Heavy rains have wreaked havoc in many parts of the country. Floods are reported from Trincomalee, Jaffna, Horana and several other areas. The weather gods have not spared even the tsunami victims in temporary shelters, which have been flooded in the East. Fear is expressed that areas like Ratnapura may experience landslides and warnings have been issued. Rivers are swelling menacingly. Five deaths were reported at the time of writing.
If the inclement weather prevails during the next few days, there will be disaster. Natural disasters albeit of small scale often catch us on the wrong foot as preparedness is alien to us. So, it behoves all those concerned to be prepared for the worst case scenario to forestall a crisis situation.
Two persons were killed in Colombo yesterday when an old boundary wall collapsed. Where had the city fathers been? Isn`t it their duty to detect constructions teetering on the verge of collapse and pull them down before lives are lost? During rains and strong winds, the green giants, adorning streets, also get thrown off their roots or their branches fall. They have killed and maimed several people. Their canopies should be pruned and decaying branches removed to ensure public safety and help the ageing giants to withstand wind and rain.
Meanwhile, come a torrential rain, the Colombo City wears the looks of the Katrina-hit New Orleans. Roadways become waterways and congestion increases manifold. Traffic police run for shelter??how can they stand at junctions knee deep in water???and hell breaks loose. The situation is far worse in the suburbs. Unbridled land filling has caused most marshes to disappear and arterial roads that run through low lying areas connecting peripheral townships with the city go under water, halting traffic.
Yesterday`s downpour caused mayhem in the city and adjacent areas bringing as it did vehicular traffic to a halt. Apart from inconvenience caused to the public, the economy must have suffered a colossal loss in terms of man hours lost and fuel wasted. It was only a few months ago that we reported J-BIZ President had placed the economic loss caused by traffic congestion at Rs. 100 billion.
Bad roads are a drain on the economy but successive governments have done precious little to develop them. Colombo is far from a planned city. Drainage systems are dilapidated and tons of polythene are sucked into underground drains through the manholes sans covers. Flooded roads are the inevitable outcome.
A country that comes to a standstill because of a few hours of rain cannot aspire to economic development. Most institutions, both government and private, were half empty yesterday even in the city, as thousands of people were without transport, which had been crippled by rains. Those who showered promises to build a Shakthimath Arthikayak (a robust economy) and got their manifesto approved at Thursday`s election, must take serious note of the deteriorating infrastructural situation, which has the potential to put paid to any programme geared for economic development.
Newly elected President Mahinda Rajapakse, being a former Minister of Highways, ought to realise that parallel to on-going expressway projects, the existing road systems need to be developed. It is an area where the late President Premadasa excelled. He built a large number of roads and planned many more for which his successors took credit upon their completion. Taking industries to the village is a pipe dream without roads being built first of all to take containers etc. If the new President could borrow a leaf from the late Mr. Premadasa`s book, he will have the key to rural development.
National productivity??the buzzword in business circles??on the other hand, could be enhanced immensely, if the transport woes of the public could be obviated. At present, in the urban areas, the average speed of a vehicle during day time is less than ten km per hour. It must be much lower during pluvial weather. A better road system capable of remaining motorable under all weather conditions is the need of the hour.
Finally, the rain causing devas appear to have given the Rajapakse government its first test. How it handles floods or any other disaster to follow will give the public a foretaste of what disaster management under the new political dispensation is going to be like. Will it live up the expectations of the people?