Jayathilaka D. M. S. C. D. M., Nalani Hennayake
Abstract: Landslides have been predominantly studied in Sri Lanka in the category of natural phenomena, highlighting geological, geomorphologic and meteorological attributes. Although improper land use practices are identified as a contributing factor for landslides, the larger political and ecological context that leads to such improper land use practices have not been, both empirically and theoretically, adequately dealt with. The objective of this study is to analyze the phenomenon of landslides as socially constructed. In order to understand landslides as socially constructed, this study focuses on the recent landslide of Elangipitiya from the political ecology approach which is presumed upon a relationship between politics and natural environment. In this study, we applied Paul Robins approach to political ecology which focuses on knowledge, power and practices as contributing elements towards environmental degradation, operating at macro to micro levels. This study reveals that land use practices in Elangipitiya have evolved from an undisturbed forest to a tea plantation and then to a colony settlement under land reforms of the modern state. Tea and rubber plantations have later been parceled out as well as encroached into resulting in more settlements in the 1960s and 1980s. With the settlements, a new road has been developed to the upper area where the current landslide has actually occurred. This is clear evidence as to how political decision making process can induce environmental changes and such politics teamed up with limited environmental knowledge and practices of the community itself have adversely affected the area. This study concludes that understanding landslides as socially constructed transcending its narrow designation as natural disasters, especially revealing the relationship between politics and environment would enlighten us, at least in reducing the impact, if not to avert such disasters.
Keywords: landslides, social construction, political ecology, environmental issues and development activities