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Sri Lanka: Bypassing the national disaster early warning center

Based on theory and analysis, we have strongly advocated that early warning should be issued by government. I have even gone so far as to suggest that those who issue false warnings should be prosecuted. Thus, it comes as shock to read in the Sunday Times that the government itself is planning to bypass the national early warning center, issuing international weather alerts directly to fishing boats capable of receiving them.

But the Minister’s reaction is fully understandable. People died needlessly, because the agency that is mandated to warn our people of hazards that may harm them willfully neglected to do so. I was one of the first to tweet on Nov 27th that there appeared to have been a massive failure in communicating the early warning. The Minister in charge of disaster management (representing a Southern coastal district who should have been enraged by what happened) first said he’d launch an investigation and then said the Met Department had been “unable” to issue a warning and that it would be given more resources to do its job. But now, his Cabinet colleague has unequivocally refuted the claim of inability:

Fisheries Minister Dr Rajitha Senaratne in Parliament today blamed the Meteorology Department for failing to warn residents and fishermen along the souhern costal belt of incoming gale force winds despite being warned ahead by the National Aquatic Resources Research and Development Agency (NARA).

The failure to issue an early warning led to the death of nearly 20 fishermen last month.

Dr Senaratne said that he had not previously revealed the fact of NARA warning the Met Department, Disaster Management Centre, Coast Guard Department and the Sri Lanka Navy of the impending danger a day ahead.

Chairman of the NARA Dr Hiran Jayawardena had sent SMS messages to the Navy and the Coast Guard of the gale force wind with the time it was expected to hit the Southern Coastal belt areas, the Minister said.

When the NARA officials had informed the Met Department of the information that there would be strong winds of larger magnitude, the Met Department officials had rubbished them saying that such event is not in their forecast so that could not be happened.

Basically what I understand the Minister as saying (I was watching the debate on TV) that internationally generated weather information will be sent directly to fishing vessels capable of receiving them by the National Aquatic Research Agency. This is a workaround. As long as NARA simply transmits the information without issuing warnings, we could safeguard the principle. But of course it is more important to safeguard lives than principles.

4 Comments to Sri Lanka: Bypassing the national disaster early warning center

  1. Nuwan's Gravatar Nuwan
    December 21, 2011 at 7:44 am | Permalink

    +1 The answer to by-passing is registering alerting authorities and allowing all authorities to use their own channels to alert or relay alerts to their own groups; such as the fisheries solution mentioned above; here’s a solution we proposed: http://tinyurl.com/c4jofr3 (specifically Section 3 “Dissemination Rules”)

  2. Nuwan's Gravatar Nuwan
    March 12, 2012 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

    For the archives, a documentary on the lack of early warning is Sri Lanka: http://www.trust.org/alertnet/multimedia/video-and-audio/detail.dot?mediaInode=0f9e5cda-3aeb-459d-a90f-6bbe43ed4336

  3. Girty Gamage's Gravatar Girty Gamage
    June 12, 2013 at 6:42 am | Permalink

    I am glad of the responses from you Sir, but what does it do for the poor fishermen & their families?
    Ministers as usual will either blame each other or protect each other.
    The solution will be let the early warnings come from any responsible organization, what is important is that people must be made aware & their lives & property must be protected as much as possible.

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