Elections call for manifestos. Manifestos are typically documents into which the wish lists of all conceivable political communities are inserted. It makes sense politically to promise every religious community, every ethnic group and even every caste, class, age, region, sexual-preference and professional community a piece of the future’s pie. Lip service is too often the order of the day.
It is not that people really believe manifestos, but they certainly ought to. And they would if politicians and political parties were; a) serious about statements and promises, and b) scripted manifestos that are wholesome, coherent and serious about plans for the country.
However, what we have had for decades are documents which cut the 21.44 million Sri Lankans into over 700 groups as per the above categories. And, most importantly, nothing gets done for anyone and certainly not for the country as a whole, if one focuses on the health of the economy, status of the natural resource endowment and the integrity of the nation across all such spheres.
Even a cursory examination would reveal that the country’s social, economic, political and environmental balance is at tremendous risk. And this in a country which has ample natural resources and human capital.
We need to ask, ‘why?’
Sri Lanka is considered one of the world’s most beautiful islands and is also among the most vulnerable countries when it comes to the effect of climate change. Approximately 600,000 people are effected by drought, flood, landslides or gale storms annually. Around 200 deaths are caused by these calamities every year. Our seas, lagoons and waterways are polluted. Over two million acres of agricultural lands are polluted or contaminated. In fact, the Global Climate Risk Index put Sri Lanka as second only to Puerto Rico among regions affected. These matters are mentioned in grave tones now and then, seminars and conferences are held, but nothing is done to address the plans and processes that produce them.
Sri Lanka is a signatory to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change of 2016, but that’s just ink on paper. Absolutely nothing of significance has happened on the ground. Policies are not framed by such frameworks so to speak. Instead such protocols are made irrelevant where plans are made to ‘develop’ the country.
Our politicians -- presidential hopefuls included -- have been obsessed by the now outdated and so clearly erroneous theories of development based on growth. Neoliberal economics to put it in a nutshell. Candidates talk of and manifestos speak to environmental issues, but they are oblivious to the contradiction of policies that rebel against conservation. We have seen this at least since the 1994 presidential election. ‘Environment’ is a must-mention in manifesto and speech. It is also a convenient discard thereafter.
Candidates and parties must be made to understand that this country is not just a clod of soil with people on it. It is a country whose overall identity is made not only of the religious faiths and sense of communal belonging but the full complement of natural resources whose sustainability will be the make-or-break of the more popular notions of ‘nation’. Development that costs the environment is not development. It is destruction.
It is about the air we breathe, the water we drink and the food that we eat. These things are tied to the health of our natural resource base.
Candidates need to take these matters as integral and not cursory elements when developing manifestos. Correction: candidates must be made to integrate environmental protocols into their respective plans of action. In other words, they have to be made to understand that if their manifestos are not ‘greened’ then they should not be taken seriously. If they use words such as environment and sustainability but their plans don’t even talk about disaster mitigation and conservation or else just stop there, then they are not patriots. They are traitors.