In the afterglow of Christmas when Mother Nature also had a divine eco-balance, we need to reflect on how much most countries, including Sri Lanka, have upset or disturbed the balance of nature through air pollution, water pollution and other environmental vices which are dragging the world to the brink of an apocalyptic catastrophe.
We wish to focus today mainly on air pollution caused by the excessive number of vehicles, the often uncontrolled discharge of toxic gases from factories and other ways. The latest disclosure highlighted in the media last week was more disturbing and more dangerous than the other factors.
The report said that the hundreds of millions of tons of diesel being imported to Sri Lanka every year had a sulphur dioxide content which was five to six times more than the safety level.
Environmental and medical experts said the import and use of this low-quality, high sulphur diesel could be the main reason why millions of people, including little children, are suffering from various respiratory ailments like pneumonia or other lung problems, catarrh and the wheeze.
Even more grave was the evidence that the growing number of cases of lung and other cancers may also be due to the air pollution through the emission of toxic gases from vehicles and industrial machinery.
The Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) is notorious not only for its debt crisis but also for huge rackets in the import of fuel as regularly spotlighted by the media in recent years.
The most calamitous racket may be the import of high-sulphur fuel, and the Government needs to act fast to stop this and take action against officials who are responsible for causing serious ailments to millions of people, and in many instances fatal ailments.
We also now know the main reason why hospitals and mainly paediatric wards and the Maharagama Cancer Hospital are packed and over-loaded with patients. We are breathing more and more toxic gases every day, and the crisis appears to have gone out of control despite all the marvels of modern medical technology which are unfortunately more in the curative area instead of the preventive area. If the Government does not act urgently and effectively, then most people would have no option but to wear masks.
What a terrible sight that would be, though cynically it might be symbolic of the deceptive masks that most of our political leaders are wearing in this era when huge masks have been put over vital democratic principles such as accountability and transparency, good governance and integrity, lasting peace and social justice.
Honesty is perhaps the loneliest word today. While we hope the Government plays its part to reduce air pollution, the people also need to measure their carbon footprints.
The aim would be to measure how much we are contributing to air pollution and take some action which should be airtight patriotism instead of the patriotic balloons that most politicians are carrying knowing that the balloons would burst sooner rather than later.
Some practical ways of reducing our carbon footprints would be to walk more wherever and whenever possible. We need to also use more public transport for long-distance travel, instead of private vehicles which often run with only the owner or driver.
If civic consciousness is created and the horrible danger spotlighted, then more people would be encouraged for three or four people in a neighbourhood to come in one private vehicle instead of four. Much fuel could be saved and pollution reduced. Of course it will take some planning, goodwill and sacrifice, but good things do not come the easy way through comfort and convenience.
Another practical step with compliments to hi hoi Babbi Achchi would be to go back to the bicycle for short-distance travel.
This would not only reduce fuel costs and air pollution, but also be an exercise for good health. At a time when people are thinking of New Year resolutions which range from the sublime to the ridiculous and are often broken before the festive season ends, it would be prudent to consider some fuel-saving and pollution-reducing resolutions.