By Laksiri Fernando –
The X-Press Pearl, the sinking ship after fire near Colombo is the newest alarming signal in the case of Sri Lanka. There are many more similar events worldwide. Even in Iran on the south of Teheran a warship caught on fire recently creating a similar alarm. The Colombo-one undoubtedly is more environmentally hazardous. All these undoubtedly are preventable ones, if high quality standards are maintained and clear guidelines for shipping, cargo material and vessel maintenance are followed.
For shipping chemical, dangerous and potentially hazardous material from country to country or continent to continent, there should be more sterner guidelines and procedures. The local authorities also should be more responsible and careful in monitoring them. Especially when Sri Lanka intends to become a part of the Belt and Road Initiative this should be firmly kept in mind. Unnecessary and competitive greed appears to be one of the root causes of many of these disasters.
All the intermixed disasters in recent times came with the coronavirus pandemic spreading worldwide since early 2020. Now, one and a half years are gone and continuing. There were so many lessons to be learnt but most or crucial of them are ignored or not properly understood.
In facing a worldwide pandemic of this magnitude, the international and national leaders should have cooperated more in sharing information, knowledge, and research findings in detecting, preventing the spread and the ways of treating the patience. Instead, they were blaming and fighting each other on the origins and responsibility for the disasters.
There can be people who believe among these leaders, based on misunderstandings of the Malthus’ theory, that these pandemics are necessary in addition to Wars in population control. Undoubtedly, population in the world and in many countries are unbearable to our planet. However, this challenge must be faced not by considering disaster deaths as inevitable, but by taking acceptable family planning and other measures.
There are controversies over the origins of the Covid 19. The bat to human, with a possible intermediary of a pangolin, is the most popular theory. But the question is how then a bat or bats got the Covid 19? Of course, various potential viruses are there in the nature according to the experts. How come they are converted into dangerous types like Covid 19 is again the question?
Changes in the nature and, in my feeling or opinion, global warming, pollution and environmental degradation might be the reasons. If that is the case, then it is possible that Covid 19 emerging parallelly in various places. This can be the reason why since last year, several variants of Covid 19 have merged in different countries.
The invention of several vaccinations, whatever the weaknesses, within less than a year shows that the present humans have the capacity by and large to understand their challenges and resolve them, if they are guided properly. The guidance should come not only from proper political leaders, but also from good scientists themselves. However, in the case of present vaccinations, the commercial interests have become predominant suppressing or sidelining the humanitarian concerns.
It is commendable that now President Joe Biden (US) has decided to donate 20 million vaccines to poor countries in addition to sharing 60 million vaccines with other countries as previously announced. This is something that China, being a ‘socialist’ country, should have done before. Both the US and China should get together (also with other countries) to soon waver the intellectual property rights of covid vaccines, the present or the future.
It appears already that some of the present vaccines are not completely effective to some of the fast spreading and more harmful new variants, not to mention of the Indian one. It is more decent to name this varieties not by country, but by a simple code. Then they may be called Covid 19+1, +2, +3, +4 and +5 in addition to Covid-19. The dominant variant going on in Sri Lanka is still unknown, given the scientific and information lapses.
Even after so many reported deaths in Sri Lanka, a prominent academic (in medical anthropology) took her innocent students to Kanatta (Colombo cemetery) and concluded that there are less deaths in the country than in normal times! This ‘flue theory’ was advocated from the beginning even by politicians, but for academics if there are evidence against their initial hypotheses, then they should have the modesty to adjust their theories. Dogmatism and stubbornness are some obvious weaknesses of all academics, particularly in social sciences.
There are some others who are extremely puzzled about the ‘God’s indifference’ on the pandemic! One has concluded “God may be there, but he is clearly indifferent: if indifferent, he is irrelevant.” The anger is also expressed against the Church leaders, perhaps correctly. But why should ‘He’ or ‘She’ should come to the rescue of the reckless humans for their greed and overexploitation of the environment and the planet? What we may need to soon find is a vaccination or genetic mutation for human greed, anger, and violence.
Managing the pandemic undoubtedly is a difficult task in any country. However, the record of the Sri Lankan authorities cannot be considered satisfactory. They managed the first wave quite satisfactorily, but by the second wave they got into the conception that the present (distorted) economy should take priority. There were no efforts to change the course of the economy. When the third wave came about, with more virulent variants, their thinking also got infected with the virus.
The vaccination was advocated as the final solution, however without obtaining sufficient doses for the people. This is still the case. Necessary lockdowns at least locally, if not nationally, delayed or neglected for the sake of the day-to-day businesses, and the Central Bank appeared to follow the Malthus theory in advising the government. The enforcement of lockdowns, preventive restrictions and rollout of vaccinations were partial based on politics, family ties and the power of money. Influential people could have big birthday parties in rich hotels, but when a poor man looked for food for his family breaching the restrictions, he was allowed to get run down by a bus.
Of course, the free media and concerned advocates have raised these issues before the authorities and the judiciary, but the authorities themselves should play a more proactive role. There is nothing much wrong in an Army General leading the national operations against covid, but he should be humble enough to come before the people explaining all the details, day-to-day, of what they are doing and what is going on. This is what the countries like Australia do every day, federally and state-wise, giving priority to medical expert’s opinion. Some of the experts are of Sri Lankan origin.
The President himself should take much responsibility. It is a good initiative for him to ask the Provincial Governors, along with Secretaries, to implement lockdowns/restrictions and vaccination rollouts, but this could be made more formal. A governorship should not be a santhosam (benefaction). They have services to perform. The President could meet with them weekly to monitor the progress. If we had the elected Provincial Councils by this time, it could have been better although many politicians cannot be fully trusted, nationally or provincially.
Sri Lanka is fortunate to have a good political-administrative structure with Provinces, Districts and Local Governments, with the Nation as the center. Then we have a parliamentary system and an executive structure to address, not only the policies on health, but also national development, environmental protection, global warming, poverty alleviation, and proper maritime policies. However, these structures and potentials are not utilized properly. In the coming period, there should be more and more bi-partisan efforts to promote these structures and potentialities without going along in a unilinear direction or policy.
Why Not Give Sinopharm Free?
In the past decade or so, Sri Lanka has been going in the Chinese direction whoever was in the government. There is nothing particularly wrong in that, if that is properly balanced with being open to other countries like India, or the US. Sri Lanka has given much to China in terms of their Road and Belt Initiative formally and informally.
Sri Lanka has also become enormously indebted to China taking big loans both for development and political purposes. These should be moderated or cut down. On the other hand, China has been benefitted considerably because of Sri Lanka’s support and obedience in international affairs and economic alliances.
Given the ongoing pandemic, other disasters and incumbent economic difficulties, China should be more magnanimous. China should cut down interest rates or completely offset some of the debt payments. At least why cannot China immediately give 20 million Sinopharm vaccines to Sri Lanka completely free of charge? China undoubtedly can afford that.