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The Ethnic or Tamil Question in Sri Lanka

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by Jayadhamma Athukorala

My intention in writing this note is to share with others my thoughts on the above question developed through, reading, varied experiences and quiet reflection over many years. I claim no expert knowledge on the issues involved but I consider that it would not be a waste of time for fellow citizens to give ear to someone who has tried to dispassionately examine the various aspects of the matter over a long period. Some of my ideas I know will not be palatable to many. However these ideas are what I honestly believe in, at the present state of my knowledge and conviction.

I begin writing this, on a Sinhala and Tamil Aluth Avurudu day (2021). I have not yet heard of a Puththandu being celebrated around this time of the year in Tamil Nadu or anywhere in South India. Therefore, perhaps Aluth Avurudda/Puththandu, in those names, is a unique Sinhala and Srilankan Tamil event. There seems to lie a tale in that. Prof. Karthigesu Indrapala, my old and respected senior Peradeniya friend, titled his book ‘The evolution of an ethnic identity’ ( my emphasis). There also lies a tale in that. It is necessary to reflect on these matters seriously.

I am of the view that after seeing no light at the end of the tunnel after decades of strife and blood shed, we need to pause a little and engage in a sinhavalokanaya, a penetrating look-back as the lion is supposed to do, to see what went wrong in the first place. That we have to do, using our intellect, without letting irrational animal emotions override our evolutionarily advanced part of the brain. In the history of a nation, a few or even many decades is not a very long period. We need to think in terms of our descendants at least 25 generations hence. Let them not CURSE us. There is still time to make a course correction if there is need of one. I have particularly my Sinhala compatriots in mind.

Before proceeding further, I must state my personal background so that what I have to say will be received without prejudice. I come from a Sinhala Buddhist peasant background. Both my grandfathers, paternal and maternal, had retired from active work by the time I came into this world but some of my uncles were still tilling their fields clad in the amude (and as a child I have helped them around the field in sundry chores) My parents were Sinhala school teachers serving in far flung remote areas of the country and my schooling up to the age of 11 was in those rural schools. I am a son of the soil, perhaps more so than some latter day ‘patriots’. I am a graduate in Economics and a former senior public officer.

My first sensitivity to ethnicity perhaps occurred when as a child I played the role of the young Prince Gemunu in a school play. Here I must hasten to say, to the credit of my parents, that they never showed any racist tendencies. My father, as I well remember, would refer to a Tamil doctor as a Yaapane Mahaththayek, without any reference to his ethnicity.

However, the ‘Sinhala only’ agitation in the media in the 1956 period, worked deleteriously on us immature young students of the time and by the time the Official Language Act was passed in Parliament. I was a rabid racist. Perhaps, as sometimes said in relation to Marxism, a person who is not a bit of a racist by the age of 30 (in the context of the prevailing dominant ethos) has no heart and the one who remains a racist thereafter, has no brain .

I have just been reading some international news relating to Sri Lanka. Among them was a refence to one Yasmin Sooka of South Africa (not unknown to many Sri Lankans) ‘reporting’ to a British organization about the conduct of our Army Commander during the past civil conflict (this, at a time when the British government itself is trying to pass legislation to protect its own military personnel against charges of war crimes in foreign theatres of war and has earned thereby the censure of the UN Human Rights Commission). Now, it is natural for any Sri Lankan to get annoyed with the activities of such busybodies. However what I would suggest is that instead of being distracted by such interference, we, patiently, once and for all, settle down to re-examine our problem in all its perspectives. While external people can pursue their own agendas in the comfort of their foreign domiciles, irrespective of whether we live or die, for us, this is a matter of our country’s future and that of our present and future generations.

Our Past

In recent times, there has been some re-thinking among scholars about our, origins. The Vijaya legend no longer enjoys universal acceptance as marking the beginning of civilized life in this country. Felicitously this trend of thinking has now entered even school textbooks – vide Grade 10 History textbook. Evidence of pre-historic Homo Sapien settlements has been unearthed in many places, ranging from Bundala in the South to the Jaffna peninsula. Such evidence shows that there has been gradual progression to an agricultural civilization, from a hunter-gatherer past, over many thousands of years, within this island itself. At a later stage, as excavations done by Dr. Siran Deraniyagala in the Anuradhapura citadel (incidentally, a place that most people are even not aware of) have shown that , an iron-using, somewhat advanced civilization, had existed as early as the 9th century BC, a couple of centuries before the legendary advent of Vijaya.

What all this leads up to is that even before waves of migration occurred from India in historic times (Vijaya’s arrival being one) a civilization had been taking shape in this country and we have inherited that genetic substratum going back to the ‘Balangoda Man’ and the Yakshas. Prof. Indrapala’s hypothesis is also this and he speculates that in historic times one section of that indigenous population came to adapt a North Indian dialect of speech- Sinhala Prakrit and another, a Dravidian one, under the impact of the many streams of migration from both North and South India, gradually abandoning their less advanced common native tongue.

One should not be dogmatic in matters of historical and archeological knowledge. Both are still ‘work in progress’. As for myself, I cannot get away from the possibility that, subject to genetic changes that would have occurred through subsequent millennia, under the impact of regular incursions of immigrants (invaders or otherwise) from India and elsewhere, the majority of people of the two major ethnicities now inhabiting the country, perhaps share ancestors of a very distant past.

We are on firmer ground, paradoxically enough, when we go back to an even more distant past. Scientists are agreed that all of the humans living at present, without exception trace their ancestry to a band of Homo-Sapiens which set out from East Africa some 70,000 years ago. (some scientists, on the basis of the analysis of mitochondrial DNA of populations are even of the view that we are all descendent from one common African great, great ………greatn grandmother). The present vast differences in appearance among peoples must be understood as being the result of adaptation to varying environments over millennia, through the operation of Darwinian natural selection. If all that is scientifically proven, can we ever justifiably feel as being by nature repulsively alien from one other. All this provides in my view the scientific basis for the assertion of the essential oneness of mankind by all great religious teachers – and most prominently, Gautama Buddha.

Through the centuries, coming up to even relatively recent times, many groups of people mostly from India, have joined the mainstream of the Sri Lankan nation and got assimilated themselves within a few generations. The truth of this statement would dramatically strike one, when one considers the seamless assimilation of groups that migrated in, even after about the 14th or 15th centuries. Some early migrants came as invaders, but others were brought in, even as warriors, by our own royal princes, to fight their local rivals, after sojourns in South Indian courts, as refugees. The practice started with Mugalan, the estranged brother of Sigiri Kashyapa. Another was Manavamma. There were others. Did the mercenaries that they brought, go back to a dreary homeland in India, after tasting the comforts of a lush green island?

King Gajaba is supposed to have brought in some 24,000 prisoners of war from Soli Rata and settled them in different parts of his kingdom in groups. (Matale Kadaim Pota gives the different areas in which they were settled) Today, the descendants of all those Solis must be true blue Sinhalas (some of them perhaps even breathing fire against Tamils!). This has been a natural phenomenon throughout the world. The present British nation is made up of the descendants of Celts, Angles, Saxons, Danes, Normans and many others, most of them coming as invaders, except perhaps the Celts. There are no ‘pure’ nations or ‘pure’ races in this world. That was only the delusion of a psychopath like Hitler. (No one in his senses should advise a leader of a country to become a psychopath).

It is true that when most present day Sinhalas think of Tamils, it is the image of invaders that first comes to mind. At certain times in the past too, particularly in the immediate aftermath of an invasion, it must have been so. But it was not so always. To begin with, we need to distinguish between invading Tamils from South India and Tamils who had always lived in this country. I have already suggested that, hypothetically, many of those who came to be identified later as Tamils may have been from our own original indigenous ‘Yaksha’ stock, but who had adapted the Tamil language from South Indian migrants, in replacement of the original common native language, while their ‘cousins’ elsewhere in the country adapted a Sinhala Prakrit from other migrants from North India.

Anyway, even in subsequent times, there was much intercourse between the Sinhalas and Tamils, without there being necessarily any unfriendly feelings ( although admittedly there were many invasions from time to time). We have even inscriptional evidence of a Tamil presence in early Anuradhapura, as peaceful members of the community. How many of us have heard of an inscription written in early Brahmi script, using the Sinhala Prakrit language, existing in the neighborhood of Abhayagiriya, indicating some structure erected for the use of a group of Tamil persons – with their personal names also indicated (vide page 59, Sinhala Shilaa Lekhana Sangrahaya by Nandasena Mudiyanse, publisher S.Godage)

 

 

The first recorded South Indian invasion occurred when two Tamils Sena and Guttika wrested the kingdom from King Suratissa in the 2nd Century B.C. The Mahavansa ( Geiger translation – p 142/143) says ” Two Damilas Sena and Guttika….conquered the king Suratissa …..and reigned…. for 22 years justly(my emphasis) There is no denouncing of the Tamil conquerors. The description of the reign of the next Tamil conqueror, Elara, was even more generous. The Mahavansa (Geiger -p 143-145) devotes no less than 20 Pali stanzas to extol his virtues (some, obviously exaggerated).Then, after Dutugemunu’s victory over him, the first act of the victor, to his eternal credit, was to perform the funeral rites of his fallen enemy with royal honours, erect a monument in his honour and decree that even royals passing that site must pay due honour – MV p.175 (a decree that even as late as 1818 Keppetipola Nilame fleeing the British after the failure of his rebellion is reported to have obeyed).

Many Sinhala kings sought their consorts or consorts for their siblings in the Dravidian royal courts of South India. At the beginning, even Vijaya himself reportedly sought and obtained his queen from the royal court of Madura in South India. Vijayabahu I whose own queen was from Kalinga gave his sister Mitta in marriage to a Pandyan prince who became eventually the paternalgrand father of Parakramabahu the Great (who therefore had Pandyan blood in his veins). Parakramabahu had two generals named Rakkha and Aditya who are both referred to in the Mahavansa as Demala Adhikari ( Ch. 75 & 76) . In the Kotte royal court of later times, we see the presence of many Perumals in responsible positions.

Even Sapumal Kumaraya was originally Sembahap Perumal, reportedly the orphaned son of an aristocratic Keralite warrior who died in combat in the service of Parakramabahu VI. Sapumal ascended the throne later as Buvanekabahu VI. In the early Kotte period, it is also intriguing that the Chinese admiral Zhen He, who carried off Vira Alakeshvara to China as a prisoner, erected in Galle a trilingual stone inscription, using the Chinese, Persian and Tamil languages. In the Kandyan kingdom, kings from Rajasinghe II appear to have sought consorts from Madura resulting in the mothers of Vimaladharmasurya II and Narendrasingha- the reputed last Sinhala king, being South Indian Tamil princess).

I have already referred to the in-migration of large groups from South India in the 14th or 15th centuries, now indistinguishably part of the mainstream. It is known that certain Kandyan aristrocrats of the present day have acknowledged their South Indian (though Brahmanic) provenance. Few knowledgeable people in the country today are not aware of the comparatively recent, documented and admitted, South Indian antecedents of some very prominent Sinhala leaders of the present day. Such information has even ceased to be of much interest.

(To be continued)



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Record breakers in a Covid disaster

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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?

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Luxury cars for MPs; floods, disease and death for electors

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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.

 

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How to gamble with floods

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by Eng. Mahinda Panapitiya and

Eng. Wasantha Lal (PhD)

(Two residents from Attanagalu Oya Basin)

Introduction

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.

 

Flood Modelling

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.

 

Available Technologies

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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