|Saturday, 05 June 2004|
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Protecting our patch of earth
"Wanted! Seas and Oceans - Dead or Alive?" This intriguing question is the theme of this year's World Environment Day, which falls today.
The poser is put to peoples and governments all over the world: do we want to preserve and protect our seas and oceans or do we want to ensure that the slow process of death which has gripped them - as a result of man's greed for natural resources - continues unabated?
Humanity is likely to self-righteously proclaim that destroying our precious water resources and other forms of nature's bounties, is farthest from its mind.
Ever since the launching of World Environment Day in 1972, under the aegis of the UN, and the establishment of the United Nations Environment Program, routine commitments have been made by all and sundry to environmental protection.
However, humanity cannot remain unfazed by the record of its exploitative behaviour towards natural resources which has brought upon ourselves the grave scourges of the Green House Effect, Ocean Warming, bio-degradation and the steep dwindling of the world's water resources.
It is important to remember, for instance, that land-based activities account for eighty percent of pollution in the seas and oceans.
Likewise, death and disease caused by polluted coastal waters is estimated to cost the global economy some US $ 12.8 billion annually. Besides, authorities estimate that 21 million barrels of oil run into our oceans yearly as a result of human bungling and man's callous indifference to environmental concerns.
All this adds up to an overwhelming disaster toll and a relentless process of environmental destruction. It is as if high profile events such as the Rio Conference of 1992 and the subsequent Johannesburg Conference on Sustainable Development have only produced solemn words with little effect.
The increasing environmental degradation in Sri Lanka testifies to this country's inability to deliver substantially on its environmental commitments. There are local environmental groups which are contributing sizeably to an environmental awareness among the public but, by and large, the magnitude of the problem is not being felt in the public sphere.
Despite the introduction of bio-degradable bags, for instance, polythene is being widely used and liberally dumped in public places. Timber felling and the discharge of effluents to our waterways are continuing apace.
Apparently, environmental protection is a low priority concern in this country. A huge, concerted and collective effort is needed among everyone concerned, to make World Environment Day really meaningful. Time is running out and very soon major environmental calamities may be upon us. We need to act right away to protect our patch of earth.
Protecting local industries
When the open economy was introduced more than two decades ago, local industries became one of its first casualties as a torrent of cheap imports flooded the shops. Once vibrant industries such as the local handloom sector collapsed almost overnight, leaving thousands jobless.
Many industries that barely survived are running at a loss. It is not difficult to comprehend why - locally produced goods simply could not compete with the low-priced ones.
We have paid a heavy price for neglecting local industries, especially the Small and Medium Sector enterprises, the heartbeat of rural areas.
It led to an unnecessary drain on foreign exchange for products which can be locally manufactured, the loss of employment to thousands and a negative impact on the economy. As promised in its election manifesto, the United People's Freedom Alliance Government has identified the revival of local industries as a priority.
The Labour and Foreign Employment Ministry has lost no time in announcing plans for the resuscitation of local industries, big and small. It is also exploring the possibility of establishing a high-powered inter-ministerial body named the 'Committee to Resuscitate Collapsing Industries' to oversee this process.
Apart from protecting the jobs of those currently working for local industrial concerns, the Ministry is keen to ensure that employment avenues are opened for unemployed youth, in line with the Government's plans to reduce the unemployment rate.
The Government must provide all possible concessions and incentives to local industrialists, who can make a very significant contribution to the economy. Credit at concessionary rates is a prime requirement of most industrialists.
Financial authorities and banks must examine the possibility of formulating special credit schemes for local industries. The provision of infrastructure facilities is essential. The Ministry also intends to arm local industrialists with new knowledge on their respective products and sectors.
However, local industries must strive to improve the quality of their products in a highly competitive market. Consumers have a bewildering choice and most of them feel that foreign products are vastly superior, even if they are not.
Local industries must counter this mentality with better, reliable products. Quality becomes even more important for industrialists harbouring export ambitions.
The authorities should also encourage foreign investors to form partnerships with local industries. This will pave the way for easier access to export markets, higher quality products, technology transfer, improved productivity and more jobs. Red tape and other obstacles that hinder foreign investors should be eliminated.
There should be a national policy on safeguarding and developing local industries, a vital component of the economy. Our industrialists have the potential and the courage to weather the economic storms. All they need is a helping hand.
Produced by Lake House