|Wednesday, 26 February 2003|
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Toxic wastes spectre at Port
Although it smacks of the proverbial motions of attempting to slam the barn door after the horse has bolted, quick action needs to be taken to ascertain all the facts pertaining to an incident where a vessel calling at the Colombo Port had apparently off-loaded some containers emitting injurious gases and had made a quick getaway.
A well-known environmental organisation, The Environmental Foundation Ltd, had reportedly requested the IGP to arrest the runaway ship and the general public would very likely endorse this course of action on account of the grave environmental and health hazards the country has been exposed to by the vessel's actions.
Already several residents in the neighbourhood of the Port have apparently been affected by the injurious fumes emitted by the containers. As the environmental group has suggested, besides arresting the ship at the centre of the controversy, prompt action should be taken to examine the contents of the containers. It may, perhaps, contain far more pernicious material than initially suspected. All this points to the need for a thorough investigation of the incident.
One possible line of investigation is whether this is a clear-cut case of external forces considering this country a dumping ground for material which is injurious from a health and environmental point of view. The haste with which the ship left the port after downloading its harmful cargo, seems to substantiate this line of inquiry. The excuse apparently given by the vessel for its quick getaway was a "fire" on board.
That some powerful countries and their agents treat the Third World as a veritable dumping ground for harmful substances and material which are banned in their own countries on health and environmental grounds, is no secret. Numerous ruses are adopted by the offending parties to facilitate this inhuman process and if the EFL's presuppositions are correct, the incident at the Port seems to have been a very crude attempt at treating Sri Lanka as a dumping ground for toxic substances.
However, the dumping process is also sometimes facilitated by conniving or unsuspecting groups in the target country through what seems to be perfectly regular means. This could happen in the case of some insecticides and weedicides and even medicinal drugs which are imported into the country. Not all this material has met the stringent quality and related tests of particularly the West. Instances have been numerous where material which has been found to be both harmful and obsolete in the West has found its way into countries such as ours.
The need is, therefore, great for constant vigilance on our part. Besides, our quality testing and control mechanisms need to be extra effective to prevent the down-loading of harmful substances in our ports and other points of entry to the country. Our Standards Institutions too need to be on the look-out lest our importers are hoodwinked by devious business interests abroad who seek to make a mint at the expense of our well-being.
Increasing economic interaction between countries such as ours and the world outside has brought its opportunities as well as problems. One such problem is the dumping syndrome. Goods are found to be obsolete and unusable in the West in double quick time on account of their innovativeness and scientific and technological capabilities. If they are lethal, this too is detected with the least delay.
These goods present money-hungry, unscrupulous business interests with opportunities to make a fast buck because unsuspecting Third World markets are always open unto them.
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