EDITORIAL - Criminal waste of Sri Lanka’s fresh water
Water is the liquid gold of the 21st Century. Independent world affairs analysts say that big powers like the United States went to war in Afghanistan, Iraq and other countries with the hidden agenda of taking control of the oil and natural gas resources in those countries. The analysts fear the rich countries in the coming decades may go to war to take control of fast-declining fresh water resources in third world countries including Sri Lanka.
Though Sri Lanka has been blessed with five major rivers besides the canals, streams and the ancient irrigation marvels like ‘wewas’ we also may face serious fresh water shortages if the Government does not build bridges over the troubled waters. Several provinces have been severely hit by the prolonged drought and yesterday’s reports from Moneragala—where politicians are campaigning for next month’s provincial elections—said at least 30,000 families were collecting fresh water in coconut shells. Other reports said some people were even robbing fresh water. What a calamity in our country where for thousands of years our culture was to give a glass of fresh water free to any thirsty person who ask for it. Cultivation of paddy and other crops has been affected to such an extent that the Internal Trade Ministry has proposed the import of 50,000 metric tons of rice from India.
Against this backdrop, Government leaders and officials need to act immediately to protect our fresh water resources. But they will be willing and able to do that only if they have already not been bought over by multi-million-dollar profit-making transnational conglomerates.
According to reports from India, one of the world’s largest beverage producers has been ordered by the new Indian Government of Prime Minster Narendra Modi to shut down its bottling plant at Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh following complaints that the company was drawing excessive amounts of groundwater. After an investigation, Government authorities ruled that the company had violated its operating licence. To make one litre of this beverage the company extracts three litres of fresh water.
Potable water is hard to find in many areas of the developing world. In developing countries crops are dying due to lack of water. In essence, poor people in India, Sri Lanka and other developing countries are suffering immensely due to lack of potable and agricultural water.Currently the print and electronic media are highlighting the effects of the prevailing drought on farmers and cattle. There is no water in villages but every village and boutique has fizzy drinks!
Both foreign and local policy makers preach about global warming, water crises, impending water wars and the need for sustainable development and the use of natural resources but how many are following what they preach? How justifiable is it to allow foreign water and soft drink companies to exploit our water?
While the Modi Government needs to be commended for its move to protect India’s fresh water resources, one of India’s biggest beverage companies has been allowed to set up a bottling plant in Kotadeniyawa though environmentalists and others in the area are protesting that the company is extracting too much groundwater.
The common people have to pay for the fresh water supplied by the National Water Supply Board but big companies are allowed to extract Sri Lanka’s ground water free of charge. There is a water-tight case here of injustice, exploitation and plunder of the country’s fresh water resources. Yet appealing to political or other authorities is like throwing water on a duck’s back.