Flood relief - Dos and Donts
Y. W. Gunawardana, President, Dharmavijaya Foundation
The needs of affected people are immense and government authorities should not be left alone. Act now. Think what you, your family or your company or your organization can contribute now. Right now. If other lesser privileged people are to be relieved of their suffering some kind of sacrifice will be required from you, may from all of us.
Dont do it alone, by yourself. Get others too involved. In this kind of situation collective action exerts a greater impact than individual effort. You little realize that there are so many other good kind folks, too, around you, at your home, in your office, school or the company. Give them also a chance. They will love it.
In donating materials for relief institutions, try to give what is needed by victims and not what you can dispose of easily. For instance, things such as used shoes or play items are not priorities at this stage. What is priority in the early phase of relief is food, drinking water, medicine and clothing.
Please study and carefully select the organization to which you are going to hand over the materials for distribution among victims. Please note that not everybody is honest and there may be a few individuals or groups who wish to exploit the situation. If you get caught to them your donation is not likely to reach the target. Specially beware of "instant" organizations engaged in house to house collection using vans with loudspeakers. Not all of them, but a few could be outright crooks. Therefore, please check their credentials before you part with your money or material donation.
Do it yourself if possible. This can be done only if you are a fairly strong organization, in public, private or NGO sectors. In selecting the community to be reached please seek advice from the District Secretary (Govt. Agent) or the Divisional Secretary (Asst Govt. Agent) of the area. If you are taking materials to outlandish location you must use a good vehicle and take all your personal needs food, water, etc. Even if you take lorry loads of stuff dont expect the people to entertain you, because they are either displaced or destabilized, both materially and morally. Do not even expect thanks in return for what you are doing for them.
If your organisation is taking food and other materials to be given direct to people, take such stuff in ready to handover form. Please do not take things like tea, rice, sugar, etc. in bulk form. Hampers with about 5 major items viz. tea, sugar, dhal, biscuits in polythene bags would be the ideal. Crowds will gather around your vehicle and you will be non plussed. Occasionally victims could be very demanding and though rarely even aggressive please dont be upset because they are under stress. Victims will have a lot many complaints to make. Listen to them patiently, if you can afford to please do not make promises on the spur of the moment.
If you are a leader in an organization pick your team from most committed, most dedicated workers. Motivate and inspire them through your own dedication.
If you are a District Secretary or an Assistant DS please do not try to visit each site of accident or calamity. Send your trusted subordinates and report back to you, for your time is precious and required to do a lot of planning, coordination and public relations. If you start rushing from place to place you will have little time for those very important management functions. Please handle the politicians carefully and try to get the good out of them. Naturally they will have their pet villagers, communities or even individual families. But if you think, plan and work ahead of them there could be only little room for external interference.
If you are an elected representative please intervene but do not interfere in the exercise of relief duties by public officers. Please do not pressurise them to extend extra favours to you pet groups, villagers or individuals. Please do interfere if the officers are incompetent. If they are incompetent or not up to the gigantic task, get additional staff (hand picked) from the ministries. I remember the valuable service rendered by nearly 25 Additional Govt. Agents who were specially appointed on temporary basis to the Ampara Kachcheri in the afftermath of the Cyclone 78. This additional human power was a great strength to me and my staff when our energies were stretched to the full.
If you are a minister or a political VIP visiting affected areas from Colombo, please do not expect the District Secretary or other top officers to always accompany your while touring areas or be extra nice to you, because they are also under stress. Please help them to secure additional resources by way of finances, manpower and vehicles, etc.
In this connection I recall how the late President J. R. Jayewardene relieved me of a great burden during the 78 Cyclone when I was Govt. Agent. Ampara. Having heard that the President was to visit Ampara I was nervous as to where to prepare his meals. I was new to my post and lacked experience. In my anxiety I telephoned Mr. Menikdiwela, the then Secretary to the President who advised me to talk to the President himself "Sir, where should I prepare meals for you and lady Jayewardene, I asked sheepishly: stet came the reply, "Dont worry GA, I am bringing sandwiches. Join me at Kondawattuwana Bungalow around noon".
When I heard those words I thought that was my quota of cyclone relief granted by the countrys President himself and no less.
Earth slips: Prevention
Media is full of pictorial and descriptive reports of natural disaster coverage of flash floods, earth slips or mud slides with regular updating of death toll and missing figures, misery of marooned and displaced victims. This is not very uncommon, as we encounter such inclement weather conditions frequently, due to depressions in Bay of Bengal and other reasons. What is uncommon is learning from past experience and preparedness for similar calamities and application of preventive measures.
Our resplendent Island nation is very much safe from, destructive earth quakes, fiery volcanoes, tremendous tornadoes and turbulent cyclones, which other nations in South East Asia, Americas and Europe, not excluding our neighbouring India and Northern Asian countries, facing yearly basis or more frequently. The Lankans, unlike other peoples, are programmed to suffer these disasters repeatedly, cry and beg for humanitarian assistance and aid from local and international bodies, forget the inconvenience as floods recede and revel until the next disaster strikes. No corrective measures are being suggested or sought after.
In Japan, earthquake situations, probable timing and areas affected are constantly monitored; the citizens are well informed, educated and taken care of in advance, in order to minimize the casualties; while technological experiments are carried out in the laboratories and workshops before the construction of high rise buildings, highways, road flyovers and other infrastructure, which would be impervious to tremors and withstand worst climatic conditions. This country is also boasting of a man-made Island with a massive airport and other superior facilities, connected by a miles long bridge with the main land; all of them could stand tremors of huge magnitudes and gale winds, tornadoes and high seas. Truly they could be regarded as modern day world wonders.
This is a country, which once was devastated, by powerful atomic bombs, and was resurrected to be the most developed country in the world, solely through strong will, determination, hard work and devotion of the entire nation. This is a nation that wouldnt concede to natural disasters or human aggression, they are a nation, who learns from past and make the future perfect.
We have to follow such feats of other nations, to revive and reconstruct our damaged and destroyed property and environs, restore the ruined and tarnished glory. When one travels through the highways to the northern cities of Thailand, from Bangkok, one cannot miss, how they have cemented the mountaintops and slopes, and carved out cemented drains to lead storm water to the low lands without soil erosion and earth slips. Even in Hong Kong this is nicely and aesthetically done. The mountains and hills are cemented where necessary, leaving the huge and small trees in tact. Massive buildings of 30-60 stories are built on mountains and hills without flattening them and uprooting the trees, in the contrary to our ways and practice. In Sri Lanka, when we want to build a house or a factory, the first thing we do is to fell all the trees and levelling the moles and hills, converting the entire area to a virtual desert, where even grass is not possible to grow in the absence of top soil.
So it is high time the Sri Lankan government and other responsible
authorities give a thought for finding a permanent solution for this grave problem, rather
than beg for sympathy and aid from international community. Disasters due to weather, such
as floods, cyclones, earth-slips, sea erosions and droughts etc. couldnt be avoided
completely, but could be minimized or controlled, with due organizing and application of
counter measures. For these programmes technical and financial assistance could be sought
from all over the world, without shame and with definite success.
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