September 16 is designated the ‘International Day for the Preservation of the Ozone Layer’ by the United Nations General Assembly. Scientific studies have shown ozone depletion since the late 1970s resulted in a steady lowering of about four percent in the total amount of ozone cover in Earth’s atmosphere.The ozone layer is the region of the Earth’s stratosphere that absorbs most of the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays. The layer absorbs 97- 99% of the sun’s medium frequency ultra violet light, which otherwise would damage life on Earth.
UV rays have negative effects on terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems and food chains formed by aquatic life. These life-forms existing below the surface of the water are adversely affected. There is also reduced productivity in agriculture because UV rays are harmful to plant growth.
Unfortunately we humans, through unrestricted use of ozone-depleting chemicals, used largely by the cooling industry and carbon monoxide released by vehicular traffic have destroyed large sections of the Earth’s stratosphere.
The present heatwaves, superstorms and rising sea levels are a direct result of the depleted ozone layer. It was in this background, September 16 was designated the ‘International Day for the Preservation of the Ozone Layer’ in December 2000.
Studies show forest cover helps scale back the quantity of pollution within the air. Conversely depleting forest cover depletes the ozone layer, and in turn results in global warming.
Covering an area of 18,900 acres (7,648 hectares), the Sinharaja Forest Reserve in Sri Lanka, (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), is the last viable remnant of Sri Lanka’s tropical lowland rain forest. Over 60 percent of the trees within the reserve are endemic and many of these are rare. It is also home to 21 endemic species of birds, and a number of rare insects, reptiles and amphibians.
The Amazon Rainforest – the largest remaining rainforests in the world – is often referred to as the lungs of the world. In like manner, the Sinharaja Forest is to Sri Lanka what Amazon is to the world – the lungs of our country.
While we should in fact be making strenuous efforts to protect the lungs of this country, our leaders, though born and bred in this land, have at different times not been able to recognise and protect this precious resource.
In much the same manner as present-day rulers in Brazil are stripping the Amazon forest to open up the country to road construction, palm oil cultivation, mining and logging companies, back in in 1968, the then government of Sri Lanka decided to open up the Sinharaja for ‘development programmes’.
In the late 1960’s the country began to turn to the lowland rain forests to meet its growing demand for timber. An extent of 5,000 hectares in the Sinharaja Forest Reserve was in the first phase allocated for selective felling and wood cutting to provide timber to the newly set up Plywood Corporation at Kosgama.
It was during this time Thilo Hoffmann a Swedish national who came to Sri Lanka in 1946 to work for A. Baur & Co., launched a campaign to save the Sinharaja.
According to Hoffmann’s biographer Ranasinghe, at a time when the then government was not in favour of what it felt was foreigners interfering in Sri Lankan matters, and had on occasion even deported foreign nationals whom it felt were not respecting Sri Lanka’s sovereignty, Hoffmann was able to diplomatically raise the issue of the dangers posed by the felling of the Sinharaja.
Recognising the need to deliver the conservation message in Sinhala, Hoffmann’s greatest achievement was the launching of the Sinhala journal ‘Warana’. Using that vehicle he successfully mobilised public opinion against the 1970-77 government’s plan to harvest the Sinharaja forest to feed a plywood factory at Kosgama. Undoubtedly his greatest achievement.
The public outcry he helped raise against the rape of the Sinharaja, ultimately led to the abandonment of the project in 1978. And thus, the Sinharaja was saved for a time and Thilo Hoffmann is recognised as the ‘Man who saved the Sinharaja’.
Today, once again, Man is casting his rapacious eye on this environmental treasure house. New pernicious attempts are being made to rape the Sinharaja using different terminologies.... but the end plan is the same, a quick buck for the privileged few at the expense of the country.
It brings to mind a poet’s prose: “where every prospect pleases and man alone is vile”.