Participatory decision-making in Sri Lanka’s wet zone
The central and southwestern region of Sri Lanka is commonly referred to as the wet zone. In Rathnapura District annual rainfall averages up to 5,000 mm. By comparison, most European cities receive less than 20% of this.
Major floods and landslides, caused by rain in September 2019 affected over 100,000 people. It’s no surprise that residents, government officials and civil society organisations in the most at-risk communities all report that floods are the biggest threat they face.
Over the last year Janathakshan (Gte) Ltd, a local civil society organisation, has collected valuable insights from communities on the threats they face, the actions that can be taken, and the barriers to change. As part of the Views from the Frontline programme, the research aims to promote inclusion and participation in disaster risk reduction activities.
Views from the Frontline participants say that awareness raising should be a priority action for dealing with floods and landslides. Lives are often lost because, although warning alarms are raised, many people choose not to leave their homes. Flood levels can often rise quickly leaving families stranded.
Following on from the research, Janathakshan has coordinated the creation of four community action plans to strengthen resilience. Seed funding provided by the project will support community engagement, training in rescue methods and the purchase and renovation of canoes used for reaching people marooned by floodwaters.
The organisation regards the programme as a model for participatory decision making. They have collaborated with four other local civil society organisations who conduct community meetings in local languages. Together they have built trust with communities, as well as closer relationships with local authorities.
Rather than summarising all responses together the initiative disaggregates the experiences of different groups. This enables rural and urban dwellers to highlight their divergent perspectives and put forward solutions; and people with disabilities or elderly people can share their unique challenges.
Janathaksha has also utilised youth clubs as a gateway to encouraging young people to get involved in local resilience-building in the dry zone of Sri Lanka. Achieving community participation is always difficult when people are just trying to get by and survive. But since the surveys they are now working alongside young people on a project to plant trees to reduce impact of drought and salinity.
Photo credit: Janathakshan (Gte) Ltd
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