Oct 12, Colombo: The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Sri Lanka together with the Ministry of Irrigation and Water Resources and Disaster Management has launched the 'Support to Floods and Landslides Recovery and Resilience Building' project to assist the Government's vision of a resilient Sri Lanka in the event of a disaster.
As a part of this program to 'Build Back Better', UNDP has partnered with the National Building Research Organization to conduct a series of trainings and awareness program on Post Disaster Resilient Housing Construction.
The four layered program is designed to raise awareness on resilient housing for Government Agents, development partners and the community.
Capacitating the workmanship of the military on masonry training is one initiative under this program as they are better equipped to coordinate, manage and respond to disaster emergencies based on their previous experience during the post disaster recovery activities in Meeriyabedda and Aranayake.
Building Back Better
"I still remember the sight of an infant being carried out in a bedsheet as a house went underwater".
Duminda says the memories of the Morawakkanda landslide is still fresh on his mind. He relates how he was at a 'Management of Relief camps' training in Matara that morning when he got news of the disaster on 25 May 2017. He didn't realize that he would have to use the knowledge of his training immediately.
Duminda Vidanapathirana is the Relief Officer based at the Kotapola Divisional Secretariat, Sri Lanka. When he was posted to the divisional office, his experience to manage floods and landslides were limited. However, overtime he has learnt on the job and says that now he has a good understanding on what to do when disaster strikes.
Surviving the strong winds and rainfall
Kotapola is a small town in the Southern province of Sri Lanka surrounded by lush greenery and hills. Sadly, every time the monsoon season hits, villagers living in this flood and landslide prone area anticipate in fear and pray that this time around their simple homes which are built on the side of mountains will survive the strong winds and rainfall.
Every year heavy rainfall and high winds triggered by the Southwest monsoon cause severe floods and landslides. In 2017, 15 districts in the Southern and Western provinces of Sri Lanka were affected. The natural disaster cost the lives of over 200 people and affected over 800,000 more whilst damaging countless houses especially in the worst affected districts - Galle, Ratnapura, Kalutara, Matara, Colombo and Gampaha. Kotapola was also severely affected.
In any disaster, the relief officers, military, Police and volunteers are the first responders who are dispatched to assist victims. Possessing the right knowledge to efficiently manage and face disasters is essential. Like Duminda, relief officers are trained on first aid, lifesaving, relief management and post-disaster resettlement.
$1 in prevention saves $7 in response
Natural hazards may not be preventable, but we can help prevent the human tragedies they cause by investing in disaster preparedness and mitigation. Being prepared saves lives and saves money. In fact, 'for every dollar spent on preparedness, an average of seven dollars can be saved on disaster response and recovery.
We live in a world where weather-related disasters will only keep getting worse until concrete measures are taken in line with the Paris Agreement and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction. There is a dire need for better collaboration, cooperation and action from all stakeholders to be better prepared to face disasters.
Globally, UNDP helps build the resilience of communities and nations in line with the two agreements; the Paris Climate Agreement and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, while acting as the integrated platform to address climate action.
The NBRO in Sri Lanka also works to promote the Sendai framework – particularly on priority three to invest in disaster risk reduction for resilience.
Better prepared for the future
Under the Post Disaster Resilient Housing Construction programme conducted in five districts [Kalutara, Ratnapura, Galle, Matara, and Hambantota – which were five of the most-affected districts in the May 2017 floods and landslides], support is given through the masonry trainings that cover a wide range of topics including the importance of a strong structure, the different types of foundation and pillars to be erected depending on the chosen land, and roofing reconstruction to name a few.
The on-site training by NBRO also helps officers to see firsthand the techniques and safety mechanisms that should be in place for housing in disaster prone areas.
"Today I learnt many things that I wasn't aware of before," says Lance Corporal Wijekoon, an officer in the Engineering regiment of the Sri Lanka Army. "The lectures and practical onsite training will now help us to use these techniques and be better prepared in case of a disaster"