Environment and Politics

28 November 2018 12:00 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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Environmental Politics is a subset of National Politics. This is true for Sri Lanka as it is for other countries. Perhaps more so in Sri Lanka, because here the political sphere dominates all other spheres of activity and most often, not in a salutary fashion. Here in the environment is a mere commodity to be sold, bartered, de-valued, de-based and even de-gazzetted, as in the case of even National Parks which should remain sacrosanct as far as the government is concerned. 

The environment in question being protected forests, other forest lands and any other natural eco-system type, whether it be marshlands, mangroves or Patana grasslands that are in the custodianship of State agencies such as the Forest Department and the Department of Wildlife Conservation, and District Secretariats etc. These lands don’t belong to the Government in office, they are in State custodianship and held in trust for the people in perpetuity.

This then challenges the assumption that politicians, other policy makers at Ministry level, as well as departments and other State agencies can do as they please with these lands, without first consulting the people. Steering committees on projects where civil society organisations are represented are ineffective, if the project proponents and project implementers as well as EIA consultants are one and the same, or are hand in glove; and civil society organisations can only rubber stamp the project or step aside by way of protest. Increasingly this is the trend and there is only one word for it: corruption. The rot at the heart of government, cannot but trickle down to ministries and departments over time.

Sri Lanka needs a sea change in the way the environment is viewed. An absolute paradigm shift is needed. Once felled, many forests are gone forever as the humus layer and topsoil gets quickly washed away by monsoon rain and thereafter the degraded soil supports only grasses, sedges, invasive plants and thorny scrub. A millennia (one thousand years) may elapse before such land once again supports a closed canopy forest (provided the land is left fallow and the vegetation is allowed to regenerate following natural succession of plants) However in the new forest, the species composition will differ substantially. This is true of our dry zone, but our wet zone and montane forests, once lost will be gone forever. Severe erosion of the exposed land, the change in soil Ph values, as well as the high endemicity, scarcity and fragmentary nature of such forests make them especially vulnerable. 

An absolute paradigm shift is needed. Once felled, many forests are gone forever as the humus layer and topsoil gets quickly washed away by monsoon rain and thereafter the degraded soil supports only grasses, sedges, invasive plants and thorny scrub

With the loss of such forest cover we as a nation lose all the eco-system services they provide. These are not renewable resources; not in our lifetime or even in the lifetime of our grand children can we expect these forests to regenerate. The further loss of forest cover will adversely affect the lives of every man woman and child in this island nation. Whenever elections are held in this near anarchic country, I urge you to look at the environmental track record of the candidate and the party and vote accordingly. Do not be fooled by promises that will be made (from election platforms): those promises and pledges have been broken so many many times: meanwhile we will grow thin on a steady diet of slick slogans, specially around election time.

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