Imagine a situation where President Mahinda Rajapksa has agreed to take an ice bucket bath or to eat ‘amumiris’ (green chillies) before TV cameras after accepting the challenges some have thrown at him as a part of a campaign to raise funds for the drought-stricken people in Sri Lanka’s dry zone. Also imagine a situation where a politician or a celebrity throws ice bucket or ‘amumiris’ challenges at a leading Buddhist monk or a bishop. This will not be a surprise when you look at what’s going on in this country.
Would people have taken President Rajapaksa seriously had he accepted the ice bucket challenge thrown at him by provincial councillor Malsha Kumaranatunga or the amumiris challenge thrown by UNP parliamentarian Palitha Thewarapperuma.
How can such meaningless tamashas create sympathy waves among the people for the drought-stricken villagers who have to trek miles to fetch a pot of water or for the mother who was captured recently by media cameras while she was looking for water at the bottom of a 30-foot well to quench her children’s thirst.
We have not seen any media reports indicating the amount of funds (if at all) obtained as drought relief from these so-called challenges and neither has public interest been awakened by them to ease the sufferings of millions in 14 districts of the country. However, the touching call recently by a Buddhist monk to supply water to quench the thirst of the animals in the Yala National Park had worked better. Many people had taken water and food to the animals of the National Park and pumped the water into the water holes in the park.
It is pathetic that these celebrities and politicians do not realize that their actions are a source of fun rather than an act of sympathy. We cannot find a single person in the country who had been moved by the actions of these challengers and had come forward to donate or do something else for the people hit by the prolonged drought. It is also disappointing to see a young politician like Buddhika Pathirana who normally talks sense throwing out a new localized “challenge”which is even more of a joke when compared with the ice bucket challenge.
The drought that has prevailed in the entire dry zone for the past eight months or so is not a matter of fun. It has already devastated the entire farming community in the zone. Paddy cultivation in the Maha and Yala seasons has been destroyed while farmers lament that they had even lost the seed paddy meant for the forthcoming seasons. The country is going to face a severe shortage of rice which would in turn result in price hikes, to the utmost joy of the rice importers and the kick-back loving politicians.
The Government does not seem to have either a short-term or long-term plan to resolve the crisis. Instead it offered Rs.2,500 to each family in the Moneragala District as drought relief. The opposition parties had described it as a bribe being offered to the families in the Moneragala District where elections are being held on September 20 while such relief has not been offered to drought-stricken families in the other districts in the dry zone. Some organisations have filed a fundamental rights case alleging that giving drought relief only to farmers in the Moneragala District is an infringement on the rights of farmers in other districts.
Having fun in the name of a community struggling to make ends meet or for that matter to think that the situation can be resolved with an ice bucket bath or a bite of green chillies by certain publicity-crazy celebrities or politicians only adds insult to the injury.
Devising a strategy to raise funds for the drought-stricken people is no doubt commendable in the face of the inability of the governments then and now to develop short-term and long-term plans to address the problem. However, any strategy should be serious. Even a call by the temples, churches, mosques and kovils of the affected area might work better.
However, it is time that a long-term plan is worked out by the government to divert the excess water in the wet zone to the dry zone because no other organisation or institution in Sri Lanka could undertake such a mega project in Sri Lanka.
The real challenge for the Government is to draw such a plan and make it work while the challenge before the masses including the media is to pressure the government to do it.