By Sarath Wijesinghe –
Health of the Nation is in Danger
This is most worrying news in Sri Lanka on health of the citizen on the contamination of water supply of the main purifying plant in the capital of Sri Lanka. According to the disturbing news “Water Board” has dealt with the issue of contaminated water by Coca-Cola multinational giant with oil at “Ambawela” water treatment plant with a high cost and the cost of the health of hundreds of thousands of the citizens in Sri Lanka. Coca-Cola has admitted that oil leakage to the water purifying project is due to an underground leak. Contamination of water have been a direct threat to the health of the Nation already consuming contaminated food, liquids and Junk food (from the article in Daily News on 15th March 2008 by the author on junk food) which is already a threat – Most notably the future generation. Vegetables, fruits and all kinds of dry and prepared food are dangerously contaminated as a result of the errant traders who are giving priority to profits at any cost and inefficient and unconcerned officers entrusted with the regulatory process. It is good news that Coca- Cola has been fined rupees one billion for the damages caused which is grossly inadequate proportionately for the damages caused on the health of the Nation and the environment. This is not the first time Coco- Cola is fined and dealt with on same or similar offences worldwide. Coca-Cola has refused to make a statement or to go public for obvious reasons. The media in the United Kingdom accused Coca-Cola alleging water taken from “Thames River” for the production process. The media in the UK on this issue was victorious on the side of the citizen’s health setting an example to the rest of the media worldwide. It is time for our media to be proactive on such matters involving the health of the Nation which is now facing a threat with contaminated food, water, drugs and consumer items at a rapid rate. Is the fine imposed is proportionate and what are the steps taken to prevent further contaminations and whether the necessary certificates and clarifications have been taken and the standards are met. Any Cola drink need not be promoted or encouraged as it is unhealthy and expensive. We are fortunate to be in possession of “Young Coconut and Thambali” which is naturel and healthy to be promoted in place of artificial drinks. It is unfortunate our young generation has not realised the value of our natural and healthy drink proved historically as a most healthy natural and nourishing drink.
Water- life line next to air
Ocean makes up 71% of the earth surface while 29% made up of is distributed for the life of the planet which is as important as air. Safety and accountability of water are major concerns of any government giving top priority especially in countries with no or little water such as Israel which transformed a desert 70 years ago to a leader of agriculture in the world by depending and utilizing 95% of agriculture on technology. Water which is a precious natural treasure for which we are fortunate to be in possession in abundance in Sri Lanka has become a major issue due to overuse, poisoning, misuse, miss- managements, corruption, bribery, inefficiency and related factors. We waste lot of water due to mismanagement and consume contaminated water and food due weak or inactive legislation for proper control of distribution and maintenance of health. The government institutions such as Consumer Affairs Authority, Environment Protection Authority, Local bodies, Water Board, Ministry and Departments of water management, consumer organisations, and heavily internationally funded NGO’s concerned on the Human Right Situation in the counters should be the leader and defenders of the protection preservation and management of this treasure which is facing a real threat due to deforestation and unplanned development projects.
Main objects and the mandate of the Consumer Affairs Authority is to provide the consumer who is identified and defined as “Consumer” (S 75 Any actual or potential consumer of goods or services made available for a consideration by any trader or manufacturer includes any citizen) quality food, water, and consumer items of high slandered at a reasonable price for which the Authority has been armed with enormous powers. It is the duty of the Authority to protect consumer against marketing of goods or provisions of services which are hazardous to life and property of the consumer, to protect consumer against unfair practices, ensure adequate access, and to seek redress against unfair trade practices and other forms of exploitation. Water is a main consumer item and CAA has the power and mandate to deal with Coca Cola situations which is a threat to the public life, health of the present and the future generation. Conduct of the Central Environmental Authority and whether they have the necessary documentation and certificates are matters to be looked into and not discussed. Coca Cola Company too is reluctant for an open discussion and it is time for the Human Right and Public Interest litigators to take this as the Indian Bhopal case which has compensated the aggrieved citizens.
This indicates that there are many stalk holders and powerful players in the process of providing the citizen quality water and consumer items which is a basic human right. Are they performing the duty entrusted on them properly is a moot issue and it is now the time to activate on the process n the name of the future generation of our Nation.
Struggle against “Rock”
Junk Food Generation, Drug Trade, Aerated waters, Fast Food Chains are a part of world mafia backed by billions capable of buying Governments, Policy Makers, and Powerful Rulers. If the Media and the Civil Society are behind the citizen in need of help and direct, it may not be easy for the mafia to exploit to misguide and ruin the citizen. Mafia is financially powerful, legally armed with the best lawyers, and maintaining the good will and relations with the rulers – some of whom can be swayed and have control over with enormous sums of funds as happening all over the world. It is definitely hitting against a rock though rock could be smashed with dynamite coupled with patience, unity strategy and love to the mankind. It is time to press for new and stringent legislation for environmental pollution and large scale contaminations of water, soil and the natural resources. Main remedy against mafia is to educate and organize the people on/of the danger and the rights with directions and advice to be in the process of continuous pressure and demand the basic rights for which the citizens are entitled to. Organized Consumer Organizations, Media and Civil Society activism should lead the campaign against the “Rock of Mafia”
*Sarath Wijesinghe – a former Chairman of the Consumer Affairs Authority in Sri Lanka