Colombo, May 31 – Sri Lanka will immediately begin demolishing tens of thousands of unauthorised constructions which are largely blamed for the high casualties from the latest monsoon deluge that triggered landslides and floods, the government announced Wednesday.
The cabinet of ministers decided to take immediate action against illegally put up structures, including homes, two ministers said.
Cabinet spokesman Dayasiri Jayasekera said President Maithripala Sirisena wanted nation-wide drive to remove all unauthorised structures.
Disaster Management minister Anura Priyadharshana Yapa nsaid action wil be taken to relocate those illegally occupying reservations along the banks of rivers as well as landslide prone mountain slopes.
“We are having more of these rains and the casualties are increasing because of the illegal constructions,” Yapa said. ‘If we don’t address this problem soon, we will have a bigger disaster next time.”
There were some 10,000 unlawfully put up buildings in the city of Colombo alone and many high rise buildings were also put up without proper authorisation, he said.
Yapa said the government was considering tighter laws to regulate the construction industry
“About 30 to 40 percent of this disaster is due to illegal constructions,” Yapa said.
“The local councils should never have allowed homes to be built on (landslide-prone) mountain slopes.”
More than 1,500 homes were destroyed and another 7,600 suffered structural damage in landslides triggered by heavy rain on Friday, according to the Disaster Management Centre (DMC).
As the official death toll rose to 203 with another 96 still missing, Yapa said residents in the worst-hit Ratnapura and Kalutara districts had ignored persistent warnings to evacuate.
“We have a cultural issue where people don’t accept that they are at risk,” Yapa said.
“We are also considering laws to force people to leave when evacuation warnings are issued by the DMC.”
The minister said decades of illegal construction had worsened the flooding by blocking drains and eliminating natural rainwater stores, including marshland.
More than 600,000 people remain temporarily homeless after the landslides and floods, the worst to hit the island in 14 years.
As the waters recede, hundreds of volunteers have begun work on cleaning wells to bring fresh water to survivors, officials said.
Government spokesman Rajitha Senaratne said additional medical teams were also being deployed to prevent the spread of waterborne diseases.
Foreign Minister Ravi Karunanayake said 16 countries had rushed relief supplies and medicine to assist those driven from their homes following Friday’s monsoon deluge.
“We also have a lot of enquiries from other countries and organisations wanting to know our immediate needs. We are moved by the spontaneous response,” Karunanayake told reporters.
India and Pakistan also deployed medical teams on the ground in some of the worst-hit areas, he said.
The flooding is the worst since May 2003 when 250 people were killed and 10,000 homes destroyed after a similarly powerful monsoon, officials said.
Monsoon rains last year also caused flooding and landslides, killing more than 100 people.