Nature in Therapy
By Sanuj Hathurusinghe
Within the last two centuries, since the beginning of the industrial revolution, humans and their activities have done some serious irreversible damages to the environment. Although the adverse effects of these damages have been identified and made aware to us by experts, we continue on with our regular activities, reluctant to change our routine or to go that extra mile for the sake of the very environment we live in.
However, our oblivious ways of treating Mother Nature were given a rather harsh reminder by the unexpected pandemic that engulfed the whole world in crisis in a matter of months. While the health concern aggravated steadily, we were enlightened to how nature heals in the absence of human mobility. China’s ever-polluted cities saw a considerable rise in the air quality, after decades, dolphins returned to Venice, and in Sri Lanka we witnessed peacocks in the heart of Colombo, and the clear and cleaner air allowed us to witness Sri Pada in the mornings from as far away as Mount Lavinia.
We were finally shown how anthropologic activities can have detrimental effects on our environment, and we were humble enough to admit to the fact that our ways don’t tally with the natural balance. We were thankful, we were educated, and some of us even vowed to mend our ways, to be better, to do better.
Sadly though, it looks as if we are again jumping back on the same bandwagon as the ‘new normal’ takes effect in our day-to-day lives. Perhaps it is out of necessity, perhaps it is because we see no other way than following our old practices that harm the nature or perhaps it is because we think the world has healed enough during the lockdown. What we fail to or rather reluctant to admit is that the ‘healing’ of nature is far from over and that there is way more to be done.
In this light, the Centre for Environmental Justice (CEJ) has taken upon itself to draw a baseline assessment on the environment so that we will be enlightened to the positives as well as harsh realities of the domino effect our actions have on our nature. Focusing solely on Sri Lanka, the CEJ has compiled a detailed research publication titled, Nature in Therapy to show how the once forgotten nature reptriated, courtesy the regression of the human footprint during the COVID-19 lockdown in Sri Lanka. Sponsored by Diakonia and contributed by experts in the field, the publication presents a detailed analysis on the quality of air, inland water quality, wildlife and forest related crimes, tourism industry, coastal pollution, power generation, and management of solid waste.
The research book was launched recently at the Hector Kobbekaduwa Agrarian Research and Training Institute (HARTI) with the Secretary of the Ministry of Environment, Dr. Anil Jasinghe attending as the Chief Guest.
Compiling a research publication of this magnitude is by no means a cakewalk. It required a lot of data and in order to secure the necessary data, thus the CEJ reached out to lots of Government institutes. “There was a lot of positive support from many Government organisations such as the Department of Wildlife, Forest Department and so on. However, unfortunately, some organisations such as Central Environment Authority and Ceylon Petroleum Corporation were not much co-operative. In the absence of data, we were compelled to find data on our own spending time and money. We reached out to experts in the field such as Prof. Padmalal Manage of the University of Sri Jayawardenapura who were happy to help us with gathering data and analysing them,” said the Executive Director of CEJ, Hemantha Withanage.
Voicing out the support he has received in collecting data Prof. Manage said, “Special thanks should go to the Ministry of Defence for giving us permission to collect samples and data from rivers and coastal areas during lockdown period.”
With supportive data the publication shows how the lockdown has been good for the environment in terms of increased air and water quality in Sri Lanka. However, the lockdown also has had negative effects on some aspects of the environment such as wildlife and forestry. In the absence of authorities’ watchful eye, illegal clearings of forest for cultivation and poaching have considerably increased and that trend which started during the lockdown period is seemingly continuing to this day.
Without stopping at being a mere data analysis publication, Nature in Therapy also give out some valuable recommendations to Government sector, private sector, general public, and the academic community as to how our collective contribution can build a sustainable tomorrow.
The publication which is in English language is heavily factual and rather academic since it was compiled by experts in the field. This can act as a deterrent for the layperson to relate to or to understand the important facts brought out in the publication. CEJ has identified this minor shortcoming and is considering publishing the findings in Sinhala as well as Tamil in a much more easy-to-read manner in the future.
(Pix courtesy CEJ)