While the two major alliances are campaigning vigorously, though largely without violence, for the General Elections, President Maithripala Sirisena – touching the dimensions of statesmanship – is taking action to solve the grave problems of the people. The President, who says he remains neutral and impartial in the campaign, met foreign envoys and representatives of world and regional organisations to seek immediate assistance to overcome the kidney epidemic.
According to the President, about 40,000 people in several provinces have been crippled by this killer disease and the death toll is estimated at a staggering 1,000 a year. On Tuesday, the President had gone to Welioya – one of the worst affected areas – for a personal dialogue with representatives of the farmer community there. They told him that the water in most of their wells and other sources had been polluted, leaving them without adequate water for drinking, washing and cooking purposes and for their livelihood or agriculture. The President listened carefully, took down notes and promised the farmers he would act immediately. True to his word, the President on the next day, called a meeting of foreign envoys and representatives of international organisations to seek urgent assistance from them.
Apparently, touched by the sincere care and the concern the President has for the farmers and other people who are enslaved in poverty, the foreign envoys and other representatives promised they would give substantial assistance and give it fast. Reports say the World Health Organisation (WHO) representative assured that the WHO would provide the highest level of scientific assistance to investigate the causes of this killer disease, though most analysts here believe the main cause is water pollution, which in turn is largely because of the excessive use of agrochemicals after capitalist market economic policies were imposed on Sri Lanka after 1977.
The European Union (EU) representative assured the President the EU would increase assistance for the drinking water projects in Sri Lanka. The Chinese Ambassador said his country would build a 100-million-dollar, 500-room specialised kidney hospital in Anuradhapura as part of the battle against the epidemic. The Chinese envoy also said water samples from affected areas were now being tested at the Chinese Academy of Science to identify the actual cause
of the disease.
The Indian High Commissioner said the water projects in Polgahawela, Kundasale and Kalutara would receive more assistance from India, while the Japanese envoy said his government would provide assistance to treat thousands of kidney patients. The Australian High Commissioner said her country would provide assistance to launch a drinking water project for about 100,000 people in the North.
While commending the urgent action being taken by the President and thanking the foreign countries for their pledge of urgent assistance in the war against this kidney epidemic, Sri Lankans also need to be aware of the need to conserve fresh drinking water. Sri Lanka has been blessed with six major rivers, many canals and streams, while in contrast many countries in the Middle-East do not have even a single river. We have apparently taken this blessing for granted. Many people are either wasting fresh water or polluting rivers.
In this era when we are facing an environmental catastrophe, analysts also say that the world’s superpowers that went to war in recent decades to gain control of oil and natural gas resources may in the decades to come go to war to gain control of fresh water resources. Sri Lanka may become one of the victims. We hope the Government will ensure that no transnational company is allowed to directly or indirectly take control of our fresh water resources. They tried to do it earlier but timely counter measures by civic action groups prevented it.
Individually, or as a family, we all need to contribute towards conserving fresh water. Little drops of water make the mighty ocean and the little we do could help in a big way. For instance, while washing hands and using water for cooking or cleaning, we should open the taps not fully but only halfway. If our daily shower bath times could be reduced by five minutes, we could save several litres of water a day. Fresh water must not be used for the washing of vehicles or the watering of plants. If we think deeply and reflectively, we could find several other means of saving water. Then we won’t have to lament, as a singer did, “water, water everywhere but not a drop to drink. So what else can a poor fellow do but sit right down and think?”
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