Minister of Disaster Management Anura Priyadharshana Yapa spoke to our sister paper Rivira, regarding the disaster situation that has affected eight districts, steps taken to manage such, measures taken to tackle future disaster situations and issues pertaining to disaster management.
Q : At a time when the country was faced with such a disaster, where were you?
Our Ministry works closely with the United Nations (UN). The UN has made disaster management a main subject. The UN’s world summit regarding disaster management was held in Mexico. The main invitee was President Maithripala Sirisena. It was at the President’s invitation that I was asked to go. In Mexico, there were two matters to attend to, one pertaining to delivering President Maithripala Sirisena’s statement and the other with regard to participating in matters concerning the Ministers schedule. In the disaster management programme organized by the UN, I had to work as the co-chair of a summit in relation to the State sector.
Q : You could have come back to the country the moment you heard about the disaster situation.
When continuing the work of any Ministry, when the Minister is scheduled to go abroad, the Deputy Minister is appointed as the acting Minister. We have a mechanism to act on during pre and post disaster situations.
This mechanism worked exactly as it is. If the disaster is a severe one, the President summons the national summit of disaster management. Through this, he connects the military and other parties. We are not angry with those who are trying to politically attack us by saying that we were not in the villages. However, I went for a related programme.
Then, we have to mandatorily participate in the said summit and inform them of the programme being implemented in our country. That is completely included in the UN record. It is through such that countries like ours get aid. Therefore, I had no way of coming to Sri Lanka. Even though I was there, I was involved with all that was taking place here. Therefore, without a glitch, all activities took place accordingly as they should.
Q : What are the measures taken at present with regard to the sudden disaster situation?
In the initial stages, what we had to do was rescues. The tri forces acted in this regard. Following the rescues, what we had to do was provide aid and food. Now, all of that has been provided according to the required amounts. As of now, there are 78,000 persons in 371 camps.
For all of them, we provide Rs 300 worth of food per day, covering all three meals. We also provide them with the needed reed mats and pillows. We have designed mechanisms to provide them with anything that they are lacking, the moment we come to know about such. The Government has thus far spent Rs 160 million on behalf of them.
Now the waters are receding. Now what is left for us to do is to reconstruct roads, clean wells, repair wells that are damaged and build houses. We are gathering information to this end. Therefore, what is left for us to do involves addressing the damage that has been wreaked. These activities are being conducted with the support of all.
Q : Many countries in the world have moved from disaster management towards disaster prevention. Why isn’t there any progress in this regard in Sri Lanka?
By prevention what is meant is cleaning streams, preparing ways for water to flow, the reconstruction of tanks and building places for water retention. These too we have done. For this, we have involved several Ministries.
Under these excessive weather conditions, what we do is to predict. When we predict, the Disaster Management Centre forwards notices of warnings. These warnings are provided to the villagers through the Police and other institutions. After giving such, we evacuate them to safe locations. Once the disaster situation has abated, we direct them to evacuate their houses. This is the mechanism we follow. I don’t think that rain, lightning and storms can be prevented prior to a disaster. Nowhere in the world has this been done. The United States of America was affected by Hurricane Katrina. They have still not been able to control that destruction. In Bangladesh, there have been massive damages due to a cyclonic storm. Therefore, all that we can do is to manage these excessive weather conditions.
Q : You mentioned that there are issues with regard to disaster prevention when faced with excessive weather conditions such as what we are faced with now. There are delays to be seen in the pre and post interventions concerning disasters.
That is a lie. During every disaster that affects the country, we intervene urgently. To help us, the Police and all other teams get together and have provided us with information. We have acted on such information. For an example, when the water level of the Kelani River was rising, we evacuated those who were residing at the lower level. My opinion is that all of us must work together to act on such information. Then, we are mostly able to reduce the damage resultant from such disasters.
Now I have information. We have provided this information. Certain groups have not moved out of their houses. Therefore, I informed that I needed a true report regarding all of those who are there in those areas. Then, we can see as to how many persons had received the warnings we gave and how many out of those who had received such in fact had moved out. Then, we believe we can decide on how to remove them on such future occasions.
Q : There were discussions in the recent past to bring in new laws and regulations to address disaster situations including floods. Didn’t a suggestion come to forcibly remove those who did not move out from such areas during a disaster situation?
When we are supply information regarding a disaster situation, advice must be followed. Therefore, we will definitely bring a new Act to remove using force those who don’t move out. That does not mean that we are going to confiscate their property. Through this, we plan to remove them separately until such time the disaster situation abates. Through this, we plan to safeguard the lives of the public.
Since 2015, all houses, persons and property have been insured by us. No country in Asia has done this so far. All persons are eligible to receive a maximum amount of Rs 2.5 million from the insurance trust fund if they become victims of a disaster situation.