|Tuesday, 20 January 2004|
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Chance for a new start
As the Memorandum of Understanding between the PA and the JVP takes effect today, the public expectation is likely to be that it would be instrumental in promoting the interests of the people. In fact, this would be the yardstick by which its value will be measured.
If public pronouncements of some top politicians attached to the alliance are anything to go by, however, the alliance could be seen as promotive of the national interest, although many a difficult challenge lies in its path.
For instance, we have the statement by JVP General Secretary Tilvin Silva that his party is willing to even dialogue with LTTE leader Prabhakaran, provided the talks are conducted within the framework of a united Sri Lanka and not a divided country.
This position should not prove problematic because the established consensus in Southern Sri Lanka is that the political solution which should be evolved to our conflict should be based on power devolution to the North-East and not on a separate state for the North-East.
The 'new terms' which the JVP General Secretary suggests should be the basis of future negotiations, need to take cognizance of this consensus if they are to prove workable.
For, the history of the conflict makes it very clear that there could be no forward movement in the peace process, unless and until the need for power devolution to the North-East is recognised and acted on.
In fact, federalism is now part and parcel of the language of conflict resolution in this country.
The new alliance's commitment to Social Democracy could also be welcomed because Sri Lanka still remains a great and formidable distance away from a participatory democracy, where the rights of the people would be fully respected and their well-being wholeheartedly and consistently promoted by the government of the day, besides the people figuring prominently in decision-making on matters affecting their interests.
We also note that little or no effort has been made to rejuvenate essential services, such as health, education, food security and housing, which impinge very closely on the common good. Under a Social Democracy, these issues will be high-up on the State's agenda.
We also welcome the alliance's commitment to an independent foreign policy because an attempt to veer away from our foundation of non-alignment, could damage our national interest considerably.
"Friendship with all and enmity towards none" was the cornerstone of our foreign policy and it would be in keeping with this time-honoured principle to steer an independent course in world affairs.
New diseases, new challenges
Most chickens are destined for the dinner table, but hundreds of thousands of the birds in Asia face an earlier exit as a dreaded bird flu spreads across the region.
Diseases caused by pathogens that deftly move from animals to humans are on the rise. AIDS, SARS, BSE and now bird flu are taking a heavy human toll as they spread globally.
Scientists are probing as to how these pathogens made the transition. The World Health Organisation (WHO) is trying to develop effective cures and vaccines.
These outbreaks prove clearly that the world is still vulnerable to new diseases in spite of vast advances in medical science and health technology which have eradicated a number of illnesses.
Modern lifestyles also play a part in the rapid worldwide transmission of these life-threatening diseases. Thanks to affordable air travel, an infected person can travel to another country in hours.
Likewise, better freezing techniques and frequent shipping links have enabled consumers to purchase meat products produced half a world away. The damage has been done by the time most countries ban meat products from disease-hit regions.
Sri Lanka has been lucky not to have been hit by SARS and bird flu so far. The authorities have taken several precautions to ensure that these afflictions are kept at bay.
Such measures must continue until the WHO sounds an all-clear regarding these deadly ailments. Our livestock must also be protected from animal diseases sweeping the world so that their transmission to humans can be prevented.
Implementing these measures is vital as any detection of the new diseases in the country will have serious implications on the economy and tourism. Last week, the Health Ministry had to issue a special statement after a Malaysian newspaper reported about a SARS-like flu spreading in Sri Lanka. It turned out to be false, but many prospective visitors abandoned their travel plans.
The international community must collectively confront these new diseases. Rich countries must help their poor cousins to tide over this difficult period. Global cooperation is the only hope for liberating humanity from these unseen purveyors of death.
Produced by Lake House