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Sri Lanka tightens building laws as monsoon rain toll tops 200

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Colombo (AFP) – Sri Lanka pledged Wednesday to tighten construction laws as the toll from heavy rains rose to 203, saying many landslide victims would have survived had their homes not been built on slopes.

The government will also prosecute anyone violating existing rules by building on landslide-prone slopes, said Disaster Management Minister Anura Yapa.

“If we don’t stop this madness, we are going to end up with a bigger disaster very soon,” he said, pledging to demolish all illegal structures including 10,000 in the capital alone.

“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.

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