In Sri Lanka, until recently, landslides were not a frequent natural disaster; exacerbated by human involvement in the hill country, caused by deforestation, cultivation and construction. These activities, together with recent heavy and unpredictable rainfall, have increased the risk of landslides, resulting in property damage and loss of lives. Nearly 20% of 65,000Sq Km of total land area has been identified as “landslide prone”, inclusive of areas in Nuwara Eliya, Badulla, Matale, Kandy, Ratnapura, Kegalle, Kalutara, Galle, Matara and Hambantota.
The area with the highest rainfall recorded had the highest risk of landslides. Even though natural causes cannot be changed, the anthropogenic effect on the environment in these areas can be prevented or at least reduced if the residents and officials are educated and informed appropriately regarding landslide disasters by conducting awareness programmes.
With increasing population, residents and authorities search for potential areas for human resettlements and other purposes such as natural resources. Even if the hill country or slope areas seem ideal for constructions and/or other activities, there are risks that need to be considered. The National Building Research Organisation (NBRO) claims that these authorised or unauthorised constructions and other activities are becoming a major risk factor. Constructing on a slope area without the use of appropriate mitigation structures construe a risk. Cutting the toe of a slope for construction purposes without proper slope barriers to prevent from soil slips have been identified in many cases.
Clearing the forest cover can also lead to soil erosion, soil saturation and soil structure damage, while the non-construction of proper drainage systems on slopes, further enhances the risks of landslides. Earth removal for mining, quarrying, drilling, and use of explosives and other heavy machines can cause vibrations in slope areas, leading to cracks and sinkholes. These factors, together with heavy rainfall on an unsteady slope, creates further pressure at the top of the slope, resulting in landslides. These issues are considered as the effects of human activities and since 2011, a circular has been implemented in 10 districts with the highest risk of landslides, in an effort to limit the construction and other types of land use in slope areas.
Governmental organisations, such as NBRO and the Disaster Management Centre (DMC), have been working on informing locals living in areas with risk of landslides, on precautionary measures, in order to save lives prior to the occurrence of a natural disaster. The process of issuing an early warning messages can take time, between the analysis of the conditions and for a warning to reach the community and other authorities. However, it is possible for a disaster to occur during this short period of time. To issue an early warning message, the NBRO has to measure the rainfall, consider its limits, continuity and duration of rainfall and analyse landslide hazard zonation maps. Then the issued message is disseminated by the DMC to media and other responsible authorities, such as Tri-Forces, District and Divisional Secretaries and Grama Niladari in the areas, to inform and carry out the evacuation process. In some cases, long term warnings have been issued to leave the risk areas without possibility of return, due to potential risk of landslides in the area.
Yet, the public appear to rely fundamentally on early warning messages to evacuate. As mentioned above, information flow from higher authorities to minor communities can take time. And with that, carrying out an evacuation process and other necessary actions have to be conducted and can also be delayed. The weak link in the process is the time taken for a message to reach the targeted community and authorities.
Although carrying out awareness sessions in threatened areas may be ideal, most programmes are classroom based sessions and the interest to participate are limited. Staff from plantations and other facilities requested for training may not always be accepted as the target community. The NBRO has identified an issue with these warnings, where residents tend to ignore these types of warnings and other conditions, hence neglecting to leave their home areas. However, blaming the authorities may be inevitable after the occurrence of a disaster, together with the loss of lives and minor/ major damage to property.
It is ideal to educate the public from each area regarding landslides, risk factors and human activities, and how to take action by analysing conditions, using measurements of the rainfall and other factors, including evacuation plans, depending on the situation. Along with community-based groups, the government officials in those areas should be primarily trained to analyse these conditions and then take necessary actions, even after an occurrence of a disaster. For such, analysis processes and dealing with conditions of the aftermath, proper toolkits to measure rain, such as rain gauges and other tools such like hoes and shovels, must be distributed among the community or trainers in those areas along with demonstrations during awareness programs.
According to NBRO and DMC, there is a need to educate the locals in threatened areas.
Therefore, this project aims to:
1. Conduct awareness sessions for SLRC trainers, so that they can train the local communities in threatened areas regarding landslides
2. Piloting the community programs with SLRC in selected areas with landslide risk.
3. Strengthen existing community groups and establish new civil society groups by giving proper training and linking these groups with the responsible authorities in the area. The idea of
establishing these groups is to carry out emergency evacuations, relief work and allow for flow of information among the villagers, rather than depending on an early- warning message
The pilot program will be conducted mainly in Colombo whilst 06 sessions will be conducted in 06 other selected districts.