Short memories, Doppler radar & disasters in Sri Lanka

An article published by renowned journalist Amantha Perera on IRIN today triggered a series of tweets over @groundviews around how officials in successive governments have lied to citizens around investments in life-saving technologies.

Amantha’s article notes,

Lalith Chandrapala, director general of the Meteorological Department, said the department doesn’t have Doppler radar capability, which allows for the accurate forecasting of the direction and velocity of storms.

For the radar to be effective, stations would have to be located around the country. Senadeera said that Sri Lanka had only one such station, but it had broken down. The government plans to set up two stations with Japanese funding within the next two years, he said.

Emphasis mine. This quote around Doppler radar reminded me of an article, also by the same author and on the same website, published as far back as 2013. In June that year, a storm killed at least fifty fishermen. Many of the deaths were preventable.

Speaking to the WSWS, angry fishermen condemned the government for not providing a proper early warning system and safety facilities. Though the storm was a natural disaster, many lives could have been saved if people had been alerted in advance. Via Sri Lanka: Storm kills dozens of fishermen

As Amantha’s article on IRIN published in July 2013 noted,

DMC assistant director Sarath Lal Kumara said the Department had also been experimenting with issuing recorded warnings over the web and sending out regular updates to a selection of government officials, armed forces, police and media outlets using SMS text messages.

The Department will begin operating a new Doppler radar system in late August, allowing it to detect changing weather patterns at least three hours earlier.

It’s 2017. We are now told the Doppler radar is still two years away. And the DMC is still not using in a discernible, coherent or sustained manner, any modern communications technology around disasters for early warning or risk reduction.

The issue around the installation of Doppler radar alone suggests that those at the Met. Department in Sri Lanka, along with those at the Disaster Management Centre (DMC), and all those involved in early warning, including the Minister, should be held criminally culpable for the loss of life, over many years. Why they get away with what they do is because we all have short memories, and tend to forget statements and promises made by officials.

Perhaps social media, in addition to being centre and forward in disaster response and relief, can also act as a record for posterity around individuals who choose to misdirect and misinform over saving lives, with complete impunity.

A column (Disaster Response) first published in The Sunday Island on 4th June 2017 goes into more detail around some of these issues noted above, looking at in particular the catastrophic floods that hit Sri Lanka in May 2017.

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