|Thursday, 27 September 2001|
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Tree planting and development
Heavy but refreshing inter-monsoonal rains have at long last seen an end to one of the most severe droughts to have scorched Sri Lanka. Profoundly heartening as this change may be, troubling questions remain to be answered. One of these concerns the natural environment. What role, for instance, has the continued denudation of tree and forest cover played in the perpetration of the drought?
It is particularly pertinent to raise such issues because yesterday was World Tree Planting Day - a day of tremendous significance to not only the environmentally-sensitive sections of the public and the experts, but to the whole of society and mankind as well. This position could be taken boldly because what humanity has conceived and practised as "development" has had a considerable negative impact on our natural environment and brought upon us many of the environmental disasters we loudly lament today.
Fortunately for us in Sri Lanka, although exploitation of forest cover by parasitical interests has gone on almost unhindered over the decades, the authorities and those concerned with environmental protection do not shy away from the harsh truths pertaining to this area of concern. One of these is the stark decrease in our forest cover over the past hundred years or so. We now realise that the remaining native forest cover has to be preserved and conserved at any cost lest we invite more environmental crises.
It is now common knowledge that grave ecosystem imbalances stem from tree felling and the unconscionable exploitation of greenery and vegetation. Global warming, the hot-house effect and the endangering of the ozone layer are all interlinked with the devastation of tree and forest cover.
It augurs well for the future that these and many more environmental problems are being viewed as global challenges which call for a collective effort by the world community for their safe resolution. It is gladdening to note that environmental protection is a priority issue on the UN agenda. A favourable fallout from these developments is that humanity is making greater collective efforts towards environmental conservation.
Coincidental with these efforts at environmental protection is a changing global conceptualisation of development which facilitates rather than retards mankind's efforts at conserving what is left of nature's bounty. The new thinking on development is that it is not mere economic growth that matters but equitable and sustainable development of resources. The end of development in this perspective is not a mere accumulation of national wealth but its creation and distribution on the basis of the principles of equity and environmental safety and appropriateness. Accordingly, development plans couldn't be approved and implemented if they result in environmental degradation and social inequality.
This amounts to enshrining new development models which we in Sri Lanka should also adopt if we are to balance development with environment protection. Tree planting and reforestation are projects of obvious significance in this context and we could gain some satisfaction from the fact that this message is being beamed by the authorities to all levels of society.
However it is also crucially significant that tough law and order measures are adopted to stamp out illicit timber felling and such like excesses which gravely undermine all efforts at environment protection. Loopholes and deficiencies in law enforcement have played a significant role in timber piracy and the exploitation of natural resources, much to our detriment. These shortcomings have to be remedied if our efforts at balanced growth are to succeed.
Produced by Lake House