Flooding at Sri Lanka on 27 May

How and when is travel advisory warranted to be issued by MFA?

In a public announcement by the Sri Lanka government made on 29 May, it is said that around 557,505 People belonging to 151,392 families were affected in 15 districts in the country due to the flood situation. 177 Deaths and 109 missing reported as per the situation report issued by its disaster management centre (DMC) on 29 May, 1600hrs. 74,928 people belonging to 18,612 families were located at 366 safe locations.

On the same day, Singapore government issued a press statement to send condolences to the Sri Lanka government on the tragic loss of lives and destruction caused by heavy floods and landslides across the country. The statement also noted that the Singapore government will make a contribution of US$100,000 to kick-start the public fundraising appeal by the Singapore Red Cross to aid in Sri Lanka’s disaster relief efforts.

In light of the flooding that is taking place in Sri Lanka, a member of public, Fiona wrote in to TOC and asked how and when would travel advisory be issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA).

She wrote, “This stems from a bad experience as I am scheduled to fly to Sri Lanka tomorrow but news outlet have shown that it is quite disastrous there. However it is still deemed safe enough to fly because there is no travel advisory issued.”

She called MFA hotline to enquire about the situation and also wrote to Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan to investigate the situation further.

Below is Fiona’s letter 

“Dear Minister Vivian,

I am writing to you in the capacity of a Singaporean citizen and as a member of your constituency to seek your advice and solution on the flood and landslide situation in Sri Lanka.

I am scheduled to travel to Sri Lanka tomorrow, but I don’t think it is safe and right (as an conscious and ethical traveller) to go to Sri Lanka in this time when people are suffering.

As of today (30 May 2017), the stats on Sri Lanka’s Ministry of disaster management shows that around “575,816 people belonging to 149,678 families were affected in 15 Districts due to the flood situation. 188 Deaths and 99 missing reported as per the situation report issued by DMC on 30-05-2017 1200hrs.”

I personally believe that the unreported numbers will be higher.

I also have called the MFA hotline to seek both advice and recommendations on what I should do, but it was unhelpful, processed driven and un-empathetic to my situation.

I wonder also what is the rationale and intention behind issuing a travel advisory? Especially since I have already gotten a travel warning from Airbnb and found precedence from the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Refer: http://www.express.co.uk/travel/articles/810972/Sri-Lanka-floods-travel-advice and https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/sri-lanka

Personally, I do think that MFA should be more vigilant especially since travel occurrences are higher during this school holiday period.

Looking forward to both your advice and recommendations on what I should do next.”

She noted that she thinks this incident raises a larger issue on how and when citizens are given the right information.

She asked, “How bad must a disaster be (ie. deaths) before MFA issue a travel advisory? Or does this shows that our foreign service is not vigilant enough? It doesn’t make sense if AirBnB is sending me updates and the High Commission there knows zilch? Especially since it has been reported on the major news outlet.”

“What do you think of this or do you know anything about how and why are travel advisory issued?”

According to Fiona, the staff from MFA who picked up the hotline could not tell her anything and could only inform her to e-register with the MFA website

While Fiona is not optimistic in receiving a reply from MFA but she states that she is keen to see their replies.

Update: Fiona has received a reply from MFA

Contrast this with UK’s advisory.