Monday, April 30, 2012

Sri Lanka: Disaster Management and Recovery: : Predicting the unpredictable and escaping the wrath of nature



                ‘When a disaster strikes a country, it’s the poor that is predominantly affected: at least in most cases.’ says Dr. Ananda Mallawathanthri, who is UNDP’s Assistant Resident Representative in Sri Lanka. “This is partly because the poor reside in areas which are more vulnerable and prone to disasters, such as the coastal belt” he added. In Sri Lanka, poverty and disasters form a vicious cycle. Following the killer waves of the 2004 Tsunami, a roadmap was designed towards a safer Sri Lanka: articulating the vision highlighted in President Mahinda Rajapaksha's action plan, the ‘Mahinda Chinthanaya’.

                                 UNDP- Sri Lanka supported the architecting of the institutional structures necessary to bring this vision to the light of day. The UNDP supported the establishment of the Disaster Management Centre (DMC) as a focal point for disaster management in Sri Lanka. The DMC is an around the clock emergency operations center, acting in liaison with ministries, authorities and agencies, private sector agencies, NGOs and the military. It also facilitates the issuing of warnings, and conducts evacuations.
Prepare, Mitigate, Manage     

   UNDP also provided training at National, district and community levels so as to streamline warning and evacuation systems in the event of a disaster occurring. The training curriculum included first aid to victims, rescue strategies, managing the elderly and the differently-abled and identifying safe evacuation pathways.

A disaster could occur in a split second making you lose not only your hard-earned investments and property but also your friends, family and loved ones. In the blink of an eye, everything and everyone could be taken away from you. Sri Lanka: though not frequently affected by the wrath of nature, is no stranger to natural disasters.   The tsunami which hit the island on Boxing Day in 2004 swept around 30,000 people away, and displaced at least one and a half million persons, taught Sri Lanka a lesson: it brought about a collective conscience among the government, civil society organizations and international agencies of the need for a comprehensive disaster risk management mechanism

The Disaster Management Centre of the Ministry of Disaster Management, with technical and financial support from the Disaster Risk Management program of the UNDP and the UNDP Regional Centre in Bangkok also initiated the formation of a database on past disaster incidents from 1974. The Disaster Information Management System is a tool that helps to analyze disaster trends and their impacts in a systematic manner. With increased understanding of the disaster trends and their impacts, better prevention, mitigation and preparedness measures can be planned to reduce the impact of disasters on the communities. These databases could be accessed on ''. In order to facilitate this, UNDP also funded a detailed mapping exercise that covers over eight districts. 

Risk and Disaster Management

The process of developing hazard vulnerability and risk profiles was led by Sri Lankan stakeholder agencies. For example, the Coast Conservation Department developed a coastal risk profile in collaboration with the University of Peradeniya while the Department of Meteorology developed a cyclone profile in consultation with several experts.
The United Nations continues to support the Government to meet the urgent needs caused by various natural disasters. For example, it assisted the government in securing shelter, food and drinking water for one million people affected by the second wave of floods last year. According to Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) Colombo, the World Food Program has distributed food for six days in support of around 192,000 persons in flood affected areas. Meanwhile, UNICEF has dispatched around 4,600 tarpaulins; the International Organization for Migration has supplied 9,000 plastic sheets and tarpaulins while the United Nations Refugee Agency has provided 400 tents, in aid of the victims of the second wave of floods.
Strategic Environmental Assessment
In another initiative the UNDP began to develop integrated strategic environmental assessments (ISEA) starting with the conflict affected Northern Province, where the process involves a large number of agencies related to land use, conservation, infrastructural development, service delivery and urban planning. The ISEA–North is aimed at better understanding the natural resource base in the Northern Province following the conflict and to provide strategic information support to facilitate rapid development. A key outcome of the process is that assessments are carried out early to identify potentially adverse effects on the environment.
                                 Over 25 agencies worked together in this venture and the ISEA-North process capitalized on the technical strengths of Government agencies. UNDP provided technical, coordination and financial assistance in new data generation including mapping of water resources, mineral resources, archeological resources and boundaries of forests and wild life to facilitate the process. In addition, UNDP also partnered with the UNEP Post Conflict and Disaster Management Branch to obtain specific technical assistance for ISEA-North.


Queue for disaster relief

At the Global Meeting of the International Search and Rescue Advisory Group, the Government of Sri Lanka expressed interest in enhancing national search and rescue capacity. In July 2011, representatives from the OCHA Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific visited Sri Lanka, accompanied by an expert in search and rescue, in preparation for the United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination, or UNDAC’s disaster response preparedness mission. The terms of reference for the mission were developed in consultation with the Government, the donors and the humanitarian community met by the group during their visit.
                                 In August 2011, the Government of Sri Lanka conveyed its agreement to the proposed terms of reference and formally requested the Emergency Relief Coordinator and the United Nations Under-
Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs for the deployment of an UNDAC mission through the United Nations Resident Coordinator for Sri Lanka.  The UNDAC mission was soon deployed to Sri Lanka.

The need to prepare is real. Disasters hit the most unexpected of regions at the most unexpected of times.  Implementing disaster management plans may not completely guarantee the safety of all people and their possessions. However, it reduces the risk posed by a disaster.

No comments: