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Warnings were sent prior to disaster: Minister Yapa

The Disaster Management Ministry had sent warnings before the recent catastrophic flood, Disaster Management Minister Anura Priyadarshana Yapa yesterday said.

"The Ministry through the Disaster Management Centre had sent the warnings to the relevant government institutions and the media prior to the disaster," the Minister said. "Not only that the Ministry had taken commendable measures to rescue people, but also taken measures to protect and provide them with reliefs," he said.

He said many saved their lives thanks to the warnings but some who did not heed became victims to the disaster.

He made these observations yesterday in response to the adjournment motion moved by JVP Parliamentarian Sunil Handunnetti on the recent catastrophic flood.

He said that the Disaster Management Ministry and the Act were set and passed in 2005 following the Tsunami that hit the country.

The Minister said the natural disasters - floods, storms and land slides - are mostly related to the water. The Meteorological Department make their predictions using the Numerical Weather Prediction technology. "We cannot depend on the international data. The flood situation is provided by the Irrigation Department and the warnings are made based on the same data by the Disaster Management Centre," he said.

"The Disaster Management Centre had made all the required warnings. We had sent those warnings to the media and other related institutions. "One foreign journalist in Sri Lanka told me that they received the warnings," Minister said. "I table all those log reports from May 24 to May 29 of the warnings."

He said the main task of the disaster management is played by the tri forces. The Disaster Management Ministry had spent Rs. 100 million for the tri-forces last year on their training in disaster management. The others who play the important role are the Public Administration Ministry officers led by the Government Agents.

"After the data and the warnings were received by the institutions and the officers, they had conveyed the message to the people in the vulnerable areas using the loudspeakers," Minister Yapa said.

He aid the last step of the mechanism is implemented by the Divisional Secretary, GA and Gramaseva Niladri Officers. "If some one think that those officers are out of the mechanism that is wrong and the mechanism could not be implemented," Minister said.

"If the disaster is so massive that it is a part of the mechanism to inform the Security Forces to get their assistance. This time they had deployed more than 8,500 personnel to manage the situation," the Minister said.

He said they had provided more than 100,000 meal packets to the flood affected.

Seven canteen of theirs had prepared the meals. The Navy had deployed 120 dingy boats and provided more than 100,000 dry rations to the people. The Air Force had engaged in 211 flying hours at a cost of USD 1,500 each hour.

"I totally disagree the allegation that the government did not involve amply to provide relief to the flood affected people," Disaster Management Minister said. "When the provision of the facilities to the flood affected people is concerned, it is the responsibility of the Divisional Secretariat and the Grama Niladari Officer to attend to them," he said.

There is one issue. We have not set up disaster centres as natural disasters amply experienced by the country. Constructing such centres have been commenced in Gampaha, Kegalle and Badulla with the funds of Asian Development Bank.

He said the Divisional Secretary and the Grama Niladari provide food to people after buying them from relevant places and the bills would be settled by the government. The government has so far spent Rs. 266 million for the food of the flood affected people during the recent disaster. We have also planed to provide them with dry rations. We have a plan to get Cabinet approval to grant a house rental for those who have no place to go since their houses were destroyed by the disaster.

The Minister said there is a plan to settle those in vulnerable areas on government lands or at other places temporarily. "We ave prepared three housing plans for the people in vulnerable areas which could be built at a cost of Rs 1.2 million," the Minister said. "Now the houses in Aranayake are constructed. The government has planned to grant Rs. 1.2 million to construct their houses," the Minister said.

"It is only Sri Lanka in the Asian Region that has insured all the people and houses in the country. We have to be proud of it," the Minister said. "We have paid Rs. 300 million to the insurance company for the purpose. The 1.2 million is granted in addition to the insurance," he said.

He said the mountain peaks in the country have been cultivated with tea. "They cannot hold the rainfall. People have settled by the side of the Nilawala river. We need a national policy to prevent them," he said.

Rs. 2,280 million will be spent on the houses destroyed in the Kegalle district. We have already spent Rs. 1,185 million to provide reliefs to flood affected people. The Chinese Government build 100 houses while the Habitat construct 80 houses. 50 houses have been constructed. some other institutions including the security forces are constructing over 60 houses. He said the people in 58 divisional secretariats were affected by drought and Rs 240.2 million is spent to provide reliefs to them.

"The Asian Development Bank has promised to grant us 200 rain gauges, while Japan has promised to give us two doppler radars," the Minister said.

Radical transformation of system of governance imperative: Opposition Leader R. Sampanthan

A radical transformation of the system of governance to ensure people’s participatory approach is imperative, Opposition Leader R Sampanthan said.

Sampanthan used the Parliamentary debate on disaster situation yesterday to draw the attention of the House to the need of giving more responsibilities and powers to the provincial authorities to efficiently handle disaster management related activities.

He said greater interaction between people and government institutions must be established.

“Under the system we now have, everything is controlled by the Centre. All governmental powers are exercised by Colombo. This leads to corruption as it lacks transparency. Greater interaction with people in the area not only reduce corruption but also leads to more efficiency and minimise delays,” he said. “Our governance has barely changed since the independence. We see the country is stagnating while other countries are advancing. Our system does not represent the democratic wishes of the people. We need to restructure our system of State and governance,” he said.

The Opposition Leader thanked the swift relief measures sent by other countries and observed that those aids portray the international goodwill towards Sri Lanka.

Regional authorities unequipped to handle emergency situation: Handunnetti

JVP MP Sunil Handunnetti yesterday questioned in Parliament the disaster preparedness of the relevant government institutions and pointed out that the regional authorities lack boats, generators and water bowsers to be used at an emergency situation.

Handunetti was moving an adjournment motion on the recent flood and landslide havoc in the country in Parliament yesterday. Parliament yesterday facilitated nine and half hours debate on the disaster situation extending the sitting time till 8pm.

Oral questions and questions under the Standing Orders 23 (2), usually taken up at the commencement of sittings, were postponed and the debate continued without a lunch break to facilitate more time for the debate. Speaker Karu Jayasuriya said the sitting time was extended as many members wanted to speak at the debate. MP Handunnetti, who moved the motion, said many areas went under water since the river mouths were not properly maintained. He asked the government to build anicuts where necessary and invest money on new technological equipment such as ‘Watermasters’ which are used for dredging, piling and raking.

The MP accused that the evacuated families are being resettled in the same risky places. He said Morawakakanda and Ayagama are examples for the claim. He said the government wants Rs. 8,886 million to pay compensation for the lives lost and fully damaged houses.

Deliberate attempt to tarnish my reputation: Minister Gayantha

Parliamentary Reforms and Lands Minister Gayantha Karunathilake said the CID has found out the perpetrator who distributed some bananas among the disaster affected people pasting his (Minister's) name on the cover.

Minister Karunathilake said it was a deliberate attempt to disrepute him. He made these observations in Parliament yesterday when UPFA MP Chandrasiri Gajadeera inquired about the incident.

Leader of the House and Minister Lakshman Kiriella adding to Karunathilake’s reply said the CID had found out that a Joint Opposition MP was engaged in a mudslinging campaign in web-based and social media against selected politicians in the government. “He has employed a team of about 40 persons for the purpose,” he said.

Minister Karunathilake, observing that he was subjected to virulent attack in the social media due to this incident, said the people living in his area are well-aware that he does not resort to such cheap acts.

Dinesh asks for Standing Committee to monitor post-disaster relief activities

Mahajana Eksath Peramuna (MEP) Leader Dinesh Gunawardena requested to set up a Standing Committee in Parliament to monitor the progress of post disaster relief activities and compensation payment.

The MP made this request joining in the adjournment debate in Parliament yesterday. He said all districts affected by floods and landslides should be represented in the Committee.

“A massive flood hit the country last year too, but compensations are yet to be paid to half of the affected. This is despite the claims by the government that there will be immediate compensation. Therefore, I request to appoint a Parliamentary Committee to monitor the progress of the Disaster Management Ministry and relevant departments in implementing post disaster activities,” he said.

The MP said the loss from the recent natural calamity exceeds Rs 35 billion as of the reports available so far. This includes damages to property, livelihood, industries and trade, he said.

The MP requested the government to continue paying daily wages of estate workers in affected areas. Observing that there is a delay in activating state disaster management mechanism in the country, the MP requested the government to take measures to rectify the weakness.

MP Gunawardena requested the government to release the land where the Salawa Army Camp is located to rebuild the town. “The government promised to remove the army camp from the town following the explosion last year. Without taking measures to relocate the camp, the Army has spent a large sum of money to erect a clock tower at the centre of the town,” he said.

House bears extra cost for extended debate

Parliament had to bear an extra cost in facilitating the nine and half hour long debate on the recent flood and landslide disasters yesterday.

Parliament had to arrange dinner for Parliamentarians, Parliamentary staff and the media as the sittings was extended till 8pm yesterday. Many members of the Government and the Opposition were keen to join in the debate to place their views in record. However, only a handful of members remained in the House throughout the debate.

Deputy Minister Palitha Thevarapperuma, who received admiration for his active contribution to provide relief to the affected people, did not take part in the debate.

Parliament also postponed oral questions and questions under the Standing Orders 23 (2) usually taken up at the commencement of sittings to facilitate more time for the debate and the debate continued even without a lunch break.

Speaker Karu Jayasuriya previously told Parliament that Rs. 4.6 million public funds are being spent on each parliamentary sitting. (Daily News)

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