FECT and DS Climate Change and Hazards Portal wins ICTA’s 2019 Digital Social Impact Award

FECT team after receiving ICTA’s E-Swabhimani 2019 Digital Social Impact Award

FECT and DS Climate Change and Hazards Portal
Wins ICTA’s e-Swabhimani 2019 Digital Social Impact Award

The Federation for Environment, Climate and Technology portal – www.disaster.lk – was adjudged the winner in the Environment and Green Energy Category of the e-Swabhimani 2019 – Digital Social Impact Awards by Sri Lanka’s Information and Communication Technology Agency (ICTA). The award was presented by Prof. Rohan Samarajiva, Chairman of ICTA and Mr. Ruwan Amarasekera, Chairman of Grand Jury, e-Swabhimani 2019 at Shangri La, Colombo on the 18th October 2019.

The e-Swabhimani certificate awarded to Federation for Environment, Climate and Technology.
Prof. Rohan Samarajiva and Mr. Ruwan Amarasekera, Chairman of the Grand Jury, e-Swabhimani 2019 presenting the award to Chayana Gunathilake, Aqeel Ahamed, Dinaskar Shathiyendra, Ashara Nijamdeen and Tharani Kailaivasan.

In this portal, Hazards and Disaster information to inform disaster preparedness, early warning, resource management, climate adaptation and disaster mitigation is presented authoritatively and comprehensively.

We describe terminology in relation to natural, man-made and technological disasters such as hydro-meteorological, geophysical and infectious diseases, and man-made and technological disasters, including nuclear, climate, air pollution and mob and riots. The global doomsday clock maintained by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists is presented.

The information is targeted at resource managers, school students, the vulnerable and community groups. The portal is accessible in Sinhala, Tamil and English. We have social media and email outreach as well.

 Introductory Video

The article on e-Swabhimani awards published on the Sunday Observer of 27 October, 2019.

About Federation for Environment, Climate and Technology

Federation for Environment, Climate and Technology promotes research and its applications for societal benefit and ecological sustainability over the last two decades. Our work is oriented towards developing usable scientific and technological information that can be applied by users in diverse sectors.

Contributors

The team was advised by Dr. Lareef Zubair, Eng. Neil Devadasan, Prof. Jude Fernando, Dr. Ajith Gunaratne, Dr. P.H.D. Kusumawathie, Dr. M.T.M. Mahees, Dr. Vidhura Ralapanawe and Prof. Piyasena Wickramagamage.

The other team members are: Tuan Hadgie, Piushani Ellegala, Fathima Shakira, Shalini Somasinghe, Hiruni Himanga, Banuka Wijerathne, Rimza Zacky, Rushdha Salih, Mahasen Randiwela, Zahid Fazul, Divaskar Shayendra and Ruqsha Shameer. Early contributors were: Janan Visvanathan, Shifna Rameez, Chalani Malge, Ruchira Lokuhetti, Rasika Abeysinghe and Priyan Liyanage.

Dangerous heat stress away from the Hills of Sri Lanka since April

Heat_Index_Sri Lanka_First 6 Months_2019

 

Dangerous heat stress away from the Hills of Sri Lanka since April

The general public in Sri Lanka has been inconvenienced due to hot weather being experienced in some parts of the country to a noticeable degree in the past six months. Hot weather in Sri Lanka is increasing dangerously in 2019. We have identified the locations to be cautious of the hot weather in Sri Lanka for the first six months of 2019. The Heat Index (HI) has been calculated by using relative humidity and temperature and this is a measure of how hot it really feels on the body when relative humidity is factored with the actual air temperature.

Hot area (Heat_Index) Sri Lanka First 6 Months 2019
Monthly Average Heat Index of Sri Lanka for the First 6 Months of 2019
Heat index Description

When considering the pattern of HI in the island, Comfort Level can be recognized in the stations situated in Central Highland mainly at Nuwara-Eliya, Diyathalawa, and Kandy than sea level and intermediate zones. HI values are varying with the seasonal rainfall and environment lapse rate which are occurring with the nature of the topography and orography.

The monthly HI is varying from comfortable level to danger level for the first six months of 2019. In January to March, Caution Level can be identified in some parts of the Northern, North Central provinces and some coastal areas. Higher temperature value from April – June is responsible for increased HI values. In this period, HI values have been gone up to Danger level in some parts in Northern province and Extreme Caution Level can be identified in North Central, Eastern, and North-Western provinces and coastal areas.

Heat Index during recent decades
Monthly variation of Heat Index during recent decades

We have obtained a mean annual cycle of HI values to understand the pattern of heat index value events over the year. These annual cycles are characterized by means of monthly HI values over the period 1986 – 2016. An upward shift in the HI values is noticeable throughout the first 6 months in 2019. According to the HI chart, April to July can be acknowledged within Danger and Extreme Caution Levels while the rest of the year within Comfort and Caution Levels for the period 1986-2016.

Dealing with disasters

Dealing with disasters

Sri Lanka braces itself for yet another round of floods; the third in as many years. As floods and droughts become regular occurrences, how should the nation respond?
The impact of this year’s floods is not yet known but likely to be heavy. In May 2017 floods and landslides affected 15 of the 25 districts of Sri Lanka. The drought in 2016 and 2017 affected 1,927,069 people across 17 districts, many of them poor.
“Approximately 12 per cent of those affected were poor, nearly twice the national average of 6.7 per cent. In the case of the landslides, this is because the 11 affected Divisional Secretary (DS) Divisions tend to be poorer than the national average. Those affected by the floods overall were also disproportionately poor, with an estimated poverty rate of 8.7 per cent.” (World Bank)
If the poor are disproportionately affected by natural disasters it has a negative impact on poverty and therefore has the highest level of priority for policymakers.
Little can be done about the weather but proper risk management can minimize its impact. The Government needs to move from the unplanned and ad-hoc reaction when disaster strikes to a proactive, systematic management of risk, something that may be illustrated by the example of Chile.
The earthquake that rocked Chile in 2010, one of the largest in history that wiped out roughly 18% of the country’s GDP – a massive impact. (The impact Sri Lanka’s 2017 floods was only 0.4% of GDP.) Yet Chile demonstrated a miraculous recovery. Most countries that suffer catastrophes of that magnitude take years or even decades to recover. Chile did it quickly, how did it do so?
Several factors contributed overall to the low casualty rate and rapid recovery.
The Government had decided to priorities the role it played in managing disasters. First, in minimizing damage, because of its history with natural disasters, Chile’s Government had developed a strong building code and ensured it was properly enforced. In particular, Chile had a law that held building owners accountable for losses in a building they built for 10 years. Furthermore, while not legally required, almost all homeowners in Chile had earthquake insurance because banks required it in order to get a loan to buy a house.
Second, the disaster response had been well-planned- the number of fires after the earthquake was limited due to the immediate shut down the electricity grid and the local emergency response was very effective. The third factor was education: the overall high level of knowledge about earthquakes and tsunamis by much of the population that helped them respond more appropriately after the event.
After the disaster, any government faces the question of how reconstruction will be paid for. Did Chile wait for aid to arrive? No.
Following the quake, because of the sheer size of the disaster, Chile was compelled to increase taxes temporarily. But the policies that ensured that a large part of the homeowner market was insured paid off – it minimized the amount the Government needed to finance. Together these contained the financial ramifications from the earthquake and put Chile quickly on the road to recovery.
Although Sri Lanka never experienced anything like the devastation in Chile, natural disasters in Sri Lanka take a heavy toll on resources and people. Apart from the human cost they disrupt agricultural output (which may affect exports) and increase food inflation. The contraction of economic activity negatively impacts government revenue while simultaneously creating new budget pressures in the form of disaster relief. In the four months of 2017, the government reportedly incurred LKR 1,397 million for the provision of disaster relief (World Bank).
How can risk be managed?
Small risks may be managed by households and slightly larger ones at the level of the community but for largest risks governments have a critical role, providing an enabling environment for shared action and responsibility and channeling direct support to vulnerable people.
The problem needs to be tackled across three fronts:
1. Preventive measures that minimize the impact of disasters.
2. Early warning systems and evacuation plans that allow people to leave disaster zones to safer areas.
3. Managing the financial risks from natural disasters.

Preventive measures

1. Floodplain zoning

A flood zoning authority must be created and floodplains (the water channel, flood channel and low land susceptible to floods) must be surveyed. The survey forms the basis of establishing floodplain zones, including delineation of the areas subject to flooding and classification of land with reference to the relative risk of flood.
Specific activities and uses (settlement and economic) in designated areas should be subject to administrative permits and building/land use codes. Eg. Building and design standards must protect against inundation. Restrictions and prohibitions should be based on risk assessments.
The public should be made aware of the dangers of floods and the need to restrict use.
Information about restrictions on construction in flood areas should be easily accessible and information about risk assessments should be easily understood, for example, clear flood maps and, where appropriate, information based on geographic information systems (GIS) should be distributed. Mandatory disclosures of risk could be included for property transfer or rental in areas of risk.

2. Conservation of wetlands

Wetlands are natural sponges that trap and slowly release surface water, rain, groundwater and flood waters. They are important in both flood and drought management so as far as possible natural wetlands and retention areas in the river basin should be conserved, and where possible restored or expanded.

3. Modifying the flood flow: Engineering measures

Diversions, reservoirs, channelization (increasing the capacity of the channel), bank protection (to prevent bank erosion), dams and floodplain restoration (creating wash lands that can safely take overflows) will play a role in minimizing impact. Engineering measures must be in harmony with the landscape and nature conservation. A holistic approach covering the whole river basin is needed as localized flood protection measures can have negative effects both downstream and upstream.

Early warning systems and education

Forecasting and early warning systems should be established and guidelines issued on how populations are to act during floods.
Education on measures that can be taken at the level of individual households to either limit the damage when flooding occurs or prevent inundation is needed, eg. elevation of structures, elevated curb stones to prevent water entry from smaller events, reinforcement of foundations to avoid structural damage, moving building contents (and particularly electrical installations) above flood water levels (either temporarily or permanently), dry flood proofing to make areas below flood water levels watertight and temporary or permanent flood walls (ranging from sandbags to free-standing concrete barriers).
Forecasts and related information must be easily accessible and real-time media coverage ensured.

Managing financial risks of natural disasters

The GoSL exposure to disaster risk is through the costs of relief/recovery, reconstruction of public assets, compensation and (re)insurance schemes that provide coverage for disasters.
Several tools are available:
i. Insurance, GoSL already has some cover with the National Insurance Trust Fund but premia can be reduced through risk reduction – eg. land-use planning, flood defenses etc. which will also support private insurance, which can top-up overall compensation.
ii. Risk pooling – insurance coverage for a pool (or its full portfolio) of Government assets. Insurance arrangements that cover a broader pool of assets facing more diversified risks can have cost advantages over insuring the assets in a flood zone.
iii. Multi-country pooling (done by several Pacific, Caribbean, African nations) provide small countries with improved access to international insurance markets based on their ability to merge a set of (less) correlated risks.
iv. Catastrophe bonds: bonds where the principal or interest payments are delayed or lost to investors in the event of a disaster.
v. Contingent credit lines with multilateral development agencies can bridge short-term shortfalls.
These are some possible options, careful assessment of the relative costs and benefits of different approaches is necessary. Once zoning is complete, the Government could lead the way in the relocation of some public assets away from areas of risk.

Rethinking agricultural policy

Agriculture is being affected by social, economic and environmental pressures. Current policies which encourage domestic agriculture need to be reviewed in the light of changing the climate, society- fewer people wish to take up agriculture, labor shortages and pressures on land use.
Policies that encourage risky production choices in flood zones or increase vulnerability to droughts and floods should be avoided. Allocation of water rights should reflect sustainable use and will help mitigate the impact of droughts. The Government must understand the impact that disasters have on poverty and recognize the proper role it must play in managing these risks. Ad-hoc responses grab headlines but working strategically to minimize long-term risks-a harder and thankless task, is the way to go.
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