Cassandra started her last Friday’s (May 14) article with a wail. She cried, desperation overcoming her: “Manna from the skies and the drop of water to a man dying of thirst is for most now a jab in the upper arm which will hopefully keep at bay dreaded omnipotent, omnipresent Covid-19 virus.” Even a week after the wailing complaint was voiced, we are no closer to getting the second dose of A Z vaccine. Rumours float that Rosy got 600,000 doses and to register with her and get the shot. Not Cass to do so; never have jumped a queue. That must be a false claim, though nothing in Free Sri Lanka is impossible.
Colombo Port City draft Bill
Then greater perturbation overwhelmed us so that often, Cass did shiver, actually quiver with fear, more so hearing Attorneys-at-Law Srinath Perera PC, and Harshana Nanayakkara express fears in their MTV 1 Newsline interview with TV journo Sharman Benedict. With no mincing of words, they forecast doom and black gloom if the Port City Bill is passed as it is intended to be – easily and with the necessary majority, piloted as it is through Parliament with only two days of debate sandwiched between lockdowns during the height of the C19 third wave. The main immediate aim of the government seems to be, and has been said to be by very many, the rapid passing of the Colombo Port City Bill. The plight of the people of the country and their falling prey to C19 and many dying is of little concern. Greater concern is to pass the Bill and make it Law – the rules governing the Port City. For whose benefit, we ask. Certainly not ours, since more important matters are pending. So we are being magnanimous to a nation known for its economic colonisation.
A hell of a lot of word-steam rose and will rise within the House by the Diyawanna. But as expected and feared by us who are neutral minded politically, the Bill will be passed with a majority. The SC has ruled wisely and the government promises amendments. But as Att.-at-Law Srinath Perera pronounced loud and clear on Tuesday night, it was a 99-year period for which this country was to be dictated to by China.
It was salutary to hear what the Leader of the Opposition had to say when interviewed by MTV 1 on its Newsline Programme on Monday May 17, and echoed by Dr Harsha de Silva as a panel member of the same channel’s Face the Nation starting at 9.30 that very night. The Opposition approves the Port City and hopes it will be a huge economic boon to the country drawing in foreign investment; giving jobs to locals; introducing new techniques mostly electronic; and generally giving a lift to the country’s woeful economic condition. What do they object to? The speedy passage of the Bill through Parliament, and some articles in the drawn-up rules governing the Port City which are sure to be deleterious to Sri Lanka and solely beneficial to the foreign countries – China – which seems to be given carte blanche to do as they like on Sri Lankan property. Are we selling off our independence and sovereignty for a jar of pottage?
Is it any wonder that Srinath Perera PC, ending the discussion on Newsline begged and pleaded with the 225 MPs to vote with loyalty to the country first and foremost in thought and not consider stars gained from the Big Bugs of SLPP or black marks and perchance money that is a-coming for an aye. (Cass writes this on Wednesday 19 morning, so like you she will watch the voting results on Friday.)
An intriguing side show occurred in Parliament on Tuesday May 18. Leader of the Opp asked some salient questions from the Minister of Health. She got into a twist (Cass nearly gave here a phrase used by her as a schoolgirl to depict a dilemma – getting your knickers in a twist!). Well, Pavitradevi was flustered plus angry. She said she could not answer the qs then. Sajith Premadasa was very polite but up pops S B Dissanayake, quaking with rage, his cheeks a-quiver and asks why the fair lady (Cass’ words) is being badgered. And who seconds him? Rohitha Abeywardena from Kalutara whose sobriquet is well known. Cass said the incident was intriguing. There was the ex Sports Minister accused of harassment by Susie girl some months after her marvelous coming third and promoted higher at the Athens Olympics. Chivalrous Sir Galahad on May 19, 2021, though previously accused of passing back and forth alongside the Col 7 sports stadium while Susie practiced her sprint!!
Are people made ill to fill the thousands of new beds?
Cass, for one, laughs outright at the boast of some; Cass believes it was the Minster of Health who said that every C19 patient would have a bed and needed equipment in a hospital setting. The Minister of Sports and Youth did not sound the boast verbally but was inspecting with obvious pride the masses of beds prepared in Seeduwa and somewhere else. The army and apprentices worked around the clock constructing the building and beds; thus Cass would have liked to see the head of the workmen who got this marvelous job done, and not the young Minister’s face since this does not come under either his sports or youth mandates, and we see his handsome mug more than enough, nowadays. Also, so easy for him to helicopter inspect, accompanied by a host of persons and TV crew.
What would have been much more prideful and boasted as success would have been the curbing of infection and rise of number of patients by taking timely action of mass inoculation and curbing drastically movement of persons starting even before the Avurudhu season. It’s always a case of hanging onto the galloping horse’s tail as the unguarded stable door opens, losing the battle of stopping the horse in his tracks. At the open door of the now bare stable are the powerful, showing surprise the horse bolted away.
We will appreciate the government’s efforts when the rise of the third wave is curbed and deaths and illness prevented, since that will be their responsibility, listening to medical advice and bringing in cooperation and collaboration of all in this massive fight. But the Brother heading the Covid Prevention task force, all the institutions and government departments concerned with the economy of the country, took a leaf from the horse that bolted and departed to his adopted country at the very height of the crisis. We Ordinaries are left floundering and wondering, while quacking with fear.
Death in Japan: tragic yet …
The New York Times
carried an article on May 18 titled Japan is shaken after a detainee, wasting away, dies alone in her cell by Ben Dooley and Hisako Ueno.
On March 6, at the age of 33, Wishma Rathnayake died while held in a detention centre in Nagoya. We are greatly saddened and grieve for her family but there are Buts to the tragedy. I quote the article: “Her case has become a source of outrage for critics of Japan’s immigration system, who say that Ms. Rathnayake was the victim of an opaque and capricious bureaucracy that has nearly unchecked power over foreigners who run afoul of it.”
The above is true but can you blame Japan for its strict rules over immigration while countries that were more tolerant suffer later for their mercy in letting in immigrants?
Wishma seems to have gone legally to Japan to study Japanese hoping to be a teacher of English over there. While at ‘school’ learning Japanese, she befriended a co-student – Sri Lankan – and they disappeared, detailed the article. Later, she reported to the police of his harassment of her. It was then noted she was overstaying her visa. She was promptly detained at the Nagoya centre. She got off food and weakened in body as her mind succumbed to depression. Doctors saw her but did not move her to hospital due to the fear she was faking her illness. She died through not being able to take food.
The ‘cell’ she was held in as shown in photographs in the NYT article was luxurious to me – a small flatlet – and there were Japanese NGOs visiting and befriending her.
Cass’ sorrow is genuine and her sympathies to the family sincere. However, as the dots in the subtitle denote, Wishma was in the wrong: knowing full well consequences of overstaying her visa-given term. Also, one cannot deny that the hard line taken by the Japanese authorities is known and especially by visitors. Thus Japan is justified in being strict in these times of immigration to favourable countries being the dream of many, to be achieved by any means. Those who visit foreign countries must know the rules of the host country and abide by them. The grass may be greener over there but better your own turf, parched though it be.
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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