Colombo Telegraph

Planning For Less Hospitals

By Ranil Senanayake

Dr Ranil Senanayake

“I would like to see less hospitals, as a consequence of public health being less compromised.” What an enlightened statement! The President suggested these goals in his speech the other day in a marked contrast to those seeking to sell our well-being and our children’s well being for their greed and profit.

At a time when the very basis for life, our land and water is being negotiated away by corrupt and uncaring politicians, there must come a point when the public has to stand up and say enough! The president has stated some goals. We need less hospitals and a more healthy population. Will some of these so called ‘development projects’ help in achieving these goals? The construction of massive buildings on the reclaimed land in front of Colombo will certainly increase the air pollution being felt today. A practical experiment is to leave a mirror face up at anyplace in the house, leave it clean and check the amount of dust that settles from the air, this is what you will be breathing every day. If you place the mirror in the same place regularly and see the dust deposit increase, it means that your health and the health of your children are being compromised. If the new constructions are allowed without any limits being set on air quality , the dust settling on the mirrors will be intense ! The worse the air quality becomes the more hospitals we will need. In all the rush about EIA’s and SEIA for the Port City, there is yet no EIA on the quality of air and the impact on the population of the greater Colombo area if heavy construction is to be permitted. The population living in Colombo will be exposed to dust, PM 2.5 and atmospheric pollutants from such constructions if allowed without strict limits. Even today there is a problem with pulmonary and cardiac problems in the urban population. Unchecked seaward construction could see an exponential rise in lung and heart disease and require the construction of even more hospitals to attend to the sick. Perhaps, the ‘developers’ rushing in to profit from the construction might also build hospitals to treat the sick of Colombo to make further profit. Such a cynical approach in business is alive and well in Si Lanka, where the importers of poisons and carcinogens, pesticides and weedicides, make huge profits from investing in hospitals to further profit from the misery that they themselves have created. The ‘developers’, who seek make huge profits by compromising the health of Colombo, might also be the developers of the hospitals to further profit from the victims of their actions.

The land that we have been born in has become a land scarred by uncaring commercial enterprise that, over a few centuries, reduced the resplendent ecosystems of this country to degraded hillsides and soils. During this time of economic plunder we reduced the forest cover by over 90 % and polluted over 95% of our 103 river basins. The tragedy is that we still continue on the same path. The current move to try and invite the polluting industries of the world to come and lay waste our unpolluted lands, will compromise the future citizens of this nation. When those with political power seek to sell a future far beyond their own lifetimes, should they not consult with the youth?

In the rush to hand over our lands to ‘investors’ to construct industrial areas, there has not been one word of caution about the effects on our population. The smokestack operators pushing coal have not mentioned one word nor paid a cent of their profits to alleviate the suffering of the people that living around that power plant. A visit to the area around Norocholai and a discussion with the farmers who are loosing their livelihood and health due to the dust and fumes from the so-called ‘clean’ power plant will indicate if any of those who made a fortune buying this white elephant and supplying it with the coal, has even spent a rupee on attending to the well being of those whom they affect. This is the way with unclean businesses. They operate for their personal profit only; there is no declaration of commissions or any CSR program amongst that lot.

Given such a history of political and bureaucratic apathy and corporate greed; The public must examine why we are offering the clean lands in the south of our nation, so far unpolluted by persistent pollutants to any ‘investor’ as long as they come with some money. Does this invitation for industrialization extend to those emitting persistent pollutants that will affect our children and their children? Persistent radioactive pollutants can stay poisonous for thousands of years, persistent heavy metallic compounds for hundreds of years and persistent organic pollutants for centuries too. The use of these dangerous chemicals, although banned or the severely restricted by the international community, is still produced and used in places with loose environmental laws. The case of Persistent organic pollutants (POPs) illustrates the danger. Persistent organic pollutants are organic compounds that are resistant to environmental degradation through chemical, biological, and photolytic processes. Because of their persistence, POPs bioaccumulate with potential significant impacts on human health and the environment. The international community at the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants in 2001 discussed the effect of POPs on human and environmental health, with the intention of eliminating or severely restricting their production.

But elimination of stocks was prevented by the industries that use many POPs as pesticides, solvents, pharmaceuticals, and industrial chemicals, the industries that use them look for countries with lax environmental standards to move such industries into. As examples two chemicals with very low import volumes into Sri Lanka, which will increase with uncontrolled ‘industrialization are; Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) and its salts. These are used in the production of fluoropolymers. PFOS and related compounds are extremely persistent, bioaccumulating and biomagnifying, or Hexabromocyclododecane (HBCD) which is a brominated flame retardant primarily used in thermal insulation in the building industry. HBCD is persistent, toxic and ecotoxic, with bioaccumulative and long-range transport properties. There are hundreds of similar chemicals certain ‘industries’ will require for their business, but which could poison our soils for years to come.

Who will protect us from such an outcome? If this insane notion of inviting any type of industry regardless of their impact on our people is promoted and permitted, they might as well begin building more hospitals. The vision of the President of better “public health” for the public will be will compromised, and if the environmental regulations are ignored, the impact of these activities on the health of the people and generations to come will be severe indeed.

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