Last Saturday the Daily Mirror in its editorial column drew attention to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), which is the leading environmental authority in the United Nations system. It uses its expertise to strengthen environmental standards and practices while helping implement environmental obligations at country, regional and global levels.
With that in mind, we once again focus today on the wanton destruction of Sri Lanka’s forest reserves such as that at Sinharaja and our ecosystems made up of mangroves and wetlands – the latest to be ‘raped’, as it were, is the historical Anawilundawa Wetland Sanctuary situated in the country’s North Western Province, between Chilaw and Puttalam. Its uniqueness is its immediate proximity to three vastly different ecosystems; the coast, the mangroves and the fresh water tanks making it one of the six RAMSAR Wetlands in Sri Lanka.
Set out on 1,397 hectares of forestland, the sanctuary comprises nine tanks; six giant man-made cascading tanks -- the Pinkattiya, Maradansola, Anawilundawa, Mayyawa, Surawila and Vellawali and three secondary tanks, each one inter-twined with each other and working as one unit. These tanks store water for irrigation and cultivation and act as a natural habitat and refuge for more than 100 species of water birds in addition to a few species of threatened fish, amphibians, mammals, and reptiles. These ecological `treasures` bestowed on several countries including ours, function as bulwarks against nature’s fury, unleashed for whatever reason, in the form of cyclones, earthquakes, tornadoes and tsunamis.
While mangroves are coastal wetlands with small trees that grow in saline water offering a unique ecosystem for wild animals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and aquatic fauna; wetlands are among the most productive ecosystems in the world. They play an important role by serving as flood retention areas; as filters for sediments, nutrients and pollutants released to the environment; as refuge for many species of vertebrates and invertebrates; and as sources of raw material for various industries. In addition, wetlands have played an important role in the culture of many communities and countries.
It is against the backdrop of several reports of Sri Lanka’s natural resources being destroyed that we highlight the wonderful work done by Kenyan Nobel Prize laureate and environmentalist Wangari Maathai in her country by launching the `Green Belt Movement` and the work carried out by Indian environmental activist Vandana Shiva with her `Chipko Movement`.
In Africa, as in many parts of the world, rural women deal with multiple stresses, as an integral part of their daily lives. It involves being in charge of a major part of the domestic and livelihood activities with their time spent on tasks like looking for food, water, and collecting firewood. But increased deforestation resulting in increased desertification has also meant that women have to travel further afield for their daily chores, leaving less time around the home to tend to crops and looking after their children. Responding to these challenges, Professor Maathai founded the Green Belt Movement (GBM) in 1977, primarily working with women in environmental conservation and community empowerment in Kenya.
The GBM works at the grassroots, national, and international levels to promote environmental conservation; to build climate resilience and empower communities, especially women and girls; to foster democratic space and sustainable livelihoods. Having started with seven seedlings on World Environment Day in 1977, the Green Belt Movement has planted more than 51 million trees in Kenya.
“The death of nature is central to the threat to survival. The earth is rapidly dying, its waters are dying while tropical forests, which are the creators of the world’s climate, the cradle of the world’s vegetational wealth are being bulldozed, burned, ruined or submerged. With the destruction of forests, water and land, we are losing our life support systems, this destruction is taking place in the name of ‘development’ and progress, but there must be something seriously wrong with a concept of progress that threatens survival itself,” says Vandana Shiva, the founder of Navadanaya. “The primary products of the forest are soil, water and pure air, not timber, resin and revenues.”
Where the environment and its supporting resources are concerned; there are no compromises. Will Sri Lanka be ever blessed with the likes of Wangari Maathai and Vandana Shiva, who stand as sentinels against the destroyers of our priceless environment?
“We owe it to ourselves and to the next generation to conserve the environment so that we can bequeath our children a sustainable world that benefits all. The problem is that the generation that destroys the environment is not the generation that pays the price” Wangari Maathai