Preserving our forests | Daily News

Preserving our forests

The government is set to embark on a massive reforestation drive to arrest the rapid dwindling of forest cover in the country. President Maithripala Sirisena, addressing the 24th Session of the Committee on Forestry, of the Food & Agriculture Organization in Rome said his government was planning to plant five million trees by 2020 and increase forest cover to 32 percent, from the present 29.7 percent, through better practices to improve land governance as a key measure to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals target. He noted that two centuries ago more than 50 percent of the land area in Sri Lanka was covered by forests and this had dwindled by the nearly half the area over the decades. He said the government was keen to raise the forest cover and manage the forests sustainably, since they provide many socio-economic benefits, including food, energy and shelter which are basic human needs.

Of course the world has changed drastically over the past two centuries and Sri Lanka is no exception. Two centuries ago only a small fraction of the present population inhabited this land and there was no pressing demand for land. Besides, the colonial rulers, who some accuse of plundering this country of its wealth, protected the country's forest cover which is a wealth by itself. Even when the British left our shores, much of the 50 percent of the country's forest cover, mentioned by the President remained, intact. Also when they built the present rail system the British took great care not to harm the country's forests, according to some writers.

Even in the immediate post independence era, the country's rulers took great care to nurture our forests and prevent their destruction despite the various colonization schemes undertaken. Leaders such as D.S. Senanayake and Dudley Senanayake took the lead in this respect. Strict laws were enacted with a view to conserve our forests and save them from the two legged predators.

However, with the passage of time, and the increase in the population, together with the transformation of the socio-economic landscape, the demand for land space rose, which necessitated making inroads into the forests. The population boom also saw forests being cleared for human habitation. It was inevitable that our forests will be a prime casualty with the invasion of development into the rural outback.

But what is unpardonable is the callous destruction of our forest cover for failed development projects by the powers that be. We say this because over 10,000 acres of forest land was destroyed for the construction of the Mattala airport in Hambantota, leaving in its wake a trail of destruction of animal life. In an attempt at redressing the balance the then rulers commenced a campaign to plant a million trees, drafting in the schools for the project, failing to realize that planting tress elsewhere would not compensate for the lost forest cover in Hambantota which sheltered animals and contributed to the ecological well-being.

Not only that, large swaths of forest cover are still being cleared for hotel projects, now that tourism has taken on new dimensions, with tourists preferring to dwell in natural settings. This has been a phenomenon over the years with politicians permitting hoteliers and businessmen to exploit our forests to rake in the shekels. Dwindling forest cover is also the major contributor to the raging human-elephant conflict today. What alternative do these beasts have when their habitats have been encroached on by man for greed, but to invade villages?

Felling of trees in forests for timber is going on apace with the construction boom and the police have been helpless to arrest this situation since in most instances the logging has the sanction of powerful politicians. Unlike in the past, the erratic weather patterns brought about by the massive destruction of forest cover has made farmers unable to predict the onset of the seasons accurately, with this unpreparedness affecting their harvests. Gushing waterfalls and spouts in the hill country have been virtually reduced to a trickle today, impacted by the dwindling forest cover.

The President will have to contend with all these factors if his plan to increase the county's forest cover by another three percent over the next two years is to bear fruition. Nothing short of stringent laws to punish the offenders responsible for the destruction of our forests would suffice.

Shocking indeed

The readers of yesterday's newspapers no doubt would have reacted with shock and revulsion to learn that a school principal, no less, had molested one of his female pupils. According to the story, the principal had visited the girl's home several times and had also been in constant contact with her over the telephone. An aunt who had accidentally visited the home had caught the principal in the act.

One often read of school teachers sexually abusing their charges. But this is perhaps the first occasion that a principal had gotten himself into hot water. In another news item it was reported that a security guard of a school in Kuliyapitiya was caught selling drugs to outsiders, during school hours. Which begs the question as to where our schools, and more importantly, this country is heading towards.


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