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Critical assessments needed in a world full of fear-mongering fake news

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Radiation danger from Mineral Sands at Pulmoddai:

A recent media report has said sand (from Pulmudai) emits more than 500 units of radiation per minute, more than the current level of radiation after the Fukushima radiation leak in Japan.

This sort of material is misleading and should NOT be publicized without due analysis. When a report does not give a source, does not specify the units, and refers to, say Chernobyl or Fukushima’s current level of radiation without telling us what that it is, and if that is dangerous, you can clearly see fear-mongering.

We live in a technological world where a tiny minority of people have the needed training to evaluate the information. Even with due training, we need is critical thinking and restraint. Even scientists loose their critical capacity when they move out of their narrow specialty and look at other news that can be psychologically fearful. Then they often hide under a false “precautionary principle” and take the wrong actions.

The news clip says “500 units of radiation” What are these units? Are they measuring alpha-particles, gamma rays, or beta decay?Different radiations have different thresholds.

Just as with chemical toxins, even with radiation, there are thresholds. If the active agent is present at levels below the thresholds for chronic toxicity, there is no problem. It is because people don’t understand thresholds, or do not have time for looking at thresholds, that they went about banning glyphosate, and similarly DDT was banned from domestic use against mosquitoes. With chemical toxins people fail to distinguish between acute toxicity and chronic toxicity and rush to act. It is the gut reaction of urban people who do not know about snakes to attack even a “gaerandiya” (non-poisonous snake that hunts mice) and kill it thinking it may be a cobra – that is the wrong application of the so-called precautionary principle.

So, even with radiation, the first question to ask is, what are the thresholds (minimal daily admissible amounts) on radiation exposure set by the WHO. When radiation is absorbed in living matter, a biological effect may be observed. However, equal absorbed doses will not necessarily produce equal biological effects. The effect depends on the type of radiation (e.g., alpha, beta, gamma, etc) and the tissue or organ receiving the radiation. For example, 1 Gy of alpha radiation is more harmful to tissue than 1 Gy of beta radiation. To simplify matters, a Sievert is used as the measure of radiation damage.

The Sievert (Sv) is the unit of effective dose that takes into account the type of radiation and sensitivity of tissues and organs. It is a way to measure ionizing radiation in terms of the potential for causing harm. A thousandth of a Sievert is a milli-Sievert (mSv). The dose threshold for acute radiation syndrome is about 1 Sv (1000 mSv).

Regions at higher altitudes receive more cosmic radiation. According to a study by Health Canada, the annual effective dose of radiation from cosmic rays in Vancouver, British Columbia, which is at sea level, is about 0.30 mSv. This compares to the top of Mount Lorne, Yukon, where at 2,000 m, a person would receive an annual dose of about 0.84 mSv. Air travel also increases exposure to more cosmic radiation, for a further average dose of 0.01 mSv per Canadian per year. Similar effects are applicable for other countries as well.
One Sievert of radiation exposure for an year increases the likelihood of developing cancer sometime in your lifetime by 5%. But not that 5% of people will get cancer, but that one has the chance of developing cancer increased by 5% – most people won’t get cancer. People living in the topics already have a higher natural chance because they are exposed to cosmic radiation anyway. Strangely enough, there is also the growing evidence and argument from experts in radiology, that long-term exposure to low-levels of radiation may actually be beneficial to your health (but I am not sure if the data are at all significant).

Nevertheless we note that people living in areas like Beruwala coast get exposure to Monozite sands which are radioactive but we have heard of no increase in their cancer levels.I think the people living in the Beruwala coast, or in Puhlmotte (Pulmudai) get a natural exposure of about 10-15 mSv annually. The monozite sands contain thorium, Another example is the case of residents of Ramsar in Iran, with a background radiation of 250 mSv per year, have lower cancer rates than the world average. An astronaut in the space station gets about 150 mSv per annum.
The news report mentions Fukushima. You have to spend a whole year within 20km of the Fukushima plant to be exposed to 20 mSv of radiation. The Wikipedia article gives the following statement. Its contents are largely correct when judged against other reports.
” 180,592 people in the general population were screened in March 2011 for radiation exposure and no case was found which affects health.[22] Thirty workers conducting operations at the plant had exposure levels greater than 100 mSv. [23] It is believed that the health effects of the radioactivity release are primarily psychological rather than physical effects. Even in the most severely affected areas, radiation doses never reached more than a quarter of the radiation dose linked to an increase in cancer risk (25 mSv whereas 100 mSv has been linked to an increase in cancer rates among victims at Hiroshima and Nagasaki).[6][24] …In 2013 (two years after the incident), the World Health Organization indicated that the residents of the area who were evacuated were exposed to little radiation that radiation induced health impacts are likely to be below detectable levels.[31]”

The effect of cosmic radiation that is ever present everywhere is more dangerous than the effect of the Fukushima accident which is simply dramatic, fearful and news worthy but in the end not so dangerous as claimed.

So, given a report where they don’t even specify the units of measurement, or the type of radiation, the report should be regarded as false until proven valid, and ONLY the relevant authorities should act.

 

Chandre Dharmawardana

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Opinion

Import substitution in Covid-infested Neoliberal World

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Covid-19, which has taught many a lesson to the rich and the mighty, is causing unparalleled turmoil in the neoliberal economies of the world. It has made governments and economists think of alternatives to the market driven dependent economies that most poor countries practice or are forced to practice. Sri Lanka too is trying its hand with options like export control, import substitution, taxation, protective tariffs, etc. Most countries are forced into it due to the disruption of several aspects of the system, such as foreign exchange earning capacity, international transport, and local export oriented industry. Sri Lanka is faced with considerable decline in its main sources of foreign exchange, such as foreign employment, tourism and garments. The foreign exchange thus earned are, in the main, spent to import food items, textile, medicines, fertilizer, etc., that could be locally produced. Is there any logic in advocating the continuation of this policy – Covid or no Covid?

Yet there are people including parliamentary bigwigs, who criticize the present government policy of controlling imports and attempting import substitution. They say such policy would antagonize Western countries who buy our products, like tea and rubber. Yes, it would make them angry but then that is how they pursue and perpetuate the practice of neoliberalism and exploitation of our resources. They say Western countries would stop extending preferential treatment and favourable terms to us in trade. Yes, they may do that but we must know that these are only tools they use to trap us into their system of neocolonialist exploitation. These people who talk like this in parliament must be tools of the neocolonialists.

It may be worthwhile to look at other countries which had adopted import substitution, in the past as well as recently and see how they have fared in their effort. This concept and policy could be traced back to the 18th Century German economist Friedrich List who proposed a “National System” of political economy where tariffs were to be imposed on imported goods while free trade would operate for local products. Later in the 1950s and 60s the Global South, particularly Latin America, adopted this policy and came to be known as Import Substitution Industrialization (ISI). ISI is based on the premise that a country should attempt to reduce its foreign dependency through local production. It envisaged industrialization of production for greater efficiency and mass production. Most of the Latin American countries, like Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, Ecuador, Honduras employed this system, the larger countries with big populations were benefited to a greater degree than smaller countries.

African Socialism, which started about the same time with leaders like Kwome Nkrumah of Ghana and Julius Nyerere of Tanzania giving it leadership, took up ISI as its economic policy. These movements were socialist and nationalist and naturally anti-west and the Western powers did not view these developments kindly. In the 1980s with the fall of the Soviet Union, and the IMF and the World Bank gaining immense ground, the Global South abandoned ISI policy and turned to the West and again became the servant of neoliberalism.

However, there is a country which recently adopted these ISI measures with great success. Russia has managed to save several billions of Dollars by vigorously following ISI policies in the industrial sector, mostly in the areas of agriculture, automotive, chemical, pharmaceutical, aviation, etc. In 1914, their cost of food imports was 60 billion dollars, it was brought down to 20 Bn by 2018, in 2012 the pharmaceutical industry was negligible and by 2017 it has developed into a 50 Bn industry. These achievements were mainly due to subsidization of vital industries, import restriction by heavy taxation and other protective trade policies.

There may be lessons for Sri Lanka from what has taken place in the above mentioned countries. First and foremost the essential food items that could be produced here should not be imported and everything required for this endevour such as land, water, seeds, fertilizer, machinery should be made available. Every effort should be made to manufacture locally these things necessary to achieve self-sufficiency in food. If we are self sufficient in food, medicine, clothes and housing we need not be afraid of economic warfare that imperialists resort to when they want us to do their bidding. We must get assistance from friendly countries like China and Russia to achieve self-sufficiency in essential items and not for mammoth projects that politicians think would enhance their image.

As mentioned above, ISI policies employed for heavy industrial development had succeeded in large countries like Brazil, Mexico and Argentina but in smaller countries like Ecuador and Honduras such attempts at industrialization had failed. This was the experience in Africa too. Development of one industry at the expense of others or one crop like tea for instance could also lead to failure.

Therefore Sri Lanka must not go for heavy industries. First it must achieve self sufficiency in food and other essentials. Later it could start small machinery like power looms, electrical and electronic items. Industrialization should be at the manageable level of agriculture, clothes and such items and perhaps not heavy industries like automobiles, etc. The threat posed by Covid-19 must be converted into an opportunity and made full use of to make the country’s economy and politics independent of external factors.

 

N. A. de S. Amaratunga

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Opinion

Light a lamp for ‘Maha Viru’ national tragedies

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“Wiggy vows to light lamps in every Jaffna household to commemorate dead LTTE cadres” was the heading of a news item carried in The Island on 27.11.2020 with the cartoon of the day, depicting ‘Wiggy’ lighting a lamp with a flame in the form of a tiger head.

The JVP commemorate their fallen comrades in November ‘Il Maha Viru Samaruma’. The ‘LTTE’ also commemorate their fallen cadres in November ‘Maha Viru Day’. Both of these groups are viewed, according to different perspectives, as either terrorist groups or liberators. When it comes to terrorism, it seemed, the JVP was on a much smaller scale of a home grown variety of terrorism; with no international support or training, targeting a select set of people on a specific ideological basis. On the other hand, the LTTE was on a massive scale that earned them the title of being one of the most ruthless terrorist organizations of the world. The LTTE had an enormous amount of international support and training, with killings and massacres of an unprecedented scale. When it comes to liberators, the difference is that the JVP was interested in liberating the entire country, regardless of ethnicity or religion, from what it perceived as a ‘pro capitalist government’, supported by an international base that was exploiting the masses of this country. The LTTE on the other hand was interested in liberating a specific part of the country exclusively for the Tamils, which they felt were being exploited.

Nevertheless, the truth is that both these groups were made of the youth of this country- the future of this country – who were ‘forced’ into this ‘terrorism’ through sheer desperation as a result of being ignored by ‘us’. When one considers the JVP, in their case at least, they were on their own. In the case of the LTTE the tragedy is much worse, as this group’s frustration was hijacked and exploited by a set of power-hungry politicians, who were in collaboration with ‘an international agenda’ with no regard to the loss of life and destruction caused.

A Colombo-based Mr. C.V. Vigneswaran, is demonstrating from his actions that he is indeed one of those politicians who has no scruples in continuing to exploit the Tamils for his own personal agenda. But we as a nation should rise above this. We as a nation should all light a lamp for the ‘Il Maha Viru Samaruma’ and the “Maha Viru Day’ — not to commemorate those who lost their lives but to remind ourselves of the meaningless destruction that we as a nation were/are responsible for.

The government should organise events for both these days that involve a serious socio- economic/political discussion that analyses the factors behind this national tragedy. Let us stop lighting lamps that symbolize the rebirth of terrorism and destruction, but light ones that symbolize a rebirth of a nation.

 

Dr. SUMEDHA S. AMARASEKARA

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Opinion

Killing the proverbial goose

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I am an investor in tourism, in the southern province beaches. Along with me there are about 50 other, mostly foreign and a few local entrepreneurs who have put in huge amounts of effort and money into a stunning bay in Tangalle, called Mawella. This article is to highlight how ill-thought out and self-serving plans of government ministries and officials can jeopardize and ruin your investment. Suddenly we find out the fisheries ministry/department has come up with plans to develop it as a fisheries harbour/anchorage!! An outdated plan done without anybody’s knowledge or consultation. Not even the fishermen!!

This is one of the most pristine of beaches in Tangalle, untouched by any commercialization or destruction, or pollution. It’s a quiet, peaceful and secluded long stretch of a bay. It’s what the high-end tourists crave for, when they look at places like Sri Lanka and the Maldives for holidays. The unique features of Mawella bay are – the whole bay is swimmable, shallow and crystal clear calm waters almost all year round, a unique and natural long cliff outcrop in one corner of the bay protecting it (I don’t think there’s anything like it in the whole of Sri Lanka’s coast line). A wide and long perfect crescent of a beach (an hour long walk, one way), white powder sand all year round lies like a white carpet of welcome to everyone who visit it, from fisherman to tourist, and Mawella still remains untouched by ‘development’. Whatever tourism developments that has taken place here is well concealed, unobtrusive, low profile, luxury villas situated all around the bay. Majority of these are foreign investors making their home here or investing in tourism. Large amount of foreign investments have been poured into this bay. This is after the fishermen who owned these properties sold them. These lands and houses remained ruined, derelict and abandoned for nearly 10 long years since the tsunami destroyed them. When tourism began reviving after the end of the war in 2009, demand for these properties went up and the fishermen made a tidy sum out of selling them, having themselves been housed inland, by the government.

Now the Fisheries Department has unearthed some plans from a bygone era for the bay, to build a fisheries harbour/anchorage and is going ahead pell-mell with implementing it, with scant regard to the current developments already happened there. With their blinkers on, they have no inkling nor care for the current economics or the future potential of the bay. This harebrained plan was probably mooted by the ‘yahapalana’ government in 2017. But to go ahead with it, would spoil (if not ruin) the prospect of continuing high level tourism on one of the finest and largest beaches on the South Coast. This type of tourism is exactly what Sri Lanka needs and exactly what tourists want , in this fiercely contested international market.  Such tourism provides both local jobs and brings more tourists to Southern Sri Lanka who will be spending big money. Its prospect has recently been further enhanced by the completion of the Southern highway. But no tourist will want to visit a stinking mess of a fisheries harbour. It will be the end of tourism for one of the most stunning bays in Tangalle. People who fell in love with this island especially Mawella bay, have brought their investment to Sri lanka. They are the people who have already responded to the government’s call to ‘Invest in Sri Lanka’ launched by the tourism ministry. They have trusted in the Tangalle tourism zone hype made by the heads of government. All this is now in jeopardy, and risk of ruin because of the shortsighted action of another government department. This comes while tourism is reeling from the impact of Covid-19. In spite of expensive advertising it will be very hard to find investors in these unprecedented times. If adverse publicity of this debacle gets broadcast to the rest of the world, it would kill all investments that the government is trying so hard to woo.

The sad part is most fishermen of the Mawella bay are against this development project too. The fisheries officials have had several stormy meetings and clashes with them. Some fishers have already made their complaints/objections to higher officials and ministers of the fisheries department. ‘Maadal’ Fishing, the most ecofriendly and sustainable form of fishing happens here. The Anchorage project will kill this instantly. But in spite of the uproar, the project seem to be steamrolling ahead regardless. Why is this unnecessary and forced development? May be it’s because some funds are available for fisheries development and it needs spending? Or pocketing ?! Rumour has it that an area politician has already got the contract to supply quarry to the project.

If the planed fishing harbour or anchorage happens all our years of effort of development of the bay for tourism will get washed out to sea. Our input to Mawella has been not just large amounts of money, but time and passion. We the investors, are not the only victims of this man made catastrophe. A vibrant environment, a proliferate ecosystem, a lively wildlife, a stunning beauty and the very nature and characteristics of this bay stands to be changed. For the worse. Forever. Thus our urgent appeal to all decision-makers of the government to intervene and prevent this destruction of a perfect bay, and the scuttling of a thriving tourist industry. There is no shortage of fisheries harbours and anchorages in this part of the coast. Matara to Tangalle boasts of the highest concentration of fisheries harbours in the island. New ones are to be added soon. There is a dedicated fisheries bay (Hummanaya bay) right next door to Mawella, if they need to shift this project to a more suitable alternate site. So a solution to this looks very simple, easy and most of all, accommodating for all. There is no reason why both industries can’t exist side by side. They may even complement one another someday in the future – Fishing as a tourist activity/attraction.

Tangalle is not just about beaches. Yes, Tangalle beaches are the next big thing in the tourism map of the world. But then there is Cricket. F1 (If Namal Rajapakse’s projects take off). Mawella Lagoon airport. Expressway connectivity. MIA, Yala, Kumana, and Udawalawe wildlife. Blowhole (By the way, ours is the only one in all of Asia!), home to unique landform – coves, bays, lagoons, cliffs, and headlands not found in any other beaches of Sri Lanka, New heritage and historical sites being discovered which could rival Anuradhapura. As such what facilities do you have to cater to all this? How many rooms? What kind of rooms? Everything is poised for Tangalle to be the gateway to high-end tourism in Sri Lanka.

But we have reason to hope. Because from what we’ve seen of the government so far, It has stuck to its vision. Hopefully there are knowledgeable people installed in the right jobs by now. Especially in environmental, tourism, investment, and economic portfolios. That is President Gotabaya’s secret for success. We hope this will catch the eyes of such. If not the government will be definitely killing the goose that lays the golden egg as far as foreign investment is concerned.

 

Citizen S

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