Connect with us

Features

D.J. Wimalasurendra the founding father of hydroelectricity in Sri Lanka Great sons of Galle

Published

on

In the year 1918, D. J. Wimalasurendra read before the Engineering Association, a paper titled ‘The Economics of Power Utilization in Ceylon’, embodying his exhaustive investigations, most of which were done at his own expense.
When he referred to at length the benefits that the country would derive industrially and agriculturally by harnessing the waters of the River Mahaveli, Kehelgamu Oya and Maskeli Oya to produce hydroelectricity, some of the European engineers dismissed his thesis as “Journeys to the realm of fantasy”. Fortunately for our motherland, he had the unstinting support of the eminent leaders of the day and the national press.

From then onwards what was uppermost in his mind was the harnessing of the Laxapana waters to produce hydroelectricity and to supply ‘lakhs of lights’ as the name Laxapana implies. Nine long years later, a project based on the original proposals of Wimalasurendra but ill-advisedly modified by the European engineers was started by the British Government. Three years later it had to be abandoned after spending nearly three and half million rupees. Had Wimalasurendra been entrusted with the task it would have been a success.

Undaunted, Wimalasurendra pressed the government of the day to resume the project, fearing that it would be shelved forever or passed onto a foreign combine. With this in view, he briefed D. S. Senanayake of the proposed sale of a vital section to Whitewall Securities Corporation. When D. S. exposed this fact in the Legislative Council, the European rulers gave 24 hours notice to Wimalasurendra, to retire.

By now Wimalasurendra realized that he had lost a battle but not the war itself. With that in view, he entered the State Council in 1931, from Ratnapura. In the State Council, he urged the Government to restart the project which was resumed at last in the year 1938. On October 30, 1950, Sri Lanka was illuminated with hydropower for the first time.

It no doubt would have been the happiest day of his life! From his sick bed he travelled all the way to Watawala and saw for himself the power station there and declared, “Although it was not my good fortune to execute the scheme I had originated, I am happy that I have lived to see it brought to fruition by my countrymen and that I should have in the evening of my life been able to see the light, the dawn of which I beheld 50 years ago.”
No sphere of engineering activity escaped this genius. And, when the construction of the railway line from Bandarawela to Badulla baffled the white engineers, Wimalasurendra who was sent there by the Government authorities, performed the “looping the loop” at Demodera and reduced the proposed distance by three and half miles!

He also designed the gem-studded 24 foot gold plated pinnacle of the Ruvanweliseya Dagaba, which held the Chudamanikya. It was a labour of love.
When he was serving as the District Engineer of Uda Pussellawa, he received a telegram from his friend the newspaper tycoon D. R. Wijewardena, who had bought a new rotary press and the foreign engineer who had come from England to install it had failed to do it properly and the press had begun to deliver the newspapers in shreds! Wijewardena had consulted many engineers in Colombo but none of them could set it right.
As soon as Wimalasurendra arrived, he took one look at the machine and called for its book of instruction. He had glanced through the book, and with a thinly disguised smile of sarcasm on his face, fidgeted with some screws. And presto the newspapers came out at the rate of 40,000 copies an hour.

He also translated many Pali Buddhist texts to the German language. Indeed he was a great son of a great father, Mudliyar Don Juan Dewapura Wimalasurendra, who was a master craftsman, personally commended by Queen Victoria. Wimalasurendra was born on September 17, 1874, at Muhandiramgewatta in Galwadugoda, Galle. In the year 1926, he provided electricity to his home town. He also constructed the Hiyare reservoir to give pipe borne to the Galle town. Notable improvements to the Galle Harbour were also made by him.

The Government of the day, issued a commemorative stamp to mark his birth centennial. The new Laxapana power station was also named after him. The Galle Municipal Council renamed Humes Road which passes through his village, as D. J. Wimalasurendra Mawatha, while the grateful people of Galle erected a life-size statue of him.

Dewapura Jayasena Wimalasurendra, the patriotic son and giver of light, passed into luminous sleep on August 10, 1953 and is the living light in a free and independent Lanka!

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Features

Six Years in the Heart of Dixie

Published

on

By GEORGE BRAINE

In 1989, while finishing graduate studies at the University of Texas, at Austin, I accepted a teaching job in Alabama, where license plates proudly proclaim it’s the “Heart of Dixie”. Dixie is the nickname for the 11 Southern states that formed the Confederate States of America, which fought and lost the Civil War with the Northern Union states. These Southern states have a terrible legacy in terms of slavery, the KKK, and the murderous treatment of Black people. These areas are also notoriously backward, in terms of literacy, standard of education, and healthcare.

Not all my friends, in Austin, were pleased with my move to Alabama. One, a liberal woman from New York, said that she would “not stop to change a flat tire in Alabama”. I was aware of the legacy of the deep South, but most universities are open minded communities, and English departments oases of liberalism, so I didn’t anticipate much prejudice. The job market was tight, and, as a foreigner, I felt fortunate to find a job.

The University of South Alabama the city of Mobile, is a comprehensive university, with medical and engineering faculties, in addition to arts, sciences, business, education, computer science, nursing and social sciences. In 1989, the enrollment was about 12,000 students.

The English Department was, in every sense, traditional, dominated by White males and gracious Southern ladies, all of them White except for one Black female professor. James Dorrill, the chairperson, was a Jesuit priest and a Harvard man. To their credit, they hired me – the first from Asia (and the face, skin colour, and accent not matching the name) – to teach English to Americans.

 

Mobile, Alabama

The city of Mobile was the epitome of a conservative, Southern city. During the Civil War, it was one of the last Confederate cities to surrender to the Union Army. Mobile port, used to ship cotton from large, slave-holding plantations during antebellum (pre- Civil War) times, became a leading dockyard during the two World Wars, 200 ships having been built during World War II. When I arrived, the port had seen better times, although cruise ships would occasionally dock, and timber and coal had replaced “king cotton” as the main export.

Vestiges of Mobile’s halcyon days remained in the downtown area, dominated by the Greco-Roman style Catholic cathedral. Gracious Southern homes, with their open verandas, large casement windows with wooden slats, tall Grecian pillars, and the weathered brick walls gave the area a 19th century appearance. Streets lined with old oak trees that met in the middle enhanced this ambience. Some houses, in the Queen Anne style, had elaborately decorated exteriors. The gardens were full of flowering shrubs, shaded by magnolia, weeping willow, and ancient oak trees hung with moss. What these homes evoked was a leisurely lifestyle – iced tea, mint juleps – and old money. Uniformly, all these houses were occupied by Whites.

Not far off, but in a world apart, lived the poorest Blacks. Their wooden houses – mainly of the one-room shotgun style – were near collapse due to neglect, and I wondered how people managed to live there. A scattering of discarded furniture, rusty appliances, like refrigerators, and even vehicles raised on cinder blocks, filled the weedy yards. People sat on their porches, staring at the road, or hung around aimlessly, apparently with nothing much to do. A supermarket, or even a 7-Eleven, was nowhere in sight.

Two roads lead away from the downtown area, westward. One was Old Shell Road, where the houses and vegetation resembled the downtown area. Spring Hill College, an old liberal arts university, was on this road. It even owned an 18-hole golf course. The newer parts of Mobile were along Airport Boulevard, which ran parallel to Old Shell Road and was the main thoroughfare. Here, Mobile resembled a typical American mid-sized city, with a few department stores and numerous strip malls, McDonalds, Burger Kings, and other fast food outlets. Typically, affluent subdivisions, housing spacious, stately homes, were set far back from the road. The less affluent houses – flat, single storied, ranch homes – lined the roads. Apartment complexes catering to tenants of various income levels, were scattered throughout the city. The most prominent tree was pine, not of the coniferous Christmas-tree variety, but unattractive, with thin, long needles. These pines grew along the roads and alongside the houses. Fallen pine needles and cones smothered the grass.

Mobile’s population was about 200,000. Religion triumphed over everything: more than 200 churches, mainly Baptist, served the community. Catholic churches were also numerous. Typical of conservative societies, rich people and businesses paid low taxes, and the result was the erosion of funding for public education and health services. For lack of permanent classrooms, some classes met in converted mobile homes. This problem was often discussed on TV and in the newspaper, but no solution was in sight.

Air pollution was high. A number of paper factories operated nearby, and when the wind blew towards Mobile, a foul odor of sulphur dioxide enveloped the city. I would get up some mornings to this odor and a thin sheen of polluted mist, which might last till midday.

 

Teaching

I taught writing, what Americans termed rhetoric and composition, both at the freshman (first year) and senior (fourth year) levels. In addition to Americans, the freshmen classes had international students coming from a range of countries in South and Central America, Asia, and Europe, the latter mainly from former Soviet republics. As a result, in terms of accents, varieties of English spoken, and cultural features, my classes resembled a mini-United Nations. I found this delightful. In a class of 25, I could have students speaking 15 different languages.

At the more advanced class, the students came mainly from engineering and computer science. Many students were older adults, either returning to university after taking years off for full-time work, or starting university after raising a family. I had interesting conversations with some of them – about their jobs, their struggles to meet tuition payments, growing up in the South, pros and cons of American cars – and gleaned much about American life. One topic never touched upon was race relations.

My classes were taught in a computer lab, for which I had raised funds. For some students, this was their first use of a computer. Teaching composition is my forte, and I received positive evaluations from most of my students. American students could be blunt and confrontational at times, but, despite my “foreignness”, I never heard a racial slur in or out of class, or read a racist comment in the anonymous end-of-term evaluations that students provided.

Among my colleagues, in the English Department, my favourite was Patricia Stephens, not the typical Southern belle by a long shot. Pat, who taught American literature, had a smoker’s rough voice, and a no-nonsense, direct manner. She had attended college in Memphis when Elvis Presley was performing at the clubs there. I introduced Pat to V.S. Naipaul, and she told me his travelogue “A turn in the South” was the best book about the South that she had read. Later, we team taught a graduate course titled “Rushdie and Naipaul”.

My wife and I also had a close friendship with Prof. Dorrill (we called him Father Dorrill), the Chair of the English department. Once in a while, we invited him home for a Sri Lankan meal, which he enjoyed. We kept in touch over the years, and, in 2016, I returned to Mobile to see him when Father became feeble after his health deteriorated.

Race relations

Since arriving in the United States, in 198, for graduate studies, I lived in Washington DC, Philadelphia (for one semester) and Austin, Texas. In Washington DC and Austin, I had met Black students and professionals, studying or working confidently alongside Whites and apparently being treated equally. In Philadelphia, where the University of Pennsylvania was in the downtown area, I often saw down and out Blacks, some homeless and others perhaps addicted to alcohol or drugs. Raggedly dressed, trundling a shopping cart that held all their belongings, they would sometimes wander around campus, and even walk disruptively into lecture halls. In Alabama, a state where Blacks people had been persecuted since the days of slavery, and where Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s struggle for civil rights that had been met with violence, I did not expect to observe smooth relations between the Blacks and Whites.

So, I was surprised to observe the two main races getting along without any visible friction. Black professionals appeared to be respected – we had Black professors and even my doctor was one – and a few could be seen managing department stores and other businesses. But, on Sunday mornings, when everyone attended church, the racial division became clear. Most Blacks attended their churches, while the Whites went to theirs. Although a few Black folks attended church alongside the Whites, I could not imagine a White person in a Black church.

From my readings and observations, I gradually began to realize how matters stood. As long as the Blacks knew their place, and stayed there, the society could be harmonious and functional. When these invisible boundaries were crossed, trouble could erupt.

In this milieu, how could my family define ourselves? We were clearly not White, and had no Black roots either. The term Asian was for Chinese, Vietnamese, Japanese, and Koreans. My wife Fawzia had a Muslim name, but hardly anyone realized that. Americans are notoriously ignorant of world geography. When asked, I told them that Sri Lanka was the little island below India. But, how many of them could even point to India on a world map?

Fawzia worked for a while as a librarian, at Spring Hill College. Not once did Fawzia or I face any type of racial discrimination in Mobile. But, when our son was attending high school there,
a clash broke out between students from the two races, which turned into a minor riot. When we went to pick our son up, the area was surrounded by police cars and armed policemen.

Two incidents provide evidence of the acute racial discrimination that had existed in Mobile before my time. In 1958, Jimmy Wilson, a Black handyman, had been condemned to death for stealing $1.95 (yes, less than two dollars) from a White woman. The jury may have been influenced by the woman’s testimony that Wilson had spoken to her in a disrespectful tone. (Fortunately, due to an international outcry, including a plea from the Pope, Wilson’s sentence was commuted). Second, the last recorded lynching in the USA had occurred in Mobile in 1981. A young man was killed elsewhere, but brought to Mobile and hung from a tree. During my 2016 visit, I was shown the tree.

After six years in Mobile, in preparation for a move to Hong Kong, I had advertised my house and car for sale. One day, a Black family came to see the car and later came into my house to discuss the deal. After they left, my neighbour, a middle-aged White woman, rushed in, saying “I hope you are not selling the house to them”. She didn’t mind Sri Lankans, but didn’t want any Blacks in the neighbourhood.

Continue Reading

Features

Sri Lanka: to be or note to be!

Published

on

A Reflection

By Ashley de Vos

Tourism, as we have observed on many occasions, is a fickle industry. It is easy to disrupt the industry, all one needs is a bomb or even a bomb scare. So, while tourism is an illusion, culture is not. A rich cultural matrix has sustained this country for centuries and saved it from invasions. It was the sworn role of the Sri Lankan Kings to take on the responsibility and safe guard the country from harm. The Presidents followed suit.

Today, Sri Lanka is at a crossroads, and it may be asked whether we sustain this rich cultural matrix for the purpose of handing it over intact to the future generations as our forefathers did for us or do we scuttle this irreplaceable rich cultural wealth for the sake of imprudent personal aggrandisement and cupidity.

Throughout history Sri Lanka has been non-aligned. The country’s very existence in this important central location in the great ocean confirms this fervent tenacity. Even through the Portuguese and the Dutch adventurism passed through and treaties were signed only to be observed in the breach, the Kings who were faithful to Sri Lanka, wherever their original roots stemmed from remained proud Sri Lankans to the end and used every subterfuge even to the extent of setting up one colonial against to get rid the other, to free the country from the colonial menace and the country remained inviolate and invulnerable.

The British, who were to follow the Dutch, were handed a section of coastal belt of Sri Lanka that was occupied by the Dutch, on a platter, all in keeping with a deal based on results that took place in Europe. The innocuous colonial countries which had no say were cast-off as pawns on the colonial chessboard. This time there were superior numbers, and using intrigue and exceptional cunningness, they enticed a small ambitious group, and annexed the whole country in 1815. The aim of the British was development for profit maximisation, whatever the price to the local population.

With the introduction of the British plantation enterprise, all expansion, be it roads, railways, the decimation of the forests, and the culling of the herds of elephants never even had a say in what was happening, and all the abuse that followed was interconnected to further facilitate exploitation and fill the coffers of the colonial power. Sri Lanka was stripped of all its resources. All taxes and revenue benefitted the colonial crown.

In addition, they were successful in breeding, a small rootless, but ambitious caste based group of black men within the country, imitative and docile enough to do their colonial bidding. After Independence, they continued the exploitative trajectory while encouraging all to join in.

Today, the electorate is somewhat intelligent but still gullible. People expect their leaders to be honest Sri Lankans, not deal makers, and be passionate about this island nation. They want to see an end to this inordinate dependence on the exploitative foreign powers for whom democracy and human rights mean something totally different when they themselves indulge in violating them.

While much is said of the Chinese investments, the rhetoric that follows, ably documented by David Wine, disregards the three thousand odd confirmed military bases forced on gullible countries around the world, usually far from the perpetrators home turf. Countries which are expected and even forced to endlessly invest in weapons of mass destruction if only to enhance the economies in the manufacturing countries.

The Sri Lankan electorate expects their leaders to stand tall and take decisions that shall always remain beneficial to Sri Lanka and play the role of the kings who fought for the protection and the preservation of this country, Sri Lanka. The Sri Lankan sea shall be declared a nuclear free zone. The equal respect Sri Lanka has for all Nations, shall be enriched in its firm declaration of being nonaligned.

In the case for dual citizenship, there is a need to be truthful and swear loyalty and allegiance to Sri Lanka, first. One cannot serve two masters, unless one is an insurance policy, a promise of ethereal exoneration. The citizens of Sri Lanka, value the fact that the President has revoked, his American citizenship. We thank him for his example, which is worthy of emulation. However, as a history unfolds in the most unpredictable fashion, the future will disclose, what is closest to her heart.

Continue Reading

Features

Building collapse in Kandy due to foundation on unstable slope: National implications

Published

on

By Dulip Jayawardena

The recent collapse of a five-storey building in Kandy has caused much concern among the residents around the district, especially those who have built houses around slopes which are now speculated as unstable by an expert geologist who has rung alarm bells indicating that all those who reside on hill slopes should vacate their houses during heavy rains.

The Governor of the Central Province has gone on record as saying there are over 200 buildings, including houses, at risk of collapse, and it is pertinent to question whether that conclusion was reached after conducting relevant investigations.

 

HISTORY OF FOUNDATION

ENGINEERING IN SRI LANKA

The origin of the Geological Survey Department (present GSMB ) can be traced to 1904, when Dr Ananda Cooramaswamy was the Principal Mineral Surveyor appointed by the Colonial government. The Mineral Survey was converted into the Mineralogy Department in early the 1940s and, with the appointment of the first Sri Lankan as Head of the Department, in 1948 this vital state institution was renamed the Geological Survey Department (GSD) in 1961.

With the reorganisation of the GSD, an Engineering Geology section was created and the first Engineering Geologist was my former Director, the late D. B. Pattiarachchi, who underwent extensive training at the US Bureau of Reclamation, which was founded in 1902.

The GSD had a very efficient Engineering Geology Section, headed by Pattiarachchi and all the foundation investigations for major buildings, power plants hydro electric dams, reservoirs, etc., were undertaken by it. Some of the foundation investigations that I was involved in were the construction of the proposed Urea Plant at Sapugaskanda by Kellogg Inc of USA at a cost of US $ 117 million in early the 1970s and the Electro Smelting Plant at the Oruwela Steel Corporation also in the early 1970s with the assistance of the former Soviet Union.

Following the establishment of the GSMB in terms of the Mines and Minerals Act No 33 of 1992, the earlier functions of the GSD, in engineering geology were dropped (See Para 12 (a) to (e) of the Act). However, the Mines and Minerals (Amendment )Act No 66 of 2009 was amended to undertake projects in regard to engineering geology and advise and recommend remedial measures in case of geological hazards and disasters.

The question is whether there is an effective engineering geology division at GSMB with trained engineering geologists.

In order to educate the readers and the so-called experts, I would like to quote from a publication titled “Engineering geology: Principles and Practice” Publisher Springer Authors D.G. Price and Michael Freitas, etc., where the Abstract reads as follows “Provides the reader with the basics of engineering geology illustrates how geology is related to calculations of stability, deformation and groundwater flow. Specifically written for those first degree is not geotechnical engineering. Shows how to identify, investigate and define an engineering response to problems arising from ground conditions … The text is directed at the heart of Engineering Geology where geology is used to identify potential problems arising from ground conditions. It describes how to investigate those conditions and to define an engineering response that will either avoid or reduce related calculations of stability deformation and ground water flow ….” This applies to shallow foundations in residential areas, especially in the hill country of Sri Lanka.

 

THE NATIONAL BUILDING RESEARCH ORGANIZATION (NBRO) AND LANDSLIDE HAZARD MAPS

The NBRO is now designated as the prime organisation specialising in landslides and formulating effective policies and strategies to effect risk reduction.

It must be stressed that the GSD was earlier involved in these functions that have been assigned to NBRO. It is incorrect to say that according to NBRO landslide studies date back to only 1980, ignoring the extensive field and research studies done by the GSD from the early 1960s.

A paper written by me titled “Analysis of Devastating Landslides in Haldumulla – Koslanda Areas ( -lands) I have stated that landslides up to 2002 were considered as minor disasters and from 1974 to 2002 the incidence was 10 to 60 per annum. However in 2006 this number shot up to 360.

It was recognised by GSD that from the 1980s that the Haputale scarp including the devastating landslide that occurred at Haldumulla on October 29, 2014, causing a huge of loss of lives and property proved that the area from Haldumulla and Koslanda as well as the Poonagala Valley up to Ella is unstable. It is interesting to find out whether the NBRO has done any detailed studies in this area recently.

The seasonal distributions of rainfall were during the south west and north east monsoons and the months were January, May and October that experienced highest rainfall. It appears that this trend has been affected due to climate change; Sri Lanka has not placed emphasis on carrying out research in this regards.

I have also stressed that the Meteorology Department should analyze rainfall data since 1956 up to present and compare them with the data from the Hunting Survey Corporation of Canada, in which past records indicate rainfall data from 1907 to 1956. A Monograph titled “Hydrometeorology of Ceylon” was compiled and copies were available at the relevant Departments including GSD. The temperature variations were also published.

Any change in rainfall during the period October to January identified as the autumnal period may be directly attributed to climate change.

 

LANDSLIDE HAZARD MAPS AND NBRO

The NBRO, established in 1985 to conduct building and geotechnical research, was involved in Landslide Hazard Zoning Programme (LHZMP) to compile Landslide Hazard maps with funding from the UNDP, in 1990, and initially covered the Nuwara-Eliya and Badulla Districts. This programme was eventually extended to 12 other landslide prone districts namely Kegalle, Matale, Kandy, Kalutara, Galle, Hambantota, Moneragala and Kurunegala. Three hazard zones were identified as High, Medium and Low by analyzing relevant data related to geology, hydrology, inclination of slopes, landform, soil characteristics and its thickness and land use. Public and stakeholder awareness programmes were initiated in effected landslide areas. Conflicting land use by stakeholders due to land development, building and relevant construction activities were not recognised. Further identification of zones related to these development activities would help avoid conflicting land use, especially in the areas with high population density.

 

TESTING GEOTECHNICAL PROPERTIES OF SOIL

The Standard Penetration Test (SPT) is an effective test to check the geotechnical engineering properties of soil. ( https: //en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Standard_penetration_test ). The procedure helps determine relative density of soil which can vary from very loose, loose, medium dense and very dense. In house building, the bearing capacity determined by the SPT will depend on the foundation load factor, namely number of floors, concrete columns, including reinforced steel beams, etc.

 

TYPES OF FOUNDATIONS IN BUILDING CONSTRUCTION

There are many types of foundations in building construction .

I quote from an article, “Foundations in Building Construction- Understanding Building Construction” as follows “In this article we will discuss the common types of foundations in buildings. Broadly speaking all foundations are divided into two categories: shallow foundations and deep foundations. The words shallow and deep refer to the depth of soil in which foundation is made. Shallow foundations can be made in depths of as little as 3 ft. (1m) when deep foundations can be made at depths of 6 -200 ft (20-65m) shallow foundations are used for small light buildings while deep ones for large heavy buildings” ( http://www.understanding construction.com/types-of-foundations.html ). The types are (a) individual footings (c) strip footings (d) raft or mat foundations and (e) pile foundations.

Another common type of foundation is the floating foundation (Ref Floating Foundation – Principles, Suitability and construction Difficulties – quoting “a floating foundation is a type of foundation constructed by excavating the soil in such a way that the weight of structure built on the soil is nearly equal to the total weight of soil excavated from the ground including the weight of water in the soil before construction of structure. Floating foundation is also called balancing raft and caused zero settlement to the structure”

However, in most of the lowlands, especially around Colombo, the soil in underlain by laterite (weathered hard rock) and some areas are identified as soft laterite. Accordingly, if a floating foundation is anchored in hard laterite and if some areas have soft laterite it will result in differential settlement which will damage the building due to differential settlement.

 

DEVELOPING BUILDING CODES FOR SRI LANKA

It is encouraging to note that the NBRO with the Construction Industry Development Authority (CIDA) has initiated action to formulate building codes with financial assistance from the World Bank which has appointed an expert team, led by the University College London, to conduct a Building Regulatory Capacity Assessment in Sri Lanka. This team will carry out the following tasks:

 

“(1) to evaluate the current Building Regulatory capacity in Sri Lanka. (2) To facilitate discourse and consultations with local stakeholders in Sri Lanka to determine their aspirations for an improved system of building Regulations and identify barriers and opportunities for their implementation (3) Provide tailored recommendations for implementation of an improved Building Regulatory system.

Further, a Steering Committee Meeting (SCM) had been held on 7 March 2019 with the team from the University College London and consisted of the following organizations (1) Ministry of Public Administration and Disaster Management (2) Ministry of Housing Construction and Cultural Affairs (3) National Building Research Organization (4) Construction Industry Development Authority (5 ) Urban Development Authority (6) National Physical Planning Department (7) Sri Lanka Institute of Local Governance and (8) Disaster Management Centre .

A Workshop held on 8 March 2019 on Building Regulatory Capacity Assessment (BRCA) to identify the views of the stake holders on the following (a) National level legislation and institutions (b) Building code development and maintenance (c) Local level implementation

(Ref Building Codes for Resilience <http:www.nbro.gov.lk/index.php?option=com_content&view=a…>

It is interesting to find out about the progress of this Expert Group in identifying and formulating the relevant Building codes covering the entire Island.

CONCLUSIONS

In this article, I have highlighted the collapse of a five-storied building used as a residence in an unstable slope in Kandy. It has now resulted in the law enforcing authorities taking legal action about the construction and the owner of the building has made statements that all approvals were obtained from the regulatory agencies and the construction was supervised by the State Engineering Corporation.

I also highlighted the past activities of the Geological Survey Department (GSD Present GSMB) and the extensive work carried out by the Engineering Geology Section in foundation investigations as well as the landslide investigations by the highly qualified and experienced geologists with a limited staff of only 13 geologists. However in 1992 with the conversion of the GSD to GSMB both a legitimate functions of GSD namely foundation investigations as well as landslide studies was dropped but again in 2009 with the Amendments to the GSMB Act those functions were restored. It is queried whether the GSMB is now involved in these functions.

I also briefly described the various foundations and also the initiation of identifying procedures for formulation of appropriate building codes.

RECOMMENDATIONS

(1) The NBRO, which has prepared landslide hazard maps covering the 14 districts should make these maps available to local government authorities and building plans should be approved with the recommendations of NBRO.

(2) The GSMB should also actively get involved to identify landslide prone areas as well as foundation investigations for residencies and buildings.

(3) The NBRO should demarcate safe zones in the High, Medium and Low Risk areas for housing and other buildings including factories for relevant industries by foreign and local investors.

(4) The government should study the creation of effective entities that would have expertise of civil engineers, geotechnical engineers, engineering geologists, representatives from NBRO and Disaster Management Center, Ministry of Environment Central Environment Authority (CEA) etc to approve building plans for dwellings and the industrial activities. Such entities could be on a district basis.

(5) To expedite identification and appropriate building codes for construction in the three areas namely High, Medium and Low Risk areas and legislate such Codes expeditiously.

(6) Include the Ministry of Environment CEA and the GSMB to participate in the Steering Committee for developing building codes for the entire Island.

(7) The NBRO and GSMB should actively coordinate in exchange information of landslides that had occurred prior to 1992 and past foundation investigations by the GSD and create a depository of such information and data for the use of relevant agencies.

(8) The appointment of a Presidential Task Force to regulate building activity in Sri Lanka with all safety precautions and eliminate loss of life and property to achieve sustainable economic and social development.

References

1. Landslide Danger Risk Reduction Strategies and Present Achievements in Sri Lanka by R.M.S.Bandara and Padhmakumara Jayasinghe National building Research Organization Geosciences Research Vol 3 No 3 August 2018.

2. Standard penetration test –Wikipedia

3. Developing Building Code for Resilience – NBRO

(The writer is a retired Economic Affairs Officer United Nations ESCAP and former Director Geological Survey Department form 1983 10 1985 (Present GSMB) Professional Geologist for over 55 years and can be contacted at ?)

 

Building collapse in Kandy due to foundation on unstable slope: National implications

 

By Dulip Jayawardena

 

The recent collapse of a five-storey building in Kandy has caused much concern among the residents around the district, especially those who have built houses around slopes which are now speculated as unstable by an expert geologist who has rung alarm bells indicating that all those who reside on hill slopes should vacate their houses during heavy rains.

The Governor of the Central Province has gone on record as saying there are over 200 buildings, including houses, at risk of collapse, and it is pertinent to question whether that conclusion was reached after conducting relevant investigations.

 

HISTORY OF FOUNDATION

ENGINEERING IN SRI LANKA

The origin of the Geological Survey Department (present GSMB ) can be traced to 1904, when Dr Ananda Cooramaswamy was the Principal Mineral Surveyor appointed by the Colonial government. The Mineral Survey was converted into the Mineralogy Department in early the 1940s and, with the appointment of the first Sri Lankan as Head of the Department, in 1948 this vital state institution was renamed the Geological Survey Department (GSD) in 1961.

With the reorganisation of the GSD, an Engineering Geology section was created and the first Engineering Geologist was my former Director, the late D. B. Pattiarachchi, who underwent extensive training at the US Bureau of Reclamation, which was founded in 1902.

The GSD had a very efficient Engineering Geology Section, headed by Pattiarachchi and all the foundation investigations for major buildings, power plants hydro electric dams, reservoirs, etc., were undertaken by it. Some of the foundation investigations that I was involved in were the construction of the proposed Urea Plant at Sapugaskanda by Kellogg Inc of USA at a cost of US $ 117 million in early the 1970s and the Electro Smelting Plant at the Oruwela Steel Corporation also in the early 1970s with the assistance of the former Soviet Union.

Following the establishment of the GSMB in terms of the Mines and Minerals Act No 33 of 1992, the earlier functions of the GSD, in engineering geology were dropped (See Para 12 (a) to (e) of the Act). However, the Mines and Minerals (Amendment )Act No 66 of 2009 was amended to undertake projects in regard to engineering geology and advise and recommend remedial measures in case of geological hazards and disasters.

The question is whether there is an effective engineering geology division at GSMB with trained engineering geologists.

In order to educate the readers and the so-called experts, I would like to quote from a publication titled “Engineering geology: Principles and Practice” Publisher Springer Authors D.G. Price and Michael Freitas, etc., where the Abstract reads as follows “Provides the reader with the basics of engineering geology illustrates how geology is related to calculations of stability, deformation and groundwater flow. Specifically written for those first degree is not geotechnical engineering. Shows how to identify, investigate and define an engineering response to problems arising from ground conditions … The text is directed at the heart of Engineering Geology where geology is used to identify potential problems arising from ground conditions. It describes how to investigate those conditions and to define an engineering response that will either avoid or reduce related calculations of stability deformation and ground water flow ….” This applies to shallow foundations in residential areas, especially in the hill country of Sri Lanka.

 

THE NATIONAL BUILDING RESEARCH ORGANIZATION (NBRO) AND LANDSLIDE HAZARD MAPS

The NBRO is now designated as the prime organisation specialising in landslides and formulating effective policies and strategies to effect risk reduction.

It must be stressed that the GSD was earlier involved in these functions that have been assigned to NBRO. It is incorrect to say that according to NBRO landslide studies date back to only 1980, ignoring the extensive field and research studies done by the GSD from the early 1960s.

A paper written by me titled “Analysis of Devastating Landslides in Haldumulla – Koslanda Areas ( -lands) I have stated that landslides up to 2002 were considered as minor disasters and from 1974 to 2002 the incidence was 10 to 60 per annum. However in 2006 this number shot up to 360.

It was recognised by GSD that from the 1980s that the Haputale scarp including the devastating landslide that occurred at Haldumulla on October 29, 2014, causing a huge of loss of lives and property proved that the area from Haldumulla and Koslanda as well as the Poonagala Valley up to Ella is unstable. It is interesting to find out whether the NBRO has done any detailed studies in this area recently.

The seasonal distributions of rainfall were during the south west and north east monsoons and the months were January, May and October that experienced highest rainfall. It appears that this trend has been affected due to climate change; Sri Lanka has not placed emphasis on carrying out research in this regards.

I have also stressed that the Meteorology Department should analyze rainfall data since 1956 up to present and compare them with the data from the Hunting Survey Corporation of Canada, in which past records indicate rainfall data from 1907 to 1956. A Monograph titled “Hydrometeorology of Ceylon” was compiled and copies were available at the relevant Departments including GSD. The temperature variations were also published.

Any change in rainfall during the period October to January identified as the autumnal period may be directly attributed to climate change.

 

LANDSLIDE HAZARD MAPS AND NBRO

The NBRO, established in 1985 to conduct building and geotechnical research, was involved in Landslide Hazard Zoning Programme (LHZMP) to compile Landslide Hazard maps with funding from the UNDP, in 1990, and initially covered the Nuwara-Eliya and Badulla Districts. This programme was eventually extended to 12 other landslide prone districts namely Kegalle, Matale, Kandy, Kalutara, Galle, Hambantota, Moneragala and Kurunegala. Three hazard zones were identified as High, Medium and Low by analyzing relevant data related to geology, hydrology, inclination of slopes, landform, soil characteristics and its thickness and land use. Public and stakeholder awareness programmes were initiated in effected landslide areas. Conflicting land use by stakeholders due to land development, building and relevant construction activities were not recognised. Further identification of zones related to these development activities would help avoid conflicting land use, especially in the areas with high population density.

 

TESTING GEOTECHNICAL PROPERTIES OF SOIL

The Standard Penetration Test (SPT) is an effective test to check the geotechnical engineering properties of soil. ( https: //en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Standard_penetration_test ). The procedure helps determine relative density of soil which can vary from very loose, loose, medium dense and very dense. In house building, the bearing capacity determined by the SPT will depend on the foundation load factor, namely number of floors, concrete columns, including reinforced steel beams, etc.

 

TYPES OF FOUNDATIONS IN BUILDING CONSTRUCTION

There are many types of foundations in building construction .

I quote from an article, “Foundations in Building Construction- Understanding Building Construction” as follows “In this article we will discuss the common types of foundations in buildings. Broadly speaking all foundations are divided into two categories: shallow foundations and deep foundations. The words shallow and deep refer to the depth of soil in which foundation is made. Shallow foundations can be made in depths of as little as 3 ft. (1m) when deep foundations can be made at depths of 6 -200 ft (20-65m) shallow foundations are used for small light buildings while deep ones for large heavy buildings” ( http://www.understanding construction.com/types-of-foundations.html ). The types are (a) individual footings (c) strip footings (d) raft or mat foundations and (e) pile foundations.

Another common type of foundation is the floating foundation (Ref Floating Foundation – Principles, Suitability and construction Difficulties – quoting “a floating foundation is a type of foundation constructed by excavating the soil in such a way that the weight of structure built on the soil is nearly equal to the total weight of soil excavated from the ground including the weight of water in the soil before construction of structure. Floating foundation is also called balancing raft and caused zero settlement to the structure”

However, in most of the lowlands, especially around Colombo, the soil in underlain by laterite (weathered hard rock) and some areas are identified as soft laterite. Accordingly, if a floating foundation is anchored in hard laterite and if some areas have soft laterite it will result in differential settlement which will damage the building due to differential settlement.

 

DEVELOPING BUILDING CODES FOR SRI LANKA

It is encouraging to note that the NBRO with the Construction Industry Development Authority (CIDA) has initiated action to formulate building codes with financial assistance from the World Bank which has appointed an expert team, led by the University College London, to conduct a Building Regulatory Capacity Assessment in Sri Lanka. This team will carry out the following tasks:

Building

“(1) to evaluate the current Building Regulatory capacity in Sri Lanka. (2) To facilitate discourse and consultations with local stakeholders in Sri Lanka to determine their aspirations for an improved system of building Regulations and identify barriers and opportunities for their implementation (3) Provide tailored recommendations for implementation of an improved Building Regulatory system.

Further, a Steering Committee Meeting (SCM) had been held on 7 March 2019 with the team from the University College London and consisted of the following organizations (1) Ministry of Public Administration and Disaster Management (2) Ministry of Housing Construction and Cultural Affairs (3) National Building Research Organization (4) Construction Industry Development Authority (5 ) Urban Development Authority (6) National Physical Planning Department (7) Sri Lanka Institute of Local Governance and (8) Disaster Management Centre .

A Workshop held on 8 March 2019 on Building Regulatory Capacity Assessment (BRCA) to identify the views of the stake holders on the following (a) National level legislation and institutions (b) Building code development and maintenance (c) Local level implementation

(Ref Building Codes for Resilience <http:www.nbro.gov.lk/index.php?option=com_content&view=a…>

It is interesting to find out about the progress of this Expert Group in identifying and formulating the relevant Building codes covering the entire Island.

CONCLUSIONS

In this article, I have highlighted the collapse of a five-storied building used as a residence in an unstable slope in Kandy. It has now resulted in the law enforcing authorities taking legal action about the construction and the owner of the building has made statements that all approvals were obtained from the regulatory agencies and the construction was supervised by the State Engineering Corporation.

I also highlighted the past activities of the Geological Survey Department (GSD Present GSMB) and the extensive work carried out by the Engineering Geology Section in foundation investigations as well as the landslide investigations by the highly qualified and experienced geologists with a limited staff of only 13 geologists. However in 1992 with the conversion of the GSD to GSMB both a legitimate functions of GSD namely foundation investigations as well as landslide studies was dropped but again in 2009 with the Amendments to the GSMB Act those functions were restored. It is queried whether the GSMB is now involved in these functions.

I also briefly described the various foundations and also the initiation of identifying procedures for formulation of appropriate building codes.

RECOMMENDATIONS

(1) The NBRO, which has prepared landslide hazard maps covering the 14 districts should make these maps available to local government authorities and building plans should be approved with the recommendations of NBRO.

(2) The GSMB should also actively get involved to identify landslide prone areas as well as foundation investigations for residencies and buildings.

(3) The NBRO should demarcate safe zones in the High, Medium and Low Risk areas for housing and other buildings including factories for relevant industries by foreign and local investors.

(4) The government should study the creation of effective entities that would have expertise of civil engineers, geotechnical engineers, engineering geologists, representatives from NBRO and Disaster Management Center, Ministry of Environment Central Environment Authority (CEA) etc to approve building plans for dwellings and the industrial activities. Such entities could be on a district basis.

(5) To expedite identification and appropriate building codes for construction in the three areas namely High, Medium and Low Risk areas and legislate such Codes expeditiously.

(6) Include the Ministry of Environment CEA and the GSMB to participate in the Steering Committee for developing building codes for the entire Island.

(7) The NBRO and GSMB should actively coordinate in exchange information of landslides that had occurred prior to 1992 and past foundation investigations by the GSD and create a depository of such information and data for the use of relevant agencies.

(8) The appointment of a Presidential Task Force to regulate building activity in Sri Lanka with all safety precautions and eliminate loss of life and property to achieve sustainable economic and social development.

References

1. Landslide Danger Risk Reduction Strategies and Present Achievements in Sri Lanka by R.M.S.Bandara and Padhmakumara Jayasinghe National building Research Organization Geosciences Research Vol 3 No 3 August 2018.

2. Standard penetration test –Wikipedia

3. Developing Building Code for Resilience – NBRO

(The writer is a retired Economic Affairs Officer United Nations ESCAP and former Director Geological Survey Department form 1983 10 1985 (Present GSMB) Professional Geologist for over 55 years and can be contacted at ?)

Continue Reading

Trending