Watching the amazing performance of those with disabilities, at the opening ceremony in Tokyo on 24th August, I was humbled, to say the least. I have all faculties intact and wonder what I have achieved compared to these, who are overcoming adversity. The wonderful performance by a violinist, a young girl whose right arm that held the bow was just rods and wires from shoulder downwards, who played deftly will be remembered for decades to come.
By Dr Upul Wijayawardhana
The prolonged drought, which some thought may never end, is over at last! We have won a gold medal in the Olympics and all kudos to Dinesh Priyantha Herath who did it in style, by setting a new Paralympic world record in the men’s F46 javelin throw. It was a respite, though temporary, for the long-suffering Sri Lankans as eloquently stated in the editorial “A man worth his weight in gold” (The Island, 31 August). One would have thought, no one would disagree with the editor’s assessment but, unfortunately, there are unpatriotic idiots. The translation of a social media post, forwarded to a WhatsApp group, reads: “Sri Lanka is a funny country where those who should go before war crimes tribunals, instead go to Olympics to win medals”! No, it is not translated from Tamil. It would not have been surprising had a maniacal supporter of the Tigers uploaded it but this was posted , in Sinhala, by a former MP who represents another political party that metamorphosed from a terrorist group. I am not sure whether it is a new post or an old one; if new, it is in very poor taste. However, if it is old, this unprecedented achievement is a reminder to these unpatriotic politicians that our Ranaviruwo are good at not only winning wars but also gold!
Having had the luxury of time, thanks to retirement, I was able to watch the Olympics and Paralympics in 2012, 2016 and am watching the delayed 2020 events. Having observed closely and considering the additional burden imposed on them, having to overcome adversity in the form of various disabilities, I have no doubt that the true Olympians are the Paralympians.
In fact, moved by the amazing performances during the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Paralympics, I started penning a piece but other events overtook distracting my attention. Everything happens for the best, they say, and the delay was worthwhile, as I am able to complete my task with a sense of pride. I was yearning for, at least a bronze medal for our team in the Olympics, but the only purpose served was for some VIP politicians to attend with dubious funding! Paralympics, though considered not important enough to be watched by these VIPs, produced something spectacular, as another former soldier Dulan Kodituwakku, joined Dinesh, with a bronze medal. Had it not been for the involvement of the Army, we would not have been able to carry out such a massive vaccination campaign, poor Sri Lanka having vaccinated a higher percentage of adults than the much-acclaimed New Zealand! Political traitors, in truck with interested foreigners, are doing their utmost to tarnish the image of our Army but, by its actions, during the war and after, it has won the plaudits of all patriots.
Paralympic Games started long after the modern Olympic Games, which started in Athens, Greece, in 1896 though Ancient Olympics have been held from 8th century BCE to 4th century CE. Disabled athletes have competed in Olympics, Lis Hartel, a Danish equestrian, affected by polio, winning a silver medal in dressage at the 1952 Olympics. But before the start of Paralympics, they had no choice, playing in an unequal field.
The first organised event for disabled athletes, which coincided with the opening day of the 1948 London Summer Olympic Games, was the brain-child of German-born Dr Ludwig Guttmann, who escaped Jewish persecution, and worked in Stoke Mandeville Hospital, a rehabilitation hospital for injured soldiers. This was a Game for British World War II veterans with spinal cord injuries and was called the 1948 International Wheelchair Games. Guttman’s aim was to create an elite sports competition for people with disabilities that would be equivalent to the Olympic Games and he succeeded. The second games were held in 1952, also at Stoke Mandeville Hospital, when Dutch and Israeli veterans joined the British, making it the first international competition of its own kind. These competitions, known as the Stoke Mandeville Games, were the precursors of the Paralympic Games, Stoke Mandeville holding a similar place in the lore of the Paralympic movement as Greece holds in the Olympic movement.
The first official Paralympic Games, coinciding with the ninth Stoke Mandeville Games, was held in Rome in 1960. It was no longer limited to war veterans, 400 athletes from 23 countries competing. Since then, the Paralympic Games have taken place in the same year as the Olympic Games and although the Games were initially open only to athletes in wheelchairs, at the 1976 Summer Games athletes with different disabilities were included in the Games for the first time. This resulted in 1,600 athletes from 40 countries taking part. The 1988 Summer Paralympics in Seoul was another milestone for the Paralympic movement as it was in Seoul that the tradition of holding Paralympic Summer Games directly after the Summer Olympics, in the same host city, using the same facilities, started.
Watching the amazing performance of those with disabilities, at the opening ceremony in Tokyo on 24th August, I was humbled, to say the least. I have all faculties intact and wonder what I have achieved compared to these, who are overcoming adversity. The wonderful performance by a violinist, a young girl whose right arm that held the bow was just rods and wires from shoulder downwards, who played deftly will be remembered for decades to come. This is just one of many remarkable performances.
The theme of the evening was “Moving Forward: We Have Wings” and everything was around airports and aircraft. To highlight disability, 13-year-old Yui Wago performed the role of the ‘Little One-Winged Plane’, her wheelchair having only the right wing and a propeller at the back. Though she uses an electric wheelchair because of weakness in her left hand, she chose to use a manual one in the opening ceremony to make the performance more natural. She practiced three times a week, eight hours a day, and at one point suffered from an aching back. She gave a superb performance of an airplane that had once given up on flying, but realised its own potential after meeting other planes. I was waiting for her to be lifted up but, instead, clever technology made her appear to take off, which became blurred as, by that time, my eyes welled with tears!
Japan, one of our closest friends, gave us the opportunity to ‘take off’ in Tokyo and Dinesh’s achievement would be recorded in gold letters. I am in total agreement with the editor that he is worth his weight in gold and do hope many others would tread the golden path he laid.
Why Small Farms will be the backbone of food security
The ecological axiom that: ‘Energy flow through a system tends to organise and simplify that system’, is abundantly clear in agriculture. As farms moved from small interdependent units, bounded by fences and hedgerows, to large cropping fields to accommodate machine management, we lose the biodiversity that once existed on that landscape and the biomass that provided the Ecosystem Services. This sacrifice was rationalised through the invocation of economic profit. The economic ‘profit’ gained by subsidies on fossil fuel and uncontrolled extraction from the Global Commons. The ‘development’ of agriculture has become a race to control the commodity market. The farmer ceased to be a feature of the farm. In a telling statement, the farmers of Sri Lanka sent the following statement to the CGIAR in 1998 :
‘We, the farmers of Sri Lanka would like to further thank the CGIAR, for taking an interest in us. We believe that we speak for all of our brothers and sisters the world over when we identify ourselves as a community who are integrally tied to the success of ensuring global food security. In fact it is our community who have contributed to the possibility of food security in every country since mankind evolved from a hunter-gather existence. We have watched for many years, as the progression of experts, scientists and development agents passed through our communities with some or another facet of the modern scientific world. We confess that at the start we were unsophisticated in matters of the outside world and welcomed this input. We followed advice and we planted as we were instructed. The result was a loss of the varieties of seeds that we carried with us through history, often spanning three or more millennia. The result was the complete dependence of high input crops that robbed us of crop independence. In addition, we farmers producers of food, respected for our ability to feed populations, were turned into the poisoners of land and living things, including fellow human beings. The result in Sri Lanka is that we suffer from social and cultural dislocation and suffer the highest pesticide- related death toll on the planet. Was this the legacy that you the agricultural scientists wanted to bring to us ? We think not. We think that you had good motives and intentions, but left things in the hands of narrowly educated, insensitive people.’
The diverse farm had to yield to production monoculture, which was made possible through the burning of fossil fuels. Ironically the burning of fossil fuels is the major reason for the current destabilised climate and threat to agriculture. One consequence of climate change is the predicted rise in global temperatures. If ambient temperatures exceed 40 degrees , which has become the reality in many places even today, food production will be compromised. All the food we eat originates with plants and plants produce using photosynthesis. Photosynthesis, or the capture of solar energy by plants, is done with chlorophyll, the thing that makes plants green and chlorophyll begins to break down after 40 degrees. Landscapes whose summer temperatures go beyond this limit will have smaller and smaller crops as the temperatures increase. The only solution to this oncoming crisis, is to begin introducing trees at strategic points on the landscape.
Trees and all other forms of vegetation cool the environment around them through the transpiration process, which takes place in the leaves. The water absorbed by the roots is sent up to the leaves which release it as vapor, cooling the air around it. Measurements on trees done by research institutions worldwide, indicate that an average large tree produces the cooling equivalent of eight room sized air conditioners running for 10 hours, a cooling yield 0f 1,250,000 Bthu per day. Plantations of trees have been recoded to have daytime temperatures at least 3 degrees below the ambient. This is an important aspect of Ecosystem Services that needs to be considered for adaptive agriculture.
Small farms which produce food with low external energy and maintain high biomass and biodiversity, are the models of food production that can face the climate compromised future before us. Capital, resource and energy expensive agricultural systems could fail in a high temperature future and threaten global food security, we need options. One would be to encourage a consumption and distribution system that facilitates small farmers to enter the market. Another would be to realise the value of the ecosystem services of a farm and develop systems to measure and reward. We are all aware of the future before us. Now is not the time to stand blinking like a deer facing the headlights.
But placing trees in and around cropping areas becomes a problem in large cropping fields designed to accommodate machine management. The management of such trees and hedgerows requires needs that cannot be provided without human management. Agricultural landscapes will need management that will be adaptive to the changing climate. An example would be; small interdependent units bounded by fences and that increase biodiversity and the biomass while providing Ecosystem Services.
Investment in food security, should take climate change seriously. All new agricultural projects should address the heat thresholds of the planned crops. The Sri Lankan country statement at COP 21 stated that :
“We are aware that the optimum operating temperature of chlorophyll is at 37 deg C. In a warming world where temperatures will soar well above that, food production will be severely impacted.”
And that :
“We are aware that the critical Ecosystem services such as; production of Oxygen, sequestering of Carbon, water cycling and ambient cooling is carried out by the photosynthetic component of biomass. This is being lost at an exponential rate, due to the fact that these Ecosystem Services have not been valued, nor economically recognised.”
These statements cry out for the recognition of the role that small farms will have to play in the future. In a temperature compromised future, small farms with high standing biomass, through their cooler temperatures will continue to produce food in heat stressed periods. If such Ecosystem Services can be given a value, it will strengthen the economy of small farms and ensure local, sustainable food production into the future.
Small farms which produce food with low external energy and maintain high biomass and biodiversity, are the models of food production that can face the climate compromised future before us. Capital, resource and energy expensive agricultural systems could fail in a high temperature future and threaten global food security, we need options. One would be to encourage a consumption and distribution system that facilitates small farmers to enter the market. Another would be to realize the value of the ecosystem services of a farm and develop systems to measure and reward. We are all aware of the future before us. Now is not the time to stand blinking like a deer in sheadlights.
Encouraging signs, indeed!
Local entertainers can now breathe a sigh of relief…as the showbiz scene is showing signs of improving
Yes, it’s good to see Manilal Perera, the legendary singer, and Derek Wikramanayake, teaming up, as a duo, to oblige music lovers…during this pandemic era.
They will be seen in action, every Friday, at the Irish Pub, and on Sundays at the Cinnamon Grand Lobby.
The Irish Pub scene will be from 7.00 pm onwards, while at the Cinnamon Grand Lobby, action will also be from 7.00 pm onwards.
On November 1st, they are scheduled to do the roof top (25th floor) of the Movenpik hotel, in Colpetty, and, thereafter, at the same venue, every Saturday evening.
Constructive dialogue beyond international community
by Jehan Perera
Even as the country appears to be getting embroiled in more and more conflict, internally, where dialogue has broken down or not taken place at all, there has been the appearance of success, internationally. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa will be leading a delegation this week to Scotland to attend the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26). Both the President, at the UN General Assembly in New York, and Foreign Minister Prof G L Peiris, at the UN Human Rights Council, in Geneva seem to have made positive impacts on their audiences and, especially amongst the diplomatic community, with speeches that gave importance to national reconciliation, based on dialogue and international norms.
In a recent interview to the media Prof Peiris affirmed the value of dialogue in rebuilding international relations that have soured. He said, “The core message is that we believe in engagement at all times. There may be areas of disagreement from time to time. That is natural in bilateral relations, but our effort should always be to ascertain the areas of consensus and agreement. There are always areas where we could collaborate to the mutual advantage of both countries. And even if there are reservations with regard to particular methods, there are still abundant opportunities that are available for the enhancement of trade relations for investment opportunities, tourism, all of this. And I think this is succeeding because we are establishing a rapport and there is reciprocity. Countries are reaching out to us.”
Prof Peiris also said that upon his return from London, the President would engage in talks locally with opposition parties, the TNA and NGOs. He spoke positively about this dialogue, saying “The NGOs can certainly make a contribution. We like to benefit from their ideas. We will speak to opposition political parties. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is going to meet the Tamil National Alliance on his return from COP26, which we will attend at the invitation of the British Prime Minister. So be it the NGO community or the foreign diaspora or the parliamentary opposition in Sri Lanka. We want to engage with all of them and that is very much the way forward”
The concept of a whole-of-government approach is indicative of a more cohesive approach to governance by government ministries, the public administration and state apparatus in general to deal with problems. It suggests that the government should not be acting in one way with the international community and another way with the national community when it seeks to resolve problems. It is consistency that builds trust and the international community will trust the government to the extent that the national community trusts it. Dialogue may slow down decision making at a time when the country is facing major problems and is in a hurry to overcome them. However, the failure to engage in dialogue can cause further delays due to misunderstanding and a refusal to cooperate by those who are being sidelined.
There are signs of fragmentation within the government as a result of failure to dialogue within it. A senior minister, Susil Premajayantha, has been openly critical of the ongoing constitutional reform process. He has compared it to the past process undertaken by the previous government in which there was consultations at multiple levels. There is a need to change the present constitutional framework which is overly centralised and unsuitable to a multi ethnic, multi religious and plural society. More than four decades have passed since the present constitution was enacted. But the two major attempts that were made in the period 1997-2000 and again in 2016-2019 failed.
President Rajapaksa, who has confidence in his ability to stick to his goals despite all obstacles, has announced that a new constitution will be in place next year. The President is well situated to obtain success in his endeavours but he needs to be take the rest of his government along with him. Apart from being determined to achieve his goals, the President has won the trust of most people, and continues to have it, though it is getting eroded by the multiple problems that are facing the country and not seeing a resolution. The teachers’ strike, which is affecting hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren, is now in its fourth month, with no sign of resolution. The crisis over the halting of the import of chemical fertiliser is undermining the position of farmers and consumers at the present time.
An immediate cause for the complaints against the government is the lack of dialogue and consultation on all the burning issues that confront the country. This problem is accentuated by the appointment of persons with military experience to decision-making positions. The ethos of the military is to take decisions fast and to issue orders which have to be carried out by subordinates. The President’s early assertion that his spoken words should be taken as written circulars reflects this ethos. However, democratic governance is about getting the views of the people who are not subordinates but equals. When Minister Premajayantha lamented that he did not know about the direction of constitutional change, he was not alone as neither does the general public or academicians which is evidenced by the complete absence of discussion on the subject in the mass media.
The past two attempts at constitutional reform focused on the resolution of the ethnic conflict and assuaging the discontent of the ethnic and religious minorities. The constitutional change of 1997-2000 was for the purpose of providing a political solution that could end the war. The constitutional change of 2016-19 was to ensure that a war should not happen again. Constitutional reform is important to people as they believe that it will impact on how they are governed, their place within society and their equality as citizens. The ethnic and religious minorities will tend to prefer decentralised government as it will give them more power in those parts of the country in which they are predominant. On the other hand, that very fact can cause apprehension in the minds of the ethnic and religious majority that their place in the country will be undermined.
Unless the general public is brought aboard on the issue of constitutional change, it is unlikely they will support it. We all need to know what the main purpose of the proposed constitutional reform is. If the confidence of the different ethnic and religious communities is not obtained, the political support for constitutional change will also not be forthcoming as politicians tend to stand for causes that win them votes. Minister Premajayantha has usefully lit an early warning light when he said that politicians are not like lamp posts to agree to anything that the government puts before them. Even though the government has a 2/3 majority, this cannot be taken for granted. There needs to be buy in for constitutional reform from elected politicians and the general public, both from the majority community and minorities, if President Rajapaksa is to succeed where previous leaders failed.
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