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Dark side of energy picture in Sri Lanka

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As one who served the Ministry of Power and Energy for over a decade, and handled projects and generation plans prepared by the Ceylon Electricity Board [CEB], I was attracted to a feature article by R. M. Amerasinghe, Engr., who has stated in the above captioned letter, referring to rural electrification ‘the energy sector should be congratulated on achieving 100% electrification in Sri Lanka which is a remarkable achievement’. I handled this project from its beginning, and it should be said it was the initiative of late President D. B. Wijetunga as Minister of Power and Energy, in 1980, who seeing the funds allocated in the annual estimates to provide electricity to rural areas was insufficient, requested the then Secretary to the Ministry, Prof. K. K. Y. W. Perera, to seek foreign funding.

He contacted the Asian Development Bank [ADB], which readily agreed, placing a condition that only villages that are profitable be undertaken. The CEB went into action by carrying out an extensive survey to identify such villages. The personal interest taken by Engineer Maxi Tissera to expedite work must be noted. This attracted politicians, and they insisted on being consulted, and provided funds from their Decentralised Budget to undertake work on villages, which were not considered profitable as required by ADB. Credit must definitely go to the late President and Minister of Power and Energy, for he had the heart to serve the rural folk. I should also qualify my statement when I say that he had the heart for the village folk, as he gave priority to improvements to minor roads when the Ministry of Highways was once under the Ministry of Power, Energy and Highways. Incidentally, it will be interesting to know how many have availed themselves of this facility, even though the CEB had granted some concessions in the way of low tariff and installment payment in giving connections.

R .M. Amerasinghe, while touching on various aspects on the energy sector, the key message he gives to policy-makers is ‘wood energy in energy mix in our country in order to make…..environment friendly’, and blames the 1 Mw solar power plant installation, the solar power farm land required should be around four acres when using crystalline technology. When using thin-film technology a 1 Mw will require an average of 4.5 to 5 acres of land. In other terms, for each Kw of solar panels, 100 square feet of an area is on average the government has a lack of focus on biomass energy due to the need of heavy focus on fuel for development of the country. He also accuses the government of its inability to provide low-cost technology support.

As for biomass, it was reported a pilot project was started at Walapone, near Nuwara-Eliya, and had to be closed down due to difficulties in collecting material from distant villages and the cost factor. On the other hand, by clearing large extents of land to plant whatever, other quick yielding variety, will endanger the indigenous vegetation and eventually be extinct. It was recently reported a Buddhist monk had stopped such a tree from being felled.

Now coming to Solar energy, the same applies in finding large amounts of land to set up Solar plants. Browsing the Internet, I came across the following information regarding land requirement “When calculating the land size needed for solar plant installation, we must look at the things that will consume space in the facility. The two main items that consume space here are the solar panels and the structure components. From these two, one can make a reasonable estimate of the area needed. For example, for 1 Mw solar power installation, the solar farm land requirements should be around 4 acres when using crystalline technology. When using thin-film technology, a 1 Mw plant will require an average of 4.5 to 5 acres of land. In other terms, each 1kW of solar panels, 100 sq. feet of an area on average “

Can a small country like ours, with a land area of 65.610 km2 and a population of 21 million and ever increasing, allow such a large extent of land, is a matter to be given serious thought by those concerned?

Some suggest floating solar panels over hydro reservoirs, and the benefit is that evaporation will be curtailed, thus saving water. Those who recommend this measure seem to forget the damage caused to aquatic life, both plants and fish. Could it also affect the rainfall patterns and inland freshwater fishing?

These are random thoughts which come to my mind and it is left for those more qualified and interested to ponder and find solutions.

G. A. D. SIRIMAL

Boralesgamuwa



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Opinion

Ivermectin and Covid: no time to lose and lives to save

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By Prof. Saroj Jayasinghe,

MBBS, MD (Colombo), FRCP (London), MD (Bristol) PhD (Colombo), FCCP, FNASSL

Consultant to the Faculty of Medicine

Sabaragamuwa University of Sri Lanka.

Former Professor of Medicine, University of Colombo

It is with a degree of reluctance that I am stepping into the controversy relating to Ivermectin use in COVID. Unknown to many, the pros and cons of Ivermectin in COVID have been discussed in private forums of physicians, academia and doctors from 2020. It has been in the international media ever since laboratory studies in Australia showed that the drug inhibits the growth of the virus. However, the public in Sri Lanka became more aware of the controversy recently, when a confidential letter sent to an official of the Ministry of Health appeared in the social media. I had written this in June 2021 as an individual professional after several months of raging controversy among professionals. It was about treatment of COVID, and I firmly believe vaccination is the best option to prevent the illness. One reason for the very cautious approach of not approving the use of Ivermectin in the West could be because anti-vaccine groups are promoting it as an alternative. Sri Lanka has no such problems, and our population is willingly getting vaccinated.

Proposals to use Sri Lanka as a large study area as a clinical trial or as an observational study were made as far back as early 2021. I understand a clinical trial has begun in patients admitted with COVID, after considerable delays due to procedures related to clinical trials. Such studies are scrutinised by independent ethics committees, the drug must be approved by the National Medicinal Drugs Authority, and the study must be registered in an entity that makes is publicly available for anyone to read about it. This study will at least take another few weeks to months to yield results.

Most discussions in Sri Lanka Centre around the question whether the evidence to prescribe Ivermectin in COVID-19 is strong or inconclusive. One group says there is inconclusive evidence to use Ivermectin while another group says there IS sufficient evidence. As with many issues, this is not black or white but shades of grey, i.e. there are grades on the ‘strength of evidence’ from the field of Evidence Based Medicine (EBM). A parallel in the legal field is when we say that the evidence is ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ or there is ‘proof of the crime’, vs. circumstantial evidence.

Let us assume that using the principles of EBM we find that the evidence to use Ivermectin in COVID is ‘inconclusive’. Such a dilemma is very relevant to a situation where a decision is needed immediately, but the stakes are high. In other words, how would doctors decide to treat in a situation when the evidence for efficacy of a drug is inconclusive, but the stakes are high? Let me share an example.

Imagine a doctor who sees a very ill-looking patient with features of a serious infection (e.g. high fever, vomiting and body aches). She or he requests tests to identify the cause of the illness and the bacteria that may be causing the illness. In such an instance, should the doctor wait till the reports of the tests (e.g. culture reports) are available before treating? If a decision is made to treat immediately, the doctor does not have the ‘strength of evidence’ on the cause of the illness. However, if treatment is delayed until the reports arrive in two days the patient may be dead. This hypothetical example highlights a common dilemma: How do doctors balance between reliance on strength of evidence vs. taking an immediate decision when the evidence is inconclusive. This is best addressed by theories of decision-making and is a question very familiar to practicing doctors.

Now I will demonstrate the parallel with Ivermectin. In the case of ivermectin let us assume that the current evidence for its efficacy in COVID is inconclusive. However, the stakes are very high because COVID is currently raging, hundreds are dying, and there are no alternative drugs to treat early disease. Furthermore, Sri Lanka needs to bridge only a short vulnerable period of 4-6 weeks during which time our vaccination programme would become effective.

Let us assume that doctors begin to prescribe Ivermectin for treatment and prevention of COVID, for the next 4 to 6 weeks, despite the inconclusive evidence. There are two possible key outcomes:

Outcome 1: Future research confirms that it is effective, and it would contribute to saving many lives.

Outcome 2: Future research shows that it is ineffective, and we would have wasted money on the drug. Therefore, Ivermectin could either save lives or waste money. Even the money wasted is miniscule because the cost of a course of Ivermectin is less than Rs 200.00 (i.e. less than one US dollar)! Is it safe to use over the next 4 to 6 weeks? We know it is a very safe drug that has been used for almost 40 years. It is used in mass scale by the WHO to eliminate ‘River Blindness’ and is in their Essential Drug List.

A combination of other factors add support to the decision to prescribe Ivermectin.

1. Evidence is evolving, and studies are in progress. Therefore, conclusive evidence may emerge to confirm its efficacy.

2. There is laboratory (in vitro) evidence that Ivermectin is active against the COVID-19 virus.

3. It’s easy to give (tablets and not injections).

4. Currently there are no effective drugs in Sri Lanka to treat early COVID or prevent it.

5. Certain regions in India and South American countries are using Ivermectin to treat and prevent COVID-19

Summary

Therefore, my humble question is, should doctors in Sri Lanka consider whether to use Ivermectin to treat or prevent COVID-19? We need this only for 4-6 weeks. During this period, rates of COVID are likely to increase due to the very rapid transmission of Delta variant. We have no time to lose, nothing to lose, and lives to save. There is no time for clinical trials. Those who wish to embark on trials to wet their thirst for more evidence are welcome to do so. By the time the results of a new trial are available the horse would have bolted, and hundreds would have died.

My suggestion is for patients to ask your doctors about Ivermectin. You have a right to do so. Doctors are divided on the issue because of their sincerity to the views they have about science, scientific evidence, and decision-making. Please do not assume that there is a conspiracy against the drug in Sri Lanka! I can vouch for the honesty of all the doctors who are having different views on the topic. This is a disagreement between professionals who have diverse views, and we seem to have dug into our lines of defence!

The Ministry of Health has allowed the use of Ivermectin under the direction of a doctor. A range of doses for treatment and prevention is available at BIRD-group.org a group working in the UK. The opinions I have stated here are my own independent views and not in any way linked to the institutions I am affiliated to.

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Opinion

From the pseudo–sublime to the utterly ridiculous!

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With abject apologies to Tom Paine, who in the Age of Reason (1794), coined the phrase from the sublime to the ridiculous, the situation in the Pearl and indeed the world today, warrants the additional descriptive words that I have used when paraphrasing!Sublime could be construed to mean serious or worth considering therefore the pseudo sublime situation that came to the USA and the world with the voting in of a geriatric president should be looked at. Covid is still rampant but less talked about in that country and the complete disaster that has been the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan is utterly ridiculous, isn’t it? This disaster is even worse than the last debacle that the Americans concocted in Vietnam. On the other hand, this can spark off an ideal situation for selling even more American weapons which have always been the driving force of the American economy.The brutality and the sheer lack of mercy (undoubtedly exaggerated by the western media) displayed by the Taliban can be attributed in part to frustration stemming from the rape of their country that was carried out by the USA and other western forces, but can it be justified? The geriatric president may have made a huge mess of things but saying that it was not a situation instigated by him is no excuse. He was elected to rectify this and other situations. Has there been any solution that can be accepted at any level?Recognising the rule of ANY power that relies on religious extremism is wrong. Therefore, until some form of rational thinking can be displayed with a degree of credibility by the Taliban, acknowledging their regime will only serve to promote extremism within the countries that acknowledge that regime. I saw somewhere that the British PM has said that Britain intends to work with the Taliban. Surely not the Taliban in its present form? The Taliban that so many British soldiers have died fighting against, isn’t this another level of ridiculousness?

There are many insightful articles on just how badly the Americans got it wrong in Afghanistan. How the people expected deliverance but got nothing of the kind. Apparently, all they saw was a huge surge of corruption and total decimation of their values and standards. This is what has kept the Taliban going and has now resulted in them gaining back control of the whole country. America has wasted billions of dollars on what was essentially a project to gain revenge for the destruction wrought by 911. They also seem to have armed and equipped a dangerous and uncontrollable foe with equipment and arms left behind during this hasty withdrawal. Now, it looks like it is the Taliban’s turn for revenge. Hundreds of people remain trapped in Afghanistan. Surely, the Taliban should spare their own countrymen? If they want to get out and the West is willing to take them let them go. Let the West find ways to feed them, medicate them and find them employment.

Meanwhile, the West is welcoming thousands of Afghans who in turn expect a land with pavements of gold and the realisation of all their dreams. Wonder what the disillusionment of not finding suitable employment and the subtle and not so subtle racism that they will encounter will bring? Maybe an outcome similar to the knife wielding “terrorist” who attacked innocents in a shopping mall in Auckland, or worse.

Many people would expect a quote from the Buddhist scriptures at this point. One about how anger only begets anger, but those quotes are almost hackneyed now, ever since JRJ used them and gained the Pearl much mileage with Japan. I prefer the old adage that goes somewhat like this when paraphrased to be fit for publication: when elephants indulge in sexual conduct it is the ants who get crushed!

The world has just finished commemorating the 911 tragedy. In the light of the latest outcome in Afghanistan one is left wondering who came off on top of that one? America has spent multi billions, lost many of her brave sons’ and daughters’ and the Taliban have got their country back!

Moving onto the Pearl. It has been informed that the President and his brother accompanied large delegations are going in different directions of the world on “official travel”. The President to America to purportedly address the United Nations in New York. The fact that the whole country knows that he has a new grandchild (progeny of his son) in a neighbouring state and this tour is mainly aimed at seeing his grandchild may actually have gained some form of acceptance had the truth been told. Meanwhile, elder brother, the Prime Minister is headed in the direction of Italy where an engine failure or some sort of emergency seems to be his only chance of landing in the Vatican City. It is a well-known fact that the senior Mrs Rajapaksa is a devotee and a chance to kiss the ring and spin a yarn to cover up the current agitation aroused by the Roman Catholic church regarding the Easter massacres may be on the cards.

It is obvious that absolutely no regard is given for the plight of the people who voted them in with such a huge majority. It is also clear that nothing will be done about it. A surge of empty rhetoric on the Internet and a few pitiful squeaks in parliament (if sittings are allowed) from a ridiculous opposition, is the most that will happen.

All those who thought they were seeing “progress” with the new rules for driving elephants seem to have not realised that this was simply an excuse to return all the elephants that has been confiscated for illegal ownership. I hope it leads to more of the “lifers” in Pinnawela been given suitable homes among the populace for they cannot be released into the wild for obvious reasons. I wouldn’t wish a life of mind numbing incarceration to such intelligent animal or even to one of today’s parliamentarians , for that matter, who have much inferior brains and intellect than those poor beasts.We pray for relief from the utter ridiculousness of “the powers that be”, for those in the Pearl and those trapped in Afghanistan. It really seems to be beyond human control and up to the Gods. In these days that are beginning to increasingly resemble Armageddon, one wonders if the Gods’ have forsaken us.

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Opinion

Anagarika Dharmapala’s contribution to restoration of Buddha Sasana in India

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By Rohana R. Wasala

It seems I was born to restore the Sasana in India. When I started Buddhist work in India, a lot of lay Buddhists as well as Bhikkhus in Ceylon started working against me. They did not accept my advice……… I left Ceylon and went to India to do the work for the Sasana because there was no one to do that work….. In February 1906, my father passed away. Mrs Mary Foster came to my rescue. Mrs Foster is the modern Vishaka. She is helping the Sasana through me……..The well-to-do Sinhalese have no patriotic love for the land. They run after the British. Our leaders are disunited in faith and nationality. I am leaving a country with a slave mentality due to the Missionary education which is unpatriotic, which is not eager to find modern technologies. Uncultured manners are regarded highly in the society………….. To improve the life of the foolish Sinhalese is a difficult task. Economically they cannot be uplifted. They are lazy. They do not have a vision for progress. They do not have an urge to safeguard the Buddha Sasana….. Even now, Buddhists who did not contribute a cent towards my work in India, questioned me about the details of the accounts. They know only to criticize me and question me about accounts.

Anagarika Dharmapala (‘My Life Story’, ed. Lakshman Jayawardane, Sarasavi Publishers, Nugegoda, Sri Lanka, 2013)

(My opinion is that it is important to interpret the Anagarika, his language and ideas, as reflected in the above extract, in relation to the historical context in which he lived and worked. We today realise how accurate he was in his observations about the moral and economic degeneration of a great nation that suffered under foreign rule for centuries and its lost genius that needed to be restored through its own efforts under a good leadership. Aren’t we still struggling to live down that national humiliation amidst predatory interferences from the descendents of those former colonisers? Contrary to the negative view that most modern Sri Lankans seem to have been brainwashed to entertain about him due to decades of anti-national propaganda, shouldn’t we appreciate how far ahead of his time Anagarika Dharmapala actually was? He is criticised for having been ‘hostile’ towards the ‘minorities’. But were the ‘minorities’ then comparable to the minorities that the majority Sinhala Buddhists coexist peacefully with today? Which minority then thought about the historical homeland of the Sinhalese with the same degree of self-denying love and devotion as they did?)

The 157th Anagarika Dharmapala birth anniversary falls today. To mark this occasion, I thought it appropriate to write about the contribution he made to the revival of Buddhism in the land of its birth.

Anagarika Dharmapala contrived to closely interact with Mahatma Gandhi and other leaders of the Indian independence movement such as Jawaharlal Nehru, Rajendra Prasad, Muslim leader Shaukat Ali, Madan Mohan Malaviya and poet, philosopher and writer Rabindranath Tagore in the early decades of the last (20th) century, and achieved what he could for his own cause in India. Dharmapala was active as a Buddhist missionary who was determined to revive Buddhism in the country where it originated, initiating his campaign by trying to reclaim Buddha Gaya to world Buddhists, among whom he considered the Sinhalese to be foremost as the Custodians of Theravada Buddhism, generally regarded as the pristine form of the Dharma preached by Gautama Buddha. He wanted to take the word of the Buddha to the Western world as well as to strengthen ties with the Buddhist countries of the East. Apart from being in the same boat in terms of their respective life missions, chronologically too they were close to each other: Dharmapala was the senior having been born on September 17, 1864. Gandhi was junior to him by five years, for he was born on October 2, 1869. Close contemporaneity and shared cultural affinity made interaction between the two easier and more natural. This was significant because, by then, Mahatma Gandhi was already a man on a pedestal for many in India.

Having said that, it is essential to make an important distinction between Dharmapala and Gandhi as visionary men committed to great missions. Gandhi was more a political pragmatist than a spiritual visionary. Dharmapala kept to his chosen Buddhist missionary role and adopted an unwaveringly apolitical approach to his mission. But this was ignored by the British colonial government, which, during the 1915 Riot, for fear that Dharmapala’s potential presence in Sri Lanka in the years following would be problematic, quite arbitrarily subjected him to a five year long term of house arrest (1915-1920) in Calcutta, where he was then engaged in his normal missionary activities. It was virtually, a punishing term of internment for a constantly active, mobile individual like Dharmapala. Gandhi, on the other hand, in his failure to work with Muslim leaders without compromising legitimate Hindu interests, earned the murderous wrath of a group of Hindu nationalists.

Passage of time and emerging new research studies about them enable us to put them into perspective, and make fresh assessments of their personalities, individual perceptions and achievements. To name just two examples among many books concerning Gandhi, we have “The Gift of Anger: And Other Lessons from My Grandfather Mahatma Gandhi” by Arun Gandhi (2018) that provides evidence of a less admirable aspect of his personality which, if not suppressed by himself, would have been a stain on his nonviolent image (but Gandhi himself viewed anger as an empowering emotion that should not be abused), and “Gandhi in South Africa: A Racist or Liberator?” by Dr Siby K. Joseph (2019) which reveals that he was not initially free from a streak of racist prejudice against black Africans though, as a lawyer, he stood up for their independence and human rights. Regarding Anagarika Dharmapala, there is Dr Sarath Amunugama’s “Lion’s Roar” (2016), which, taking the facts of his life and times into consideration, seems to follow a more cautious, if unconvincing, middle course between passionate admirers of the iconic figure and his traditionally biased detractors, though the book repeats the unfounded eurocentric ‘protestant Buddhism’ thesis to describe the indigenous Buddhist revival movement which Dharmapala saw the beginning of, and which he enriched with his own epochal contribution.

Such deconstructive literature about Dharmapala and Gandhi has by now exposed their feet of clay as well as their focal strengths, and made them credibly and acceptably more human in the public perception. Both were great men and played truly heroic roles in the national and international causes that they championed; Gandhi was the leading anti-colonial Indian nationalist of his time, and the model political ethicist; the non-violent resistance movement that he led ultimately won India its independence from Britain, but failed to prevent the partition of India on August 15, 1947 into two independent states that resulted in two million deaths and 14 million displaced, and in his own assassination a few months later, on January 30, 1948. Dharmapala had to be satisfied with only partial success in his endeavour to acquire Buddha Gaya for Buddhists. But their monumental legacies have left indelible marks on the history of their nations and on that of the world at large, though these are hardly recognized, particularly in respect of Anagarika Dharmapala.

In the 1940s, Gandhi opposed the partition and worked with some Muslim leaders such as the famous Ali brothers, the Maulanas Shaukat and Mohamed Ali, and his friend Badhshah Khan, who shared his vision of an independent India based on religious multiculturalism. The Ali brothers were the leaders of the anti-British Khilafat Movement of Indian Muslims who demanded justice for the Sunni Islamic Turkey (Ottoman Empire). Gandhi’s actively supportive association with that organization made him temporarily popular among the Muslims. But with the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire after WWI and the establishment of the Republic of Turkey under Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in 1923, the Khilafat Movement also ended in 1924. Gandhi and Badhshah Khan had wanted Hindus and Muslims each to open their places of worship to the other for prayer. The Hindus offered their temples to Muslims for prayer, but the Muslims were not ready to reciprocate the conciliatory gesture. The Hindus’ tolerant and accommodating attitude, and the Muslims’ less liberal response are not surprising to anyone who has a basic comparative knowledge of Hinduism and Islam in this respect. It was obvious that Gandhi did not know enough about the second to avoid such embarrassment among his own people, although he had claimed he had a good knowledge of Islam’s holy book.

Dharmapala met and made friends with Shaukat Ali and tried to enlist Muslim support on his struggle to legally take possession of the Buddha Gaya holy place for Buddhists. When Ali visited Colombo in 1921, he spoke in support of Gandhi’s work in India for promoting Hindu-Muslim unity. Dharmapala wrote articles in Sinhala expressing solidarity with Indian Muslims engaged in the Khilafat agitation, but he was shrewd enough not to expect the impossible from Muslims unlike Gandhi. His love of peaceful Hindu-Muslim co-existence was utilitarian: he wanted the assistance of both Hindu and Muslim leaders on his struggle at the Buddha’s birthplace. Though Dharmapala was able to gain only partial control of the place for Buddhists, he had better luck at Sarnath. He had founded his Mahabodhi Society with the idea of reclaiming Buddhist sites in India. He bought a plot of land at Sarnath and built the impressive Mulagandhakuti Vihara, which he was able to complete in 1930. It became the main centre of Buddhist worship in India, which it remains even today, as Amunugama says. It drew the admiration not only of Buddhists, but of the colonial government and that of Indian national leaders Nehru, Tagore, and Malaviya. Dharmapala’s remarkable success in causing India’s lost Buddhist cultural heritage to be brought to the forefront of Indian national consciousness was not confined to this.

Buddhism, he learnt from Sir Edwin Arnold’s “Light of Asia”, he expressed his displeasure, implying that an Indian leader of Gandhi’s stature was remiss in acquiring the best part of India’s spiritual knowledge. Dharmapala himself said that it was through the medium of English that he himself learnt the Dhamma, for at that time no decent education was available in the vernacular. People with ability to do so sent their children to English medium schools as Dharmapala’s did. But Dharmapala did learn Sinhala and Pali as well from erudite Buddhist monks.

According to the 2011 census, there were 8.4 million Buddhists in India, mostly concentrated in Maharashtra. But they belong to different sects, not only to the Theravada tradition that Dharmapala represented. The Mahayana sect is the most prevalent form of Buddhism in India today, as it is in the rest of the world. But the inspiration that Dharmapala left in India as a Buddhist revivalist is not small. He was largely responsible for getting the small village of Buddha Gaya in Bihar, where the Buddha attained Buddhahood, with its historic Mahabodhi Temple complex recognized as the most important Buddhist pilgrimage site in the Buddhist world.

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