Exactly thirteen years ago Venerable Athureliye Ratana Thera made headlines by walking up to Mavil Aru sluice gate which was closed by the LTTE in June 2006. The JHU stalwart made the bold move at a time the security forces were hesitating to venture into the area. The procession led by the Thera who was the parliamentary group leader of the JHU which had nine seats in parliament then, gave hopes to the nation that the war deadlock could be broken. Later ‘Operation watershed’ of the Sri Lanka the security forces entered the area and opened the gates.
Had the water blockage continued for many more months, some 15,000 Sinhala, Muslim and Tamil families would have got affected.
Three years before Mavil Aru, during the Norwegian sponsored peace process the Sihala Urumaya, the forerunner of the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU), walked towards Muslim village Manirasakulam where the LTTE had put up a new camp. The Muslims were protesting against the presence of the LTTE in their village. However, the UNP-led government was powerless to do anything about it. The Sihala Urumaya march in 2006 was aimed at displaying solidarity with the helpless Muslim community.
This procession which was also joined by hundreds of distraught Muslim civilians from Sivurangala and Mollipothana villages had Sihala Urumaya strongmen Thilak Karunaratne and Patali Champika Ranawaka also in attendance.
Venerable Ratana once again made headlines, this time with a death fast at the Dalada Maligawa premises demanding the removal of Minister Rishad Bathiudeen and Governors M.L.A.M. Hizbullah and Azath Salley. Venerable Thera’s fast, which followed the unholy silence by the government over the matter, has become country’s lead news. The government’s delay in questioning the three politicians over their alleged connections with the terrorists and the terror suspects, has certainly eaten into the credibility of the political leadership of the country.
The Easter Sunday attacks no doubts exposed many loopholes in the systems of Sri Lanka. What the authorities have not yet taken seriously even post-attacks is the food insecurity of Sri Lanka. With hardly any tangible move to support the paddy farmer Sri Lanka has been increasingly dependent on imported rice due to their low prices. As to how the government would feed the island nation in the case of an emergency where the ships aren’t allowed into Sri Lankan waters, is a matter of grave concern.
Even otherwise it’s no secret our rain- fed paddy farmers and northern farmers into mix agriculture remain the most vulnerable sectors of food insecurity. With the climate change triggering unpredictable weather patterns feeding agricultural lands with water is becoming a bigger challenge. With no one to fix the perennial water problem, the future of a majority of the 1.2 million farmers in the country and nearly five million of their dependents, is now poised on a precipice of uncertainty.
In addition to rehabilitating tanks and canals, the government needs to have a blueprint on how it’s going to face the effects of climate change especially in the dry zone. Implementing the proposal for the River Basin Authority (RBA) which was initially proposed by JHU Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka to control and develop the country’s 103 river basins, would be a good starting point.
The World Food Programme (WFP), in its introduction to Sri Lanka on its official web page, has the following to say. “The country is credited with considerable advancement in several development areas, including promoting universal primary education, reducing maternal and child mortality, and halving poverty levels. However, progress towards achieving food security, improved nutrition and gender equality, as well as minimizing geographic and socio-economic development disparities, has not been equally swift”
One wonders when the government is going to treat the topic of food security seriously.