A green Sri Lanka
was World Wetlands Day. Tomorrow, we celebrate our independence from
colonial rule. Both are significant and I believe are linked
symbiotically to our nation’s well-being and future. We got our right to
self-rule back from the British 62 years ago but with relative ease, for
we were offered it on a platter following the success of the hard-fought
Indian independence struggle.
At the time, except for a few enlightened leaders among Sinhala,
Tamil and Muslim communities, the rest chose to indulge in political
game playing which made us stay divided as a nation. Divide and rule had
served the agenda of the colonial rulers. After independence we saw the
divisions getting even wider.
That then gave birth to a majority community led nationalistic
movement where the urban elite and rural peasants, land owners and the
landless, favoured and the neglected appeared as polarized realities on
the socio-political-scape of this land. From the lack of access to
opportunities domain, it sadly extended to the racial domain as well.
This then, led to several dark and gloomy incidents and processes that
marred our post- independence history.
Care and protect biological diversity. Picture by Thilak Perera
On the other hand, we as a nation have the proud claim of King
Devanampiyatissa declaring the Mihintale Sanctuary in the third Century
B.C., the first leader in human history to have officially declared a
wildlife sanctuary. Our literature of the yore, both Sinhala and Tamil,
is filled with descriptions of the natural beauty of our land and we as
a nation took pride in its richness and sang its praises.
From the ‘Sigri kurutu gee’ to works such as Maura and Salalihini
Sandesha kaavya and Thinais in the Sangam tradition, our appreciation of
our bountiful natural heritage was documented by many. Regardless of
being owners of such heritage, having come out of colonial rule, we
continued to be a nation where hunting in our jungles and wetlands was
accepted as a fun sporting activity of the privileged.
The revival of the nationalist movement of five forces of the sanga
(clergy), veda (ayurvedic doctors), guru (teachers), govi (farmers) and
kamkaru (labour) of the 1950’s, did we see some change in attitudes
about such practices. Yet, with the uncertainly that prevailed in the
political front and the setting-in of corrupt practises, we saw illegal
logging and badly-managed clearing of forested areas, continue to take
away much of our green cover and the riches therein.
Revival in awareness
The movement for conservation against the destruction of our natural
resources saw a revival, and gave birth to a strong environmental
movement in the country only after the 60’s and 70’s.
The Wildlife and Nature Protection Society, was till then the oldest
voluntary organiztion that whispered for conservation. With the advent
of teaching of biological sciences in the universities and the
leadership provided by the likes of late Lyn de Alwis, the evergreen
Iranganie Serasinghe and university don Sarath Kotagama saw new
movements such as ‘Ruk Rakeganno’, ‘March for Conservation’, ‘Young
Zoologists Association’ and the public interest legal entity of the
‘Environmental Foundation’ come into the fold to actively engage in
sincere conservation centred activism. In the late 1970’s and the early
1980’s we saw the birth of the Coast Conservation Program and the
Central Environmental Authority.
A new revival in awareness of the need to conserve and protect our
natural resources was evident. Earlier, in spite of having some 70
statues within the judiciary system that could have dealt with various
instances of malpractises in the exploitation of natural resources, we
still witnessed their rapid diminution as a result of the weak
implementation procedures and punch-less punitive measures it all
The positive process of revival mentioned earlier, took further deep
root with inclusion of environmental studies in the school curriculum
and the introduction of many graduate and post-graduate level courses in
our universities in conservation and related areas of study. The
formation of environment and/or green brigades among schoolchildren and
programs to raise awareness on the home, school and village or urban
environments also helped to focus young minds to think green.
Policy in place
At this time when we have the twin celebration of independence and
the take off on a new development agenda for a unified Sri Lanka, the
pledge made in the Mahinda Chinthana; Vision for the Future’ policy
document to work towards making Sri Lanka green is indeed a step in the
Titled ‘Respect for fauna and flora A Green Country, a Clean
Environment’ a whole chapter is dedicated to presenting policies and
program to create an environment for sustainable development.
Furthering the program taking on the issue of garbage management
under ‘Pilisaru’ and dealing with the human-elephant conflict under ‘Gajamithuru’,
a new initiative to get Sri Lanka to be carbon neutral is proposed under
the ‘Haritha Lanka’ initiative to be implemented between 2010 - 20.
This green initiative includes “activities to protect our water
resources and catchment areas, protection of the ocean and aquatic
resources, prevention of air pollution, soil conservation, the
introduction of innovative methods for agriculture, promotion of
renewable energy sources, promote eco-friendly industries, build healthy
towns and housing schemes, develop an environmental friendly transport
system, implement waste management systems, prepare the country for
environmental change, and to promote cultural awareness and education
necessary for the above.”
It also goes on to focus on creating ‘Beautiful cities’ and ‘Green
Villages’ and watershed management under a separate programme titled
‘Girithuru Sevena’ and planting of indigenous trees under ‘Helathuru
I like many other likeminded, see the potential of the ‘Haritha
Lanka’ initiative, as a green program that can contribute not only to
making a better future for us all but to making our contribution to the
climate change problem facing humankinds’ future. It can also act as a
unifier of the many communities, focusing their hearts and minds on the
substance, feel and the benefits of sharing a sustainable future.
Like Mother Nature and her caring and protective ways, it can provide
Mother Sri Lanka and us her citizens, the tools we need for us to care
and protect each others’ ways, beliefs and lifestyles. This, we can only
attain through a concerted effort at conserving and protecting our
natural resources, biological diversity and heritage.