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    Working towards achieving the 'Smart City Status' is vital - Secretary Defence Featured

    September 18, 2014

    "Urban Resilience is becoming an increasingly important concept in the present era"." It entails the ability of cities to prepare for, respond to and recover from natural and manmade crises with minimum damage to public safety and health, the economy and security", said Secretary, Ministry of Defence and Urban Development Gotabaya Rajapaksa addressing a workshop on 'Urban Resilience' at the Waters Edge Hotel in Battaramulla today (16th September).  Rajapaksa was the chief guest of the event.

    The workshop had been jointly organized by the United Nations Human Settlements Programme and the Urban Development Authority (UDA), and sponsored by the Australian Government.


    The welcome address was delivered by the Chairperson of the UDA  Nimal Perera while the keynote speech was conducted by the Prof. Willie Mendis.


    During his address to the distinguished participants  Rajapaksa, while appreciating UN Habitat and the UDA for their foresight and initiative in organizing the workshop, mentioned that "As it is a country currently undergoing significant urbanisation, with more than half its population likely to live in cities by the year 2020, the concept of 'Urban Resiliency' is becoming increasingly important for Sri Lanka".


    Elaborating on the initiatives by the Ministry of Defence and Urban Development aligned with the theme of urban resilience he stated that one of the main reasons for the flood hazard that affected the greater Colombo area was the filling of natural marshland and other low-lying lands that served as natural water retention and catchment areas due to increased rural migration to Colombo.


    Explaining on measures initiated via Metro Colombo Urban Development Project, he said that, the creation of new micro drainage channels throughout the city, improvements to primary and secondary canals, and the complete rehabilitation of the long neglected 'Beira Lake' at the city centre are among the core objectives of the project.


    Speaking on the visionary measures of creating a slums and shanties free Colombo, he said that, one of the foremost urban development initiatives of the Government in recent years has been the uplifting of underserved settlements through the provision of new housing. "Through the 'Relocation of Underserved Settlements Programme', these families are being given good quality housing in medium-to-high rise housing complexes located in reasonable proximity to their original dwellings", he added.


    Secretary Defence mentioned that, from the perspective of resiliency, we should not forget that most of these underserved settlements were located in low-lying areas such as the strategic reservations of the canals and railways, and they were therefore more vulnerable to flooding than the rest of the city's population.


    He further said that, "because of the haphazard nature and the unsanitary & unhygienic conditions of the slums and shanties, the people living in them were at high risk of other hazards such as fire and disease epidemics such as dengue and diarrhea". "Considering this, it should be noted that the relocation programme has greatly helped reduce the vulnerability of this population segment to such hazards, thereby improving the city's resiliency", he said.


    Paying attention to administration of garbage collection he mentioned that, a few innovative solutions, such as establishment of Environmental Protection Division within the Police to monitor the streets, this issue has largely been solved.


    Speaking on creation of leisure parks, public spaces and recreation activities Rajapaksa reiterated that, "It is vitally important from a social perspective as well as a public health perspective that good quality open spaces be available for people to exercise in and use for recreation".


    Emphasising on the development of roads and pavements in urban areas he added that, "efforts are being taken to improve the quality of the streets; the one way system in Colombo is being expanded to ease traffic flow and common conduits are being introduced for utility services along the streets while drainage facilities have also been upgraded".


    Further speaking he said that, "since the dawn of peace, the unnecessary walls in public places have been dismantled, opening up many of the city's architectural treasures and a lot of its greenery". "Projects are underway to preserve and protect the existing ecosystem in the greater Colombo area", he added.


    Elaborating on regional development  Rajapaksa said "a great deal of development has taken place in towns such as Galle, Matara, Nuwara Eliya, etc., and projects are underway in cities such as Kandy, Jaffna, Batticalao, Kurunegala, and Trincomalee".


    Finally emphasising on need of the hour, 'Smart City Concept' he said that, "this will make city life much more convenient in general, and also has a bearing on urban resiliency in that critical information about developing crises can be informed to people in real time, leading to an increase in public safety and security.


    Senior Human Settlement Officer, UN-Habitat S Popuri, Dr.Barbara Lipietz, Prof. Uthpal Sharma, National Project Manager (DRR) Indu Weerasoori, officials of the Australian High Commission, UDA officials, distinguished invitees and a large gathering were present at the occasion.(MoD/KH)

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