By Tisaranee Gunasekara –
“The Nazi leaders….treated Germany like a conquered land, a colony to be used and abused without consideration, to be exploited to the full, and its national spirit, happiness and wellbeing to be sedulously ignored” – Sebastian Haffner (Germany: Jekyll & Hyde)
Every year, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) releases a chart revealing the sulphur-content in the fuel used by different countries. Until 2012, the sulphur-content in the diesel used in Sri Lanka was 500ppm (parts per million)[i]. In 2013, the sulphur-content in Lankan diesel shot up astronomically, beyond 2000ppm[ii]. Thanks to this colossal increase (more than 300%) in just one year, our island-home has joined the category of countries with highest levels of sulphur in their fuel[iii].
According to a 2008 UNEP study, people with asthma and lung/heart disease, children and the elderly are particularly vulnerable to emissions from high-sulphur fuels. These emissions are also carcinogenic and visibility-impairing. They cause acid rain, forest/crop damages and soil-acidification and accelerate the decay of building materials and even vehicles[iv].
Toxic air does not abide by man-made boundaries. The sudden mountainous hike in the sulphur-content in our diesel should be a matter of utmost concern to all Lankans. How did this colossal hike occur? From where did we get these contaminated fuel-consignments? Did the cabinet approve them knowingly?
The CPC is claiming that it will import fuel with a sulphur-content of 500ppm in 2014. Given the ever-growing gulf between Rajapaksa reality and really existing reality, can those promises be trusted?
This is not the only polluted summit we reached in 2012/2013; “Sri Lanka is the highest user of agro-chemicals in the world”, according to Prof. Shanthi Mendis, Non-communicable Diseases Director of the WHO[v]. Quoting a WHO/UN internal report, The Island reveals that Sri Lanka leads the world in overall agrochemical usage in 2012/2013 (471 units per hectare). Sri Lanka also leads the global-pack in the use of pesticides (187 units per hectare). We are currently in the 8th place in fertilizer usage (284 units per hectare).
According to Dr. Navin de Soysa, General Committee member of the GMOA, “The GMOA had learnt from a reliable source that some officials employed in the Agricultural Ministry were also doing part-time jobs in agro-chemical importing companies”[vi]. Are the authorities aware of this toxic situation? Are there any connections between powers-that-be and companies importing agro-chemicals?
From contaminated diesel and contaminated food to contaminated water; according to the Daily Mirror, a problem has risen about the quality of calcium hypochlorite (Lime), the chemical used to purify drinking water. The report quotes an anonymous ‘senior technical source’ at the Ambatale water-purification plant: “The minimum level of Calcium Carbonate is 80% for the full purification of water but we have detected that the level of the stock of Lime supplied recently had only 76% of Calcium Carbonate which means it is possible that the water may not have been purified to the accepted level”[vii]. The Additional Manager of the Water Supply Project admitted that one consignment imported from China was ‘greenish instead of pure white and the concentration of calcium carbonate…was only 76%’ but insisted that the questionable stock was not distributed.
Is that the truth or a convenient cover-up? Given the way the regime seems to be meddling with key economic statistics, can quality-tests conducted by government institutions be trusted?
The Rajapaksas are getting away with these criminal malpractices not just because the Opposition is weak but also because we, the people, are failing to think and act like citizens. After all, when the air we breathe, the food we eat and the water we drink are contaminated, our health and wellbeing are directly affected. These are not mere esoterica or even matters of abstract principles but concerns which are of personal and immediate relevance to all Lankans living in Sri Lanka.
With our health and wellbeing at stake, why do we stay silent and inactive?
Commenting on the mass psychology which enabled Nazism, Sebastian Haffner said that most Germans suffered from the “lack of gift of seeing simple things simply and of believing their eyes”.
Do we share this affliction?
Are we failing to see the obvious truth about Rajapaksa governance for the same reason we failed to look through those outlandish Rajapaksa lies about ‘Humanitarian Operations’ and ‘Welfare Villages’.
The Fourth Eelam War was unavoidable because of the nature of the LTTE. Had the Tigers wanted to prevent a new war they would not have engineered the defeat of Ranil Wickremesinghe. The war was unavoidable and a Tiger victory would have been disastrous even from the point of Lankan Tamils (Incidentally, how many of those Diaspora-hardliners who pontificate from the safety of their Western homes offered to share the fate of the LTTE or ordinary Lankan Tamils during the war? How many of them sent their underage children to fight at the side of child-conscripts? How many would have relocated to Eelam, had the Tigers won?)
What was unnecessary and dangerous was the unquestioning acceptance of the Rajapaksa lies about the war.
When you accept that a brutal war can be waged without causing a single civilian casualty, you embrace limitless gullibility as a virtue.
By ceding to the Rajapaksas the power of infallibility, we became accustomed to blindness and deafness, to unquestionable acceptance and uncritical support, to faith sans commonsense and obedience sans foresight.
Today we ignore the mushrooming of new ethno-religious flash-points, the geometric increases in pollution levels and debt levels, child rape and custodial murder. We (especially the educated, and supposedly cosmopolitan, middle/upper classes) opt to suspend our natural intelligence and critical faculties, ignore societal malaises and economic brutalities, and gawp, like so many simpletons, at the neat parks and orderly walkways, the high-rises, the highways and other super-expensive physical infrastructure projects.
Even when we are made aware of the repercussions of Familial Rule, we cling to the inane belief that only the ethno-religious, political or socio-economic ‘Other’ can be affected.
As Tagore warned, “Even the monarch cannot afford to set fire to the cottage of the lowliest of his subjects, lest the flames should be blown palacewards”[viii].
Just two minutes before 2014 dawned, the VIP platform at Colombo Hilton’s New Year bash collapsed, injuring dozens[ix]. A Presidential offspring was among the revellers at this extravaganza, named ‘Wonderland’[x] and organised by ‘Cantaloupe Playground’[xi] a subsidiary of ‘The Kingdom of Cantaloupe’[xii].
This is a disaster unprecedented in the history of New Year celebrations in Colombo hotels. The bombastic creation and spontaneous deconstruction of this faux ‘Wonderland’ are symbolic and symbiotic of the Rajapaksa ethos of criminal negligence of quality and suicidal indifference to consequences.
A participant complained online that the Hilton staff did nothing to help the injured revellers[xiii]. Helping even a stranger used to be a Lankan characteristic. Not anymore. During the last stages of the war, pitilessness towards the ‘inimical Other’ was turned into a patriotic virtue by the Rajapaksas. For the minor employees of Hilton[xiv], those young revellers capable of spending Rs.13,000/- for a VIP ticket would have seemed alien, perhaps inimical, and thus – as per the dominant Rajapaksa ethos – undeserving of even ordinary kindness.
[vii] Daily Mirror – 23.12.2013
[viii] Greater India
[xiv] Some of whom may become jobless soon, since the hotel is supposed to close for a major refurbishment.