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IRIN - Sri Lanka


Sri Lanka disaster authorities failed to issue early warnings for storm that killed 202 people

Wed, 31 May 2017 11:52:02 +0000

As floodwaters recede in Sri Lanka after monsoon rains killed at least 202 people and forced more than 80,000 from their homes, questions are being asked over the government’s failure to put in place preparedness measures that could have saved lives. The death toll could still rise after the storm lashed the country at the weekend, causing the worst flooding in 15 years. The United Nations says 96 people remain unaccounted for, and more rains are forecast for this week that could trigger additional landslides. “We seem to reinvent the wheel with every disaster,” said Mahieash Johnney, a spokesman for the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society. As the monsoon storm approached the west coast of this teardrop-shaped island nation off the southern tip of India, the Red Cross put 10 of its district branches on high alert, ensuring that staff and volunteers would be prepared to assist once the wind and rains hit. Government agencies, however, took no preemptive measures. The deployment of disaster response teams, mainly from the armed forces, came only after the floods and landslides were reported, said Pradeep Kodippilli, director for early warning at the Disaster Management Center. The DMC is the main government agency that oversees and coordinates early warnings and disaster preparedness. Yet, the agency did not broadcast any warnings before the storm arrived to communities in areas that were vulnerable to floods and landslides. Kodippilli said the DMC relies on information from by the Irrigation Department on floods and the National Building Research Organisation on landslides, but his agency received no information from either body. Nor did reports from the Meteorological Department predict the intensity of the approaching deluge, according to DMC director general G L S Senadeera. He told IRIN that, on 25 May, the DMC received forecasts for the normal amount of monsoon rain, about 150 milimetres for the following 24 hours. Instead, 550 milimeters of rain fell in some areas between 9 pm on 25 May and 5 am on 26 May. “The low pressure system just changed so suddenly, there was no time for anyone to communicate, issue warnings or effect evacuations,” he said. “It was so sudden and quick.” As the disaster unfolded, the DMC began sending out mass text messages to warn of floods in different areas. The Irrigation Department and the National Building Research Organisation also issued alerts. But no alerts were issued, and no evacuations were carried out before the storm arrived. Lacking technology Lalith Chandrapala, director general of the Meteorological Department, said the department doesn’t have Doppler radar capability, which allows for the accurate forecasting of the direction and velocity of storms. For the radar to be effective, stations would have to be located around the country. Senadeera said that Sri Lanka had only one such station, but it had broken down. The government plans to set up two stations with Japanese funding within the next two years, he said. M. Thuraisingham, director general of the Irrigation Department, said the department does not have the technology to predict flooding in most areas. Sensors that warn of rising waters have been installed on a few rivers, including two that burst their banks this week. “We have flood sensors on the rivers and that is what we use,” he told IRIN, adding that the department had been able to warn some communities downstream. That didn’t help communities upstream like Udugama, a town on the Gin Gaga River, 35 kilometres inland from the west coast. “There was no warning, it was raining during the night of the 25 and 26th and suddenly the floods came,” said Lalith Perera, at a Buddhist temple where his family had fled, because it sits on high ground. “We had to run with whatever we could grab.” At a 30 May disaster assessment meeting attended by IRIN in the southern town of Matara, Minister of Law and Order Sagala Rathnayake admitted that the government had failed to warn people before the disaster unfolded. “It is the duty of the Departments of M[...]

UPDATED: Drought may leave 80,000 Sri Lankans in need of “life-saving” food aid

Mon, 06 Mar 2017 13:03:09 +0000

Close to one million people in drought-hit Sri Lanka may be in “urgent need of food assistance” with tens of thousands needing “life-saving support”, according to a draft assessment by the government and the UN that has yet to be made public. Sri Lanka has been dealing with its worst drought in decades over the past year, and people are reaching the breaking point. In a situation report on Monday, the Disaster Management Center referred to 1.2 million people “affected” by the drought. In the draft emergency assessment, the language is much stronger. “Over 900,000 people are in urgent need of food assistance,” says the draft assessment obtained by IRIN and dated 7 March. Of those, about 80,000 people may need “urgent life-saving support”. The drought is affecting 23 of the island nation’s 25 districts, across all nine provinces. Already, many families are being forced to “eat less preferred food, limit portion sizes, reduce number of meals per day,” according to the draft report, which was produced by the government’s disaster management and relief authorities in cooperation with UN agencies, including the World Food Programme and the Food and Agriculture Organization. “Irreversible coping strategies such as taking children out of school and selling of livelihood assets could be further increased as a result of the exhausted nature of food consumption based coping strategies,” the report warns. *Sadhana Mohan, a WFP spokeswoman, cautioned that the findings presented in the draft emergency assessment are preliminary and the data has yet to be finalised, although the survey does indicate the seriousness of the situation. "We know that the drought situation is of serious concern for a significant segment of the population, which has been affected by the worst main harvest in 40 years," Mohan told IRIN. The assessment says every third household out of the affected population is struggling to access drinking water. The government announced it began delivering drinking water to 180,000 families on 2 March. Intermittent rains are expected to arrive late this month or early April, followed by the monsoon. Yet, they will not alleviate the problems faced by farmers who have lost their rice harvest to the drought. “The biggest issue we have right now is the shortfall in the rice harvest,” Disaster Management Minister Anura Priyadarshana Yapa told IRIN. “We are calculating the losses and importing stocks.” He said the government is planning an assistance package for affected farmers but didn’t provide any further details. The assessment says the government has also committed eight billion rupees (about $52 million) for a “cash for work” programme. According to the assessment, only 10 percent of farmers affected by the drought have produced seeds to sow for the next rice harvest, compared to more than 80 percent who are usually able to do so. Debt has spiked among the affected population too, with more than 60 percent saying they owe more than $1,200.   “Government of Sri Lanka should consider to negotiate with the financial institution for the possibility of interest free extensions to settle the loans,” says the draft assessment. jf/ag (TOP PHOTO: Just before the monsoon rains a young tractor owner ploughs a rice paddy field as the sun sets in Kilinochchi in 2012. CREDIT: Anomaa Rajakaruna/IRIN) *(This story has been updated to include comment from the World Food Programme) sri_lanka_drought.jpg News Environment and Disasters Food UPDATED: Drought may leave 80,000 Sri Lankans in need of “life-saving” food aid IRIN A draft emergency assessment obtained by IRIN outlines failed crops, debt and hunger Asia Sri Lanka [...]

How ready are Indian Ocean nations for the next big tsunami?

Wed, 07 Sep 2016 12:50:54 +0000

On Boxing Day 2004, a 9.2-magnitude earthquake struck off the west coast of Sumatra, triggering a tsunami with a series of waves up to 30 metres (100 feet) high that killed an estimated 230,000 people in 13 countries. Today, almost 12 years later, tens of thousands of people from Indian Ocean coastal communities will evacuate their homes in an exercise to establish how prepared the region is for the next "big one".   The two-day drill involves 24 countries, including many of those that suffered the worst devastation in 2004, and will see at least 10 of those carry out a practice evacuation totalling about 50,000 people.   The exercise and subsequent evaluation are an attempt to find out how well the regional tsunami warning system, which began operating in 2011, is working.    “In terms of scale, at least in Indonesia, this is unprecedented,” said Puji Pujiono, a disaster risk reduction advisor with the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific.   He told IRIN that 3,000 people from various Indonesian agencies are involved, and the drill is being carried out in four districts vulnerable to tsunamis.   “The exercise is meant to test the standard operating procedures and communication links at all levels of the warning chain,” said Andi Eka Sakya, director general of the Indonesian Agency for Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics, known by its Bahasa acronym BMKG.   He told IRIN the simulation would gauge whether “agencies, community organisations and citizens groups are able to work together to prepare for the evacuation after a tsunami warning is issued by national and local authorities.”   What will happen?   Today’s exercise involves a quake similar to the one in 2004, off the coast of Sumatra. Tomorrow’s will simulate a 9-magnitude earthquake in the Makran Trench in the ocean south of Iran and Pakistan, according to UNESCO, which is responsible for coordinating the tsunami warning system’s governance.   About 7,000 people will be evacuated from 14 Sri Lankan villages, while about 8,000 students will participate in simulated evacuations in Oman. In India, about 35,000 people will take part in evacuations from 350 villages over the next two days.   “Simulating tsunami waves travelling across the Indian Ocean, both exercises will be conducted in real time lasting about 12 hours,” said UNESCO.    Earlier this year, authorities had the opportunity to see the system at work after a magnitude 7.8 quake off Sumatra on 2 March set off warnings in several countries.   In Indonesia, the BMKG sent its first bulletin within five minutes, warning local and regional authorities of the temblor. Ten minutes later it followed up with a tsunami warning bulletin, which was cancelled half an hour later, according to Sakya, the agency’s director general.   That’s the way the warning system is supposed to work at an agency level. On the ground, the response was mixed, Sakya said in a May interview. In some communities the evacuation was orderly, while there was confusion and panic in others.   “Some sirens had been turned on by the local officers, but then, after misinterpreting the tsunami information, they turned them off,” he said.   Reactions in other countries from the March quake should become clearer once a survey by UNESCO’s Indian Ocean Tsunami Information Centre is completed. However, the survey is hampered by a poor response rate from the 24 countries that were asked to take part; only 14 had responded as of the end of July.   jf/ag   (PHOTO: A tsunami evacuation sign in Sri Lanka. CREDIT: Amantha Perera/IRIN) Along Sri Lanka's coast, sign boards like this direct residents to safer ground in the event of a tsunami News Aid and Policy Environment and Disasters How ready are Indian Ocean nations for the next big tsunami? Jared Ferrie IRIN Asia India Indonesia Iran Pakistan Sri Lanka Oman [...]

After devastating floods and landslides, Sri Lanka plans new building code

Thu, 26 May 2016 13:04:09 +0000

Sri Lanka will enact a new, nationwide building code to mitigate the risks of future floods after heavy rain inundated the capital city, Colombo, and triggered landslides in the mountainous central region, killing about 200 people. Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake blamed the worst of the flooding in the capital on illegal landfills and construction, which filled in marshlands and other drainage areas. Without those areas, the city was unable to absorb the heaviest rains in a quarter of a century, which struck last week and caused about $2 billion worth of damage.  In addition to protecting drainage areas, the government will ban new construction in areas susceptible to landslides. “There will be a new building code effective from June 1 (under which) environmental approval has to be obtained that the construction is not on a dangerous area,” Karunanayake told reporters in Colombo on Wednesday.  While Colombo was hardest hit in financial terms, most of those who died were from three villages about 120 kilometres northeast of the capital, in the district of Kegalle. Officials say 66 of the 101 bodies recovered were pulled from a river of mud after a hillside collapsed there, engulfing the villages.  "The sound was like a monster coming down the hill. It was evil. It was like he was eating everything in his path,” said Nimal Chandrasiri, who survived the tragedy.  At least 100 more people are still missing, but there is little hope now that any are still alive.  Jagath Mahedra, head of the Disaster Management Centre office overseeing Kegalle, said warnings had been issued about possible landslides. “The problem is that some of these hillsides are heavily populated and it is almost impossible to move them to safer areas,” he said.  Initiatives to make Colombo safer from flooding, and other areas safer from landslides, are also likely to have limited effect for those already in harm’s way, admitted Karunanayake, the finance minster.   While the new building code should prevent construction on the city’s remaining drainage areas, the government can do little about the tens of thousands of families living on those that have already been filled in. Likewise, the code will not affect existing buildings in landslide-prone areas: it will only prevent future construction in risky areas.  “Yes, we are talking about them (those already living in flood-prone areas),” he said. “But what are we going to do, are we going to break (their homes) down?”   Karunanayake said the government is drawing up plans to potentially rebuild between 23,000 and 30,000 houses that were destroyed or damaged throughout the country. He estimated the total damages from the flooding to be between $1.5 billion and $2 billion.  Some of that will be recouped through disaster insurance, which the government purchased last year. But the payment will only come to a maximum of 10 billion rupees, or about $68 million, Karunanayke said.  Those who lost family members will be eligible for a payment of 100,000 rupees (about $700), while those with damaged or destroyed properties could claim as much as 2.5 million rupees (about $17,000). ap/jf/ag sri_lanka_landslide.jpg News Environment and Disasters Cities After devastating floods and landslides, Sri Lanka plans new building code Amantha Perera IRIN COLOMBO Asia Sri Lanka [...]

The mini-tsunami

Wed, 02 Mar 2016 17:54:30 +0000

Hours after a major earthquake struck off the coast of Indonesia, hundreds of automatic monitoring stations picked up the size of the waves, as far away as Sri Lanka and Thailand. Due to the type of earthquake, none registered more than a metre.


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The tsunami that wasn't Hundreds of stations pick up ripples from the Sumatra earthquake (image) minitsunamimap Ben Parker Maps and Graphics Environment and Disasters LONDON IRIN Asia Indonesia Sri Lanka

Sent back by Australia to debt in Sri Lanka

Thu, 18 Feb 2016 12:07:36 +0000

Vaithilingam Lingarajan spent the war years plying the seas off the northern coast of Sri Lanka in his small fishing boat. It was only once the conflict ended that he decided to flee the country, making a failed bid for Australia that has left him destitute and facing possible criminal charges. Lingarajan is one of more than 1,400 asylum seekers who have returned since 2009 because Australia rejected their applications, according to the Sri Lanka’s Criminal Investigation Department. Another 4,310 Sri Lankans who did not apply for refugee status were sent back when the Australian or Sri Lankan navy intercepted their boats before reaching Australian waters. Many returnees face crippling debt after spending large sums to pay for the journey, and they can be fined 100,000 rupees ($700) for attempting to emigrate illegally. Some left Sri Lanka for economic reasons, while others, like Lingarajan, planned to claim asylum in the dangerous aftermath of the civil war. Ethnic tensions exploded in Sri Lanka in the early 1980s when the Tamil Tigers began fighting for an independent homeland for the Tamil minority, which had suffered discrimination under the Sinhalese majority. The conflict finally ended in May 2009 after the Tigers were routed from their last stronghold in Mullaittivu, where Lingarajan lives. He had managed to escape being pulled into a conflict that even spilled into ocean, where the Sea Tigers, the rebels’ marine division, staged audacious attacks on government naval vessels. But after the war, security agents began searching Tamil communities for anyone with connections to the defeated rebel group. Some people were simply questioned, while others disappeared. SEE: Sri Lanka’s torture machine continues in peacetime One visit from security officers in 2013 was enough to persuade Lingarajan to make a life-changing decision to take a boat to Australia. As a fisherman, he said he wasn’t afraid of the perilous ocean journey. The worst part came later, after the Australian coastguard intercepted the boat and sent the passengers to a processing centre on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea where he was locked up with hundreds of others. “It was terrible,” Lingarajan said. “There were people who could not think of anything other than being returned home. They were so scared, they had nightmares.” Lingarajan came back to Sri Lanka late last year and has begun fishing again, but this time as a labourer on someone else’s vessel. He sold his own boat to pay for the trip, as well as his nets and his wife’s jewellery. He gambled on being able to work in Australia and build a better life for his wife and four children. Instead, he owes the 500,000 rupees ($3,500) that he borrowed to make the trip. Australia’s campaign Australia is keen to convince others that they will meet a similar fate if they try to make the same journey. In December 2013, Australia launched Operation Sovereign Borders, intended to ensure that no one arriving in Australia by boat without a visa would be allowed to settle in the country. In Sri Lanka and other countries, newspaper advertisements and large billboards started appearing, containing messages in local languages such as: “You will not even get a chance to step on to Australia… Think twice before you waste your money. Don’t get fooled by people smugglers.” Australia also began providing assistance to Sri Lanka’s security forces, including the gift of two patrol boats in July 2014. Australia’s Minister for Immigration and Border Protection Scott Morrison “commended what he described as ‘very close cooperation’ between Australian authorities and Sri Lanka’s police and navy towards preventing illegal boats carrying asylum seekers,” according to a Sri Lankan government statement at the time. Of the 53,000 “illegal maritime arrivals” between 2009 and 2013, more than 10,000 said they were Sri Lankan citizens, accor[...]

Sri Lanka war crimes in the spotlight as UN rights chief visits

Tue, 09 Feb 2016 00:00:00 +0000

Sri Lanka's president is unlikely to cave in any time soon to pressure for international participation in a war crimes tribunal, as the United Nations rights chief urged today. But he could turn the situation to his advantage by offering up less controversial reforms to win back domestic political support and satisfy the international community. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein spoke at the end of a four-day visit to Sri Lanka, where he travelled to check on the government’s progress on implementing recommendations in his report released last September. The report documented alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity perpetrated by both the government and the rebel Tamil Tigers in the last two years of a decades-long war that ended in 2009. See: Will UN report bring justice for Sri Lanka’s war victims? It recommended a series of reforms intended to breathe life into Sri Lanka’s ailing justice sector, including the creation of a truth and reconciliation commission and an office dedicated to investigating the fate of thousands of people who disappeared during the war. More controversially, it also called for the creation of a hybrid court comprised of Sri Lankan and international officials – a suggestion that was dismissed by hardliners as well as reform-minded president Maithripala Sirisena. Zeid stuck firmly to that position in his statement today. “Sri Lanka has many excellent judges, lawyers, and law enforcement officials,” he said. “But over the years the system they depended on, and which depends on them, became highly politicised, unbalanced, unreliable.” Justice denied Many Sri Lankans agree. In fact, justice sector reform was one of Sirisena’s key campaign promises. Since he came to power in a surprise win a year ago, many in the country have lost confidence in Sirisena’s commitments to investigating abuses during the war and to promoting reconciliation between the mainly Buddhist majority ethnic Sinhalese and minority ethnic Tamils, who are mostly Hindu. See: Sri Lanka’s torture machine continues in peacetime Sirisena’s government is accused of making little progress on cases of corruption and abuse allegedly committed by members of the former government, which was led by the hawkish Rajapaksa brothers – Mahinda, the former president, and Gotabhaya, the former defence minister – who oversaw the brutal end of the war. “There is a sense that the sheen is off the government, the sense that people are beginning to lose some trust in this process,” said Alan Keenan, a Sri Lanka analyst with the International Crisis Group. Acting on some of the other recommendations in the report could be a way for Sirisena to burnish his fading reputation, Keenan told IRIN. He said the overarching goal of implementing such measures is to help “rebuild the integrity of the justice system”. That goal appeals to Sri Lankans from various ethnic and religious groups who in the 2015 elections abandoned the Rajapaksa brothers in droves. Those included minority Muslims who were targeted in a series of attacks in 2014 by mobs stirred up by Buddhist nationalist groups. At best, the government did little to protect Muslims, and some rights groups claim it provided tacit support to the nationalists. “All communities have suffered and they all have an interest in rebuilding the system,” said Keenan. Economic benefits In addition to shoring up domestic political support, enacting reforms contained in the UN report would bring economic benefits. The European Union is currently reviewing Sri Lanka’s progress on human rights with an eye to restoring access to the Generalised Scheme of Preferences, which allows imports from developing countries at preferential rates. Sri Lanka lost its privileges in 2010. Likewise, Sri Lanka is keen to have the United States return access to funding from the Mill[...]

Ex-Tamil Tigers go jobless in Sri Lanka

Mon, 18 Jan 2016 00:00:00 +0000

Almost seven years after the end of Sri Lanka's decades-long civil war, the majority of former Tamil Tiger rebels are struggling to find jobs despite billions of dollars of extra investment in their regions. Sivalingam Ruvendradass, who spent three years in a government “rehabilitation” programme, which is compulsory for former Tamil Tigers and provides them with education and vocational training, now looks back at wartime with some fondness. “Then at least I was getting something from the Tigers,” he told IRIN. Despite his training in carpentry, steady work was impossible to find when Ruvendradass returned home to Vallipuram, a village near the Tigers’ former political and administrative centre of Kilinochchi. “There are new highways, new railroads, new electricity and phone lines, but no jobs,” said the father-of-three, who makes a living by rearing chickens and doing odd jobs. Billions invested This wasn’t how it was supposed to be. The previous government under Mahinda Rajapaksa poured $3.5 billion into Northern Province alone, most of it into large infrastructure projects like roads, railways and electricity, according to the Central Bank. The spending was meant to promote reconciliation through economic development in the war-torn region. "It would show our resolve for co-existence,” said former president Rajapaksa in a 2011 speech inaugurating the construction of a new railway line to the north. “What we are attempting now is to breathe new life into the heart of the nation, to start the journey that would unite the entire nation.” Analysts say the government programmes to develop the war zone have largely failed to stimulate the job market. That’s because most of the money has gone toward infrastructure projects, while neglecting employment generation initiatives such as tax breaks to encourage factories to move into the area, and moves to boost business development like low interest loans and training. “I have always maintained that the focus needs to be on promoting private enterprises within the region – supporting small and medium entrepreneurs there (to) grow through finance, technology and market access,” said Anushka Wijesinha, chief economist at the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce. Central Bank figures show that between 2010 and 2012, when the large construction projects were at a peak in the former war zone, only 5.8 percent (24,303) of the 422,111 jobs created nationally were in Northern Province. Muttukrishna Sarvananthan, who heads the Point Pedro Institute of Development, a research institute in the northern city of Jaffna, criticised the former government for employing mostly military personnel as labour in public projects. The strategy “deprived jobs for local people, especially youths,” he said. Jobless former fighters There are around 12,000 former combatants, mostly in the Northern Province, who have been released after undergoing rehabilitation programmes, according to the Commissioner General of Rehabilitation. Only around 3,000 have gained permanent employment, most in the civil defence force under the police department.   Photo: Amantha Perera/IRIN Former Tamil Tiger Sivalingam Ruvendradass has been jobless since returning to Vallipuram after his release from a government run rehabilitation programme Two of the worst hit districts during the conflict, Mullaitivu and Kilinochchi in the Northern Province, have been plagued by high unemployment since the fighting ended in 2009. Kilinochchi suffers from the highest national unemployment rate at 7.6 percent, compared to the national average of 4.3 percent, according to national the Department of Census and Statistics. Officially, the unemployment rate is 5.3 percent in Northern Province and 4.9 percent in Eastern Province, another former Tamil Tiger heartland that is struggling to recover from the war. True unemploymen[...]

Sri Lanka’s torture machine continues in peacetime

Wed, 06 Jan 2016 00:00:00 +0000

Sri Lanka’s new government has been lauded for efforts at reconciliation after a devastating civil war. Yet, civilians are still being abducted, tortured and sexually abused by security forces, according to a report published today. The abuses carry echoes of the not-so-distant past. War erupted in the early 1980s in the island nation when the Tamil Tigers began fighting for an independent homeland for the ethnic Tamil minority, which had suffered discrimination under the Sinhalese majority. The conflict finally ended in May 2009 with the defeat of the Tamil Tigers, but by then more than 100,000 people had been killed, mostly civilians. Thousands more civilians disappeared during the war in a practice that became known as “white vanning”, because of the choice of vehicle used by the security agents. Sri Lanka’s government resisted international pressure to investigate crimes committed during the war. But the political dynamic changed a year ago when President Maithripala Sirisena took power after a closely fought election. His government has initiated programmes aimed at reconciliation, and even promised a truth commission. SEE: Will UN report bring justice for Sri Lanka war victims? The new report by the International Truth and Justice Project is based on testimonies from 20 victims who were abducted during the past year under Sirisena’s tenure. It raises questions about how sincere the government is about reconciliation, and about how much control it has over security forces. “Sadly Sri Lanka’s notorious ‘white vans' are still operating; it’s very much business as usual,” said ITJP’s executive director Yasmin Sooka in a statement. Sooka is a former member of truth commissions in South Africa and Sierra Leone, and was a legal adviser the United Nations secretary general on accountability in Sri Lanka after the war. The identities of most members of the ITJP are kept secret to allow them to work, but they include prosecutors and researchers who have worked with international war crimes tribunals. The ITJP is administered by the Foundation for Human Rights, which was set up by the South African government under the leadership of former president Nelson Mandela. Here are some key points included in the report: · All victims were Tamil and many had come home from other countries or came out of hiding in Sri Lanka, because they felt secure after the change in government. The most recent abduction was last month. · Researchers interviewed 15 men and five women in four countries. In addition to other corroborating evidence of torture, several victims had fresh wounds and two were still bleeding at the time of the interviews. · Torture occurred in well-equipped rooms and included being hung upside-down and beaten, being branded with metal rods, and asphyxiated using a plastic bag soaked with petrol or chili. Both male and female victims were raped repeatedly. · The perpetrators were members of the police and military intelligence, and some were senior officers. The torture took place in army bases in the former war zone, at Terrorism Investigation Division headquarters in the capital, Colombo, and in secret facilities throughout the country. · The abductions were pre-planned operations and the torturers had information about many of the victims' political activities, including participation in peaceful protests or elections. Several victims were accused of attempting to start up the Tamil Tigers group again. · All but one victim paid security forces for their release and escape from the country. The bribes ranged from $2,500 to $7,000 for release from detention and $17,000 to $35,000 to then be smuggled out of the country. · The report concludes that there is a well-organised "machine" within the security forces that practices torture and extortion in order to ter[...]

COP21: Sri Lanka’s $675 million plan to harness floods

Mon, 07 Dec 2015 00:00:00 +0000

As delegates in Paris search for new ways to mitigate the effects of climate change, an innovative scheme that does exactly that is in the works in Sri Lanka. Struck by a worsening cycle of floods and droughts, the Indian Ocean nation has begun planning for a $675 million project to capture heavy rainfall that can be used for irrigation in dry periods, as well as generating electricity. The project will see two new reservoirs built, and 260 kilometres of canals that link existing reservoirs upgraded, across Sri Lanka’s “dry zone”, which stretches through the north of the country. Some of the extra water will also be funnelled into existing hydropower dams to generate 250 MW of new electricity. The Asian Development Bank is providing $453 million of the financing, while the Sri Lankan government and other donors will come up with the rest. Planning began last month and the first stage of construction is scheduled to begin in February, while the government aims to complete the project by the end of 2024. It will vastly increase the amount of rainfall the country is able to retain. Most of it is now washed out to sea rather than being put to use. “The problem in Sri Lanka is that it does not have the infrastructure right now to use the rainfall effectively,” said Lance Gore, an ADB Water Resources Specialist. The project will cover an area in which about one third of the country’s 20 million people live, and will irrigate 350,000 acres of new agricultural land, according to the ADB. The bank estimates that 70 percent of the population in the region depends on agricultural for their livelihoods, while incomes in the area are 10 percent below the national average. Unless Sri Lanka adapts to climate change, the country’s poorer population will suffer even more, warned the World Bank in a 2013 report. “Disturbances to the monsoon system and rising peak temperatures put water and food resources at severe risk,” it said. Of all South Asian countries, Sri Lanka and the southern tip of India will be most affected by rising temperatures, with 20 to 30 percent of summer months experiencing “unprecedented heat”. Extremely wet monsoons usually occur once every century but are forecast now every decade, the World Bank report said. Data from the Sri Lanka Meteorological Department shows that rainfall has fallen by about seven percent in the last 50 years, while average temperatures have been rising about 0.2 Celsius per decade. In the last five years, the dry zone has suffered at least five major floods and four droughts. More than 52,000 people are currently affected by flooding in the Northern Province’s Jaffna District, while more than 320 are displaced due to the high risk of landslides in Badulla District, according to the UN's emergency coordination body, OCHA. The drier regions of the country usually receive around 1,500 millimeters of rain annually, said Lalith Chandrapala, director general of the Meteorological Department. But over the last few years, the overall volume of rainfall has decreased while the intensity has risen. “Take this year,” Chandrapala told IRIN. “We had about four months between June and October where there was hardly any rain in these parts, then in November third week, some parts got 350 millimeters of rains.” Experts like Chandrapala say that Sri Lanka needs to upgrade its reservoir system, mostly constructed in the 1980s, so it can adapt to changing rain patterns. “Now that the reservoirs are filled, we would not be able to hold the monsoon waters due later this month,” he said. “But when the drier months come, we need all the rain water we can get.” According to information provided to OCHA by the Department of Irrigation, 17 of the country’s 72 major reservoirs are currently overflowing. The reservoir s[...]