Letters to the Editor

Floods in Colombo – the real story behind the lies and excuses

Whenever there are floods in Colombo, there is an outpouring of lame excuses, and even downright lies, from the authorities. This has been going on for the past 20 years. In the late 1970s, the standard official response after a flooding was: “We hope to solve the problem by next year.”

Ten years later, Nature dumps 493 mm of rain – on June 4 and 5, 1992 – and we had floods, and the response then was that this was a case of “unprecedented rainfall.” Eighteen years later, Nature dumps 440 mm of rain on November 11, 2010, causing greater havoc than in 1992. Even the New Parliament was flooded.

The official response in such events has become the press release. A press release dated 14-11-2010 informed us that the November flooding was the result of “a rise in sea level” above a sluice gate IN Wellawatta. There is no sluice gate in Wellawatte.

The recent floods saw the Parliament inundated

Another press release (21-11-2010) claimed the Royal Park area is two metres below sea level, which is not true. This area is well above sea level. I know, because I have studied this area on behalf of Lake Gardens residents.

The causes for the flooding are the newly built bridges at McDonald’s, on Parliament Road, and the new bridge on Nawala Road, where there was only a culvert. Both bridges bring in extra volumes of water into the Lake Gardens area from two different catchments. The former has in fact reversed the direction of the flow of the Mahawatte Ela.

The latest venture is to create lakes to absorb the volume of excess or flood water. Don’t the authorities realise that in next to no time these lakes will be full of ground water (dead storage), with little capacity to absorb flood waters, unless they are kept artificially empty?

A press release of 21-11-2010 says these lakes will be sited at Battaramulla, Koswatte, Nawala, Kirimandala Mawatha – and Pelawatte. No mention is made of the land extent to build a promised 65,000 houses for poor people.

As an engineer who has been involved in this kind of engineering work for the past 50 years, I am in a position to comment on what is happening.

I say it is a national crime to attempt to “restructure”, and consequently destroy, natural land in the form in which we find it – whether it be high ground, forest land, paddy fields, lakes or swamps – to carry out wasteful experiments that are doomed to failure.

Such areas can never be brought back to their original state, once the experiment fails. Punishing those responsible for this folly is beside the point.

What is most worrying is that this moronic experimenting could spread to the heart of Colombo City, where there is little space for “lakes” – unless we dig up the old Race Course, the Vihara Maha Devi Park, Police Park, the Galle Face, or even end up at Kanatte Cemetery. The government should not be spending large sums of money on useless ventures without taking advice from good engineers.

The problem of flooding has been studied over and over again, the causes have been identified and solutions have been recommended. The research has been done by the best of professionals with years of training and experience and drawn from responsible organizations. Even private groups have offered help with studies done at no cost to the government.

The latest government effort is the Cabinet-approved study on development of the “Kelani Ganga Left Bank Unprotected Areas.” A two-in-one solution was presented. The report, submitted on April 29, 2009, has mysteriously disappeared, leaving the team leader – myself, the author of this letter – under-recompensed. The country has lost possibly the only intelligent, implementable solution to the problem, coming from our very own professionals.

And because this country has no intellectual property rights, the person who has stolen a copy of this report can copy the report or parts of it. Meanwhile, we must brace ourselves for the worst when Nature next decides to dump 490 plus mm of rain on us.

Anton Nanayakkara, Senior Deputy Director of Irrigation (Retd.)

Kakhuis’ – fit toilet fittting for Dutch Fort

A recent letter from a reader about the Galle Literary Festival and the toilet facilities available within the Galle Fort suggested a couple of things to this reader.

  • There was mention of one “Turkish” or “oriental squat toilet” each in the men’s and women’s. Considering that there will be at least one important visitor from Turkey, and several others from various “oriental” countries, these particular toilets should be considered welcome and familiar fittings, and should be allowed to remain.
  • How many Sri Lankans are aware that the most common Sinhala word for a toilet facility is not a Sinhala word but a combination of two Dutch words? “Kakkussiya” comes from “kakhuis” – a double word formed from “kak” (dung, excrement) and “huis” (house).

A kakhuis is an outhouse, as found in Holland, South Africa and other Dutch outposts. What more appropriate a facility for the Hall de Galle, which is inside the Galle Dutch Fort, than a truly Dutch “kakhuis”? There must have been dozens of such outhouses inside the Fort in Dutch times. Around these kakhuizen were grown trees with sweet-smelling flowers.

The kakhuizen (for males and females) can be built separately and discreetly, away from the Hall de Galle building, which sits on large premises in a big garden. And jasmine and frangipani can be grown around the kakhuisen.

A perfect fit of a toilet fitting solution!

Dutch Burgher, Colombo 5

On toilet facilities and numbers

A reader recently expressed concern about toilet facilities for the large crowd of book-lovers expected at the Galle Literary Festival 2011 (“Lat Before Lit, please: Galle Literary Festival”, ST Plus ).

Last year’s GLF

This is a valid concern. The Hall de Galle is built for single events, such as an evening of Sinhala theatre or a Bharatha Natyam dance recital, attended by an audience of between 300 and 700 persons. The hall’s original toilet facilities were sufficient for such one-off events.

The Galle Literary Festival, on the other hand, is a four-day event, and each day’s programme runs from morning through afternoon to early evening, with a series of events held throughout the day, many at the Hall de Galle. The audiences at the Hall de Galle can add up to a couple of thousand head per day.
As someone with experience in support services and managing numbers, may I offer the following figures, which are based on internationally standards for facilities at public venues and halls:
Say you have an audience of 700 persons, then:

  • If all 700 persons were males, you will need 4 water closets, 10 urinals and 6 wash basins;
  • If all 700 persons were female, you will need 23 water closets and 23 wash basins;
  • If we assumed a 50:50 male-to-female ratio (350 males and 350 females)
    a) The male facility should have 4 water closets, 6 urinals and 9 wash basins;
    b) The female facility should have 13 wa ter closets and 13 wash basins.
  • You will need at least one sanitary facili ty each for disabled persons in the male and female areas.

I hope the above would be helpful to those involved in the arrangements for the Galle Literary Festival.

JD, Rajagiriya

Abandoned babies are entitled to a decent life

We keep reading about newborns of unwed parents being tossed into unused wells and cesspits, or left hidden under bushes in jungles or by the wayside. If these abandoned babies survive, they end up in government hospitals.

There should be a procedure to allow unwed mothers to have their babies in a hospital, without the mother or father having to conceal the fact. If the mother cannot take care of the child and does not want her identity as the mother made known, the doctor in charge at the hospital should have the authority to hand the baby over to an approved institution, where the child can grow up with selective attention and proper education, and live a decent life.

There are families without children wanting babies for legal adoption, and there are foreigners who are keen to adopt Sri Lankan babies, regardless of their ethnicity. Several Sri Lankan-born orphans have been adopted by non-Sri Lankans and they have grown up in foreign countries. They re-visit the country of their birth, and sometimes they get to meet their biological parents.

Miss India and Miss Universe Sushmita Sen of India has adopted an orphaned child and calls herself “a single mum.” And now Sri Lankan beauty queen and Bollywood actress Jacqueline Fernandez has told the Indian media that, like Sen, she too would like to be a single mother. These people inspire us with their noble, humanitarian spirit.

Concerned reader

Red tape is a waste of precious time, teacher learns

If a teacher migrates to another country without government approval and then returns, he or she has to apply to the State Service Commission of the relevant Provincial Council to seek reinstatement as a teacher in Sri Lankan schools.

The State Service Commission then starts a process that involves the Provincial Department of Education and the Zonal Director of Education to look into the possibility of reinstatement. The teacher’s personal file has to reach the State Service Commission through the Provincial Department of Education and the Secretariat of the Chief Minister.

If the teacher returns within three months of departure, the above process will help in his reinstatement. If he has been in VOP for more than three months, his appeal is rejected. Then he has to appeal again to the Governor of the Province for reinstatement.

The Governor’s office commences the inquiry and requests the State Service Commission to forward the reasons for rejecting the appeal. After studying the reasons, the Governor may grant reinstatement through the State Service Commission, Chief Ministerial Secretariat and Provincial Department of Education.

What a mighty waste of time! This is my personal experience. The process of reinstatement was initiated more then 10 months ago, and it is still continuing. The country is in desperate need of teachers.

Will the relevant authority please do something about this – amend the law, expedite the process and stop wasting everyone’s time.

Ajith Perera, Wennappuwa

How does gambling fit into the grand scheme of development?

Parliament has passed a new gaming bill, and it is feared that controversial bills will be rushed through, denying the public an opportunity to express their views. The Opposition is not in a position to defeat any government bill.

During the last Amendment to the Constitution, a few Opposition members crossed over to the government side. One of them, the owner of a casino business, has justified his crossing over as the gaming bill offers new money-making casino opportunities. The rural people who gave their votes to this politico are not too pleased, but politicians are indifferent to voter opinion once they are in power. They will turn to the people only when the next election is due.

It was the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) that abolished horse racing and gambling five decades ago. Over the years, influential persons, backed by successive governments, have slowly and insidiously re-introduced various forms of gambling. The result is that the whole country is choked with betting places. A major player in the bookie business is a government parliamentary member who crossed over before the last election. Casinos, betting houses and other types of gambling flourish in the city and in a few places outside the city. Meanwhile, the silence of the clergy of all denominations in this regard is interesting.

About four years ago, India appointed a commission of 22 Indian scientists under the chairmanship of Dr. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam to suggest ways to make India a developed country by 2020. Dr. Abdul Kalam, later President of India (2002-2007), published a book, “India Vision 2020”, which said: “What does the developed nation status mean in terms of the common man? It means the major transformation of our national economy to make it one of the largest economies of the world; where the countrymen live well above the poverty line, their education and health is of high standard; national security reasonably assured, and the core competence in certain major areas gets enhanced significantly so that the production of quality goods including exports, is rising and thereby bringing all-round prosperity to the countrymen.”

He added: “Today technology is the main driver of economic development at the national level. Therefore, we have to develop indigenous technologies to enhance our competitive edge and to generate national wealth in all segments of the economy. Therefore, the need of the hour is to arm India with technology.” Meanwhile, Sri Lanka is not making the best use of its scientists and engineers. It is doubtful that casinos and gambling will help our people “live above the poverty line.”

In the past, development meant going out into the Eastern, Central, North Central and other areas to carve out reservoirs and create massive infrastructure schemes, as found in Gal Oya, the Mahaveli, Polgolla and Uda Walawe. Where does gambling fit into this grand scheme of development? The country should be focusing on agribusiness and encouraging small holders. The budget gave hardly a nod to agriculture.

Dr. Nimal Sanderatne, in an article titled “Domestic Agriculture and Food Security”, writes: “National food security is attained when a country produces food for its people or has the capacity to import its need of food by its export earnings. The most important aspect is household food security.”
In most grocery stores you will see two varieties of the same product, the local and the imported versions, as with potatoes, chiilies and onions.

Locally grown foods can compete with the best of imported foods. We should help the local cultivator and manufacturer by buying and using locally made products, rather than imported products. The small cultivator and the small manufacturer need appreciation from those in authority. They should not feel neglected. They need support and assistance to improve the quality of their products.

There are plenty of opportunities for those with entrepreneurial and management skills to bring new products into the market, and provide employment for hundreds.

No government can provide everyone employment in government departments and organisations. Self-employment and small enterprises should be encouraged and nurtured.

The carpenter, the mason, the vehicle repairer, the fish vendor, the three-wheel driver, small businesses and small-scale manufacturers are no burden on the state, but they need low-cost electricity, low-cost pipe water, and low-cost public transport.

Kasi Silva

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