A member of the Presidential Commission on the Tsunami has written an informative article on floods, dam breaches and the lack of warning about them. Twenty one years after Kantale, 2.5 years after the tsunami, 1.5 years after we handed over our extensive report on dam safety to the Disaster Management Center, more sensible writing on the subject. The analysis is done, the remedies known, now is the time for implementation.
To understand the following story better, it is useful to compare the budget for dam safety in Sri Lanka which is LKR 15 million a year or slightly over LKR 1.2 million a month with say the purchase price of a unregistered car (cannot buy one with the budget for dam safety for one month) or the cost of a MIG 27 (USD 2 million plus; or LKR 200 million plus). It will take 13 years of dam safety budgets to buy a reconditioned MIG 27.
The Irrigation Department is equipped with the expertise, they have 275 Engineers. When the reports come to Head Office the Dam Safety Unit which is chaired by the Deputy Director and a few Engineers study the repot and if the Director’s intervention is necessary for the matter, it is referred to the Director himself. The annual budget for dam safety is around Rs. 15 million.Unfortunately there is no mechanism to give early warning to people even if a dam breaches, what the Department does is to get the assistance of the Police, Army and with loud speakers mounted on vehicles tell the people.
Kantale Tank Dam episode is a case in point.
This kind of situation is highly unsatisfactory. Therefore in case of dam breach situation the Irrigation Department has no mechanism in place to give prior warning to people.
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