Disaster tourists, a nuisance

Island Editorial

Floods and landslides have left 193 persons dead and about 112 injured. More than 600,000 have been displaced. The situation will take a turn for the worse if rains continue with floods having weakened some river banks.

Thankfully, there has been a tremendous international response to Sri Lanka’s desperate appeal for disaster assistance. Making such heart-rending appeals to the international community is about the only thing the government is adept at. Relief operations continue apace, but much more needs to be done fast.

The disaster victims have to be compensated fast so that they will be able to rebuild their lives without delay. The government has promised to do so, but its promises are like the piecrust; they are made to be broken. Even the victims of the army’s central armoury inferno in Salawa last year have not yet received compensation though the government leaders vowed to grant them financial assistance in double quick time. The same goes for the people devastated by the Meethotamulla garbage dump tragedy. They are also crying out for compensation.

Many countries have rushed in relief materials swiftly. Indian rescue teams are in action in some disaster-hit areas much to the relief of flood and landslide victims. There have been instances where even foreigners holidaying here came forward to assist disaster victims. All these compassionate souls deserve praise. Yesterday, we front-paged a heartwarming picture of a group of foreign tourists braving the inclement weather to help remove a tree which had fallen across an upcountry railroad so that the train they were travelling in could proceed.

Sadly, while kind-hearted foreigners and fellow citizens are going out of their way to help disaster victims, some Sri Lankans, paying no heed to the suffering of those in distress and, making a public display of their insensitivity, flock in their numbers to disaster-hit areas for the fun of it. Police often try to drive them away, but in vain. Some of them even come from faraway places with their children in buses and vans! It may be recalled that police and the military, unable to control crowds, had to close roads leading to Koslanda in the aftermath of a landslide in 2014.

Today, unlike in days of yore, disasters are given live television coverage, replete with drone footage, and anyone can view them from the refuge of his or her home without venturing out. On the other hand, ‘disaster tourists’ as it were, expose themselves to danger unnecessarily and aggravate the burden of rescue workers. Rain-soaked hills and mountains in landslide-hit areas can be dangerously unstable; they can collapse burying people in their path alive. Flood waters can rise several feet high suddenly. About 20 persons are reported to have drowned while visiting the flood-hit areas just for the fun of it during the last few days. This has been the price ‘disaster tourism’ exacts.

The ‘disaster tourists’ are a nuisance to one and all. Their presence hampers rescue and relief operations. In 2004, irate tsunami survivors set upon those who rushed to the devastated littoral to see the trail of destruction left by the Boxing Day killer waves. Luckily, no such fate has so far befallen the ‘disaster tourists’ in the areas affected by floods and landslides. People must be discouraged from visiting disaster sites in the immediate aftermath or the police and the security forces personnel, who are risking their lives to help others should be authorised to round up the ‘disaster tourists’ and make them assist in relief operations.

Where is President Maithripala Sirisena’s madu walige (stingray tail used as a whip)? It may come in handy in handling insensitive ‘disaster tourists’.