Kantale Dam: 19 years later

Posted on June 11, 2005  /  0 Comments

As a follow-up to the “all-hazards” approach to developing an early warning system, LIRNEasia along with Vanguard Foundation, Sri Lanka National Committee of Large Dams and ITDG are working together to produce a concept paper that would outline the contours of an early warning system for dam related hazards.

There are approximately 320 medium and large dams in Sri Lanka and around 10,000 small dams, most of which are more than 1000 years old. The consequences of a major dam failure in Sri Lanka can be devastating to life, property and the environment. This is not a theoretical possibility but something that has occurred 19 years ago in Kantale, Trincomalee district in 1986. The Kantale dam which is more than 50 feet high and 13,760 ft long, breached in the early hours of 20th April and rapidly flooded villages downstream killing 127 people and destroying property in the region of Rs 575 million.

We undertook a field trip to Kantale in the first week of June to talk to the survivors of the 1986 breach and reconstruct what happened and why so many lives were lost. We also wanted to ascertain what lessons, if any, have been learnt from the catastrophic events of 1986 and implemented. If there were to be a catastrophic dam failure in Sri Lanka today, 19 years after the Kantale breach, is there a warning system in place to detect the failure and to issue timely warnings to downstream communities? Have the downstream communities participated in evacuation drills and know what action needs to be taken when a warning is issued?

The answers to these questions have been obtained from more than a dozen camera interviews and will be presented in the concept paper on early warning system for dam related hazards in the coming weeks. Please check back for updates.

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