By Ranil Senanayake –
The malaise of ‘profits before people’ seems to be getting well established within our political class. The concerns of local scientists and concerned citizens are now treated as a criticism of government. There are incredibly stupid statements from uneducated politicians demonizing Non Government Organizations (NGO’s) without realizing that any organization not of the government, be it funeral societies, Religious groups or flower arrangers groups are all NGO’s. In the spirit of today’s politics it could be argued that politicians do not get profits, only bribes and commissions. But to us, the public, all the underhand moneymaking of these corrupt individuals is only to profit themselves. The vision (Chinthanaya) of the founding fathers of this nation, that ‘the performance of any government must be measured by the larder of the poorest of its homes’ has been transformed into subservience to the GDP and similar abstract economic measures. The advice of the Buddha that desire, fear and hate brings suffering is ignored by monks who should know better than to support a desire filled, intolerant, gambling addicted society, where amassing individual wealth is the only goal. Fear has become a staple of society, the flames fanned and maintained so that a huge security apparatus is seen to be essential to our safety. We have become the antithesis of the dhamma as propounded by the Buddha while assiduously claiming to be ‘good Buddhists’.
What has this twisted vision of ‘economic development brought us?
Let us take agriculture first; Sri Lanka’s agriculture with a history of over 2000 years of traditional and management practice is rapidly descending to a totally external energy addicted system of food production. Using the Trojan horse’ named the ‘Green Revolution’. Our farmers were encouraged to loose their traditional knowledge and rely on the heavy use fossil energy. Today, most farmers would say it is impossible to grow a crop without artificial fertilizers and agrotoxins, a view shared and promoted by the multinational corporations who sell these inputs. When we consider that the nation spends over 60 billion rupees annually in fertilizer subsidy alone, the level of addiction is obvious. The question for today’s agricultural scientists will be, ‘how can we reduce our energy addiction without loosing crop productivity?’ But, with the money for agricultural research coming from the same corporations that sell the addictive fertilizers and agrotoxins, it a question that will not be easily answered.
There is another urgent agricultural problem that needs to be resolved. The rates of renal failure, liver disease and direct poisoning keep increasing. In the global literature there is a direct link between the extensive use of agrotoxins and human health. There is an urgent need for an objective, scientific study on the rate of agrotoxin use and levels of food contamination.
The abuse of chemical fertilizers has generated another problem needing address. The increase in the levels of nitrates and nitrites in the water, the massive algal blooms and eutrophication are all consequences of the dumping of chemical fertilizers into the environment What are optimum levels of application that ensure that there is no leaching into the watertables? Why has research not been done on such important issues ?
The factors listed above lead directly to the issue of health. It is estimated that. The increase in non-communicable diseases, is estimated to affect 74 percent of the population of this country in the near future and shows how the poisoning of our bodies and the increasing levels of stress of a debtor lifestyle, effects us. While there has been a massive investment in pointless infrastructure, such as stadiums, harbours or airports there is no concomitant investment in education or public health. In a consumer driven social system ‘cure is better than prevention’ because prevention takes time and money that could be better utilized for the development economy. It is only when that person finally becomes sick, that it represents profits for the pharmaceutical and hospitalization industry and is thus deemed good for the economy.
The collapse of public health safeguards extends well beyond the quality of food and water; it extends to air quality and even noise pollution. While there are laws and safeguards established by an older order, there is no political will to ensure their enactment. How does this level of impunity affect public health?
Energy is yet another area for critical research. The growth projections drive investment in energy production. But are investments in obsolete or costly technologies, the best response? Investments in high energy demanding infrastructure should be examined under the needs of Sustainable Development.
In the rush to contract dirty coal fired power plants, no thought has been given to the melting away of our heritage in the sacred cities of Anuradapurs and Polonnaruwa through the acid rain they produce. Where are the concerned Buddhists and monks ?
The levels of energy addiction is seen in the power that the energy lobby has: On March 12 1997 the President of Sri Lanka issued a directive under emergency regulations which stated that neither the national Environmental act no.47 of 1990, the Urban Development Authority law no.41 of 1973, the Nuisance Ordinance (chapter 230), nor the Criminal Procedure Code Act no.16 of 1976 “shall be in force or effect in so far as they relate to the generation of power and energy”. Such actions flout our International obligations such as the CBD, CSD, does this mean that mean that our signing of international conventions have no value at home?
The purveyors of energy have taken great pains to subvert any reform of the entrenched beaucracy. Their concern has been to ensure profits to their established suppliers so that their ‘kickbacks’ will not be disturbed.
Sri Lanka is one of the most beautiful countries in this world. It is difficult to remain emotionless when this beauty is peeled off decade, by decade, in the name of ‘development’ and profit. Be it the forests, the rivers or the very rocks and soil, the country reels from a disappearance of its biomass and biodiversity. However to the tourist, who visits it for the first time this is not evident. They see the beauty that still lingers, and that we should earnestly endeavor to protect. The efforts of the old tourist board ideas of having ‘protected highways’ free of billboards and visual pollution, might be revisited.
But of greater concern is the food and water they consume. If some investigator who decides to do a random check of the produce reaching tourist tables brings the reality of the so-called ‘fresh’ fruits and vegetables home, it could precipitate a disaster. Much like the testing for levels of mercury in Tuna exported to Japan, where the relatively ‘clean’ fish are exported and the contaminated stock sold to the Sri Lankan consumer, a system of checking for clean fruits and vegetables for the tourist tables could be developed. Of course the Sri Lankan consumers and the tourists will be expected to eat the rejected, contaminated stock!
Of course impunity from punishment for abuse, murder and rape of tourists, is the reward for political subservience to the upper ranks of their corrupt system. Not quite the welcome mat that the glossy advertisements show.
The law of the jungle, now rules a nation that was once respected for its adherence to the rule of law. It is obvious that the only law today is make money anyway you can, but don’t get caught. If you do, just join the party and we will get you off the hook!