The Daily Mirror of 15 August 2018 reported that the Maritime Environmental Protection Authority (MEPA) would request the Ministry of Environment to discuss with the Indian High Commission to urge India to prevent clinical waste from India “being released towards Sri Lanka”. It was also reported that MEPA had “started collecting and sorting the waste that had been washed ashore on the coastal areas off Puttalam”. The “India Today” news website reported that “the waste included a large stock of expired drugs, manufactured in India.”
It was also reported that similar clinical waste was washed ashore previously in Vadamarachchi, Thondaimanaru and other parts of the Jaffna District.
In the northern west coastal belt of the Puttalam District the MEPA had started cleaning the beach in Uddappuwa to Cinna Paddu and the clinical waste is to be examined later.
The ocean currents in the Indian Ocean
“The Indian Ocean is half an ocean, hence the behaviour of the North Indian Ocean currents is different from that of Atlantic Ocean Currents or the Pacific Ocean Currents. .Also monsoon winds in Northern Indian Ocean are peculiar to the region, which directly influence the ocean surface water movement. The currents in the northern portion of the Indian Ocean change their direction from season to season in response to the seasonal rythm of the monsoons.The effect of wind is comparatively pronounced in the Indian Ocean “ Ref – (http:// www.pmfias.com/indian-ocean-currents-effect-of-monsoons -indian -ocean-currents/ )
The above behaviour of ocean currents in the northern Indian Ocean has a direct bearing of the deposition of clinical waste on our northern and north western shores. Moreover, according to the strong winds experienced during the past few days the drifting of such waste as indicated above would have been aggravated. This may be the reason why such material drifting to our coasts was not detected in the past. It could also be concerned with climate change which has given rise to erratic monsoonal rains with strong winds.
Legal implications in protection of the Marine Environment
The protection and preservation of the marine environment is clearly indicated in Part X11 of the United Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) which entered into force in 1994 and has been ratified both by Sri Lanka and India. Accordingly, both countries are legally bound according to international law to effectively prevent any marine pollution within this continental shelf as well as near and off shore areas. According to Article 193 “States have the sovereign right to exploit their natural resources pursuant to their environmental policies and in accordance with their duty to protect and preserve the marine environment”.
The present issues that are related to toxic waste are specifically covered under Article 194 titled “Measures to prevent, reduce and control pollution of the marine environment “Clause 2 of this article specifically mentions that “States shall take all measures necessary to ensure that activities under their jurisdiction or control are so conducted as not to cause damage by pollution of the marine environment. These measures shall include inter-alia to be designed to minimize to the full possible extent (a) the release of toxic, harmful or noxious substances, especially those which are persistent from land –based sources, from or through the atmosphere or by dumping”
Article 195 is also relevant which states that “In taking measures to prevent, reduce and control pollution of the marine environment, States shall act so as not to transfer, directly or indirectly, damage or hazard from one area to another or transform one type of pollution into another.” Attention is also drawn to Article 210 titled “Pollution from Dumping” which specifically state that “States shall adopt laws and regulations to prevent, reduce and control pollution of the marine environment by dumping.”
Finally Article 216 clearly indicates the laws and regulations according to UNCLOS for enforcement with respect to dumping.
Conclusions and recommendations
In this short article I have attempted to outline the possible causes of the clinical waste that has been washed ashore possibly from India to the coastlines in Jaffna and Puttalam Districts. According to the monsoonal winds as I mentioned above it is rather difficult to conclude whether the material came from the western or eastern coastal belt. Further, because of the strong winds that are presently being experienced in the region especially in the western Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal, it is rather difficult to precisely pin point to any region as it is the first time that Sri Lanka has experienced such form of marine pollution. The UNCLOS which has been ratified by India and Sri Lanka legally binds both countries on their rights and obligations under this international law which entered into force in 1994.
I would strongly recommend that this matter be taken up by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and handled by an expert, conversant and experienced with the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), preferably involved with the negotiations of UNCLOS at the very early stage.
(The writer is a Retired Economic Affairs Officer United Nations ESCAP who was in Charge of Marine Affairs up to 2003)
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