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Avoidable disasters

Nov. 4, 2014 - 20:28 By Chung Joo-won
The deadly landslide in Sri Lanka on Oct. 29, which wiped out an entire village and buried about 200 people alive in Koslanda, came as no surprise. Described as the worst ever natural disaster since December 2004, when massive waves barreled across the Indian Ocean and had a disastrous landfall, the collapse of the mountain slope had been predicted.

Landslide warnings had been issued well in advance for several years but no action had been taken to evacuate the people living in the area, we are told.

Worse, two more mountains adjacent to the buried village are also said to be prone to landslides. It is hoped that each and every family living there will be removed to safety urgently before disaster strikes again.

They won’t be able to shift on their own due to penury and they need help. The victims of Wednesday’s tragedy, too, had been unable to find alternative accommodation on their own in spite of landslide warnings as they had been living from hand to mouth, not knowing when the next meal would come or whether it would come at all.

Either the management of the estates where they toiled or the government agencies concerned should have intervened to relocate them. Why they had been allowed to continue to live in a landslide-prone area should be probed. Mere warnings won’t do; follow-up action has to be taken to ensure public safety.

Thousands of city dwellers are evicted at short notice to pave the way for mega development projects. They are given alternative accommodation. Why the people living in disaster-prone areas cannot be relocated in a similar manner is the question.

Forty-eight hours have already elapsed since disaster struck and rescue operations are going on against tremendous odds. Rescuers themselves are exposed to the danger of being buried alive as there is no guarantee that another landslide won’t occur at the same location.

It is likely that the disaster-affected village will remain a mass burial ground.

What needs to be done immediately is to help the survivors left without their near and dear ones. The government has taken steps to provide relief, but the onus is on all of us to do everything possible to fortify the unfortunate ones and ensure that their needs will be taken care of. Many a child is believed to have lost both parents.

These children will need assistance for years to come until they are gainfully employed after finishing their studies. Serious thought should be given to setting up a special fund for their benefit and seeking contributions from the public.

Funds are bound to pour in from the four corners of the world if an appeal is made officially. What usually happens is that disasters jolt a large number of individuals and organizations into collecting funds and goods to be distributed among the victims, who are then left to fend for themselves.

Some of the tsunami victims are still crying out for relief. Care should be taken to prevent the same fate befalling the landslide victims of Koslanda.

Plantation workers whose sweat and tears power the economy are exposed to landslides and other such disasters more than anyone else because they live on mountainous terrain sans any protection.

They are mere “hands” for most planters who don’t give a tinker’s damn about their safety. Politicians, too, remember these hapless workers only during elections. But, only very little will be done for the benefit of survivors faced with a double whammy ― bereavement and the loss of their houses.

All disaster-prone areas have already been identified fairly accurately and it is up to the estate sector trade unions, political parties and civil society groups to step in to have plantation workers and other villagers living there relocated without further delay. Torrential rains currently being experienced in the hills may trigger more landslides, rock falls, mudslides, etc. Tomorrow may be too late!

(Editorial Desk, The Island)