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Colombo’s Flood Protection — a response

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The recent article by Dr Ratnasiri, in The Island, certainly provides interesting reading, to a novice, on this subject. But, the absence of a suitable plan makes it difficult if the article is to have any practical value to a reader who can be a professional engineer. The mention of my name prompted me to pen this response.

The Madiwela East Diversion, remaining dry most of the time, as mentioned, may be due to its wrong location, too far upstream of the Kelani Ganga about 10 miles above the historic Nagalagam Street outfall. Even during floods of the Kelani Ganga, this outfall No 1 (See plan) has to be closed, long before Nagalagam Street outfall closing at +5.00 ft MSL, the accepted minor flood level for Colombo, negating the very purpose for which this canal was built. I have had reports that many groundwater wells, too, had dried up during the construction of this canal.

1. The learned doctor has not noticed the extent to which the Thalangama Tank had silted up, reducing the capacity to retain flood water (about 50 ac.ft) entering the Parliament lake, which contributes to the flooding of the Parliament lake. The flood of 1992, referred to in the said article, which caused havoc to the city of Colombo, which flooded the Parliament for the first time, was further aggravated because of a gate, constructed by SLLRDC, at the premises of Irrigation Department’s flood control unit, at Nagalagam Street, that could not be opened because of the missing gate operator. It was finally based on information given by me to President Premadasa that the President had this gate cut down by the Navy.

2. This gate was constructed at ID’s flood control premises to pump water from the Kelani Ganga to the Beira Lake, for the purpose of cleaning the lake, under a different project called MEIP, costing US$ 87 million, funded by the World Bank. The project ceased soon after the flood. Strangely, no inquiry was made. It was all swept under the carpet.

3. Dr. R’s reference to the Beira Lake, too, needs some clarifications. The Beira Lake is not a natural lake. It is an artificial lake also kept at an artificial level, of 6.00 ft above mean sea level, by the Beira Spillway, and two other control points; the control gates on the spillway have been sealed and no longer adjustable, preventing the lowering of the lake level to induce gravity flow, as suggested in my proposals.

4. I have always opposed pumping, recommending it as a last resort because it costs a lot of money to install, operate, maintain and find replacements as was our experience at the Nilwala Ganga and the Gin Ganga; which a poor country, like Sri Lanka, cannot afford. Colombo can well be without pumping, mentioned in Dr. R’s article.

5. Ignoring many other references, contained in Dr R’s article, let me now say a few words about narrowing of bridges, mentioned in it. This is not a matter of life and death, as made out to be. Any hydrologist will agree that within the narrowed section, the velocity will increase to make up for the constriction. I am not sure whether Dr. R has been informed of other matters such as hydraulic jumps, etc.

6. I would request Dr. R to study the Sri Lanka’s River Basin Map, showing the 103 river basins of our country. He will then realize that Colombo is in River Basin No 1, while the adjoining basin, named as Bolgoda, appears as basin No 2. If, as proposed, the southern diversion takes place, such a canal would become a “trans-basin diversion” let alone the new outfall getting pushed about 20 miles, down south, to Panadura; not to mention reversing the natural flow direction, within the Madiwela catchment, and aggravating the already existing problems, within Bolgoda. Then what about the environmental damages caused in constructing this canal? If what is contained in the article is supported by a plan, all these deficiencies will get highlighted.

7. I am unable to contribute further because two different River Basins have got mixed up and several independent catchments, too, have gone the same way, not to mention the mix up of proposals of three foreign consultants, under GCFC&EIP by Atkins (British), JICA & Nippon Koe (Japan) and Western Region Proposal consultants, from Singapore, possibly working under three different TORR. All my work I have confined myself strictly to one river basin, namely the Kelani Basin

The proposals, I have been making for more than 30 years, do not go against nature, no damage to environment by digging new canals, no underground tunnels of large diameter, no widening of bridges, and no pumping, all of which will require foreign consultants and contractors and cause heavy borrowing

I am fully convinced that this is a subject better left in the hands of our own trained engineers with proven experience on the subject. Any foreign input may be in the form of investors for which they can receive all the benefits they are entitled to .

Eng. ANTON NANAYAKKARA

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Opinion

Road accident tragedies vs COVID-19 success

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Having received tremendous applause from other countries for our excellent work in controlling the coronavirus, sadly, we have failed to bring discipline to our road users, namely the motorists. The worldwide death toll, from the COVID-19, stands at 691,971 and our contribution to this is just 11, whereas 157,905 from the US, 37,426 in neighbouring India, and 5973 from Pakistan, so far. The World Health Organization (WHO) has commended the steps taken by the Sri Lankan authorities to control COVID-19. Expressing her views, the WHO representative in Sri Lanka, Dr Razia Pendse, has said she admired the steps taken by Sri Lanka to control the virus through educating the public, easing unnecessary fears and carrying out quarantine in an effective way. We Sri Lankans are really proud of our health authorities, and the support they received from our forces, on the guidance of our President.

Can we also be commended for how we have fared in our road manners and road safety? Sadly, no! Motor accidents so far, in 2020, as per our record, stands at 8880, and road accidents have killed 921 people so far this year. The World Bank says Sri Lanka has the worst road fatality rates, with a report published by it saying Sri Lanka has the worst road fatality among its immediate neighbours, in the South Asia region. It added that Sri Lanka needed US $ 2 billion additional investments, over the coming decade, to achieve a 50% reduction in national road crash fatalities. The study, by the World Bank, further points out the estimated annual crash deaths per capita, in Sri Lanka, is twice the average rate in high-income countries, and five times that of the best performing countries in the world. As per report, 38,000 crashes happen annually, which resulted in around 3000 fatalities and 8000 serious injuries. This is attributed to the rapid growth in vehicle ownership in the country, which is already high by regional standards and grew by 67% between 2011 and 2018. If the trend continues, the number of accidents, and crash fatalities, will increase. However, we are of opinion that reckless and drunk driving also have contributed to the increase of road accidents and fatalities. We hope the government, which drew applause for controlling COVID-19, can succeed in bringing about control in road accidents, which have brought more fatalities than the virus in few countries.

S. H. MOULANA

 

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Opinion

Ban reality shows for children under 13

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Recently a person, who called himself an English Tuition Master, was arrested for abuse of little children, in their own homes. As the story unfolded on the internet, this man is working for a popular TV channel as a back-ground designer. During the filming of children’s reality shows, he got friendly with little kids, and their mothers, who were foolish enough to accept his offer to give English tuition to children, by visiting them at their own homes, where he conducted most of the dirty work. After his arrest, his home, at Pannipitiya, was raided by police who found incriminating evidence of child abuse and filming of such scenes by this sex-maniac. This brings to our mind the question whether children are safe in TV studios and production locations of the advertising industry.

Little kids mingle freely, alone with adults, during such shows, and mothers, who bring them, are not always with them on a continuous basis – they are left alone with TV crews. Some shows go on till late hours, in the night, making room for sex-maniacs to do their sordid activities, easily. Some teachers have been sent to jail for child abuse. Therefore, no child is safe alone, in a public place, for that matter even in their own home, as in the case of the Pannipitiya man.

Government should take a decisive step to ban children, Under-13, from taking part in these reality shows, even with their parents, just as it banned Under-13 competitive sports for children. The TV stations, and parents, flouting these regulations, should be taken to courts.

Children, under 13, should also not be allowed to take part in TV advertisements. President GR, who is a strict army disciplinarian, should take quick action to bring new laws regarding child abuse, to safeguard our little kids.

SUMITH de SILVA

Grand Parent

 

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Opinion

Elect good, honest, educated, morally upright persons as MPs

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By ROHANA R. WASALA

“Elect good, honest, educated, and morally upright people as MPs” is not a new slogan. It has been heard at least over the past half a century, without any indication of it being heeded by the average voter. This is usually because the voters have no choice over the matter. It is the parties that nominate their candidates for election, subject to various considerations, having little to do with their formal education and moral character. The main criterion, they seem to consider, is how good is a candidate’s chance of winning; a candidate’s acceptability to a particular section of the general electorate does not necessarily depend on its perception of the person’s education or moral rectitude. If one party does not nominate a person of less than ideal qualities, who nevertheless stands a chance of winning votes for it in a particular constituency, then the party runs the risk of losing that electorate to a rival party which fields a candidate with questionable but ‘winning qualities’ in that particular setting. For voters in such a context, it is a choice between Tweedledum and Tweedledee as in the nursery rhyme. This frustrating fact is well known and need not be elaborated here.

It is not that the nomination committees of political parties want to include in their nomination lists individuals who are known to them and the public to lack the qualities named in the slogan (which forms the title of this piece). They don’t, but they can’t help it. Politicians, however morally refined, cannot avoid being pragmatists; they are obliged to strike a workable balance between principles and demands of pragmatism. The most important thing, in this situation, is that a ruling politician must have a lot of humanity to sufficiently ‘humanize’ his or her unavoidable pragmatism. For it should not be forgotten that though a politician need not be a ruler, a ruler must need to be a politician; in the treacherous world of politics, a politician cannot avoid pragmatism, but they can still be humane.

This time, however, it may be assumed that there is a difference. People are more aware of the necessity of having an elite of cultured technocrats of the ViyathMaga (Professionals for a Better Future) type in parliament. The education and the moral background of candidates must have received relatively more than customary attention from the nomination committees of all the parties, at least to some extent, though the ideology and the organization mentioned were the brainchild of the present President. But one cannot be sure that even the VM list of nominees (of the party that supports him) is completely free of characters who should not be there. This is because party organisers cannot afford to ignore the reality that under the existing electoral system, people vote for a particular party, unlike in the olden days, when widely known respectable individuals were elected to represent a constituency. Then it was the individual candidate, as much as the party, that was chosen. Today, for getting elected to parliament, a candidate must get enough preferential votes among a number of contending candidates put forward by each party for multi-seat constituencies; so naturally there is a form of undeclared war among candidates within each political party.

Recently, I wrote an opinion piece published in The Island (July 7) – what you are reading is an adaptation of one paragraph from that article – pointing out the importance of giving a chance to candidates to display their preferential numbers in a striking way, in order that the voters would remember the numbers of the candidates of their choice across the whole range of parties, alliances, and groups in the unusually long ballot paper. If that opportunity was denied it could be disadvantageous for the two most important types of candidates: the new and the materially poor. Candidates who are poor cannot afford expensive media advertising; the little known new ones would find it hard to make their numbers stand out among the numbers assigned to veterans, whose already well known names and previous designations render them conspicuous and memorable. So the veteran candidates of every party would not be likely to object to the Election Commission’s tough stand in this regard, for it would mean that they had a special advantage over their newer or younger and probably more ‘elect worthy’ contenders in the invidious intraparty war for preference votes. This situation can be most prejudicial to the newer fresher competitors, and also contrary to the generally shared desire among the voters to elect a decent lot to the august body this time. It was heartening to hear party leaders, on both sides, on their final campaign speeches, implicitly stressing the need for voters to make use of the preferential vote to reject possible rogues, if any, in their nomination lists.

 

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