Sri Lanka: Paradise Lost
More news of environmental degradation has been reported in the past couple of days with experts suggesting that close to three acres of forested land in Sri Lanka have been cleared each day for the last two months. Chain saws and bulldozers don’t discriminate region; from mangroves to tropical rainforest, the victims have been diverse. Sri Lanka’s greenery constitutes our heritage in its purest form and we are quickly losing this most precious inheritance.
One was the case involving a daughter of a former Government Minister who had set fire to a 19-acre land owned by the Minister on Heerassagala hill in Kandy – part of the Hanthana Environment Protection area. The former Minister had stated that the land was his private property. In the meantime, the Central Environmental Authority (CEA) had decided to file legal action against the parties involved and stated that the clearing was suspended on 10 September after a field inspection. This brazen act prompted angry reactions from the public who went onto social media.
Chop a branch off a kos tree in your own backyard and you have the authorities at your door serving papers, but citizens say it’s entirely a different affair when powerful parties are involved in things ten times worse. The public are entirely justified in their frustrations because it is they who are most affected by environmental damage. In recent years, burning and cutting down foliage on the Kandyan hills have threatened to unleash landslides on residents living on the lower slopes; accordingly boroughs in the city’s south such as Suduhampola and Bolawatta, lying on the Hanthana foothills, have been identified as high risk areas due to loose topsoil.
Although Sri Lanka avoided a major environmental disaster in the south-east coastal region by effectively managing the MT New Diamond super tanker fire, erosion has affected around 100 to 120 metres of Arugam Bay Beach due to unauthorised constructions taking place for various reasons. Authorities have stated that steps are being taken to stop the soil erosion and that locals have been informed not to build within the coastline without obtaining permission.
Tourism in the South East boomed in the last ten years with record arrivals each successive year and it was fair to see places like Arugam Bay growing to accommodate the growing demand. As ocean-side towns are expected to expand due to the influx of tourists, there are some businessmen who are fixated on developing beach-front property for obvious reasons. Local bodies should have foresight in order to establish conditions to prevent any encroachment of protected spaces. Accordingly, city planners and environmentalists should work together to identify problematic areas and come up with feasible alternatives to help budding businesses.
Thirdly, an Opposition MP from the Matale District raised concerns regarding deforestation in the Central Province to provide companies with land for commercial cultivation. The MP alleged that a total of 1,802 hectares in the Matale District and 22,688 hectares in the Central Province are being destroyed and further claimed that the Government has allowed its yes-men to clear forests and mangroves, she also said that remaining forests in Wilgamuwa, Laggala, Rattota and the Knuckles reserves are also being cleared. The current administration has been given a huge mandate by the people and its campaign pledge included the protection of the environment.
Alarming incidents of deforestation will lower the public’s trust in the incumbent power during the infancy of its tenure. However, as political polarisation and other shake-ups are possible in a democracy, the question of environment must deserve serious attention as well as total respect. While the public will change loyalties at the polls every four or five years, the trees and bushes in the forests don’t. The state of our natural environment should not be up for negotiation like other policies in the country and should be protected by both Governing and Opposition parties in earnest.