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Nature and Covid-19



What makes a virus jump from one host species to another? Obviously, it must be for its survival. What makes a poor man go into the forest and cut down a tree? Obviously for his survival? What makes a rich man start a timber factory? Obviously not for his survival but for the growth of his business, which may be essential for the survival of his business. Both these human activities would cause damage to the ecosystem, and may deprive a virus of its natural host and make it undergo mutation and by a process of natural selection pick a new host which could be a human. The virus may or may not be pathogenic to the new host. The other important factor in this story is that the poor man may have been deprived of his livelihood by the economic system that has the inherent effect of causing inequality and made him resort to illicit felling.

Some may say that the above argument may be far-fetched, but the facts and figures support the theory that nature, economic stability and health are interconnected. In fact, nature provides a buffer between humans and infectious disease. Emerging infectious diseases are often the result of encroachment into natural ecosystems and changes in human activity. Ebola for instance is linked to deforestation, and so are new types of malaria. A recent study conducted by The School of Earth, Energy and Environmental Science at Stanford University, has shown that deforestation in Uganda has caused an increase in animal-to-human diseases. An analysis of 6,800 ecological communities in six continents, carried out by researchers from University College London and published in Nature journal on 5th August 2020, adds to the growing body of evidence on the link between biodiversity loss and emerging infectious diseases.

Biodiversity loss could occur due to ecological damage caused by human activity. This means extinction of species. When there is extinction of species, few species replace many, e. g. rats, bats, and these species tend to be the ones hosting pathogens. Human invasion into natural habitats of these animals would also increase the occurrence of contact between these animals and humans. This gives the viruses harboured in these animals the opportunity to undergo a process of natural selection, and produce a type of virus that could live in the human cells and cause disease.

Mutations are caused due to errors in the replication process of the genome structure. Most life forms have proofreading mechanisms that correct these errors. RNA viruses do not have this mechanism while DNA ones have it. This is why RNA viruses mutate faster than DNA, ones and they could undergo natural selection also at a faster pace. Therefore, we could anticipate pandemics due to RNA viruses more frequently. SARS-CoV was detected in China in 2003 and since then there have been two others — MERS-CoV in 2012 and SARS-CoV-2 in late 2019, that is at intervals of 7 – 8 years. Prediction of the genome structure of future Corona viruses is difficult and therefore advance preparation of vaccines may not be possible.

It has been found that 70% of emerging infectious diseases originate from wildlife. There has been a loss of 60% of wildlife in the last 50 years and new infections have quadrupled during that period.

Usually, it is the big businesses that cause ecosystem damage. Poor people also in their search for resources for survival may cause similar damage. But they have no choice. Poverty and inequality are the result of big business. The World Inequality Report (Paris 28th June 2018) reveals that the richest 10% own 40 – 50% of the wealth of a country, while the lowest 10% own less than 1%. This sad state of affairs is not changing. Sixteen of the billionaires in the US have doubled their wealth during the COVID-19 period. The rich are getting richer at the expense of the poor, and also the natural resources which belong to everybody. Natural resources may be irreparably damaged causing a rise in animal-to-human diseases. And when that happens the rich are not spared. Trumps, Johnsons, Truedos and even Charles have had a foretaste of what could come with more devastation in the future, unless remedial action is taken quickly.

Finding a vaccine or a drug for COVID-19 will take a long time. It may not be possible to make vaccines against possible future Corona viruses. Virulent viruses trouble us regularly, and the next pandemic is only a matter of time. SARS viruses have proved to be elusive with regard to development of vaccines and drugs, and elimination of their root cause may well be the answer. If the cause is linked to the environmental and ecosystem damage that issue has to be addressed. The present global economic model which stimulates growth at the expense of Nature may have to be changed.

That means there is no need for the developed countries to chase their development goals further, which would be at the expense of the poor countries, poor people in their own countries and the natural resources. There is no need to build more weapons, more ships, more planes, more vehicles because there are enough of them. There is no need to build more factories as there are enough of them as well. Instead of quantity, rich countries could focus on the quality of the existing industries and services and find employment for the growing population, which at present is at manageable level, within that framework. Further, fossil fuel consumption must be reduced to levels recommended in the Paris Agreement.

Decisions as regards these issues may have a bearing on the prevention of pandemics of the future. These decisions will determine the future health, well-being and stability of people and the planet. However, at present the focus seems to be on finding a method to beat the virus so that it will be business as usual. This option has to be avoided. Science must not work against nature but must attempt to help man coexist with it. S. AMARATUNGA

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Meat eating



Recently, I have made it a point to listen carefully to dhamma discourses by erudite Bhikkus , very specially on the consumption of meat by Buddhists and the Vinaya rules laid down by the Buddha on this subject.

To begin with it was one of the conditions which Devadatta insisted on as mandatory, which the Buddha in his profound infinite knowledge declined as impractical. He even cited instances where previous Buddhas declined such requests. What the Buddha said was that killing was not at all permissible, but the consumption of meat was left to the discretion of the persons concerned whether it be the lay persons or bhikkus.

Some may dislike meat out of sheer sansaric habit while others may relish it, but the Budhdha laid down certain important pre-conditions on the consumption of meat. He prohibited eating the flesh of 10 animal species like the lion, elephant, tiger, leopard, bear, horse, dog, cat, snake and human flesh.

On the other hand he prescribed an important Vinaya rule known as the ‘thri kotika paarishudda‘ which literally means that whoever gives it as an offering or consuming it must make sure that the meat comes from an animal which was not specifically slaughtered for the purpose. Meat bought at a market is without doubt such a meat and may be offered to and received by a Bhikku..

A previous Buddha has even assisted a bhikku through his infinite knowledge by suggesting that he should go begging for alms on a particular street where a lay dayaka was preparing a meal of rice with crab curry. The bhikku concerned was extremely pious but could not attain arahat status as he had an excruciating earache. No sooner he ate the crab meal his acute pain ceased and he concentrated his mind on the dhamma and attained Arahathood then and there. The layman who offered the crab meal noticed the difference in the Bhikku and was thrilled to know that he had given alms to an Arahat.. This hppy thought came back to him at the time of his death, whicn occurred very much later.

His Chuthi chiththa was so powerful that he was born in a splendid divine abode with a huge mansion which had the insignia of a large golden crab at its entrance to remind him and all of the crab meal which was offered to an Arahat.

A lay person once asked the Buddha whether it was correct to recommend the eating of foul smelling flesh like fish for instance and the Buddha has replied that tanha irrsiya krodha maanna dhitti are more foul smelling and should be eschewed completely if you wish to attain the bliss of Nibbana. Looking down on people who consume meat is also a sinful thought which should be avoided , as it does not benefit anyone.

Dear friends, I have tried to tell the English speaking folk who do not have the opportunity to listen to our Sinhala sermons some profound truths. They even do not know that there have been more than 500,000 Buddhas in the past aeons of time and a Mahaa Kalpa is an enomous space in time which only a Budhha can comprehend. The knowledge of a Sammaa Sambuddha is infinite.

Lastly a word of caution to those who obstruct the doing of good deeds. They cannot even receive the Anumodnaa Kusalaya by a mere wish of happiness at a good deed, [sadhu] but will certainly reap the evil rewards of obstructing good deeds, May you all be well and happy.

Cecil de Mel,
Tel. 011 2648565

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Nuclear power for Sri Lanka



There is much talk at the moment of nuclear power generation for the country. The idea is certainly very good. We do need more energy to run the county and the future demand will be far higher than now.

I do understand that nuclear energy is clean, cheap and harmful effects on the environment are minimal. So far the thinking is fine; but it’s important to bear in mind that in case of an accident, the damage will be colossal as we have seen in Chernobyl. What a disaster that was! And in a country much more disciplined than us and with far better technological knowledge and experience. Our knowledge will be wanting.

If all does go well, it will be fine but in case of an accident I hate to think of the kind of disaster we shall have to face.

We have a reputation for using cheap material and also for taking short cuts. Our work ethic too is most wanting. A nuclear power plant needs to be handled with the greatest care. An accident will cause much irreparable damage.

If we do go ahead with the nuclear power proposal, the project (including, most importantly, construction) must be handled by those who have experience and an unblemished record.Nuclear power will be a must some time or other. We must tread the road towards it extremely cautiously.

Padmini Nanayakkara

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It was with the Mahajana Eksath Peramuna government of SWRD Bandaranaike that the nationalization programme started with the Ceylon Transport Board being the first. When this was done it was a stupendous task as those who were handling the takeover had to get all the buses belonging to the bus companies throughout the island along with their properties and the all the workers. Those who were absorbed into this vast public transport organization were known as Section 38 employees.

During the Dudley Senanayake government, Mr. GG Ponnambalam, who was the Minister of Industries, established two important factories, namely, the cement factory in Kankasanturai and the paper factory in Valaichenai. These two factories were later transformed into the Cement Corporation and Paper Corporation respectively. They were functioning well and saved a lot of foreign exchange for the country.

Then we got a gift of the Steel Corporation from the then Soviet Union which functioned from Oruwela. The talk at the time was that Russia had dumped some time expired machinery in establishing this factory. I am not sure how far this is true.

The other semi government ventures that were established were the Sugar Corporation in Pelwatte and Sevanagala, the Milk Board in Narahenpita, the Mineral Sands Corporation in Pulmoddai, the Salt Corporation in Hambantota and the Ports Authority.

The most important and largest semi government Board that was established was Ceylon Transport Board (CTB). This was done by taking over all the bus companies that were operating throughout the island lock stock and barrel which meant not only the buses, but also the properties where the offices and workshops of the bus companies were located and all the work force.

Mr. SWRD Bandaranaike himself handpicked Mr. Vere de Mel, a former Civil Servant, to be the first Chairman and with the help of some Civil Servants such Messrs. M Rajendra and Edwards, they were able to run the affairs of the CTB efficiently. Asia’s biggest passenger transport organization ran so effectively and efficiently from day one that even the owners of the then well-run bus companies such as the South Western Bus Company were flabbergasted as to how it was done with none of the top level administrators having had any experience in running such an enormous venture.

However, with changes of governments at various times the organization was politicized and gradually the rot set in. Now the politicians wanted make the CTB an employment base to get their henchmen in at various levels. Then there were far too many employees and this plus the lethargy of employees resulted in the downfall of the CTB.

The Ports Authority too had to face this same fate. Once when a Member of Parliament from the Eastern Province was assigned the portfolio of Shipping, he filled the Ports with constituents from his electorate and the Port of Colombo had such a large number of employees, the Ports Authority did not make any profit as the salaries and overtime payments were so high.

When the Paddy Marketing Board (PMB) was established with Mr. MJ Perera as its first Chairman, it was doing a good job, buying all the paddy harvested at a price that helped the farmers who toiled hard to get a good harvest. But later on, the PMB was so ineffective it could not buy the paddy that the farmers had harvested at a reasonable price as their overheads were high.

Politicization of these once well organized and functioning Corporations have ruined them, some beyond resurrection.


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