The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite captured this natural-color image of the Caspian Sea, left, on June 4, 2010. The map on the right shows the impact of Caspian Sea level projections of -30 feet and -60 feet at the end of the 21st century. Red regions fall dry.(NASA image by Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Rapid Response Team / Map by Prange, M., Wilke, T. & Wesselingh, F.P. The other side of sea level change.)
Imagine you are on the coast, looking out to sea. In front of you lies 100 metres of barren sand that looks like a beach at low tide with gentle waves beyond. And yet there are no tides.
This is what we found when we visited the small harbour of Liman, on the Caspian Sea coast of Azerbaijan. The Caspian is actually a lake, the largest in the world and it is experiencing a devastating decline in its water level that is about to accelerate. By the end of the century the Caspian Sea will be nine metres to 18 metres lower. That’s a depth considerably taller than most houses.
It means the lake will lose at least 25 per cent of its former size, uncovering 93,000 sq km of dry land. If that new land were a country, it would be the size of Portugal.
As we found in our new research, the crisis may well result in an ecocide as devastating as the one in the Aral Sea, a few hundred kilometres to the east. The Caspian’s surface is already dropping by 7 cm every year, a trend likely to increase.
In five years, it might be about 40 cm lower than today and in ten years almost one metre lower. Maritime countries worldwide are coming to terms with one metre or so of sea level rise by the end of the century. The Caspian Sea faces a drop of that size — except it will happen within a decade.
Climate change is the culprit. The Caspian Sea waters are isolated, its surface is already around 28 metres below global oceans. Its level is the product of how much water is flowing in from rivers, mostly the mighty Volga to the north, how much it rains and how much evaporates away.
At the end of the century, the Volga and other northern rivers will still be there. However, a projected temperature rise of about 3? to 4? in the region will drive evaporation through the roof.
Future misery despite past crises
The Caspian Sea has a history of violent rises and falls. In Derbent, on the Caucasus coast of Russia, submerged ancient city walls testify to how low the sea was in medieval times. Around 10,000 years ago, the Caspian was about 100 metres lower. A few thousand years before that it was about 50 metres higher than today and even overspilled into the Black Sea.
Yet people who lived beside the sea were able to overcome the swings. No human infrastructure was around to be destroyed and many animal species simply moved up and down with the sea levels, as they had done over the past 2 million years or so. But this time is different. The fall will affect the Caspian’s unique and already stressed animal and plant life, along with human societies along the coasts.
In some areas, the coastline is about to retract hundreds of metres a year or more. Can you imagine building new piers and harbours that fast? By the time they are ready, the sea will have moved kilometres or tens of kilometres further away. Coastal promenades will soon be landlocked. The beaches of today will be the sand ridges stranded in barren plains of tomorrow.
The drop will also affect lowland rivers and deltas around the Caspian Sea. Once-fertile plains will become too dry for watermelon and rice farming to continue.
Unique Caspian life in peril
The town of Ramsar, on the Iranian coast, gave its name to a global wetland convention. But as the sea recedes, the town is becoming landlocked and the surrounding wetlands will be gone within decades.
The shallower “shelves” of the northern and eastern Caspian are major food supplies for fish and birds, yet the entire northern and eastern shelves will transform in dry barren lands. This will devastate fish species, the Caspian seal and a richness of molluscs and crustaceans species unique to the sea.
These Caspian inhabitants have already suffered badly in the past century from pollution, poaching and invasive species. About 99 per cent of Caspian seal pups are raised on the winter ice of the north Caspian. Yet both the winter ice and indeed the whole north Caspian will disappear.
Remaining biodiversity hotspots in depths between 50 metres and 150 metres will be affected as rivers dump nutrients into the deeper central basins combined with rising temperatures. This will decrease oxygen levels and developing ecological dead zones could affect the remaining refuges of Caspian species. A genuine ecocide is around the corner.
The situation cries for action, but possibilities are limited. Rising global CO2 levels, the main driver of climate conditions causing the Caspian crisis, can only be dealt with global agreements. In Soviet times, large scale water diversions from Siberian rivers were proposed to deal with the shrinking Aral Sea to the east. But such large works — in the case of the Caspian Sea, a canal from the Black Sea might be considered — come with huge ecological and geopolitical risks.
Yet action is necessary to safeguard the Caspian Sea’s unique plants and animals and the livelihood of the people who live around it. The stranded small harbour in Liman is further from the sea every year. If no action is taken, it will be left alone in more than one way.
Foreign Secretary sounds ‘consensual resolution’ as pressure mounts in Geneva
by Shamindra Ferdinando
Foreign Secretary Admiral Prof. Jayanath Colombage on Monday (25) night revealed that the government was having discussions with the UK-led Sri Lanka Core Group in a bid to explore the possibility of reaching a consensus on what he described as a ‘consensual resolution’ ahead of the 46th sessions of the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) scheduled for Feb-March this year.
Admiral Colombage acknowledged that an agreement on a consensual resolution was a politically challenging task. FS Colombage said so in conversation with Faraz Shauketaly on ‘News Line’ on TV 1.
Asked whether the government was under pressure to co-sponsor the new resolution or face a vote in case Sri Lanka rejected the UK-led move, the naval veteran said there was dialogue between the two parties in this regard. Talks have to be concluded today (27)
Prof. Colombage ruled out the possibility of Sri Lanka co-sponsoring the new resolution. The top Foreign Ministry official also dismissed the interviewer’s assertion the government was under pressure to accept the new resolution.
Admiral Colombage said they were also studying some suggestions made by the Core Group.
Asked whether the government would try to convince the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) led political grouping that had demanded an international war crimes investigation in addition to a range of punitive measures to reverse its decision, FS Colombage emphasized that Sri Lanka waged war against an internationally proscribed terrorist group.
The interviewer sought the Foreign Secretary’s assertion of retired justice C.V. Wigneswaran, MP, who signed Jan. 15 dated petition, in his capacity as the leader of Tamil Makkal Thesiya Kutani (TMTK). Altogether, 13 lawmakers represented the three political parties that called for external intervention.
Declaring that serious war crimes hadn’t been committed during the war, FS Colombage questioned the motives of those continuing to harp on unsubstantiated war crimes allegations. Referring to the failure on the part of the Northern Provincial Council to spend the funds allocated for the benefit of the public, FS Colombage asked whether an agenda detrimental to post-war national reconciliation was being pursued.
In the wake of Sri Lanka quitting in Feb 2020 Geneva Resolution co-sponsored by the previous government against one’s own country in Oct 2015, Geneva has warned Sri Lanka of serious consequences. In addition to freezing assets and travel bans slapped on those who had been ‘credibly accused of human rights violations,’ Geneva recommended the launch of criminal proceedings at the International Criminal Court and an international mechanism to gather evidence.
Referring to the US travel ban imposed on Army Commander Gen. Shavendra Silva in Feb 2020, the interviewer sought the Foreign Secretary’s opinion on the Geneva report. Refuting allegations, Admiral Colombage alleged serious shortcomings, including factual errors.
Asked whether the recent appointment of a three-member Commission of Inquiry (CoI) chaired by Supreme Court Judge Nawaz to examine previous CoI reports et al wasn’t too late as well as insufficient just ahead of the 46th sessions, Admiral Colombage explained how eruption of first Covid-19 wave that resulted in the postponement of general elections scheduled for April 2020 caused serious setback to government efforts.
Commenting on simmering controversy over the Sri Lanka-India agreement on the East Container Terminal (ECT) at the Colombo harbour, Admiral Colombage expressed confidence the issue could be resolved soon. The former Navy Chief categorically denied India’s valuable support to Sri Lanka at Geneva et al would be linked with agreement on ECT.
Responding to criticism directed at India over a spate of issues, including the forced imposition of the 13th Amendment thereby creating the Provincial Council system, Admiral Colombage pointed out the Tamil Nadu factor. Admiral Colombage, having reiterated President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s foreign policy statement, assured Sri Lanka’s commitment to friendly ties with major powers.
FS Colombage emphasized that Sri Lanka’s bilateral relations wouldn’t be at the expense of another country.
Admiral Colombage regretted the recent mid-sea collision involving an SLN Fast Attack Craft and an Indian fishing trawler that resulted in the deaths of four fishermen. The FS emphasized that the incident happened well within Sri Lankan waters near Delft Island.
Navy headquarters last week alleged that the Indian vessel collided with FAC while trying to flee a naval cordon.
Admiral Colombage said that the SLN vessel would have suffered serious damage if the Indian trawler happened to be one with a steel hull.
Asked whether US, India, Japan and Australia would take a common stand vis a vis Sri Lanka in respect of accountability issues, Admiral Colombage asserted that wouldn’t be the case. “Sri Lanka is important to them” Admiral Colombage said, while describing them as the four pillars of the Quad-a security alliance.
Commenting on the disclosures made by Lord Naseby in the House of Lords in Oct 2017, Admiral Colombage appreciated the British politician’s efforts to set the record straight as regards war crimes accusations. The Foreign Secretary said that the revelations were made on the basis of genuine and accurate sources.
The British Lord used classified wartime British HC cables (Jan – May 2009) obtained following a legal battle to counter Geneva accusations. Sri Lanka is yet to officially request Geneva to revisit the 2015 resolution on the basis of Lord Naseby’s revelations.
UK takes up forced cremation of Covid-19 victims
The UK has raised human rights concerns with Sri Lanka including forced cremation of COVID-19 victims.
High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, Sarah Hulton OBE said in Tweeter message that the UN report in this regard is to be published next week and she would inform the approach to UN Human Rights Council.
“UK raising human rights concerns with Sri Lanka, including forced cremation of COVID19 victims. UN report to be published next week, will inform the approach to @UN_HRC,” she tweeted.
Electors unaware of electoral register revision process – CMEV
Text and pictures by PRIYAN DE SILVA
National Coordinator of the Centre for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV) Manjula Gajanayaka, who visited the polling districts of Puttlam and Vanni, last week, to look into allegation that more than 7,000 voters in the polling division of Mannar were to be struck off the electoral register, said that electors were unaware of the electoral register revision process. He called upon the Election Commission of Sri Lanka to take immediate steps to educate the public on what actually is taking place; he urged the political parties not to capitalise on the situation.
Additional Commissioner of Elections Rasika Pieris said that electoral registers had been revised annually in accordance with the Registration of Electors Act 44 of 1980 to make voting more convenient to the electors by assigning them to the polling stations closest to residences.
Pieris added that in addition to convenience there were many more advantages to be registered as an elector in the district one resides in.
Retired Irrigation Engineer A. L. Burhanudhdheen is a chief occupant that has received the Revision of Electoral Register Notice sent by the Assistant Election Commissioner, Mannar.
Burhanudhdeen had been a resident of Akaththimurippu, Mannar until being driven out by the LTTE in 1990. After being displaced he took refuge in Puttalam and at present lives in a modest house at Nagavillu, Puttlam.
Burhanudhdeen said that he visited his property in Mannar whenever it was possible, but was unable to construct a new house there due to financial constraints. He also said that whenever possible he and his family had exercised their right to vote in the polling district of Mannar up to the 2020 Parliamentary election. At the last presidential election they had been provided with transport while the Election Commission arranged for a cluster voting facility in Puttlam for the last Parliamentary election, he said.
Voicing his fears Burhanudhdeen said that he and his family might be struck off the electoral register in Mannar if their appeal was not accepted and added that they had not registered as voters of the Electoral District of Puttalam even though they were resident there.
Assistant Commissioner of Elections Mannar J. Jeniton said that taking action based on reports submitted by Grama Seva Niladharis nearly 10,000 revisions of election register notices had been sent by registered post to electors in the Mannar polling division.
Jeniton said that the majority of them were known to be persons who were forced to flee from their homes in 1990 due to the conflict. It had been found that they were not resident in that area, he added.
Jeniton said that about 700 persons had been requested to attend the inquiries and bring with them documents to prove their residence, but only 15 persons had been present.
Chairman of the Musalee Pradeshiya Sabha A.G.H. Subeeham said that 3,542 constituents in Musalee had been served with Revision of Electoral Register notices requesting them to explain why their names should not be struck off the electoral register. Subeeham said that he did not understand the basis on which the list had been compiled as even persons who had been resident in Musalee for the past 10 years had received such notices. He appealed to the authorities to give the IDPs a grace period of two years to resettle.
The polling districts of Mannar, Mulaitivu and Vavuniya make up the Vanni Electoral District and six Members of Parliament represent the District.
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