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Climate change, floods and landslides

13 May 2016 12:11 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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By Tissa Jayaweera

The shifting and unpredictable weather pattern is the most talked about topic today, especially in Sri Lanka. The Meteorology Department, National Building Research Organisation and several other associated divisions engage in constructive discourse regarding this concern. Extreme heat, heavy rain, landslides and lightning are among the main issues faced by the people. Who or what is the cause for all these changes? It is a well-known fact that the humans itself are the cause for all these transformations. However, corrective measures to address this crisis have being taken by most of the developed countries which had realized the gravity of the problem. They have understood that humans are the cause for Al Neno, depletion of Ozone.

Though pink clouds and smog were witnessed in most of the capital cities in the west during the past, they are clearly absent now. However, many non-western countries including India, China and Sri   Lanka now face a severe challenge due to the constant climatic changes.

Pollution in Colombo was to be measured and informed to the public. This no longer happens. Maybe the equipment too is not functioning. When it rains at night, a clear blue sky is seen the following morning as all polluted clouds get washed away. Recently, while I was walking along a passageway, it started to rain suddenly. As usual, everyone ran for shelter. While I too briskly marched to find some cover, I saw a vendor, who was wrapping up the fruits he had brought to sell, with a polythene sheet. Though it was a normal scenario, I thought of approaching him to inquire as to why he covered the fruits that would otherwise be exposed to the rain. My thinking was that the dust collected in the outer layers of the fruits would wash away with rain water, and hence, the fruit would later be edible.
When I questioned the vendor about his action, he then said, “The fruit would get spoiled if the acid rain touches them.”

The point is that a vendor knows the aftermath of pollution which many of us are unaware of. It is high time that legislators are made to comprehend the ground situation by walking among the public instead of moving about in luxury vehicles with tinted shutters. The western world, however, took corrective measures to combat these concerns. They took steps towards sustainable development by planting trees, controlling the emission of carbon dioxide/monoxide emitted from vehicles and minimizing the use of ozone depleting devices, as well as introducing strict laws.

In the interim, vehicle manufacturers were compelled to move into fuel efficient and electric vehicles, thereby reducing the use of fossil fuel resulting a drop in fuel consumption and prices.

China and India have gone to the extent of banning the use of vehicles on certain days to reduce pollution.

Meanwhile, Sri Lanka is yet to introduce clean air public transport, but continues to import diesel busses and trucks. Educating the public is most the important thing in the transference. In USA, most of the parks and other recreation areas have stopped permitting private vehicles to enter as a measure towards creating a green environment. In this country, belching vehicles and busses are allowed even to Yala and other animal habitats.

What have we done in Sri Lanka? The so called Paradise! Introducing a mechanism to control vehicle emission was a step in the right direction. 90% of the vehicles on the street are clear. The balance 10% is still not clean due to corruption in the system, and the non-dedication of the public. Let us be happy that there are honest citizens in the country with respect to pollution control of exhaust. Some time back, expensive machinery was imported to randomly check moving vehicles. What has happened and where has the equipment gone now?


Prominent personalities initiated several tree planting campaigns. But what has happened and where have these trees been grown? The forest cover is reducing daily. Only trees planted by President Premadasa are seen in some parts of the country. Since independence, the country is merely a ‘Bottle of Soda’ when the cap is opened. 

Fortunately, the UDA/RDA started to plant trees along the newly developed roads, but the CMC has failed to act as a curator to maintain them. They are not been fertilized to maintain growth as some leaves are yellow or the trees are stunted. Yahapalanaya is required here.

Destruction of forests is taking place to a great extent. Legislators and citizens have to only pass Timber Saw Mills to witness the majestic trees that have been felled. It is easy to notice the difference from the trunk of the downed trees if they are from Cultivated Forests or from Natural Forests.

For the law to be implemented and enforced effectively, the legislator, executive and judiciary have to collaborate. Sri Lanka Police, Department of Forrest Conservation and other related authorities have to only visit the Saw Mills and take action against them instead of checking vehicles transporting timber logs which leads to corruption. 

There is technology available to determine the life span of a tree. Of course the Judicial System of the country has to be accelerated as action taken by the authorities will drag on for years and years due to the lethargy and inefficiency of the Judiciary, resulting in the timber being lost to the country by natural causes due to rotting and no production of whatever the timber was supposed to produce.
We talk of rainfall and landslides. If the Meteorology Department takes data, the average rainfall for the country has not varied much other than for a minimal +/- year to year. Floods and landslides have augmented. What is the reason? Rainfall on land is not retained as there is less shrubs, trees and roots to reduce the flow of water downstream resulting in more water flowing from high elevation to low elevation prior to ground absorption, and finally, on to rivers thereby raising the level of water in rivers.

Landslides too are caused by rain water finding its way down at a faster rate dropping ground water absorption due to the absence of trees, resulting in the surrounding earth being washed away. During the days Ceylon was administered by the British, no deforestation was allowed over a height of 4,000 Feet if I remember correct, although they grew tea at high elevation. Sri   Lanka forgot all these environment friendly laws of the British and continued on a destructive path influenced by politicians, mostly for political and personal benefit. 30% forest cover since independence has now reduced to 19%. The result of the destruction of forest cover on mountains, wild life, fauna and flora, life and limb of innocent citizens of the country who work in estates and lives in villages at high elevation is affected. It is the general public that has to bear the cost of rebuilding and relocating these innocent people, but lives lost cannot be replaced.

If the President, Prime Minister, Legislators and those responsible take a tour by Helicopter or a Low Flying Air Craft over the hill country or use GPS technology, they will be able to note the bare mountain tops especially in Nuwara Eliya, Diyatalawa. There are many Golf Courses that have popped up at high elevation on state land. Fox Hill was a thick jungle a few years ago, it is now a race track with no trees in sight in the surrounding. Knuckles range has many areas cleared, Sinharaja has many vacant arias which was thick jungle a few years ago. All this destruction is for reasons known only by those in power. Sad but true!

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