Disasters Of Environmental Neglect

Sunday Leader

American President Donald Trump’s announcement on Thursday that he will pull out his country from the Global Agreement on Climate Change will be met with nausea, disgust, despondency and also defiance by the great majority of people in America, the developed and developing worlds.

The agreement on global warming was to protect Mother Nature without which humanity will not survive. Protection of the macro environment is essential to all humans. Protection of the micro or immediate environment is vital to those living in it.

This is an opportune moment for Sri Lankans to be introspective about the care they have extended to the Sri Lankan environment. While the Donald Trump idiocy had Sri Lankans aghast, news pages that carried about Trump’s folly also had reports of around 300 Sri Lankans dying within a few days because of their callous disregard for their environment.

Cartoon from Daily Mirror

Sri Lankans have a great hubris about their environment. They go back to their religious and historical texts of how their ancients cared and protected the environment to make the nation great. But in recent times although the environmental rhetoric continues in the same vein, not much has been done to save the environment and its inhabitants.

Till about four to five decades ago laws, regulations and conventions on felling vegetation on hills or highlands, indiscriminate felling of trees, were taboo. Prevention of soil erosion was enforced by plantation authorities and open land in the countryside remained under cover of natural vegetation with no threat of occupation by illegal squatters. But with the population boom that came about from the early fifties, the homeless and landless poor have been compelled by necessity to pitch their homes on beaches, rail tracks, unoccupied private lands to mountain tops.

Very many of the Sri Lankans who met with their deaths were the poor who had little option but to put up their illegal humble homes on lands prone to landslides, inundation and other natural disasters. Environmental laws in this respect are lacking and certainly not being implemented due to a variety of causes that include politics, corruption or both.

It will be futile for the media to make proposals to alleviate these problems given the gamut of politicians, bureaucrats and experts in Pradeshiya Sabhas, Provincial Councils and Parliament – maintained at great cost to the tax payer.

The problem is that these politicians, their bureaucracies, have not moved on environmental protection for decades. In the ministerial juggernaut of 93 – 48 ministers (including the president and prime minister), 20 state ministers and 25 deputy ministers, there is not one allocated with a ministerial portfolio for the entire environment. There are some allocated subjects under esoteric names connected with the environment but surely the subject of the environment covering entire Lanka need an overall minister? (He/ She should be a sincere environmentalist and not a politician -TW)

Whatever environmental laws that exist are flouted and increasingly so among people who have no regard or respect for the law of the land. Recently we had the police chief advising his sub-ordinates ‘not to break the law but to bend it’!  Surely if the police ‘bend the law’ the people will begin twisting the law out of recognition to circumvent police machinations?

A horrendous calamity is awaiting the Sri Lankan nation. We are fast turning out to be a non-law abiding nation. The rational appears to be: breaking the law of the land is OK, if we benefit from it. The initial step in breaking of the law commences at the kindergarten level where children are taught to utter barefaced lies at school interviews to gain admission to so called big schools. The old adage of ‘honesty being the best policy’ has been forgotten. Being glib and smart to con your way through life seems to be the motto. Parents, professors and pundits of new subjects introduced into school and varsity curricular such as Public Relations and of course advertisements which bombard the people 24 X 7, all say it.

Thus laws relating school administration, university admission, sports, crime, politics, Constitution and naturally pollution of the environment are all flouted to a very great extent.

City high rises have collapsed, super highways have gone under floods, garbage heaps have buried people alive, roads have become rivers, armouries built in heavily populated areas have exploded, seas have flowed into rivers, rivers infested with crocodiles have burst their banks and crocodiles moving into human habitats feared. What more do we want?

Can existing sewers in Colombo cope with the skyscrapers that are coming up? Are these structures built according to specifications stipulated by the Colombo Municipal Council or are there such stipulations to be enforced? How many of them have fire escapes? Is the water pressure in the City’s mains sufficient to pump up to the high storied buildings that are being boasted about? Do authorities take notice of two to three storied buildings springing up overnight through slums? Are we awaiting greater disasters?

Protecting the environment is no longer an airy-fairy subject. Its neglect is killing Sri Lanka.