In the 1920s, Sri Lanka had a 49% forest cover, but by 2005 this had fallen by approximately 26%. Between 1990 and 2000, Sri Lanka lost an average of 26,800 ha of forests per year. This amounts to an average annual deforestation rate of 1.14%.
However, with a long history of policy and laws towards environmental protection, deforestation rates of primary forest cover have actually decreased since the end of the 1990s, thanks to a strong history of conservation measures.
Deforestation in Sri Lanka has caused flooding, landslides and soil erosion from exposure of the deforested areas. Just yesterday (Sunday) a family of three - father, mother and their infant child - died when a storied building collapsed onto their home. The National Building Research Organisation (NBRO) Chief as reported in the media said the storied building had been constructed sans clearance from the relevant authorities.
Years ago, the late Rohana Wijeweera despite his numerous other failings, warned that catastrophes such as last Sunday’s tragedy would take place if continued clearing of forests continued to take place. For some years, ad hoc clearing of forests be it on public or private forested lands slowed down. Unfortunately, today we are once again witnessing the rape of our forests, in haste to ‘make a few dollars more’.
This newspaper highlighted the issue of deforestation less than a week ago. Unfortunately clearing of our forests continues apace with the authorities responsible for protecting sanctuaries continuing to mouth excuses for what is a blatant negligence of duty.
Recently, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa himself, personally permitted a roadway to be cleared, linking a centuries-old-village which lacked road or rail facilities to be constructed within a specific time frame, whilst ensuring minimum damage to the rain forest in which the village was nestled. However, the permission granted to build this one road appears to have set a bad example and is being used as a so-to-say ‘Open Sesame’ by unscrupulous elements in our society to commence forest clearance using a plethora of excuses ranging from building roadways etc.
Today, a number of protected forest sanctuaries face the axe from a variety of individuals. Their numbers include politicians with close connections to the seats of power, who have commenced clearing forests for construction of roads and other purposes without permission from local authorities, the NBRO or even from the
Forest denudation is taking place right under the noses of authorities whose stated aim is to protect, thus endangering not only the denizens of the wild who are losing their habitat, but also large numbers of endemic plant and animal life, as well as risking the drying up of rivers and streams which provide the life-blood to all creatures large and small including humanity itself.
Last week we highlighted the dangers posed to the Sinharaja Forest which led to a host of reports coming in protesting forest clearing in numerous areas. Including the forest reserve at Seruwawila - home to the famous Somawathi Chaithiya. Somawathiya located within the Somawathi National Park on the bank of the Mahaweli River, is believed to have been built long before the time of Dutugemunu enshrining the right canine Tooth Relic of Gautama Buddha. It is attributed to the reign of King Kavan Tissa - Dutugemunu’s father - who ruled Magama. The Somawathiya is therefore much older than the Ruwanweliseya, Mirisawetiya or the Jetavanaramaya.
A press conference organised by the Central Environment Authority (CEA) this morning (21/9) which was more an exercise of damage control. Chairman and Director General of the authority attempted to blandly pass over the clearing of the forest saying it would be replanted!
The jungles surrounding the pristine Horton Plains is also under attack from a local politician who is involved in building a road on what is claimed to be ‘private jungle land’ in the vicinity of the Non Pareil estate home to the picturesque Non Pareil Falls, laying waste to the surrounding forests.
Another report from Anuradhapura, highlights a large extent of land in the Thabbowa Galvila Sanctuary Environment Park being deforested, where a large number of big trees have been cut.
With the dereliction of duty by authorities, whose responsibility it is to protect these forests, which are also the environmental lungs of this country, we have no alternative, but to say: ‘Mr. President, arrest this trend’.