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Road Safety: Never in Sri Lanka?

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It was a hard decision for me to write this piece because of the umpteen number of letters / articles penned on this subject for decades ( 1981 to date ), all of which have fallen on deaf ears

After my training under a WHO Fellowship in 1988 on the subject of road safety, two Seminars and Exhibitions using a physical model 16’X 8’ were held at the OPA in years 2000 and 2003 under the caption: “Introduction to the Basics of Lane Discipline”; which like all good things were completely sabotaged by the very same people who should have benefitted from it. (see Island of 22.23,24 September 2005 for more details)

Lane Discipline is not just a word. It is a whole subject that can be easily understood even by a student who has done mathematics up to the “O” levels. So our attention first goes to our Driving Schools, and the multiplicity of organizations with well paid staff for doing nothing. Their only qualification is perhaps that they are somebody’s somebody.

The recent tragedy at Passara killing 15 innocent people for which the ill trained truck driver is to blame is a good example. Judging from the video clips shown:

(1) the road narrowing was seen on the side of the truck driver who should have stopped and given way to the oncoming bus

(2) the truck driver had failed to give right of way to the bus which was climbing while the truck was descending

(3) The bus driver would have been helpless, because, if the fully loaded bus was forced to stop when climbing, he would have had difficulty in restarting,

While our well paid gentlemen engaged on road safety will read and forget, till the next tragedy occurs, but to me it is a reminder of some of the most gruesome fatal accidents I have recorded or seen with my own eyes. (1) a pregnant young girl pillion rider on her way to her mother’s place for her first confinement was knocked down by a tipper driver carrying sand on Parliament Road, flattening her body fully above the chest and the unborn baby was found rejected minus the head. Later in the evening I saw a dog taking away a piece of the skull of the victim (2) A pariah double decker driver on Kelani Bridge rammed into a hand cart pushed along on the wrong side carrying a load of bamboos. One bamboo went right through the stomach of the poor boy.What a sight it was to see a blood drenched boy seen moving about the road on all fours like an animal. Sure these two drivers are still driving on our roads. ( 3 ) A young lady doctor on duty lost her life travelling in an ambulance of the Ministry of Health that met with an accident, at a time when we are made to believe that an ambulance is the safest vehicle on our roads. In this connection I hesitate to mention another jealous lady doctor, who was secretary to the National Council for Prevention of Accidents (NCPA), who got rid of all the engineers from the NCPA and renaming it as NCPI as if only meant for doctors, should now examine her conscience.

The saddest day for me was the day I participated at the so-called launch of the proposal to create the NCRS, describing it as a white elephant to employ relations and friends of politicians. The sponsors succeeded to mislead the Prime Minister to approve the creation of this white elephant. Their performance during the so-called their own decade of action (2011 to 2020 ) is proof of their inability to solve this problem. Now on to the second decade of inactivity (2021 to 2030 ) what we can expect was shown during the month of January 2021 itself, with a sharp increase in road accidents.

The subject of road safety should rightly come under a separate branch of the RDA called “Traffic Engineering Branch” as in Singapore, consisting of civil engineers well trained on road safety matters and responsible for correct road markings, road signs,. operation and maintenance to traffic lights as in Singapore. (see Island of 03-01-2020 Response to the Editor’s New Year wish for more) The Police will engage in law enforcement only.

Being less pessimistic, there is still a ray of hope at the end of the long dark tunnel, only if President Gotabaya Rajapaksa takes this subject under him personally, and appoints competent professionals with the aptitude to road safety matters and possess sufficient foreign driving experience to work together to find a solution. They should not be given anything more than three months to report on their findings by not making it a profitable job. It is best that this subject is taken off the hands of time consuming and funds wasting bodies such as NCPI, Ceyspa, AA , ,NCRS. etc and use such funds for better purposes.

 

Eng ANTON NANAYAKKARA

Chartered Civil Engineer



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Opinion

Close country during Vesak

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The one (and maybe the only) positive decision taken by the government, in the recent past, was to lock down the entire island for this weekend, making it a three-day restriction. (I write on Saturday May 15). Otherwise, with the Ramazan festival coming in, we – a poor small country – would have descended to the nadir that mighty India is in, suffering death pangs due to letting the Covid-19 pandemic easily become a devastating epidemic, with full scope given to the dark Reaper to cull thousands of people with his death dealing scythe.

Blame is laid fairly and squarely on India’s leader PM Modi. He is responsible for the mass deaths and rampant infection in the subcontinent. He will suffer defeat at the next elections, unless, of course, brainless Indians – surely there are these among the ultra-intelligent over there – will be like us Sinhalayas with short memories and blinding sycophancy.

What most sensible people of this Paradise-gone-to-rot want is that the country will be locked down during the next festival, too, from Tuesday 25 May through Thursday 27 May. Never mind Vesak, or should I say because of Vesak. Wise head monks have closed the gates of their temples and allow people in after screening them with Covid-19 procedures. During Vesak, the ultra-religious might think they have to go to temple and offer flowers, light pahanas and chant, mostly asking for benefit to themselves. The young and not-so-young may get the urge to saunter around in the moonlight, though there will be no illuminations and moneymaking trades like sale of food, drink and baubles. This is a hoped-for situation; I mean the decimation of lights and festivity. Much more truly religious is to follow the Buddha’s Dhamma of quiet solitude, reflection and meditation. TV channels, bless them, amply provide programmes for Buddhist thought and direction.

Thus, we plead to the President and the Covid Prevention Task Force to lock all people of Sri Lanka during Vesak Poya days – never mind protests of a minority of Buddhists and a few monks who may shout traditions being tampered with. Dire situations call for dire preventive measures. The mistake made during the Sinhala and Tamil New Year, of giving total freedom to the people for popularity’s sake – the principal cause of the swelling wave of infection – MUST not be repeated. Close the country from Tuesday 25 to Thursday 27 (both days included) and if needed, throw in an extra – Friday 28. Consider the health and lives of the people, not being popular and winning votes next time around. The Sinhala Buddhist majority will appreciate such a move, because though some people given an inch take a mile, most others have brains to think correctly.

SENSIBLE WOMAN

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Opinion

What went wrong?

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By Dr Upul Wijayawardhana

I am stuck in the UK, badly missing trips back home, but I have been closely following the developments in Sri Lanka, especially with regard to the Covid-19 epidemic and the engulfing political drama. It was no great effort either, as plenty of time was available, being almost totally housebound, dreading to go out as the virus was killing thousands and thousands in the UK. What was remarkable, initially, was how badly the UK controlled the pandemic and how well Sri Lanka did. Total number of deaths in Sri Lanka remained very low for months whilst the Brits were dying in large numbers. It is the other way around, now; deaths due to Covid-19 in Sri Lanka are exceeding that of the UK now. What went wrong?

Whilst Sri Lanka is grappling with a resurgence, caused by the excesses indulged during the Sinhala and Tamil New Year festivities, the British government recently announced significant relaxation of pandemic preventive measure. It expects the country to be ‘near-normal’ by mid-June, if the present trends continue. One may argue that normalcy cannot be guaranteed until the virus is controlled, globally, as well stated in the editorial “All hat and no cattle” (The Island, 10th May). The editor argued that “the only way out is to follow the motto—unus pro omnibus, omnes pro uno (‘one for all, all for one’).”

Although both are island nations, admittedly, the UK and Sri Lanka are poles apart, on many counts, most significant being the availability of resources. The UK is rich enough to buffer the resultant economic downturn, whereas Sri Lanka was struggling, economically, even before the epidemic. Therefore, attempts by the Sri Lankan government, to keep the economy afloat, are mandated by sheer necessity, although the Opposition accuses it of endangering lives. The big question is how to strike the right balance. At the time of Independence, our economy was in better shape than that of the Brits, but where are we, now? That, however, is another story.

At the start of the pandemic, the UK was slow to close its borders. Again, it was a tough call because Heathrow is one of the busiest airports in the world. The UK paid heavily, in terms of lives lost, because of this. UK politicians took the advice of expert committees, and whether the initial failures were due to wrong advice by scientists or not, we will not know until the findings of the committee, to be appointed by the British government, is available. However, the UK government took serious notice of the advice by scientists, regarding the need for mass vaccination, and placed orders for vaccines, even before trials for their effectiveness were concluded. That strategy paid off. Already, two-thirds of the adult population in the UK has received one dose and one-third of has received the second dose, as well. It was interesting to follow the progress: as the vaccination drive proceeded, the number of cases, the numbers in intensive care, and the number of deaths, progressively plummeted.

If there are any vaccine doubters, they need to look at what happened in the UK. I am personally aware of many ‘so-called educated’ vaccine-doubters. The responses in a WhatsApp group, started by a friend of mine, are very illuminating. There is a nutritionist who argues against vaccination, suggesting that boosting immunity, by nutrition, is the way forward. Professor Emeritus Saman Gunatilake has addressed this issue, academically, in his illuminating piece “Boosting immune system to fight Covid-19: Is it possible?” (The Island, 7 May). There is a media lawyer who supports the nutritionist and sends contrasting messages. Three hours, after forwarding a message which states that CDC data shows the survival rate, for under 69, is over 99%, he forwards another message stating that a site by the University of Washington predicts Sri Lanka will soon have 200 deaths daily. Both ‘experts’ take part in TV discussions and are very likely to be passing on wrong messages, as they are continually forwarding anti-vaccine messages, the latest being that vaccination has made the epidemic worse. Wonder why they callously disregard the success of the UK. Covid-19 has given rise to a plethora of experts who give widely differing opinions about many things, including the UK variant, but the UK is successfully controlling the epidemic, with vaccination, which is estimated to have saved at least 10,000 lives so far.

It is a pity these vaccine-doubters overlook the fact that some diseases are eradicated, thanks to vaccines. The most successful vaccine ever is the smallpox vaccine, which enabled the eradication of the dreaded disease that existed for millennia, killing more than 300 million, in the 20th century, and around 500 million, during the last 100 years of its existence, including six monarchs. Initially, before Edward Jenner introduced vaccination, with the cowpox virus, in 1796, direct inoculations, with smallpox virus, were used, which had a mortality rate of 3% but this was acceptable as the mortality rate of smallpox was around 30%-40%.

Some exaggerate the risks of vaccination. There is no drug, without side-effects, and vaccines are no exception. Concern about the Oxford AZ vaccine causing Superficial Cerebral Vein Thrombosis was made use of by the German Chancellor to promote the Pfizer vaccine, which was developed by a German bio-tech company. Medicine and Healthcare Regulatory Agency of the UK made a detailed study and recommended, when possible, those under 40 should be offered an alternative vaccine but emphasized the safety of AZ vaccine. To put in perspective, the birth control pill poses a greater risk of causing venous thrombosis; so does Covid-19 itself.

What went wrong, in Sri Lanka, is putting sentiment over science. The government failed to establish an expert committee, which could have been done easily as we are not short of real experts in the relevant fields. The decisions made by that committee could have been translated to practice by the committee, headed by the Army Commander. Another failing was the lack of proper communication. In the UK, the Prime Minister, or one of the senior ministers, together with senior scientists, hold regular press conferences.

Instead, what did we do? Our Health Minister polluted rivers with pots, devised by a faith-healer, and then drank a syrup, made by a charlatan. She wasted the valuable time of Professors of Medicine, as well as resources, to investigate a piece of garbage that was found to be useless, whilst the kapuwa minded money, at the expense of the gullible. Now, a member of my profession also has joined the band-wagon of deception. A non-specialist doctor has joined hands with his brother to sell a concoction of herbs etc.! Why hasn’t the Minister taken action against this errant medic?

We have a State Minister, a Professor of Pharmacology, who sees the benefits of Ayurveda for political reasons! The mother country of Ayurveda, meanwhile, is reeling with Covid-19. If Ayurveda is effective, surely that cannot happen!

All this happens while we have a State Minister, a specialist in communicable diseases, who speaks sense but is largely ignored!

The Minister of Transport reverses the decisions of Medical officers of Health and then blames the poor government servants, stuck between the devil and the deep blue sea, for carrying out his orders. The virus is having a hearty laugh and now infecting his voters!

We thought the President would act decisively once he regained full executive powers from the 20th Amendment, but he seems less powerful than before! The need of the hour is not to protect errant politicians, or unproven systems of treatment, but directing all efforts at getting adequate stocks of vaccines to overcome the epidemic.

It is high time the President considered sacking the incompetent and idiotic ministers. Otherwise, he might as well forget about a second term!

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Opinion

The Organic Ideal – Killing Two Birds with One Stone!

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By I.P.C. MENDIS

The government has very boldly embarked on a long-delayed project of transforming our agricultural habits of heavy dependence on harmful chemical fertiliser to the old method of organic fertilisation. The chemical fertiliser lobby is as strong, if not stronger than the pharmaceutical one. The life story of Dr Senake Bibile speaks for itself! As for the fertiliser lobby, some decades ago, a high-up in a media institution confided in me how he was compelled to jettison his media campaign against chemical fertiliser, about which he was very forcefully using his pen through immense pressure brought about by the strong lobby.

Quite apart from the international connections, please permit the writer to relate a personal experience he had with a media institution, where a certain article he wrote, very much irked a then local high-profile businessman, almost ruling the roost at the time, where this powerful personality had come down hard on the Head of the media institution, threatening to withdraw his advertising budget of sizeable proportion! To the eternal credit of the Editor, he did not join his Boss who had decided to call on the irate customer (Head of a mighty Group then, mind you) who thought he had a right to intervene and control its media policy.

Being privy to the immense power, these lobbies wield, and how they will use it to sabotage any effort which would undermine their business interests, notwithstanding public and human interests, it would be utterly puerile, and even foolish, to confront them in any meaningful way, if political interests are to take precedence. Their money power and influence are capable of winning over, not only sections of the population, but also politicians. Governments can be toppled in the process.

The defeated forces have now received some oxygen, and we see even the high and mighty, who were sent reeling home at the polls, attempting to make their presence felt. There is everything which points to financing by the fertiliser lobby, against the organic fertiliser issue. It is left for the government to be wise about such and other possibilities, when steering on the drive towards its laudable goal. The government failed to rope in the hoarders of rice, despite its rhetoric, and now they are faced with a similar situation in the fertiliser shortage. The remedies the government suggests seem to be worse than the disease. People are sick and tired of seeing any government playing politics, and attempting to find solutions which would please the electorate or business interests, rather than what is needed, and good for the country. To hell with the next election and commission agents; people will rally round results eventually. It has the battle against the LTTE as a feather in the cap. 

Two birds with one stone 

While on the subject of organic fertiliser, the writer wishes to draw the attention of the authorities to the vast acreage of waterways, rivers and canals, covered and infested with water-based plants, like “Japan Jabara’ (water hyacinth) and other odd plants., causing, inter alia, a huge health hazard. This clogging has almost diminished, or made extinct, the fish concentrations, and adversely affected a popular inland fisheries network and breeding of new varieties. This can be a source of nutrition to a vast number of people in villages, and contribute towards employment, too. The water plants thus removed could be tested for their various properties, which could contribute in no small measure to the preparation of organic fertiliser, using it as a cost-effective input to the preparation of organic fertiliser. If I remember right, some research is already available in this regard. It is reported that some outfits have already been lined up to prepare organic fertilizer. These companies, or outfits, can do the clearing and preparation at their own cost, which could be far cheaper than importing organic fertiliser, or importing certain ingredients to manufacture the final product. Some of it could possibly be diverted to the Energy sector. Side by side, farmers can be mobilised to prepare their own needs, or part of them.

How about it, Mr President and Mr Minister of Agriculture and Agrarian Services?

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