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Dangerous medical waste

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In addition to thousands of tons of plastic and other debris strewn on our western beaches, from the recent sunken ship off Colombo Port, it is often reported our northern coasts are polluted by medical waste washed ashore from India.

It is interesting to know, what is happening to the huge heaps of medical waste, from millions of used and discarded anti-virus CV-19 injection phials, paired with injection syringes tipped with stainless steel needles, and how they are dealt with.

The phials and syringes are supposed to be made of borosilicate glass and lids of some plastic material which is punctured to extract the serum. How are they destroyed is baffling?   Are they being destroyed by crushing to powder or thrown to a furnace?

If these discarded phials and syringes get into wrong hands it would be a great danger as some unscrupulous villains could fill them with distilled water and sell them as genuine.

D. L. Sirimanne

Kohuwela



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Opinion

‘Achieving renewable energy target possible’

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The above captioned news item conveys the opinion of a former Addl. General Manager [Commercial] Kanagagnana, who says it is possible to achieve the target set and recommends battery storage and pumped storage, while the President of the CEBEU, S.Kumarawadu, places the difficulties in achieving the target, inclusive of transmission lines. Both speak of Solar and Wind energy and not of other reliable sources. As we all know, Wind and Solar energy supply is subject to weather patterns and not consistent. But, have the authorities considered the other options, such as energy from garbage? [I repeat what I stated in my earlier letters]. It will be interesting to know what the International Consultants, M/s. Lahmeyer, who prepared a Master Plan for the Ministry for Power and Energy had to say, as far back is 1988, for the possibility of an incinerator plant to serve a dual purpose to eradicate the menace and also generate electricity, It could also produce the much needed compose manure for agricultural purposes. The report elaborates by saying the incinerator plant use garbage to produce electricity. They are similar to conventional coal fired steam plants, but require elaborate refuse feeder. Grate, fixing an air quality control system and the required area is greater. Some two million people live in the Greater Colombo Area and the amount of garbage collected, annually, could be about 600 tons. About 65% is made up of organic substances. The garbage is, at present, dumped on marshy land, in the vicinity of Colombo, for the purpose of land reclamation which caused environmental problems such as smells, ground and surface water pollution, etc. The average heat content is not exactly known, but based on a few tests done, it may be in the region of 8 Joule per ton, compared with 40 to 45 Joule per ton of oil. Hence, fuel saving potentially achievable with an incinerator plant could be in the region of 100,000 tons of oil per year [under 1988 conditions]. This will be sufficient to generate some 400 Mw of power and, at the same time, would contribute to the solution of the Greater Colombo waste disposal problems. The report also states that without exact analysis of the moisture content and composition of the collected garbage, it is difficult to make an exact estimate but the investment could be around USD 160 to 240 million [This figure is based on 1988 estimate] The present population in Greater Colombo area may be thrice the population that was in 1988 and the garbage collected too would be more, hence it is all the more advantages to expedite this project which could be commissioned well before the target year, 2030, after calling for international bids.

Can Sri Lanka solely depend on Wind and Solar energy to meet the target? It is reported in China, to set up a Solar station of 100Mw, it required 248 acres. Can Sri Lanka set apart such large extent of land. The answer perhaps is to provide roof-top Solar panels and large-scale Solar stations over reservoirs, tanks, etc. This has an advantage as evaporation is minimised and thereby retain more water in such places. It was once reported that India proposed to set up a solar station at Elephant Pass lagoon and also at Diyawanna Oya to supply electricity to Parliament. Let these projects be implemented early without delay.

As for Wind, it also depends on the weather patterns. According to a report prepared by the Met. Department, in 1977, the best location is Little Bases, four miles off Hambantota which has an average 17.1 m.p.h, and the best months are May, June, July, Aug. when the speed is recorded over 20 m.p.h. Next comes Hambantota [Average 12.5 m.p.h], Trincomalee. [10.1 mph], Kankesanthurai [9.2 m.ph.], and Mannar [8.4m.p.h], in that order. It may be the Wind patterns may have changed, but this gives an indication of areas to be tapped.

This letter is not to discourage the effort to harness Wind and Solar for energy, but also to look into other sources of renewable sources of energy – Garbage is one to be considered earnestly as other than electricity, in Colombo and other major cities in Sri Lanka, disposal of waste has become a major problem.

A few years ago, when the disposal of garbage was a problem to the CMC, some people came forward with proposals to set up an incinerator plant, but for some strange reason those proposals were shelved. It is not too late even now to call for international bids and a plant could be commissioned well ahead of 2030.

 

G. A. D. Sirimal

Boralesgamuwa.

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Opinion

Politicians at Olympics: Public workers on roads

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While watching the large numbers of Principals and Teachers on the streets for quite some time, I was kept wondering why such a vital segment of society was badly treated by the state. After all, the next generation is in their hands and it goes without saying that those to whom a generation to come is entrusted merited better treatment. It was said that they were a neglected lot from time immemorial. The answer dawned on me, Mr. Editor, and I have no doubt your readers will agree with me when I say that it’s due to state employees observing how much it costs to get governed and where a large number that got washed into legislature had no basic education. If such types were to secure employment in the national legislature the only opening will be conservancy services. However, having cottoned on to a political party today they live in luxury at great cost to the country.

I read, in the print media, that pursuant to the provisions of the RTI ACT TRANSPARENCY INTERNATIONAL had sought information on the educational qualifications of those who are now in Parliament acting as SIGNAL POSTS. Though the Speaker had circulated the request in terms of the law, presuming that the patron saints will look after they had not responded. I guess the act makes it mandatory and has not exempted any category. It is the responsibility of the SPEAKER to ensure that the law is respected by the same people who enacted SUCH LEGISLATION.

Another noteworthy fact is that with the pandemic hitting the world, most legislators offered PAY CUTS voluntarily, but such noble qualities are unknown to Sri Lankan politicians. While they have a good time, the hard-working state employees, of such a vital sector, are unable to get their anomalies sorted out for survival with the cost of living over the roof, so to say.

While such drama takes place on the streets, the country also witnessed the adequately vaccinated Minister of Sports taking wing to Japan, with a group of legislators, to witness the Olympics.

It’s worth mentioning that out of 206 countries that participated, TWO MINISTERS OF SPORTS GRACED THE OCCASION – NAMELY THE MINISTER OF SPORTS JAPAN AND THE OTHER FROM CASH-STRAPPED SRI LANKA.

The nation owes a deep debt of gratitude to you for commenting editorially on the Japanese jaunt as your comment reflected public thinking when millions of hard-to-come-by dollars were squandered. It is abundantly clear that despite the financial crisis, the ostentatious lifestyle of ruling politicians had not changed. If the 225 legislators, who volunteered to serve the people, treat their entry to the legislature as a service to the country they should give up this immoral act of drawing a pension after five years and also extend the benefit to the spouse in the event of their death. I guess a substantial amount will be available for helping the deserving.

It is to the credit of the President that he lives in his private house while the previous incumbent, who spent nearly 200 million to refurbish, claiming that will be the official residence, manipulated while in office, continue to dwell there. The only man worthy of recognition who did not bleed the country after, relinquishing office, is the late DB Wijetunga. All this is in the name of service to the poor.

The anomalies in the education sector can be met by.

A. Scrap the pension scheme for MPs fully as such luxury does not exist in rich countries even.

B. Scrap the provision of houses and staff to ex-Presidents and use such savings to meet compelling obligations of the state.

The beneficiaries will claim that the law provides, however it must be borne in mind that these are laws passed by them for themselves and with conditions drastically changing they too must make sacrifices. The very same people treat the law with scant regard, to name a few sacking of the President of the SLMC at the behest of the GMOA, the violation of a law where bail was not possible namely the demolition of an archaeological site in Kurunegala, aided and abetted by an ethanol dealer,

In conclusion Mr. Editor, the biggest problem facing the nation is the THE TRUTH DEFICIT WHERE PEOPLE HAVE NO RESPECT FOR POLITICIANS.

 

Jeewaka Randeniya

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Opinion

Covid pandemic, KNDU debate and civil-military relations

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By Dr. Laksiri Fernando

Covid-19 pandemic, undoubtedly, is the central challenge Sri Lanka is facing today, along with other countries. All indications are that the world might not be able to get back to ‘normal’ at least until 2023. This is assuming that our governments would be able to implement viable vaccination programmes and other necessary measures with people’s cooperation.

 

Gravity of the pandemic

Even that ‘normal’ might not be the ‘past normal’ with most countries facing continued economic devastation, weak workforces due to poor health conditions, disrupted international trade relations, and environmental catastrophes. It is not clear what kind of a political-economic ‘model’ would hold for the future as liberal capitalism is the root cause of most of the present disasters, plundering of natural resources, pollution of environment, displacing of animals and over exploitation of the human resource.

In the case of Sri Lanka, so far the challenge of the Coronavirus pandemic has been handled satisfactorily, although the necessary cooperation from some important sections has not been forthcoming. The near future, however, is not very clear given the devastating effects of the fast-spreading new Delta variant. Nevertheless, there are sections in the polity who want to desperately continue their politics, protests, strikes or even ‘plans to overthrow the government’ disregarding these conditions.

To the people, politics in a democratic system is about choices through trial and error. They did a trial in 2015 and found an error. They have again done a new trail in 2019/2020 and may be evaluating the results. The best possible choice for the people under democracy is to get the best out of any government that they elect during the tenure through dialogue, cooperation, non-cooperation, criticism and constructive criticism. This is exactly what is happening in countries like Australia where I live at present. Strikes and protests are staples in the democratic menu, but not exactly under conditions like the prevailing pandemic.

 

Measures in Australia and Sri Lanka

Until recently, Australia managed the pandemic fairly well, given the cooperation the central government and state governments received from the oppositions, medical professionals, health workers, trade unions and the public. Unlike France, there were not much opposition to lockdowns, face masks, social distancing, or strict guidelines. Australia managed the situation quite well, like New Zealand until recently.

Perhaps because of the successes, Australia also got a little complacent and the vaccination roll-out got delayed. This appears to be the key reason the virus started to spread again particularly in Sydney (NSW), in addition to the attack by the virulent Delta variant since last month. Now there are strict rules again. Compared to Sri Lanka, the public health system is quite advanced and the private sector is cooperating. There were no strikes or protests by doctors or nurses, although there are similar pay anomalies and grievances on their part. They were patient and tolerant.

Of course, the grievances in Sri Lanka are more grave, as a poor and developing country. Moreover, politics is exceedingly hot. Education is a field greatly affected in both countries with obvious future repercussions. In Australia, teachers are cooperating fully, conducting online teaching. In Sri Lanka, obviously there are problems, but teacher protests are completely undermining the efforts to resolve them.

Australia has the necessary resources to offset the adverse economic effects on employment and businesses, due to lockdowns and other restrictions, through job-keeper, job-seeker and business concessions. However, such possibilities, in Sri Lanka, are limited. In controlling the spread of the virus, Australia is implementing extremely effective contact-tracing measures and asking people to follow strict rules. While this type of accurate measures are difficult in SriLanka, many people who are infected or possibly infected appear to be taking these instructions lightly.

Because of, people’s widespread mistrust of the police, the application of these regulations through the police in Sri Lanka has become difficult. This is not the case in Australia. There is no apparent opposition to lockdowns or other government measures by opposition political parties at the national, state or provincial levels. The opposing Labour Party cooperates with the government, critically as necessary.

There were some protest demonstrations against lockdowns recently in Sydney and Melbourne which were forcefully dispersed and the perpetrators were brought to justice with punishments and heavy fines. This kind of pandemic control might not be possible in Sri Lanka given the present political culture and people exercising freedoms without responsibilities.

The NSW government brought the military into the scene and prevented any protest from taking place during last weekend. Soldiers are also deployed to ‘knock door-to-door’ in local government areas, where strict lockdowns are implemented, to reprimand those who disobey. Of course these measures are implemented with civility and respect for people’s rights.

 

KNDU Debate

Although the pandemic is the main challenge at the moment, the government, the Opposition, the civil society, media, academics or any other party should not neglect addressing or discussing other issues. What is necessary is to understand the circumstances, and prepare for the next stage, without unnecessarily postponing anything else. Therefore, the KNDU (Kotelawala National Defence University) debate is important but it should be placed in the broader context.

There is a pressing need to expand, upgrade and diversify University education, of course without violating the basic principles of free education. While around 350,000 students sit for the admissions examination (GCE-A), and around 200,000 students qualify for admissions, only around 30,000 are admitted to universities. This year the University Grants Commission (UGC) intends to enroll an additional 10,000 students to bring the number to around 40,000. Annually over 10,000 students go abroad for their education. These figures very clearly show the need to further expand university education.

Under the UGC, there are 15 universities and the average student intake is around 2,000. The expansion of university education has been lethargic, from my experience, due to the centralised control of the UGC. At least universities like Colombo, Peradeniya and Moratuwa should have been granted autonomy a long time ago, to expand, be efficient and innovate.

KNDU has been under the Ministry of Defence and independent from the UGC. The property was donated by Sir John Kotelawala and as a fee levying university it has become largely self-reliant. Its capacity has increased over five-fold, admitting less than 200 students at the beginning and increasing eventually to around 1,000 per year. KNDU is primarily a defence university (special purpose), but admits civil students. The teachers are mainly military but with other reputed academics participating.

 

Some questions

There can be (and are) inconsistencies and weaknesses in the proposed Bill for the KNDU. But such weaknesses exist even in the Universities Act (1978). It is up to the government and the Opposition to sort them out.

1. KNDU is primarily opposed claiming it jeopardises free education. General Sir John Kotelawala Defence Academy or University was in existence since 1981, but there was no such opposition before. There are private universities, but those are also not opposed, but patronised by some. KNDU fees should be reasonable and it should not be a profit making enterprise. Some public universities running on a fair-fee basis, with other assistance, would help expand ‘fully free education’ for needy students while expanding the university system in the country as a whole.

A university (first) degree today is considered only a basic qualification internationally. Therefore, expansion of university education is a must for Sri Lanka to be on par with other countries in knowledge, skills and capacities. KNDU appears to make a useful contribution towards this end.

2. KNDU is also opposed because of its military affiliation or nature. This is largely a misplaced and/or emotional outburst. During 2005 and 2010, I was affiliated with the KNDU, mainly teaching human rights. I have known many civilian academics teaching different subjects in KNDU then and thereafter. Since then, the civilian student population has expanded even to the point of including foreign students. The interaction of civil and military, local and international is a healthy atmosphere at the KDU.

Student unions are barred at KNDU. Instead there are social clubs. Military training is reserved for military cadets. Perhaps sports should be promoted for civilian students (aiming at Olympics!). Sri Lanka is poor in sports except for cricket. Of course the quality and standards of KNDU courses, curricula and teaching should be reviewed by the UGC or such organisation.

 

Civil-Military Relations

I believe the newly proposed KNDU Bill can play a major role in civil-military relations. This is something neglected in Sri Lanka. Defence forces are and should be ‘People’s Defence Forces.’ They are not enemies of the people and should not be the case. The defence personnel, and also the police, also should learn how to deal with the people with civility.

In Australia, a Civil-Military Centre (ACMC) promotes this scenario. The Centre also includes the police in its programmes. Its mission statement is, “We work in contexts where there are no easy answers, where the environment is always changing. Our purpose is to support civil-military-police capabilities to prevent, prepare for and respond more effectively to conflicts and disasters.”

Particularly in the context of a pandemic like the Coronavirus, recurrent floods, landslides and droughts, and oceanic disasters like X-Press Pearl, the field of study of ‘civil-military relations’, both in theory and practice, is important. In all these activities women should be given equal prominance. The proposed KNDU Bill, with positive amendments, can expand university education, upgrade and diversify courses and curricula, and also promote civil-military relations, of course without jeopardizing free education.

 

A civil-military seminar in Australia (ACMC)

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