Expert Forum: National All Hazard Disaster Warning System

Posted on January 27, 2005  /  3 Comments

The Vanguard Foundation and LIRNEasia held an Expert Consultation, on January 26th 2005 (Crystal Room, Taj Hotel, Colombo Sri Lanka) to obtain views and ideas on a national all-hazards warning system for Sri Lanka.

Four presentations were made, providing a broad framework for discussion with participants, to provide input for a concept paper that Vanguard Foundation and LIRNEasia will produce, with recommendations for such a system. This draft concept paper will be available on the web for public comment in the first week of February.

The presentations can be viewed by following the links:

What Lessons from the 2004 Tsunami?
Dr Harsha de Silva, LIRNEasia

National Warning System Parameters
Prof. Peter Anderson, Simon Fraser University, Canada

Governance and Implementation of a National All Hazards Warning System
Malathy Knight-John, LIRNEasia/Institute of Policy Studies

The Role of the Communications Industry in a National All Hazards Warning System
Prof. Rohan Samarajiva, LIRNEasia

Dr. Catherine Hickson, Geological Survey of Canada


  1. Expert Forum

    should recomend

    an all hazards warning system to ensure that

    1) it also serves all the marginalised segments of our population: artisanal fisherfolks, those live in hills and slopes, beach boys to hotel staff, living cose to jungle areas .
    2) it creates minimum burden of the Treasury (people’s wallet ).
    3) it is sustainable under normal political changes.
    4) no incentives for creating new or fatening existing Govt structures.
    5) no incentives for the new institutional framework to interfere in areas under the purview of other agencies without clear and unequivocal acknowledgement of “Brain picking” for which Sri lankans have notrious skills but vehemently resisting when others do.
    6) private initiatives are not hampered or constrained and promoted.

  2. My responses to the issues raised by you:

    1) No doubt. I think everyone agrees that a national disaster warning system is something what we call a ‘public good’ in economics. It should serve all – whatever the cost.

    2) Agreed, as long as it agrees with rule No. 1.

    3) Agreed.

    4) Disagree. Can you give a single example in Sri Lanka or South Asia where a private entity provides a public good in a successful manner?

    5) Personally, I like the idea of any existing govt. organisation can take the ownership of the project, while they can outsource the services from the private sector, if necessary.

    6) Public private partnerships are something we all should welcome, in any area – not just in case of a Disaster Management Centre. The question is whether this country is matured enough to build effective public private partnerships. I have worked in both of these sectors and know well how one feels about the other. The private sector sees the public sector as a set of lazy, inefficient, corrupted, self centred and mentally retarded bureaucrats. On the other hand, public sector sees the private sector as a group of money crazy mudalalis who do not understand the importance of ‘working for people’. This distrust among the two sectors should be done away with before setting up any successful public private partnership. Practically what we need is a pragmatic public sector organisation(s) and socially responsible private sector organisation(s). Well, both these types are not easy to find.

    7) Here we again talk about a public sector and civil society partnership. I am not sure how far this too also work. Sarvodaya no doubt be the most suitable player from the civil society. But this is not a task Sarvodaya can take in to its hands alone. What Dr. Vinya Ariyaratne told at the conference was true. It was the civil society organisations which played a critical role in the first three days in the immediate aftermath of Tsunami. However a civil society organisation cannot compete with the govt. when delivering public goods at mass scale.

    I know none of us have pleasant feelings about the government. But in a country like ours government always plays a key role in every national level venture. (You know during the 1970-77 period even Hotel Buhari was nationalised, because govt thought it was the job of govt. to make buriyani.) Will it be practical — pl note I use the word ‘practical’ and not ‘fair’ — to take this ever important player out of the equation?

  3. Rohan and Luxman might remember that I did a ‘guesstimate’ (based on incomplete information) for the amount of money required for the reconstruction purposes. (Not the impact assessment) This was immediately after the tsunami and when the govt. was saying that the reconstruction costs would not be more than US$ 1 billion. I said it will be at least US$ 2 billion.

    The Central Bank put this figure at US$ 1.3 billion and interestingly now the donors have put it US$ 1.5 billion. I still stand by my initial figure of US$ 2 bllion.

    This came in the BBC today:

    Sri Lanka needs US$1.5 billion

    Sri Lanka will need US$1.5 billion for reconstruction as the result of December’s devastating tsunami, which killed more than 31,000 people and destroyed about 99,000 homes in the country.
    That’s one of the central findings of a preliminary damage and needs assessment report, prepared jointly by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), Japan Bank for International Cooperation(JBIC), and the World Bank.

    Earlier, the government estimated the damage to be 3.5 billion US dollars. However, there was no reference to government estimate in the report issued by the lenders.

    Focusing on the human dimensions of the tsunami tragedy which hit the impoverished coastal communities the hardest, Peter Harrold, Sri Lanka Country Director for the World Bank said “The tsunami had an impact on a large number of poor people and it is vital now that we do not rebuild that poverty. The recovery and reconstruction strategy is further challenged to be sensitive to the conflict that has plagued this country. As we rebuild we must all find ways to strengthen the peace process and bridge differences between communities.”

    “Well over 40 percent of the total damage was in the East”

    Overall, the report estimates damage in Sri Lanka totaled about US$1 billion dollars – with most of the losses in the housing, tourism, fisheries and transport sectors.

    “Vulnerable groups, such as poor fishermen living close to the shore, bore the brunt of the tsunami’s effects”, says the report.

    According to the report,”The Eastern part of the country, the population of which was already vulnerable due to civil conflict, was hit particularly hard with well over 40 percent of the total damage.”

    “About 90,000 houses destroyed during the conflict were due for reconstruction, a challenge now compounded by the tsunami. The Galle District was also very heavily impacted, and close to 30 percent of the financing needs under either definition are in the Southern Province.”

    The report estimates the damage sustained by the North to be about 20 percent of the overall affect.

    The affected provinces constitute 26 percent of the population, with disproportionate numbers of people already living below the poverty line.

    “We feel a strong commitment to ensure a rapid and effective reconstruction process,” said Shinya Ejima, Chief Representative of JBIC, Sri Lanka’s largest bilateral donor.

    “It is important that assistance be delivered to Sri Lanka in a balanced manner, driven by the needs that have been identified through consultations.”

    The report also estimates the damage done to the educational an health services in the country.

    The allocation of resources both domestic and international should be strictly guided by the identified needs and local priorities, without discrimination on the basis of political, religious, ethnic or gender considerations

    It says, “The tsunami caused US$21 million in losses to the education system, damaging 168 public schools, four universities and 18 vocational centers. Around 92 local clinics, hospitals and drug stores were either destroyed or damaged, causing disruptions to delivery of health services and patient care.”

    The three Country Directors emphasized the need for transparency.

    They say, “Nothing is more demoralising for the people in need, and those trying to help them, than to hear that funds are being siphoned off or wasted. It was therefore imperative that all key stakeholders in this: the Government, the international community, civil society and the LTTE, agree upon a transparent monitoring and accounting system for all the resources that will be deployed in the reconstruction effort.”

    They also call for new guiding principles for the process.