IS SRI LANKA HEADING FOR THE DOOMSDAY....?
Even living in Malaysia, I knew that Phailin was going to hit Orissa about 36 hours before the tropical atmospheric giant reached the Indian coast. There were hundreds of weather stations on alert and thousands of meteorologists kept close eye on the path of the cyclone. Evacuation processes started well in advance. At the end still the price was not that low: nearly 100,000 refugees, about 30 deaths, 5,000 sq km of paddy cultivation was destroyed incurring loss of over 320 million USD.
Citizens of Bangkok, the Golden City of Tourism, would never have expected to catch alligators and crocks in the mid-down-town streets, but it happened in 2011. The torrential monsoonal rains brought heavy floods that cost the Thai Nation 1425 billion baht (USD 45.7 Billion) in economic damages and losses as per the estimation of the World Bank. For comparison; the total cost of Hambanthota Port project is in the tunes of USD 1.5 Billion.
Often we observe the development of acute depressions in the Bay of Bengal that turns into tropical cyclones which route into India via West Bengal or Orissa. Once in a couple of decades they take a further Southward route and hit the Eastern Coast of Sri Lanka such as the case in 1978. Similarly, depressions started in the Arabian Sea usually take northward routes and devastate Sindh province of Pakistan and North Western parts of India.
However, what if the cyclones take it's route towards Sri Lanka for a change? What will be the case if two depressions are developed simultaneously in the Bay of Bengal and in the Arabian Sea? Will they be attracted each other tormenting the island in two directions?
Many questions are hanging, without proper answers! Our meteorologists silently witness the way that researchers in Kerala are studying the changes of monsoonal patterns in the South Western India. Do we expect these Indian experts to extend their research paws further south and predict the disasters for us? What have we been doing for the last two decades in the name of “disaster monitoring and preparedness”?
Do we have any models to predict the possibilities of tropical cyclones, flash floods and consequential landslides/debris flows for the next 10-20 years?
In May 2013, Sri Lanka witnessed cyclone Mahasen passing the country at a distance while it was heading towards the East Coast of India. Suddenly, in the middle of the Bay of Bengal it decided to change its cause and hit Bangladesh and Myanmar. For the next couple of months, the honourable Sri Lankans started cutting one anothers throat for naming the cyclone by the name of a "Great King" of the country. Have anyone given a thought to "what if.... Mahasen decided to turn westward and visit the country he ruled during his earthly life...?".
Just forget the predictions. Let’s consider that a Phailin-like cyclone hits Colombo. Circulating wind speeds exceeding 200 kilometers per hour may elevate the sea level to few meters, whereas, the intense down pour may bring billions of gallons of water within few minutes. Under such scenario water may be trapped in the city, flooding a vast area, perhaps, over 4-5 meters. That’s a disaster beyond imagination, considered the population and vehicle density of the city. Even prior planned evacuation will be an uphill task due to the small size of the country and the heavy urbanization along the coastal region. SUCH EVENT CAN TURN COLOMBO INTO A GRAVE YARD IN FEW MINUTES.
Mother Nature has given enough warning to us. Colombo city was seriously flooded several occasions due to heavy monsoonal downpour. A Cyclone will bring far too graver disaster than flash floods.
What to be done to reduce the impact of such event is beyond the scope of this article. However, the responsible parties should wake up now and do at least an assessment to find the probability of such events and their impact to the nation through proper research.
In the upcountry, with tens of man-made reservoirs built up for hydro-power, cyclonic floods and high wind shear may cause devastation if the tank capacities are exceeded by large. Even for the last five years, there were about 10 flood-related major failures of dams reported from various countries, including our neighbours Pakistan and Nepal. The collapsing of these dams have affected over 10 million people and cost over many billions of USD. In Sri Lanka, the situation can be even worse due to the locations of the reservoirs and human settlements in the down slope vicinity.
In many other countries mathematical models have been developed to predict the extreme weather events for the next 50-100 years. If we do the same in Sri Lanka and the stability factors of reservoirs are available (or calculated by known factors and measurements), one can easily estimate the chances of dam failure for a given period. If such failure probability is known one can compute in turn the amount of water outflow and debris flow which can predict the areas and scales of natural disaster. Thus, government will be prepared for a possible evacuation well in advance.
In the last five-six years the whole world has been witnessing the reality of global climate change. The changes happen at a rate faster than the rate that we understand their pattern. Such scenario gave rise to the field of research termed “Global impact of extreme weather events”. In a situation where USA and Europe show somewhat lethargy and reluctance to address the issues in a practically meaningful manner at global scale, China, India, Brazil, Thailand etc. have taken admirable steps, at least, to assess the impacts and their consequences.
In Sri Lanka, for the last few years, it has been observed that the political turmoil and the unnecessary religious/ethnic turbulence have distracted the focus of the people away from the real threats to the nation. It should be understood that the nature’s instability is far more dangerous than the sociological instabilities. Even the damage done by Phailin to India may be an unbearable burden for us if it happened to Sri Lanka.
It is the duty of the nation to understand that, being a small island, centuries of civilization and decades of development of the country can be washed away overnight, if something has not been done immediately.