JO faults govt. for ignoring storm warnings and placing people at mercy of weather gods


By Saman Indrajith

The Joint Opposition (JO) yesterday in parliament found fault with the government for ignoring the forecasts pertaining to the tropical storm on Nov. 29 and placing the country and its people at the mercy of weather gods.

JO parliament group leader Dinesh Gunawardena, making a special statement, said that the foreign media had reported the warnings of the storm three days before the disaster. The Sri Lankan government had not taken them seriously. Warnings had been issued only to the fishermen, Gunawardena said.

MP Gunawardena said the Met Department had failed to adequately warn the general public on impending disaster. "Why don’t you resolve the main problems which have crippled the work in this institution? The Met Chief stated that he could not issue weather alerts in Tamil as his Department did not have a translator. I am sure if the Prime Minister was made aware of it, he would have taken prompt action to recruit somebody. He understands the gravity of these problems. The country is prone to weather related disasters in the future," he said.

MEP leader Gunawardena citing a news report published by The Island in its yesterday’s issue on the disaster and said that the international warnings on impending disaster had been ignored. He demanded to know from the government of its preparedness to face another storm. He reminded that the people affected by the floods were still awaiting compensation. "The Prime Minister promised to this House that he will present a report on the Salawa explosion to Parliament. He made that promise ten months ago. That report is yet to be presented to the House. When are you going to table that report. Why are you not tabling it? When will you complete paying compensation to those affected by the Salawa armoury explosion?"        

Leader of the House Higher Education and Highways Minister Lakshman Kiriella said the mankind could never win against the nature and its disasters. "Not even the US Met Department could issue a warning in time when disasters struck Los Angeles recently. We accept that the Met Department needs modernisation. An automatic rain gauge network will soon be installed to develop weather forecasting system."

Minister Kiriella, reading out a reply on behalf of the Prime Minister, said the Meteorological Department had issued warnings to fisheries and naval communities, adding that those helped to save many lives and equipment of the fishing community. He pointed out that the cyclone was developing 400km away from Sri Lanka and the high winds lashing the country were a result of the depression prior to the cyclone.

He said the cabinet approval had been given to evict 14,860 families in landslide prone areas and 1,122 families in high flood risk zones and resettle them in safer locations. He said "under the NITF insurance scheme compensation to a maximum limit of Rs 2.5 million is being paid for damages to houses and small and medium scale enterprises. Damages to domestic appliances are compensated to a maximum limit of Rs 25,000 while Rs 100,000 is paid for the death of a person," he said.

Deputy Ministers Ajith Perera and Dr Harsha de Silva, joining the debate pointed out that Grama Niladari Officers and Divisional Secretaries, were not adequately aware of the compensation payment of the NITF.

"These officers who have no proper knowledge on assessment method and are making those assessments as if the money is given from their own pocket or as if it is a donation. This compensation is a citizen’s right the Government has secured by paying a premium to the NITF. The authorities must be made aware of this process," Ajith Perera said.

Dr Harsha de Silva said some Divisional Secretaries had refused to pay compensation for damages less than Rs 10,000, adding that those people too were entitled to receive the compensation. He also said stern action should be taken against the Technical Officers who failed to report to duty on the long weekend when the disaster occurred.

Speaker Karu Jayasuriya advised the government to streamline the disaster management mechanism to resolve the issues pertaining to disaster preparedness.

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