Protecting the Environment | Daily News


Protecting the Environment

A dangerous trend is being observed relating to acts that have caused great harm to the environment such as clearing of forests, encroachment on reservations, destruction of biodiversity and large-scale sand mining etc. allegedly with political backing, that if not checked could lead to a great calamity for the country's ecosystem.

We reported that vast acreages of mangroves in the biodiversity rich Puttalam District were being cleared for prawn farming by persons allegedly wielding political clout but this was stopped in the nick of time by the authorities, preventing grave environmental destruction.

The Puttalam district had even in the past been the focal point of man-made environmental disasters with its unique bio-diversity setting and lagoon surroundings always ready to be exploited by politically backed elements. Hot on the heels of the aborted prawn farm project in Puttalam, television showed an illegal sand mining operation in full swing on the riverbanks in Seruwila with even the police watching helplessly apparently due to the presence of local bigwigs.

The latest to fall victim to this scourge of environmental depredation is the Wanathavilluwa forest which habours valuable sources of timber such as ebony, teak and satin that were criminally felled - 200 acres of it - by persons obviously wielding some clout.

The Government came to power with a fund of public goodwill and great expectations that it will right the wrongs of the past. There is no doubt that the Government led by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa would accord pride of place in protecting the environment which also received wide mention in his election manifesto.

The President showed by example when he took prompt action to issue orders that the roadway being built across the Sinharaja forest should be constructed with no damage to the environment, even visiting the location where the roadway was coming up to ensure compliance. However it appears that some lesser minions are hell bent on acting contrary to his wishes at least where the protection of the environment is concerned.

The President should now read the riot act. The wanton destruction that is being caused to the environment will certainly lead the country into a great calamity making it vulnerable to a myriad of natural disasters resulting from geological imbalances.

The spate of unprecedented landslides in hitherto safe zones has been directly attributed by experts to the indiscriminate damage caused to the environment. The large number of quarries that have sprung up in certain vulnerable areas has also contributed to the increase in the risk. Last week's tremors in Kandy which left deep cracks in the walls of houses too was said to be the result of a large limestone quarry operating for a long time in the area.

The country’s forest cover which was over 40 percent 50 years ago has today shrunk to around 20 percent. This has largely contributed to the unusual climate change we are witnessing today. In the past farmers were able to predict the exact times of the seasons and arrange their harvesting accordingly. Today they cannot be so sure with the rains and droughts descending at unexpected times resulting in the destruction of their crops.

The destruction of forest cover, while distorting the climate cycle causing havoc in the weather patterns is said to be the chief cause for the prolonged spells of drought that dry up water resources and canals feeding agricultural tracts. The once gushing water spouts in the hill country and winding streams are today in a forlorn state due to the severe drought caused by the depleted forest cover.

The human-elephant conflict is a direct result of the large scale clearing of forests and with it, the elephant habitats, leaving the beasts no choice but to invade villages. Forests are being cleared for settlements to accommodate supporters of politicians. The destruction wrought on a portion of the Wilpattu jungle is a case in point.

Tough laws should be brought in to deal with those who cause damage to the environment by clearing forests and engaging in sand-mining. No room should be allowed for any hotels to be built inside jungle land. True, development needs sometimes require environment issues to be placed on the back-burner, but this cannot be an option if we are to take a long term perspective.

The Government should launch a massive programme to regain the lost forest cover. Tree planting campaigns have often not brought the desired results. Besides Tree planting campaigns should be undertaken in the actual spots where forests had been cleared rather than in schools and office premises in the cities if the ecological balance is to be righted.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa who promoted the Green City concept when he was Secretary Urban Development Ministry, no doubt, would ensure the country would go green once again by regaining its lost forest cover which will also see an end to droughts, distorted weather patterns and ecological shifts.

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