The melting roads in Germany say it all. Even Europe’s most technologically advanced nation was not prepared for a climate catastrophe of the magnitude of what it is experiencing right now. The heat wave has driven home a point to Europe and the rest of the world that the future buildings and infrastructure need greater emphasis on heat resistance.
The world certainly is coming to terms with the reality that extreme and unpredictable weather patterns are likely to rule the planet in the years to come. The call is for the more sustainable systems to beat the heat and other intense change in weather patterns. However, one still wonders whether even the European climate crisis will open the eyes of the myopic leaders across the globe, including those here, to the folly of building big cities sans green and the destruction of forests which they continue with on the pretext of ‘development’.
The systems that are being propagated in Sri Lanka are ones where citizenry, especially those in the periphery with sustainable lifestyles, lose their battle to the most unmaintainable structures propagated by successive governments. The over ambitious rulers and their city-based ministers feel that bulldozing villages and putting up tall buildings, instead of helping the villagers with their micro-level sustainable lifestyles, is the solution to country’s ills. Only the macro level superficial change is hailed as growth and development is tied to the number of high-rise buildings and international food chains in cities and the blue chip companies in the country.
While desert territories such as Dubai have been propagating the concept of ‘sustainable city’, but countries like Sri Lanka are out to turn our previously green districts to concrete deserts. Systems like self-sufficient villages, where sustainability of village is preserved, are treated as obsolete narratives by the modern Sri Lankan leaders.
However, what most of the politicians here are unaware of perhaps is that without their knowledge an academic team has successfully empowered a large number of villages in the districts of Anuradhapura, Moneragala, Matale, Nuwara Eliya and Matara, and ensured greater sustainability among these communities. The brainchild of Professor Diyanath Samarasinghe, the Department of Health Promotion of the Rajarata University, with its goal of endowing communities with wholesome and sustainable lifestyles, has ventured on this journey in 2004. During the past 15 years, slowly but steadily, it has been making solid progress on a path that the politicians have miserably failed. With 1,289 projects covering 337 villages, the academics of the department have made miracles in the otherwise neglected hamlets. They have trained a staggering 10,110 community members so far to make the appropriate social and environmental intervention in their respective villages to ensure greater well-being of the people.
While there is very little appreciation locally for this work it has been recognized internationally with seven foreign universities signing memoranda of understanding with the department. The School of Public Health of the University of Sydney, Australia and Faculty of Health of York University, Canada are among them. Already 138 foreign university students have received training as per the agreements.
Sri Lanka, no doubt, is indeed fortunate that it became the first South Asian country to introduce Health Promotion, which has the 1986 Ottawa Charter of Heath Promotion as its root, to a local university. It was thanks to the foresight and prudence of Prof. Diyanath Samarasinghe whose name is synonymous with country’s fight against narcotics, tobacco and alcohol, that we have got this opportunity. The Health Promotion Department of the Rajarata University and its pioneer, undoubtedly deserve more accolades, appreciation and assistance for this outstanding feat.