The threat of landslides
is looming large with ad hoc building practices being the root cause
Kandy is one of the worst affected districts. Pix by Shane Seneviratne
Improper and ill-advised land-use practices are
resulting in an increasing number of landslides in different parts
of the country especially in the hill country, an official has warned.
R.M.S Bandara, head of the Landslide Division of the National Building
Research Organization(NBRO) says the heavy showers that are being
experienced due to the inter monsoon period could lead to landslides
but the main reason for the current spate of landslides was incorrect
soil-cutting procedures being adopted during construction.
Explaining the situation he said when one cuts
into slopes the soil has to be supported. But most people fail to
do this or do not do it immediately, which could lead to landslides.He
said although the NBRO and other local authorities can provide people
with information on proper land-use practices, their assistance
is hardly sought either through ignorance on the availability of
such assistance or in most cases illegal builders deliberately opt
to disregard such procedure.
In addition to floods that has wreaked havoc in
the lives and property of people, landslides and the threat of it
has displaced 490 families in Kegalle, Badulla, Ratnapura, Matale
and Kandy. Kandy is the worst affected with 153 families being displaced.
More than 200 houses have been damaged in Kandy, mostly in the Udapalatha
Division with 106 houses damaged. The second highest casualty area
was Yatinuwara with 88 houses damaged. The biggest number of displacement
occurred in the Gangawata Korala Division, with 103 families displaced.
“Though Kandy District is the worst affected
due to landslides, 215 families have been displaced in Kegalle District
as a result of minor landslides too,” Nimal Hettiarachchi,
head of the National Disaster Management Centre(NDMC) said. According
to data from the NDMC, 58 families have been displaced in Badulla,
55 in Ratnapura and 13 in Matale. Thirteen people have died due
to landslides with deaths being reported from Kandy, Kegalle and
A senior Geologist at NBRO Kandy, M.I.D.H Wijewickrema
said the main reason that Kandy was experiencing so many landslides
was improper land use practices. “The population has increased
and many houses have been constructed in an ad hoc manner in small
land areas. This is the main reason for the landslides,” Mr.Wijewickrema
Meanwhile Kandy’s Additional Government
Agent A B.E.H.M Sugathadasa commenting on the relief operations
said the Pradeshiya Sabha and several NGOs, were engaged in issuing
dry rations and other items to the displaced. He said cooked food
had been distributed for four days, but now dry rations were being
given to the people as it was difficult to continue providing cooked
Kegalle District’s Additional Government Agent W.M Abeywickrama
said the displaced people in the district were being housed in two
schools and a temple.
“We are looking for alternate land to relocate
these displaced people,” he said. Badulla District’s
disaster management officer Prasanthi Chandrasena said that they
were waiting for the rains to cease to evaluate possible alternate
locations for the displaced people. He said the evaluation of alternate
land for affected commercial enterprises such as shops will be handled
by the Urban Council.
Though Ratnapura District did not experience severe
landslides, there are signs that it could happen in the future.
Ratnapura District’s disaster management officer Priyanga
Premachancra said, “No major landslides have been reported,
although a few minor earthslips were reported in Elapatha, Kollana
and Kiriella. However, big cracks are appearing on the ground in
some areas, posing the threat of landslides in the future,”
Urbanisation the problem
A leading Geologist has warned of the threat of more landslides
in the hill country as the incessant rains showed little signs
of ceasing. Prof. Kapila Dahanayake, of the University of
Peradeniya said the heavy and continuous downpour was creating
changes underground which could lead to landslides.
“ Heavy rains in the past did
not give rise to so much fear and talk about landslides. Landslides
are aplenty in areas of the Sinharajah forest. But since they
do not cause much harm to life or property very few talk about
it. However, today, the threat of landslides is causing a
lot of concern not just among lay people but also those doing
research into the subject,” he said.
“Since of late our population
has grown immensely, causing a massive need for land for habitation.
The result was that people started living in inhospitable
areas like mountain tops, and valleys where there is no provision
for proper flow of rain water via a systematic draining system.
There is also no proper planning when building houses and
the flow of rain water is what is least in the minds of the
builders,” Prof. Dahanayake said.
|Victims of landslides
He says the problem has been aggravated
in urban areas of Kandy and Peradeniya due to haphazard building.
The danger of land slides is especially high in areas such
as Bahirawakanda, Suduhumpola and Peradeniya. He also said
that what was occurring now was a strange phenomenon where
the land of a particular house may slide but not necessarily
the house adjacent to it. He said people should be alert to
certain signs that showed up areas susceptible to landslide
. They include trees tilting to a side, trees dying without
any apparent reason, rocks breaking loose and rolling and
underground water flowing out through land where houses are
erected. In certain cases cracks on the ground may be observed
or cracks on walls may start spreading – which can be
taken as forewarning signs of landslides.
Commenting on precautions that could
be taken he said that if a flow of underground water has been
observed where a house stands, steps must be taken to evacuate
the inmates in time to safer places. This situation is known
as an inter erosion period.
However he said nature alone cannot be blamed for landslides
as nowadays behavioural patters too contribute, like careless
erecting of houses. As the demand for land is more than the
availability of it there is congestion hence the need to clear
jungle areas resulting in the cutting downof trees Prof. Dahanayake