Protect the environment and nature | Sunday Observer

Protect the environment and nature

21 February, 2021

Let us protect the earth and nature for our own good as all the living beings and materials, including air in the environment depend on mother earth and nature, for our existence. “The earth provides enough to every one’s needs and not every one’s greed,” Mahathma Gandi said.

Do we protect mother earth that has given birth to us and protection to us? The answer is no! Some are ungrateful to her! We are on the warpath on destruction knowingly or unknowingly destroying ourselves with our mother earth which provides us everything for our living.

Sri Lanka is one of the most beautiful islands in the world with excellent climatic conditions for living, which are gifts by nature we should protect and preserve. Instead we destroy nature which was protected by our forefathers who adored, venerated and protected the environment.

Our ancestors are so environment friendly that when they remove a tree, permission was sought from the invisible protectors (Deva’s) to cut the tree, by worshiping it before cutting, which gives a deep meaning of the practice embodied in our customs and traditions on the environment.

Animals were treated as family members and killing them for consumption was prohibited. Currently, forests, rivers, waterfalls, sand and the earth are in danger of slow destruction by the actions of the human beings supposed to be educated and intellectually advanced. Environment Minister Mahinda Amaraweera recently said that he does not understand some politicians acting irresponsibly on matters dealing with the environment and warned his colleagues, that if sand grabbing, deforestation and destructions continue, he is compelled to name and shame the culprits close to ‘politicos’.

Apparently, the environment business is so lucrative and tempting that they may be using all possible pressure and influence to earn maximum possible by illegal means at the cost of mother earth.

International concerns on the environment were effective and powerful when the world got together in 1972 in Stockholm.

Its Declaration stated (Art1) that the man has a right to freedom and equality and that the environment is a fundamental right for the wellbeing of the world citizen and the man has a solemn responsibility to protect the environment.

There are subsequent international conventions on the environment, which are good on print with no or little effect. The Indian Constitution expanded the jurisdiction to protect the environment. Drafters of the UN Charter regrets not incorporating the environment as a human right giving effective powers of implementation.

The environment is not a fundamental right in Sri Lank, but there is a directive principle to be used in judicial review. The Judiciary acts favourably on judicial review on environmental issues.

Our jurisprudence is full of cases on the environment using the small windows. It is time to introduce the Indian and USA modelled public interest litigation and move to include a chapter on the environment in the new Constitution.

Country situation

People are concerned about air pollution, water pollution, mangrove degeneration, coral reef destruction, soil degradation, overfishing, industrialisation, unplanned developments, deforestation, clearance of jungles and other forms of environment disasters that have transformed the beautiful island into a danger zone leaving lot of work for the envinmentalists and the Government to bring the country back to an environment friendly atmosphere.

Despite activism by groups, state intervention, media attention and the Environment Authority, the destruction continues under the patronage of invisible hands, may be due to the enormous funds generated by selling our mother nature.

Bhutan, which is a SAARC country with an 81 percent forest cover, 71 percent crowned trees and 51 percent under protected management systems, should be taken as an example for the countries to save the environment. We must develop the country, but it should not be at the cost of the environment. Save wetland, an international organisation has bonded with Sri Lanka as the country has the best mangroves in the world.

But what about our sanctuaries with rare breeds of animals and fish?

The main concern these days on environment destruction is the small and large scale deforestation with little attention by the Police, Wild Life Department and the law enforcement officials.

The inaction of the authorities shows some fear for action due to unforeseen fear or influence.

If destruction continues at this rate, the forest cover may reduce to the minimum level ever from 8o percent in 1820, 43 percent in 1948, 23 percent in 2000, 29 percent in 2010. The expected percentage in 2030, 32 percent, is most unlikely at this rate of reduction of the forest cover.

There are conflicting reports on deforestation, but the fact remains that it is alarmingly reduced at the rate of 1.4% (26,800 ha per year-ever increasing). In fairness, positive steps had been taken even in 1800 and 1873, especially by ‘’Hacker’’ introducing the forest ordinance, fauna and flora ordinance, preventing clearance of forest above 5,000 feet.

The forest cover at the time the foreigners invaded the country was almost 100 percent except the sole owner of the land being the king and lands granted to the peasants.

It is during the period of the English that they forcibly bought the land belong to the peasants in the guise of development at few shillings per acre.

Real owners of the land trying to cultivate the crown land were illegal invaders who were prosecuted on criminal charges by penal code introduced in the 1800s by the British! Israel, a desert, 70 years ago, started life with desalination of sea water to be a world power and a leader in agriculture.

Wild animals are a part and a necessity for an ideal environment. The human-elephant conflict is costing Sri Lanka. The elephant population is fast dwindling.

Many other rare breeds, such as tiger, bear and wild animals endemic to Sri Lanka are disappearing fast. Bee keeping is a remedy to keep elephants away in addition to electric fences. Have they ever bothered to be innovative and make use of these novelties? We should manage ourselves to live and let others live in harmony sharing the environment.

There is a myth that monkeys are overpopulated and destructive. It is bad management not using the wild as a resourceful tourist attraction and taking measure to protect agriculture products.

Most extracted material

At the rate the sand is extracted, it may be out of reach soon being the most extracted material from mother earth due to the demand in construction trade ever growing worldwide.

With short supply and difficulty in meeting the demand, extraction is merciless due to callous disregard to the environment.

Destructions to river banks, sand banks and sandy land extraction and washing away the mud have given rise to disasters.

It is a shame on the authorities to be unable to prevent the destruction and fast death of mother earth leaving a dry earth to the future generation transforming the fertile wet earth to deserts.

Sri Lanka has over 15 major rivers, such as Mahaweli, Malwath, Kelani, Kala Oya, Yan Oya and Walawa oya depending on water from catchment areas in hills, some originating from upcountry catchments areas and others on other sources which are under threat due to deforestation and clearing of jungles and sand mining in low lands as an additional burden.

There are 24 minor rivers, 165 dams, 3910 canal, 163 tanks, 2376 miner tanks and 384 waterfalls which are under threat by illegal sand minors. Rivers and other water resources depend on forest for water. Fast destruction of forests will lead to short and long term effects on climatic disasters, soil erosion and landslides.

Environmental destruction, water pollution, garbage disposal to rivers, water streams and garbage piling are connected to each other.

When the environment is damaged, the resulting impact is severe when human beings add to the destruction by misuse and overuse of resources out of proportion in all walks of life.

The environment should be given priority. The Sinharaja Rain Forest is one of the rarest natural habitats under threat.

Are there sufficient laws to protect the environment and can laws alone protect the environment? There are ample and sufficient laws to protect the environment: forests, land and vegetation.

What mainly matters is the preservation of the environment through education, discipline and practice with civic duty of the citizen.

It is a good sign that in development and industries, the contractors are obliged to abide by environmental rules and regulations.

Green Sri Lanka

Around 25 percent fish and 17 percent coral are in danger with sea pollution.

‘’This earth and its vegetation is yours. But they should be protected not only for your benefit but also for the benefit of the future generation.

A ruler is only a temporary trustee and not the owner of your children’s heritage,’’ said Arahath Mahinda – the son of Emperor Asoka, who travelled to Sri Lanka as an emissary of his father representing the King, Kingdom of India and the Buddha Sasana.

It is time for us to rethink and educate people on the imminent danger we are bound to face in the near future.

There should be a separate ch apter in the new Constitution on the environment. Local authorities have a major role in the implementation of the regulations with the law enforcement agencies.

People should be educated to convince them that everybody should work together for prosperity or ready to perish with environment destruction.

We should tean with the Greens and other international organisations for solidarity to falsify the saying of the Red Indian Chief that, ’’Only when the last tree has died, the last river has been poisoned and the last fish has been caught that man will realise that he cannot eat money.’’

(The writer is President’s Counsel, former Ambassador to UAE and Israel, former Chairman, Consumer Affairs Authority and President, Ambassadors’ Forum)