Making Sri Lanka Tsunami ready

12 Jul 2010

How ready is Sri Lanka for a Tsunami? This was a key question posed to participants of the recently concluded National Workshop on Disaster Risk Assessment and Management for the Coastal Zone of Sri Lanka. Sixty professionals including experts from Australia, Germany, Indonesia, UK and Thailand participated in the four day workshop held in Kandy, Sri Lanka, between June 21-25, 2010.
The workshop included hands-on sessions on “Tsunami Risk Modeling” developed by the Australian National University. “The workshop would significantly strengthen the coastal risk assessment process in Sri Lanka that started in March 2009 and is to be completed by  mid 2011”  said Major General (Retd) Gamini Hettiarachchi Director General of the Disaster Management Centre (DMC). According to the Director General, scientifically derived risk information helps to design better preparedness and response measures to save lives and property. He also mentioned that the DMC has been working hard since 2005 to strengthen national and community disaster resilience including early warnings.  
Sri Lanka is highly vulnerable to coastal disasters such as Tsunami Storm Surges, Sea Level Rise, Coastal Erosion, Oil Spills etc.  The workshop focused on a methodology and an approach for coastal risk assessments within a multi hazard framework. “The experience of sharing and technology transfers are very important for reliable planning for coastal hazards,” highlighted Dr. Samantha Hettiarchchi, Professior of Civil Engineering at the University of Moratuwa who was instrumental in organizing the workshop as the Chair of the Indian Ocean Tsunami Warning System (IOTWS) Working Group on Risk Assessment of the Intergovernmental Coordination Group (ICG).
Prof. Janaka Wijethunga, Senior Lecturer in Coastal and Ocean Engineering at the University of Peradeniya, explained how the Sri Lanka coastal risk assessment team identified four probable tsunamigenic scenarios that could affect Sri Lanka, using mathematical simulations. According to Prof. Wijethunga Sri Lanka has one and a half hours to evacuate if a tsunami is predicted due to an earthquake in the Northern Sumatra-Andaman area (as in 2004) or near the Southern Sumatra-Andaman region. In the case of a tsunami coming from the Arakan region of Myanmar, the population, mainly in the east coast gets an evacuation time of two and a half hours. A tsunami from the Makran coast off Pakistan and Iran gives Sri Lankans on the western coast about 4 to 5 hours to evacuate.
In addition to the structural aspects of risks and vulnerabilities, the workshop also concentrated on the social dimensions of vulnerability such as coping, resisting and the ability to recover from a hazard impact. The hands-on sessions provided opportunities to study hypothetical scenarios to help better understand the concepts discussed during the theoretical sessions. The workshop was organized jointly by the DMC and the University of Moratuwa with the support of UNDP, IOTWS/ICG, UNESCO and UNESCAP.