|Friday, 19 November 2004|
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Putting the people in the picture
The electoral verdict of April 2004 in Sri Lanka was that the people needed a change in the thinking of the political establishment.
This wake-up call to the rulers of those times was paralleled by a ground-breaking polls verdict in India which brought back the Congress to the helm of power in that country on the basis of the commonly-felt grievance that "development" had ignored the people.
So, there is a groundswell of popular support in this part of the world for political parties and coalitions of political parties which are identified as being true representatives of the people.
There are not many takers at the popular level for elite-based parties which only met their selfish interests in the name of "development". This was the immediate socio-political backdrop to the defeat of the UNF in April.
It is in the fitness of things, therefore, that the UPFA Government's maiden budget proposals should take on a strongly, pro-people orientation. It is not only the "politically correct" thing to do but the most morally appropriate course too, because a government exists to serve the people.
It is encouraging to note that President Kumaratunga has set this pro-people trend in motion by time and again addressing the keenly-felt needs of the people.
The latest indication of this pro-people bent was the President's observation that the lot of the people would be eased by January through a series of measures including a salary hike for public servants - which is, of course, a striking feature of the present budget-and the reduction of consumer prices.
It was no co-incidence that the President made these observations at an event which marked the progress of the 'Sanwardena Sangramaya,' Government's grand development plan, which aims primarily at grass roots prosperity and poverty alleviation at all levels of society. As could be seen, the budget too has a strong grassroots level development orientation.
While the so-called "small man" is receiving the attention of the Government through measures which would help ease the cost of living burden, rural-level development schemes are being launched with the intention of putting in place the relevant infrastructure which would facilitate rural productivity.
Besides, through an emphasis on small and medium scale industries, rural self-help and poverty alleviation are coming strongly into focus.
It could be seen, therefore, that this Government is a genuinely pro-people government. It has correctly diagnosed that what has passed off as "development" so far is mainly elite-centred affluence.
A microscopic minority has grown rich while the majority has wilted in poverty. The UPFA Government has changed this unhealthy state of things.
Flight to nowhere
A few days back in these columns, we commented on the extinction New Zealand's giant bird, the flightless Moa, mainly as a result of natural interactions. Now comes the sad news that more than 300 bird species in Asia - about 12 percent of the region's feathered species - could soon join the ranks of the dodo and the Moa.
A report released yesterday by the conservation group Birdlife International has stressed that Asia's vast ornithological diversity would take a punishing hit in the next decade if governments did not move to formally protect the habitats of the threatened species, some 100 of which are listed as critically endangered.
We are not talking centuries - these birds may have as little as 10 years left. The estimate is a 100 species or so in the next 10 years. Indonesia alone has 117 of the threatened species - the highest number of endangered birds of any country on Earth.
Asia has more than 2,293 "important bird areas", many of them of global significance. Forty-three percent of the sites are not formally protected by governments, with another 14 percent only partially protected. This is certainly bad news for the birds, which add immense variety to our biosphere.
Sri Lankan wildlife authorities should take these views and figures seriously, as we have a substantial variety of both indigenous and migrant bird species. The main reason for the rapid extinction of birds has been identified as the destruction of their forest habitats.
This is applicable to Sri Lanka as well, as the country is fast losing its forest cover. The conversion of wetlands and grasslands, air pollution, invasive species and the exotic pet trade, have also impacted bird populations across the region.
It is not too late to reverse these trends. We may still be able to save a substantial number of species if Governments make an effort to protect bird habitats.
Broadening the legal and sustainable protection of key bird habitats and getting governments, civil society, donors and the corporate sector to recognise the important bird areas are essential, according to BirdLife International.
In other words, the birds' unique value for wildlife should be recognised by local and national authorities as part of the broader social processes.
Unfortunately, it is not only birds which are under threat. A large number of species from both plant and animal kingdoms may disappear forever within the next few decades if we do not make a conscious effort to save them for the future generations. This must be a collective effort by Governments and wildlife agencies worldwide.
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