by Gamini Seneviratne
Over 50 years ago in the aftermath of what is miscalled a six-day “war” through which the heavily armed Israeli armed forces slaughtered tens of thousands of Palestinian civilians and appropriated vast tracts of their land, I wrote “Draft for a Lyrical Ballad” (1968) part of which is given below. It was also a period marked by Robert Kennedy’s battles against Lyndon Johnson and the assassination of that Kennedy as well. It also refers to the twin agitations that shake the world and confront the West today.
America, you’re like me, a tired balloon
Looking up into the sky
On a clear, cold night
Waiting for all human sounds to die.
With the unremitting aid of the principal war mongers on this planet, the USA, Israel has acquired and used against unarmed people a whole array of the most obscene weaponry developed by Man (the caps serves to distinguish that entity from humankind)
In his essay of December 26, 2009, (Information Clearing House) “And What Rough Beast Slouches Towards Gaza? Operation Cast Lead and the Dismembering of a People”, Vincent Di Stefano places before the world some particulars of Israel’s criminal attacks on the people of Palestine. A few particulars follow:
Twelwe years ago Israel already had 180,000 heavily armed regular troops in their “defence” forces, 140,000 conscripts, 4,300 impenetrable Merkava battle tanks, 10,000 light tanks and armoured cars, 500 missile-laden fighter jets, 1,340 helicopters, three submarines, three destroyers and smaller warships. And the full might of Israeli military force was projected into the tiny space of Gaza during the three-week period from December 27, 2008 to January 18, 2009. (Further details of what the so-called Israeli-Arab ‘wars’ have meant for the people of Palestine were included in my note of 2006 that follows below).
And right now in the midst of (or, perish the thought, in support of?) the carnage being visited on the Palestinians, US President Biden has offered them over $700 million worth of military hardware. Oh, and yes, he has also offered via USAID, a sum of $ 10 million to Palestine. To be channeled through Israel. Naturally. Biden, in whom people located hopes for humanitarian governance has, after all, done no more than confirm that America has no shame.
Let us look at what the engagement of the rulers of America (its military-industrial coalition) with Israel translates into. In February 2009, investigative journalist Conn Hallinan was to describe Gaza as “Death’s Laboratory.” Israel’s new weapons had caused injuries never before seen in the hospitals of Gaza. Many of these were the result of the widespread use of a new class of weapons called Dense Inert Metal Explosive (DIME). These were initially developed by the US Air Force and scientists from the University of California’s Lawrence Livermore Laboratory in 2000.
DIME weapons consist of a high explosive core around which is wrapped powdered tungsten alloy in a carbon fibre container. On detonation, the tungsten sprays out explosively over a ten-meter radius shredding everything in its field. The resultant injuries are truly shocking. Norwegian doctor Mads Gilbert commented: “The muscles are sort of split from the bones, hanging loose, and you also have quite severe burns. . . . Those inside the perimeter of this weapon’s power zone will be torn completely apart. We have seen numerous amputations that we suspect have been caused by this.”
Here follows my note of 15 years ago on The Holocaust in Palestine.
In his Foreword to “The Little Drummer Girl”, John Le Carre reports that in Israel he was repeatedly assured that the “Palestinians are not a people.” What were they then? “A leftover rabble of peasants and layabouts whose only task for two thousand years was to keep the Jewish homeland ticking over until its rightful owners returned.”
That such was far from being the case may be gathered from the following: These are the words of the best-known British explorer of Arabia, Wilfred Thesiger. He was writing in the 1940s, around the time the Zionist ‘state’ was being set up: “I went to the ‘Empty Quarter’ with a belief in my own racial superiority, but in their tents I felt like an uncouth, inarticulate barbarian, an intruder from a shoddy and materialistic world”. How many in the White House, the State Department, the US Congress would understand such words, grasp such realities?
In a thumbnail account of how Israel has acted in that enterprise in the 1970s, Le Carre writes, “Israeli jets bombed the crowded Palestinian quarter in Beirut on the pretext that it was intended ‘to destroy the leadership’, – “though there were no leaders at all among the several hundred dead, unless, of course, there were future leaders among the many children killed.”
They obviously feel that they can get away with this savage treatment of the inhabitants of Palestine in their own land. Israel, in short, is a rogue state built on a violent process of encroachment into Palestine. ‘Legitimacy’ for its operations is traced to a sanction received from yet other intruders: the British and the French. One must begin the story of Israel with a look at the legitimacy of those who ‘sanctioned’ its creation. The so-called ‘Balfour Declaration’ (the caps there, some may think, give it some kind of legality) was no more than a personal letter of one paragraph from Balfour to his friend and creditor, Rothschild.
The most generous account by a Lankan of the Jewish intrusion into Palestine, now a totally unbridled invasion, was published 70 years ago in the ‘Ceylon Daily News’ by its Editor-in-Chief, H A J Hulugalle, an experienced and even-handed commentator. The substance of his report was that “The Jews of the world are concentrating on the gradual buying up of Palestine”. One such purchase, of 16,000 acres of a swamp that yields the water for agriculture in the Huleh valley, was made despite the protests of the Palestinians. It was bought for 200,000 English pounds off a young ‘absentee landlord’ domiciled in Syria, whose interest in the land was not in his fellow Arabs but in the waterfowl for his table. The ‘compromise’ imposed by the British occupiers of Palestine required the Jews to drain the land and render it malaria free; ‘in return’, the Palestinians were to have their land reduced by two-thirds of it! Those were relatively early days.
When Jewish immigration began in earnest in the late 19th century, (long before ‘the holocaust’ they keep talking about), there were only about 15,000 Jews in Palestine. In 1893 the Arabs comprised roughly 95 percent of the population. Even when Israel was founded, over fifty years later, Jews were only about 35 percent of Palestine’s population and owned seven percent of the land. ‘The Palestinian Problem’ today, as it has been for many decades, is that the Jews want as much of the land as they can lay their hands on, the ports, the sites sacred to Christianity and Islam – plus, of course, ALL the water that over the centuries had sustained the people of Palestine and Jordan.
Ben-Gurion wrote in 1941 that “It is impossible to imagine general evacuation [of the Arab population] without compulsion, and brutal compulsion.” In 1947-48, when Jewish forces drove up to 700,000 Palestinians into exile, Ben-Gurion had told Nahum Goldmann, president of the World Jewish Congress, “If I were an Arab leader I would never make terms with Israel. That is natural: we have taken their country. . . . We come from Israel, but two thousand years ago, and what is that to them? There has been anti-Semitism, the Nazis, Hitler, Auschwitz, but was that their fault? They only see one thing: we have come here and stolen their country. Why should they accept that?”
The current (i.e. in 2006) Zionist leader, Ehud Olmert, came to power on an explicit promise to unilaterally set Israel’s “permanent borders”. The ‘package’ that he took to Washington included, in return for $10 billion he asked for (and received), a plan for the Zionists to withdraw from many smaller settlements – at least 17 in the first phase – in the West Bank and move most of the people in them to larger blocks that they ‘expect to annex’. The man also made it clear that “It will be only a civilian disengagement, not a military disengagement,” The Israeli army will remain in the bits of land the settlers are being moved out of.
Let us look, very briefly indeed, that history being so extensive – at just what the Zionists did. What they continue to do, under cover of the government of the USA, and therefore with apparent impunity is a ‘breaking story’ that may soon explode in their collective face.
The creation of Israel in 1947-48 involved explicit acts of ethnic cleansing, including executions, massacres, and rapes by Jews The Israeli Defence Force (IDF) also murdered hundreds of Egyptian prisoners-of-war in both the 1956 and 1967 “wars”. In 1967, it expelled between 100,000 and 260,000 Palestinians from the newly conquered West Bank and drove 80,000 Syrians from the Golan Heights. Following its invasion of Lebanon in 1982 it also directed the massacre of 700 innocent Palestinians at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps. During the First Intifida (1987-1991), the IDF distributed truncheons to its troops and encouraged them to break the bones of Palestinian protestors. The Swedish “Save the Children” organization estimated that “23,600 to 29,900 children required medical treatment for their beating injuries in the first two years of the Intifida,” with nearly one-third sustaining broken bones. The same proportion of the beaten children were aged ten and under.” Israel’s response to the Second Intifida (2000-2005) was even more violent: The IDF fired one million bullets in the first days of the uprising. Future Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir openly argued that, “Neither Jewish ethics nor Jewish tradition can disqualify terrorism as a means of combat”.
After the victory of Hamas, in an open general election, in late January, Israel withheld $50 million a month in Palestinian customs and tax receipts, though it continues to pay Israeli companies $5.5 million a month from those receipts for the water and electricity used by the Palestinians.
Israelis are often touted as being the epitome of bravery (almost on par with George W Bush – seen, once, in dim light on an aircraft carrier hundreds of miles away on his ‘visit to the troops in Iraq’; the George Bush who, for the two days he spent in India and Pakistan, hunkered down, respectively, in a fort off Delhi and in Islamabad in the US Ambassador’s residence, heavily guarded within a vast expanse of streets emptied of people).
What do the Israelis in fact do? Israel is using men who have been conscripted to slaughter the Palestinians. Such men aren’t out there ‘fighting for Israel’s right to exist’. Their heart is not in butchering innocents; – their energies are focused on remaining unhurt themselves, no matter how many innocents they murder. Hence the commanders of the Israeli army are committed to guaranteeing that none of the conscripts will be in danger of injury, much less death.
In “Hiding Behind Civilians’ (New York Times, 22 June, 2006), Haim Watzman, who had served as an Israeli infantry reservist in the West Bank in the 1980’s and 90’s, and authored “Company C: An American’s Life as a Citizen-Soldier in Israel”, wrote, “Soldiers who had to raid a house or patrol a dangerous stretch of road would grab a nearby civilian and place him in front of them. This civilian had no function other than to protect Israeli soldiers.” Though Watzman says that he has “Never met a soldier who thinks armies ought to be able to maim and kill civilians with impunity,” and that “The practice was not a grassroots initiative. It was an army policy, handed down to soldiers by their superior officers,” he also points out that when the Israeli Supreme Court banned the use of such human shields, (just nine months ago), “many in the army felt they had been robbed of a tool that made their jobs safer, and which helped the commanders protect the lives of their soldiers.”(! ! !)
What have the great warriors of Israel put in its place? Bulldozers. Instead of entering a house behind a human shield, Israeli soldiers turn the house into rubble. Watzman concludes: “Morality in combat is not just an abstract principle. It is an element of an army’s strength. If the safety of soldiers becomes the standard according to which an army designs its missions, an army that does not take risks will be easily beaten by an opponent that does. It’s essential for a society to demand that its army observe moral standards, even if the price to be paid is that more soldiers will be killed.” Tell that to Olmert, – who has “vehemently denied that there was any Palestinian “humanitarian crisis”, adding that, “We wouldn’t allow one baby to suffer one night because of a lack of dialysis,” – or tell it to the marines.
Let’s take a look at them ‘in action’. After warplanes knocked out half of Gaza’s electricity and pounded sonic booms over houses, Israeli tanks, hunkered down inside southern Gaza at the airport on Wednesday, (last week) reported the New York Times.
The impact of this, presumably humanitarian assault (which continues as you read this), is that: “Repeated sonic booms are wreaking the havoc they have wrought before: repeated sonic booms are smashing windows, sending children screaming into the arms of terrified adults, old people collapsing with heart failure, pregnant women collapsing with spontaneous abortions. Mass terror, despair, desperate hoarding of food and water. And no radios, television, cell phones, and no way to get news of how long this nightmare might go on.”
That is from Virginia Tilley’s latest report, as are the following.
“As food in the refrigerators spoils, the only remaining food is grains. Most people cook with gas, but with the borders sealed, soon there will be no gas. When family-kitchen propane tanks run out, there will be no cooking. No cooked lentils or beans, no humus, no bread – the staple Palestinian foods, the only food for the poor. (And there is no firewood or coal in dry, overcrowded Gaza.)
“And, a grimmer fact: no water. Gaza’s public water supply is pumped by electricity. The taps, too, are dry. No sewage system. Word is that the electricity is out for at least six months. The Gaza aquifer is already contaminated with sea water and sewage, due to over-pumping (partly by those now-abandoned Israeli settlements) and the grossly inadequate sewage system. To be drinkable, well water is purified through machinery run by electricity. Otherwise, the brackish water must at least be boiled before it can be consumed, but this requires electricity or gas. And people will soon have neither.
“If cholera breaks out, it will spread like wildfire in a population so densely packed and lacking fuel or water for sanitation.” Over a million people, – yes, people like you and me, – are trapped in that Gaza that the Zionists salivate for. “They are hunkered in their homes listening to Israeli shells, while facing the awful prospect, within days or weeks, of having to give toxic water to their children that may consign them to quick but agonizing deaths.”
That is the Israel that has the effrontery to demand its “right to defend itself”.
Record breakers in a Covid disaster
Sri Lanka has certainly scored another world record.
Just look at the number of vehicles on the streets every day at a time when the country is in a lockdown. The Police Spokesman is pleased to tell us how many thousand vehicles were on the streets each day. They have moved to the pasting of stickers – from a single sticker to different coloured stickers to give different messages, and then to stop all stickers!
Just think about how the streets of all major cities were virtually empty when lockdowns took place in other countries, when the Covid pandemic began spreading. We are not like that. Why should we take examples from other countries – East or West? We must have our own traditions, with our Presidential Task Forces to handle Covid-19 and the Economy, and a celebration uniformed Army Commander to give us contradictory messages.
Sri Lanka is truly proud of having more vehicles on our streets than any other country amidst a Covid pandemic lockdown. Who will ever break such a record?
This is certainly in keeping with that other huge record of having 25 violations of the Constitution in the Bill to establish the Port City Economic Commission. Who would get the prize for this record – the Legal Draftsman and/or the former Attorney General, or either or both of them and the Minister of Justice? The Podujana Peremuna must be planning a special prize day to celebrate this.
The Media people in the President’s Office must be having a special delight in telling us matters that are wrong and uncertain about foreign responses to requests by the President. Can we forget how the WHO contradicted the report that the Sinopharm vaccine had been approved soon after the request made by our President?
We have another such situation now. Japan has refused to confirm reports that it is considering giving Sri Lanka 600,000 doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine.
The President’s Media Division reported this week that Japan was considering a request from President Gotabaya Rajapaksa for 600,000 doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine. This request had been made by President Rajapaksa to Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.
What the Japanese Embassy had told the local media was that Japan will allocate around 30 million doses of vaccines manufactured in Japan to other countries and regions, including through the COVAX Facility.
Is this another record for the President’s Media Division?
The six lakhs of Sri Lankans who received the first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine, must keep hoping against hope, about getting the next dose. Looks like even the President or his office cannot do much to get those vaccines.
All of this uncertainty is in the midst of the supposedly unavailable AstraZeneca vaccines being used with other Chinese or Russian vaccines in the vaccine exercises in many parts of the country. The 600,000 plus citizens waiting for AstraZeneca must be thinking if they can form a Citizens Vaccine Trade Union, like the GMOA, to get the vaccines to themselves, as well as members of their families, friends, relations and catcher’s too.
While on the subject of vaccines, it is interesting to read that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, so thoughtful of the people and their needs, has instructed the officials to order a batch of vaccine for a third dose, taking the ongoing global situation into account and based on the recommendations by the medical experts.
He is said to be following the pattern of leading countries that have already ordered vaccines for the third dose. This is great. Ensure a third dose is ordered, while we are not sure what will be done about the missing 600,000 plus of the much-needed AstraZeneca.
Are we moving to a Third-Dose record?
Is this not the time to make a special request to the US to get the vaccines we urgently need, from the vaccines that President Biden has announced will be given to the world? Or from the other millions that the G7 countries will soon give to the world? Have we gone too close to China to make such a request from the western world? Is this moving away from the Cheena Saubhagyaya that is the motto of Rajapaksa Rule?
We are now told that the lockdown will be lifted from June 14, with new rules to be introduced. Let’s see what these new rules are. Will they help to bring down the rates of infection from Covid-19? Will it help bring down the deaths from this pandemic? How many more people will be infected, taken ill with all symptoms and die at home, or while being admitted to hospital, as the records keep showing?
We are now in the midst of increasing tragedies bringing alarm to the minds of the people, whatever the planners of the lockdowns or its relaxations may be thinking.
We are also in the midst of contradictory quarantine rules imposed by the Police. The people, including two foreigners, who had a party at the rooftop of a Colombo building, have been ordered to quarantine at home. But the beauty and cosmetics names and models who were partying at the Shangri-La Hotel, were sent to a special guesthouse far away from home, with plenty of good food too, to spend their quarantine. Looks like we are dealing with a double-angled Police. Or, could the Police be even triple-angled seeing how they have been enjoying the huge traffic amidst a lockdown, and looking on as politicos and agents send their catchers to beat the public at vaccination centres.
This is the land of the record breakers in lockdown travel and the misuse of Covid vaccinations. Will we soon have new records on the Covid infected and deceased, possibly even beating India in under reporting of Covid tragedies?
Luxury cars for MPs; floods, disease and death for electors
Never has Cassandra been so downcast and heart-sick. It certainly is not what she terms lockdown fatigue like metal fatigue that was identified after parts of planes just snapped off. This was long ago. Now in the third week of lockdown, we could break under the stress of being shut in but we Ordinaries are made of sterner stuff. We have our support system – friends and relatives whom we keep close in touch with via telephone and electronic media. We have our safety net – our several religions. Speaking as a Buddhist, Cass can vouch for the strength of this safety net and how beneficial it is. Just being mindful most of her waking hours she keeps away depression and a sinking of her heart each time she reads news on-line or sees TV news broadcasts. If meditation is attempted it is even more efficacious. Mercifully Cass and her ilk order veggies, fruit and groceries on-line. Most certainly bare essentials in consideration of those many near starvation. We are totally sorrowful about the plight of daily wage earners, but cannot right wrongs such as poverty and impecuniousness of the less well to do. That is what governments are elected to achieve.
Reasons for deflation of spirits
We are battered and bruised by the pandemic; inundated by incessant rain and floods, some suffering landslides too. And we had an acid leaking ship sneaking to our waters, catching fire, and being made welcome as a money earner through claimed damages. Now we are told marine pollution will last a hundred years. Can you imagine that – our beautiful blue seas with shining sand now a death dealing home to marine life? Turtles have been washed ashore, dead. Dr Anoja Perera in her heartfelt speech in which she let the present leaders have it, said that the nitric acid that leaked into the sea will destroy even the cartilaginous bones of fish. Their gills have been suffocated by plastic pellets let loose from the burning ship. In all the debris there is a stinking rat or rats too – rousing suspicion. The Sri Lankan Agent of the parent company that owns the ship has proved himself elusive; secrecy reeks. MPS and Ministers who claimed SL would be rich with compensating dollars are sure to lose their parliamentary seats next time around, of course that is if the Sri Lankan indigenous malaise of short memories does not afflict us four years hence and we vote the same rotters in to govern us.
Those who are card holders testifying they received the first A-Z shot in February/March are in the blues wondering when the second jab of A-Z will be given to them. The US, thanks to Biden’s mercy, promised to include Sri Lanka in its list of beneficiaries to receive the A-Z vaccine from what it stockpiled. Prime Minister Wickremanayake’s daughter in England appealed to Boris Johnson to donate vaccines to us. Not only the government but even individuals have started begging for vaccines. We heard Mangala Samaraweera was another. Cass is surprised that fair play on the part of these rich countries supersedes the fact that we are obviously open-armed supplicants to the Chinese. Surprises Cass their mercy prompts then to help us. They hear the cry of the Ordinaries.
The final straw that breaks our spirit
Unbelievable, implausible, impossible such crude greed and feathering their own nests, this time not with money but with luxury cars. Cass did not believe it when she heard that Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa had ordered a whole fleet of cars for MPs, not just ese mese vehicles but most luxurious and thus very, very expensive. Cass not realising such greed and injustice could prevail, especially at this very bad time for Sri Lanka, surmised the news of the Cabinet passing the proposal to import 399 luxury cars to be fake news. But it turned out to be true and nearly kicked the life out of Cass, she finding it difficult to breathe – not asthma or C19 but through sheer disbelief of such selfish, unthinking, gross act of importing cars for MPs and other favoured persons while the majority of Sri Lankans suffer and many near starve. I quote Shamindra Ferdinando in his article titled LCs opened before Cabinet rescinded its own decision in The Island of Wednesday June 9.
“In spite of the Finance Ministry decision to withdraw an earlier Cabinet paper for the import of 399 vehicles at a cost of Rs 3.7 bn, the cash-strapped government was not in a position to unilaterally cancel what Media Minister and co-Cabinet spokesperson Keheliya Rambukwella called a tripartite transaction. (Why did the govt place the order in the first place, Cass asks).
“The Island yesterday (8) sought an explanation from Minister Rambukwella regarding the status of the high profile leasing arrangement pertaining to 399 vehicles. Minister Rambukwella said that he was not aware of how the state bank that had opened the Letters of Credit handled the issue at hand. However, as the opening of Letters of Credit meant guaranteed payment, Sri Lanka faced the prospect of being blacklisted if a unilateral decision was taken on the matter. The minister explained the difficulty in reversing the original decision.”(Fine howdy)
Later in Ferdinando’s article is this even more damning statement which really hits us a second whammy. “None of the Opposition political parties have criticised the government move on vehicles made at a time the country was struggling to cope with Covid-19 fallout.
“SLPP’s 2019 presidential election manifesto, too, assured that vehicles wouldn’t be imported for members of parliament for a period of three years.”
“After the change of government in 2019, the SLPP put in place a much-touted project to expedite repairs to state-owned vehicles as part of the overall measures to meet what co-cabinet spokesmen Ministers Rambukwella, Udaya Gammanpila and Dr. Ramesh Pathirana called immediate shortfall.” (It all sucks!)
The roads are choc-a-block with posh cars which give the impression we are far from being Third World, but one that is rich, prosperous and with no short falls or poverty anywhere within it. When one sees those in the legislator convene for meetings at the old parliament building down Galle Face road, one is shocked at the luxuriousness of the vehicles that shed the VIPs – all local – from within. Are we a poor country, one asks. The sight of most of the alighting VIPs confirms that question – so well set are they: obese in simple language. Sri Lanka had no money to buy vaccines for its people and went begging hither and thither. But on the quiet the PM himself, approved by his Cabinet, orders 399 luxury cars. Are royal kids and pets to be given cars too? While the hard-working farmer cries, some with tears, for fertiliser; the village mother moans her husband dead from Covid 19 and all beg for inoculation. No wonder Kuveni’s spirit is active at present, and her curse is heard and experienced. We are cursed with totally unnecessary luxuries for some; inoculations given entire extended families and friends of those with clout; floods devastating the country; a sure forecast of a poor rice harvest and starvation staring us in the face; tea prices falling due to lack of needed fertiliser, caused by a sudden, stubborn, trigger decision to ban imported chemical fertiliers. Disease and death pile up because vaccination was not carried out en masse. This could have been done.
That is Free Sri Lanka of now, that once resplendent isle, touted to be like no other. Yes, it is unique in its mismanagement and obvious contrasts between those with political clout and us Ordinaries.
How to gamble with floods
by Eng. Mahinda Panapitiya and
Eng. Wasantha Lal (PhD)
(Two residents from Attanagalu Oya Basin)
Flooding during heavy rains and water pollution during normal time in natural streams is a common problem all over the world when human settlements are located near flood prone areas. For example, about 7-10% land area, in the US, under human settlements, are prone to flooding. In ancient cultures, flooding was perceived as a blessing in disguise because it was the main transportation method of fertilisers, free of charge, for agriculture activities in temporary submergence areas called flood plains. After moving people into flood plains because of shortage of space for settlement, floods have become a curse for humans. Deciding to settle down in flood prone area is a gamble. However, there are modern technologies called flood modelling available for us to overcome this problem.
For an example, it is now possible to simulate different flood conditions that may arise due to heavy rains, before it actually occurs, using satellite and survey data. This is called “modelling” in engineering. Any area prone to floods can be modelled and divided into zones so that land users will know in advance how deep their lands will get submerged. This type of performance-based methods also evaluates how an existing or newly introduced flood mitigation effort, performs under different flooding events.
Hidden reasons behind frequent flooding and water pollution of natural streams
* Unplanned real estate development by clearing local tree cover resulting in impervious areas (roofs, carpeted roads, etc.,) prevents water infiltrating the soil. This increases the runoff rate, causing flash floods during heavy rains. On the other hand, during droughts, all the natural tributary streams and wells in those areas dry up soon after the rain. This is very common in basin such as the Attanagalu Oya.
* The obstruction of natural stream and their tributaries due to poor maintenance. This is very common along the Kelani River basin
* Illicit encroachment causes the filling of wetlands in the flood plains. As a result, rain water has no designated place to collect before flowing out gradually. Most of the floods in Gampaha, Ja-ela and Wattala are due to this issue.
* Deposition of sediments washed down from upland areas due to lack of tree cover and also the erosion of stream banks whose reservations are encroached on either for agriculture in rural areas or for settlement in urban areas
* Inadequate flow capacity in local streams due to invasive weed growth associated with polluted water and lack of riparian tree cover. (Wattala)
* Lack of awareness among officials who manage water resources in natural streams about the role of riverine environments in flood plains which act as kidneys in our ecosystem while preventing flash floods.
How the community could face these challenges
Those who are already living in flood-prone areas or are planning to do so should be aware of the different risk levels in the areas concerned. For that, there is a need to do an exercise called Flood Hazard Zoning, This approach is very common in the developed world. This exercise will also enhance the community participation for government intervention such as canal cleaning and discouraging further encroachment on flood plains by land fillings.
A sketch above extracted from a technical guideline adapted in the US shows a typical flood zoning map, which could be used by a community to decide whether they should or should not build houses in a particular location.
For example, in this map, people who are in Zone A are in a high-risk area subject to flooding. Zone C is a low risk area. A person who wants to build a house in Zone A, which is designated as “100 Year Flood Zone”, will have a 26% chance his house being submerged once in 30 years, which is the normal bank lending period of a housing loan. For the next 70 years, which is the normal lifetime of a building, the chance of being flooded is 50%. For a person who wants to build a house in Zone B designated as “500 Year Flood Zone” will have 18% chance of his residence being submerged once in 70 years. By knowing in advance through these flood zoning maps, people themselves become aware of flood danger before it occurs and, therefore, they prepare themselves for the challenges during flood situations. When there is no such initial warnings, governments will have to bear the whole responsibility.
This type of mapping would also be a useful guide for land valuation as well as for insurances against flood risks. With flood zoning, flood insurance becomes an option that adds a financial component in designing buildings to address those future risks. For example, people can build their houses at elevated levels on columns to suit predicted flood levels. Also the sewerage systems can be introduced to suit the wetland environments.
Lessons from the US
Every state in the US is required by law (water policy) to demonstrate that (a) the public is protected from floods; (b) the public has sufficient water available for drinking and farmin, etc. (d) there is enough water to support the environment. Computer models simulating the year-round hydrology are used for the purpose. Those models show how water from the rains could be saved for use during the dry season. Government agencies in the US do not use the models currently in use in Sri Lanka. They have developed their own models to simulate flooding. Models used in Sri Lanka are bought primarily from two European countries. They are normally used only to study individual flood events. The fundamental ideas used in these models have not changed since 1980s in Sri Lanka, and these models are still sold primarily to developing countries like Sri Lanka. On the other hand, teams of senior engineers are employed for developing those models used in the US, before permits are issued for new development projects. There are also Sri Lankans engineers among those teams in the US, as primary developers.
Opposite of flood
Wetlands of flood plain are the interface between aquatic and terrestrial areas. Plants in those wetlands play a very vital role in cleaning water biologically before it falls into the main streams. Wetlands are in fact the kidneys of ecosystems. Over the years, due to the so-called development, the environmental features of flood plains have undergone changes, causing not only floods during heavy rains but also malfunctioning natural water cleaning process, especially during droughts.
Note that those new technologies address not only flood situations but also help face drought situations, too, by identifying areas suitable for temporary water storages within flood plains. For example, during a previous drought situation there was a water shortage in the Attanagalu Oya basin, and the people had to purchase water from trucks, though annually the Oya releases into the sea a volume of water equal to that of the Parakrama Samudraya! Severe drought situations are even worse than floods, especially in view of the current pollution levels of natural streams bordering urban areas. To address this issue also, technologies could be used to identify naturally available water cleaning wetlands to be preserved.
King Parakramabahu’s famous quote about water conservation and utilization—“Do not release even a drop of rain water to the sea without using”—applies not only to our dry zone but also to the west zone.
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