Environment, Ministry of Women’s Empowerment and Social Welfare, Ministry of Urban Development and Water Supply, and Ministry of Science and Technology.
Regarding the buffer zone he stated that the existing management plan should be kept in place with the addition of rest areas and fishing and tourism industry related structures. However, no new housing settlements would be allowed. He stated that the CCD is following the guidelines set out by TAFREN.
When asked by the members of the Select Committee why no other country had a buffer zone, with the inclusion of both Japan and Banda Aceh in Indonesia, Mr Samaranayake responded that Sri Lanka had a high erosion rate as opposed to other countries.A representative of the UDA stated that when planning development activities, the socio economic and geographical aspects are looked into beforehand. Densification and expansion of the land are also done along with the reservation of sections of the land. Due to increasing economic activity along the coast, almost all urban areas are centred there apart from the hill country, which is also dense in population. He stated that conservation of the land is an imperative for the country to prevent natural disasters like floods and landslides.
He recommended that policy planners encourage development activity in the interior of the country, so the population density will decrease along the coastal belt.Speaking on the possible threat of earthquakes he stated that when high-rise buildings come up in Colombo, the UDA advises investors with a pre-qualification system. The National Housing Development Authority (NHDA) also has housing guidelines, which investors follow during development stages.The National Physical Planning Association based their representation on the need for a new National Physical Structure Planning for Sri Lanka. Their representative discussed the fact that disasters have a huge impact on people and the economy alike.
Planning in the past was based on three attributes:
• Availability of resources
• Economic disparity
• Geo-climatic regions
Sri Lanka cannot sustain itself on agriculture alone, thus the expansion of tourism, IT, industries and services. The object of a sound economic plan is for people to live in and around industrial regions.
The coastal belt and the hill country are vulnerable to natural disasters and the population densities in those areas are high because of economic opportunities and development activities. The objective of a new National Physical Structure Plan for Sri Lanka should be to provide incentives for people to move away from vulnerable regions. To achieve that, the government needs to focus on concentrated development in the interior of the country. He also spoke on the need to balance urban development and population density.
He presented a three-pronged approach for future development activity in the country:
• Reduce the population at risk on the coastal belt and in the central hills
• Balance economic and environmental activity
• Provision of opportunities in rural areas


21st Meeting of the Select Committee - 20 May 2005
Priyantha Serasinghe, Group Director of The Maharaja Organisation, Kingsley Bernard, President of the National Chamber of Exporters (NCE), M P T Cooray, Secretary General of the Joint Apparel Association, Ranjith Rajapakse, General Manager of Associated Motorways, K C Suwarnaraj, Chairman of the Vavuniya Chamber of Commerce, Stanley Jayasekera, Head of Global Trade for the National Chamber of Commerce, K Palaymianly, Member of the Old Moors Association, and M Atton, Deputy Secretary General of the Ceylon Chambers Forum, attended the Select Committee hearings.
Mahinda Samarasinghe stated to those present that the private sector needs to play a larger role in the coordination of reconstruction efforts and of protecting employees in the event of a natural disaster. He briefed them on the systems in place in California and Honolulu, which he had learnt about during a parliamentary study tour. California has a business forum called BICEP, which looks into the welfare of businesses and of employees in the event of a natural disaster, and he suggested this should be implemented here.
Priyantha Serasinghe spoke on the role his organisation played in earlier natural disasters as well as in the aftermath of the tsunami. They were able to implement plans for relief aid to reach affected areas immediately because they were already doing relief work in flood affected areas. He also stated that The Maharaja Organisation utilises its media division to create awareness. Speaking on corporate social responsibility, he said that people and organisations need to be proactive and not reactive to natural disasters.
Stanley Jayewardene stated that the National Chamber of Commerce had an arm of the district chamber of Small and Medium Enterprises (SME) organised in 15 districts. This network helps the National Chamber of Commerce to dispatch aid to affected areas and to give assistance to affected businesses as well.M P T Cooray stated that there was a need to make employees aware of how to identify a natural disaster and know what to do when it occurs.
Mahinda Samarasinghe, the Chairman of the Select Committee, briefed the heads of the business community on the government’s plan of action for the mitigation of natural disasters. He stated that a natural disaster council, which consists of the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader as well as five members of the parliament, was to be set up in the near future. The council will be linked with a technical committee, which will coordinate relief efforts with a National Disaster Centre.


22nd Select Committee Meeting - 7 June 2005
The Select Committee held its 22nd meeting with representatives from the Colombo Municipal Council as well as Provincial Council members from each district. Mahinda Samarasinghe, the Chairperson of the Select Committee explained the role the Select Committee plays in both formulating and recommending certain policies through the Natural Disaster bill. He stated that policy makers cannot centralize decisions that need to be made by relevant authorities on the field. Each district faces unique risks that need to be looked into by the people who can provide expertise in those fields. For example, all Provincial Councils need to have a disaster management plan, a storage of dry rations, medicines and also a fire engine truck and ambulance.
A representative of the Sabaragamuwa Provincial Council stated that the province was vulnerable to floods and landslides, had a high population and needed a pre-preparedness plan. He also stated that they diverted their resources to help Hambantota and Galle during the tsunami and were now facing a short fall.
A representative of the Negombo Municipal Council stressed the importance of being warned early about a tsunami. He stated that the disaster Sri Lanka faced last December was an eye opener to other problems - the lack of resources and the unpreparedness on all levels of governance when dealing with natural disasters.
The Mayor of Colombo thanked the Select Committee for giving them a forum to speak about the system, what it lacks and what it needs. He stated that Colombo had an emergency preparedness plan even before the tsunami but reiterated the need for investments and resources. For instance, the Colombo Municipal Council received a fire engine after five years but had no investment to upgrade the equipment. The main challenge the city of Colombo has to face is the lack of resources corresponding with the need to develop the emergency preparedness plans already in place.
The representative of the Nuwara Eliya Provincial Council stated that the main natural disasters in the area were forest fires and earth slips but they had only one Backhoe metre to use.
The representative of the Hambantota Provincial Council stated that the main challenge any government faces was in the decision-making process. The people of his district were still facing difficulties in the aftermath of the tsunami. The government had difficulty finding land and then releasing it to the affected people.
Mahinda Wijesekera explained the need for Provincial Councils to have an emergency plan to deal with the outcome of any disaster. He stated that when a delegation comprising members of the Select Committee went on a study tour to Germany and Turkey, they learnt the importance of having a civil service as well making sure emergency plans filtered down to the grass root level. He asked the representatives of the Provincial Councils to share their thoughts on how many people they needed to handle their work as well as whether they were receiving sufficient resources. He spoke on the buffer zone issue by asking the Provincial Council members who represented tsunami-affected areas to share their experiences on the challenges facing people there.
The Mayor of Galle stated that they have four fire engines and 12 people to operate the equipment. He requested the Select Committee to provide them with new equipment, better resources and new laws giving them authority.Vajira Abeywardena briefed the Select Committee on the lack of progress made on the debris embedded in the sea. He said that up to now the Coast Conservation Department had failed to look into the matter. He also asked that the history of tsunamis happening in the country should be looked into and released to the public to create awareness.
Prof Kapila Dahanayake, Head of the Department of Geology, Peradeniya University thanked the Select Committee for its role in identifying the need to have better equipment in the seismological centres in the country. JICA is providing the necessary resources needed to repair the seismology equipment in the Peradeniya University.
The representative of the Provincial Council in Matara stated that there was a need for the resources that were to be spent in the case of an emergency to be allocated separately. He asked that the circulation notice where the government disallows government agents and people who have a livelihood that generates revenue and are affected by the tsunami to receive compensation to be removed.


23rd Select Committee Meeting - 8 June 2005
The Deputy Ambassador of Italy, Prof Ferruchchi from the University of Calabria, Prof Deheragoda, Head of Geography, University of Peradeniya and representatives from the Irrigation Department, Mahaweli and River Basin Development Authority and the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) were present at the 23rd Select Committee meeting.The Deputy Ambassador of Italy introduced Prof Ferruchchi for a follow up of the project proposal he presented to the Select Committee in March 2005. The Deputy Ambassador of Italy explained the status of the project proposals the Italian delegation, which Prof Ferruchchi was a part of made to the Select Committee and the Government of Sri Lanka.“Ambassador Salvatore Zotta presented three substantive project proposals, which were agreed upon with the consultation of Tissa Vitharana, Minister of Science and Technology, and professors from the universities of Colombo, Ruhuna and Moratuwa. We are also looking at how to go on with a programme of academia - with high-level cooperation between the governments of Italy and Sri Lanka. We are looking to broaching Prof Ferruchchi’s project proposal. We want to have it done as soon as possible. This will have no link to the debt moratorium. Prof Ferruchchi’s will discuss the proposal. I believe it is called digital mapping of the coast or Hyper Dam. It will study coastal areas especially tsunami-affected areas,” the Deputy Ambassador of Italy stated.
Prof Ferruchchi made a presentation to the Select Committee on the need for a digital model construction, focusing on geomorphological studies on the coastal belt of Sri Lanka in March of this year. He expressed that the Italian government would like to extend their cooperation to Sri Lanka in going forward with digital monitoring of a country, which can be done by an overhead satellite and can identify areas vulnerable to natural disasters.
This high technology impact assessment aimed at providing Sri Lankan experts with the technology needed for emergency management and natural disaster mitigation - particularly from meteorological, hydrological and oceanographic hazards. This technology is imperative when it comes to advance territorial planning - helping to identify areas vulnerable to natural disasters.
Prof Ferruchchi introduced the preliminary stage of the project to the Select Committee informing them that after the MoU was signed with the Government of Sri Lanka, the project could begin.
“The focus of the project is the mapping of the coastal areas. We will start a preliminary survey from space. This is already being done through space borne radar or spatial technique. There will be no need to use topography on the ground. This is the fastest, easiest and cheapest method to use. The second survey will be done through the digital surface model - 1 square km resolution in width and 10 square km in height. This will be a space borne survey. It is done with special equipment like laser scans. It will include everything between Galle and Jaffna anti-clockwise,” Ferruchchi stated.Further explaining the project he stated that it could be done in three parts.
It will carry out infrared lasers to make a model to look into vegetation inclusive of houses and such and the map of the coast. It will help to design a better defense from natural disasters and the like. This can be done in three parts:
“Space borne technique, which will be done as soon as the MoU is signed, the air borne technique, which needs to be done in clear weather. We have been in touch with the Meteorology Department who says that Sri Lanka is in the middle of a monsoon. So we will have to do it between mid July and mid September, if everything goes according to plan. The third is the specialized radar borne laser survey - this will help us to observe the coast better. This equipment is state of the art - the patents are exclusively owned by Italy,” he said.


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