Connect with us

Features

THE ILLUSION OF DEVELOPMENT

Published

on

by Ravi Bandaranaike

In 300 BC, Mahinda Thera, bringer of Buddhism to Lanka and son of the Great Emperor Ashoka, said to king Devanampiyatissa of Sri Lanka—“Remember that you are only the guardian of this land for all the people and animals that reside here, not the owner of it”

Sitting in my grandparents’ old house, I contemplate the days when one could see the sea from the back window. Now the land is worth 15 million rupees a perch. The 90- year old art nouveau house has been split in two. The three storey tall frangipani in my garden is one of the last magnificent trees left in this block. The scent of the falling Araliya flowers daily permeates through the air; a sensory symbol that reality is, in fact, not STATIC like concrete. A hardware company just tore down the landmark cricket club cafe to build a car park and the iconic gallery cafe shop to build another apartment building. The land value in our neighborhood has now dropped by 25%. I had to make a personal call to the owner of one of the biggest construction companies just to save the last trees next to the apartment building. The contractor told me it was not his responsibility as he piled sand and cement onto the tree’s roots. Why don’t these corporate businessman hire some gardeners to help them think straight? Any banking theory economist could tell you that the value of land is mostly tied directly to the 100- plus year old trees inhabiting it.

It’s 2020 and COVID 19 is rampant in the world; the average Sri Lankan is still struggling to make it through the month; who’s going to live in these high rise towers anyways? I remember the last time I saw the candy floss (bombai-motai) man who’s been walking these streets for 30 years. He was standing under a tree (now gone) taking cover from the rain, and he looked at me from the distance and gently rang his bell. It was a tinkle of sadness. And, just like that, I never saw him again. The city and the people’s wants had changed, and only he and I seemed to notice. I recall when an apartment building came up a few years ago next to the British Council because the humongous tree next to Queens cafe died right after. How did the vast blue ocean that lay before us become synonymous with dull grey concrete? Something in the construction dust from these 1980’s-inspired monolithic buildings poisons the air we all breathe from. Or could it be the smog from all the petrol cars we’ve been importing?

Most people living in Colombo don’t even understand where their food, water and oxygen come from. For all they know it is grown in plastic bags at the back of their local Food City. Out of sight = out of mind. Our people are STILL not conscious that SRI LANKA is one of the LAST remaining places left ON EARTH where humans still live with animals. Where organic food has been a thing for 2,500 years. Where recycling is part of village culture. Where giant reservoirs were built by noble kings as a hobby. Where sacred peaks were once worshipped, not one year old apartment buildings demarcating the destruction of an entire neighborhood of beautiful gardens.

Let’s just say it’s already too late for Colombo, ONCE one of the greenest cities in the world, now completely ruined by gross governmental mismanagement. Right Now the remaining forest lands in Sinharaja, Knuckles and Haputale are quietly being encroached upon by local villagers aided by local politicians for a few 100,000 rupees. Corporations continue palm oil cultivation and heavy duty quarrying in secrecy. The lungs of this island are becoming clogged by the tar of toxic human dreams. The damage to our commons and future tourism industry will be in the billions of dollars. Scenic mountain towns like Ella have been ruined in just three years by unregulated construction and disastrous waste management. What is the Tourist Board doing about the destruction unfolding as they continue to market a beautiful place that NO LONGER EXISTS? I have long wished that the President of Sri Lanka gets the STF and Navy to protect our LRC forest lands and coral reefs like they used to during the war, instead of developing places that do not need ‘developing’. When did concrete and cement become a synonym of development? A fellow surfer or a foreigner living on this island will tell you that the best things in Sri Lanka are often free. If we do not change our course in the coming decade, cash crop farming and graphite mining will quickly destroy the few remaining forests that elephants and leopards still roam in.

 

Depleting forest cover in Sri Lanka 1956-1999

 

In 2010, I remember a Sri Lanka full of promise. There’s even a picture of me then pledging allegiance to a poster of our war hero president. I opened my first hotel in 2014, an art and plant filled BnB in the city inspired by the great tropical modernist architect Geoffery Bawa. As one of the first comfortable small hotels in Colombo (Clock inn was the first, Cinnamon Red came after us) business was booming and many of us truly believed Sri Lanka had a chance to become a great Asian nation.

Then, in 2015, Sri Lanka’s first major ecological disaster happened, and it went completely unnoticed. A rock wall was built over the surf break in Unawatuna to stop erosion of the beach. It ended up causing more erosion of the beach.

 

The environmental impact (EI) report had clearly not been read by anybody making decisions up top. The loss of the surf break made many of the local surfers turn to drugs as their escape. The rest fell in love, married foreigners and escaped the island. Unawatuna, a quiet sacred village, continued to grow as the first coastal tourism hub since Hikkaduwa despite the changing scenery. The local beach that was considered one of the TOP 10 BEACHES IN THE WORLD, would soon turn into one of the WORST 10 BEACHES IN THE WORLD, all thanks to the illusion of development.

Unawatuna when it was one of the TOP 10 Beaches in the World, 2000  Unawatuna in 2020. Can you spot the difference?

Now in 2020, the soft white coral sand has since been replaced by truckloads of coarse brown deep sea sand and a giant hotel by Araliya Group towers above the temple, BLOCKING the view from sunset point for the ENTIRE VILLAGE. It follows a trend of high rise construction on the coastline that began with the Marriott in Weligama that broke many of the island’s ancient environmental laws. This is just one of more than 10 new high rise towers coming up along the Southern coastline from Balapitiya to Mirissa that will turn our pristine southern coastline into overpopulated tourist hot zones like those in Thailand or Brazil or Bali. What happened to our tree high building rule? Have Arahat Mahinda Thera’s words finally been forgotten in exchange for a few Chinese-American dollars? Not one of these concrete towers will benefit any of the local population as they are built by large foreign entities and private individuals from Colombo solely for profit with little consideration of the long term environmental impact.

Meanwhile, mega corporations continue to plunder the poor by rapidly expanding supermarkets across the country, selling us garbage products we don’t even need, crushing local organic fruit and veggie businesses and riddling the island with single use plastics. Devanampiyatissa and Parakramabahu would be turning in their graves if they saw what the modern Sri Lankan Man was doing to this Ancient Land.

Once again a failed capitalist model of convenience at all cost repeats itself in Sri Lanka, despite the evolution of technology that SHOULD have made us aware of LATE STAGE CAPITALISM and its side effects. Why have we not switched to a model of ECO socialism or ECO capitalism already, where we consider the environmental impact of development? Why do we continue taking giant foreign loans without ecological clauses? Sri Lanka has so much knowledge that could be shared with the world, from Ayurveda (alternative medicine) and tropical architecture to ecological living (with trees) and enlightenment (Buddhist philosophy). Yet we have let a few ego driven businessmen and politicians choose to freely destroy one of the most sacred islands on earth, ripping apart a multi ethnic culture, ignoring the deep true knowledge vested in its peoples. Another sad story dressed up in instagram filters and social media likes.

As I navigate through this mess, crossing paths with the richest industrialists and political families in this small pond, I wonder which of you actually cares about the preservation the last Fountain of Paradise left on Earth?

(The author is a environmentalist, photographer, musicologist and entrepreneur)



Features

Terror figuring increasingly in Russian invasion of Ukraine

Published

on

In yet another mind-numbing manifestation of the sheer savagery marking the Russian invasion of Ukraine, a shopping mall in Ukraine’s eastern city of Kremenchuk was razed to the ground recently in a Russian missile strike. Reportedly more than a hundred civilian lives were lost in the chilling attack.

If the unconscionable killing of civilians is a definition of terrorism, then the above attack is unalloyed terrorism and should be forthrightly condemned by all sections that consider themselves civilized. Will these sections condemn this most recent instance of blood-curdling barbarism by the Putin regime in the Ukrainian theatre and thereby provide proof that the collective moral conscience of the world continues to tick? Could progressive opinion be reassured on this score without further delay or prevarication?

These issues need to be addressed with the utmost urgency by the world community. May be, the UN General Assembly could meet in emergency session for the purpose and speak out loud and clear in one voice against such wanton brutality by the Putin regime which seems to be spilling the blood of Ukrainian civilians as a matter of habit. The majority of UNGA members did well to condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine close on the heels of it occurring a few months back but the Putin regime seems to be continuing the civilian bloodletting in Ukraine with a degree of impunity that signals to the international community that the latter could no longer remain passive in the face of the aggravating tragedy in Ukraine.

The deafening silence, on this question, on the part of those sections the world over that very rightly condemn terror, from whichever quarter it may emanate, is itself most intriguing. There cannot be double standards on this problem. If the claiming of the lives of civilians by militant organizations fighting governments is terror, so are the Putin regime’s targeted actions in Ukraine which result in the wanton spilling of civilian blood. The international community needs to break free of its inner paralysis.

While most Western democracies are bound to decry the Russian-inspired atrocities in Ukraine, more or less unambiguously, the same does not go for the remaining democracies of the South. Increasing economic pressures, stemming from high energy and oil prices in particular, are likely to render them tongue-tied.

Such is the case with Sri Lanka, today reduced to absolute beggary. These states could be expected ‘to look the other way’, lest they be penalized on the economic front by Russia. One wonders what those quarters in Sri Lanka that have been projecting themselves as ‘progressives’ over the years have to say to the increasing atrocities against civilians in Ukraine. Aren’t these excesses instances of state terror that call for condemnation?

However, ignoring the Putin regime’s terror acts is tantamount to condoning them. Among other things, the failure on the part of the world community to condemn the Putin government’s commissioning of war crimes sends out the message that the international community is gladly accommodative of these violations of International Law. An eventual result from such international complacency could be the further aggravation of world disorder and lawlessness.

The Putin regime’s latest civilian atrocities in Ukraine are being seen by the Western media in particular as the Russian strongman’s answer to the further closing of ranks among the G7 states to the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the issues growing out of it. There is a considerable amount of truth in this position but the brazen unleashing of civilian atrocities by the Russian state also points to mounting impatience on the part of the latter for more positive results from its invasion.

Right now, the invasion could be described as having reached a stalemate for Russia. Having been beaten back by the robust and spirited Ukrainian resistance in Kyiv, the Russian forces are directing their fire power at present on Eastern Ukraine. Their intentions have narrowed down to carving out the Donbas region from the rest of Ukraine; the aim being to establish the region as a Russian sphere of influence and buffer state against perceived NATO encirclement.

On the other hand, having failed to the break the back thus far of the Ukraine resistance the Putin regime seems to be intent on demoralizing the resistance by targeting Ukraine civilians and their cities. Right now, most of Eastern Ukraine has been reduced to rubble. The regime’s broad strategy seems to be to capture the region by bombing it out. This strategy was tried out by Western imperialist powers, such as the US and France, in South East Asia some decades back, quite unsuccessfully.

However, by targeting civilians the Putin regime seems to be also banking on the US and its allies committing what could come to be seen as indiscretions, such as, getting more fully militarily and physically involved in the conflict.

To be sure, Russia’s rulers know quite well that it cannot afford to get into a full-blown armed conflict with the West and it also knows that the West would doing its uttermost to avoid an international armed confrontation of this kind that could lead to a Third World War. Both sides could be banked on to be cautious about creating concrete conditions that could lead to another Europe-wide armed conflict, considering its wide-ranging dire consequences.

However, by grossly violating the norms and laws of war in Ukraine Russia could tempt the West into putting more and more of its financial and material resources into strengthening the military capability of the Ukraine resistance and thereby weaken its economies through excessive military expenditure.

That is, the Western military-industrial complex would be further bolstered at the expense of the relevant civilian publics, who would be deprived of much needed welfare expenditure. This is a prospect no Western government could afford to countenance at the present juncture when the West too is beginning to weaken in economic terms. Discontented publics, growing out of shrinking welfare budgets, could only aggravate the worries of Western governments.

Accordingly, Putin’s game plan could very well be to subject the West to a ‘slow death’ through his merciless onslaught on the Ukraine. At the time of writing US President Joe Biden is emphatic about the need for united and firm ‘Transatlantic’ security in the face of the Russian invasion but it is open to question whether Western military muscle could be consistently bolstered amid rising, wide-ranging economic pressures.

Continue Reading

Features

At 80, now serving humanity

Published

on

Thaku Chugani! Does this name ring a bell! It should, for those who are familiar with the local music scene, decades ago.

Thaku, in fact, was involved with the original group X-Periments, as a vocalist.

No, he is not making a comeback to the music scene!

At 80, when Engelbert and Tom Jones are still active, catering to their fans, Thaku is doing it differently. He is now serving humanity.

Says Thaku: “During my tenure as Lion District Governor 2006/2007, Dr Mosun Faderin and I visited the poor of the poorest blind school in Ijebu Ode Ogun state, in Nigeria.

“During our visit, a small boy touched me and called me a white man. I was astonished! How could a blind boy know the colour of my skin? I was then informed that he is cornea blind and his vision could be restored if a cornea could be sourced for him. This was the first time in my life that I heard of a cornea transplant. “

And that incident was the beginning of Thaku’s humanity service – the search to source for corneas to restore the vision of the cornea blind.

It was in 2007, when Dr Mosun and Thaku requested Past International President Lion Rohit Mehta, who was the Chief Guest at MD 404 Nigeria Lions convention, at Illorin, in Nigeria, to assist them in sourcing for corneas as Nigeria was facing a great challenge in getting any eye donation, even though there was an established eye bank.

“We did explain our problems and reasons of not being able to harvest corneas and Lion Rohit Metha promised to look into our plea and assured us that he will try his utmost best to assist in sourcing for corneas.”

Nigeria, at that period of time, had a wait list of over 70 cornea blind children and young adults.

“As assured by PIP Lion Rohit Mehta, we got an email from Gautam Mazumdar, and Dr. Dilip Shah, of Ahmedabad, in India, inviting us for World Blind Day

“Our trip was very fruitful as it was World Blind Day and we had to speak on the blind in Nigeria.”

“We were invited by Gautam Mazumdar to visit his eye bank and he explained the whole process of eye banking.

“We requested for corneas and also informed him about our difficulties in harvesting corneas.

“After a long deliberation, he finally agreed to give us six corneas. It was a historical moment as we were going to restore vision of six cornea blind children. To me, it was a great experience as I was privileged to witness cornea transplant in my life and what a moment it was for these children, when their vision was restored.

“Thus began my journey of sight restoration of the cornea blind, and today I have sourced over 1000 corneas and restored vision of the cornea blind in Nigeria, Kenya and India till date.

“Also, I need to mention that this includes corneas to the armed forces, and their family, all over India.

“On the 12th, August, 2018, the Eye Bank, I work with, had Launched Pre-Cut Corneas, which means with one pair of eyes, donated, four Cornea Blind persons sight will be restored.”

Thaku Chugani, who is based in India, says he is now able to get corneas regularly, but, initially, had to carry them personally – facing huge costs as well as international travel difficulties, etc.

However, he says he is so happy that his humanitarian mission has been a huge success.

Continue Reading

Features

Health services face imminent collapse due to fuel crisis

Published

on

A file picture of a recent doctors’ protest

By Dr B. J. C. PERERA

MBBS(Cey), DCH(Cey), DCH(Eng), MD(Paed), MRCP(UK), FRCP(Edin), FRCP(Lon), FRCPCH(UK), FSLCPaed, FCCP, Hony FRCPCH(UK), Hony. FCGP(SL)

Specialist Consultant Pediatrician and Honorary Senior Fellow, Postgraduate Institute of Medicine, University of Colombo, Sri Lanka.

Our free National Health Service is something that brings succor to the poorest of the poor, as well as even the well-to-do, and everybody in-between. As a country and a nation, we are so proud of our health services. In fact, as a developing country, we have shown the entire world how much can be accomplished, even with our meager resources, and with so few facilities made available to us in our health facilities. Our healthcare personnel are second to none anywhere else on the planet, and they try to do their best, even under trying circumstances.

There are shortages of medicines, disposable articles and equipment in our healthcare institutions. It has really gotten worse during the current economic crisis. Yet, we have managed to rise above all that, innovate, beg, borrow and do our best for the patients who come to us. Generally, our health workers will not allow a life to be lost without a fight. A case in point is how these personnel, from the lowest-ranked to the highest, rose and fought tooth and nail during the current COVID-19 pandemic. They worked without any worthwhile rest, even foregoing their meals when things had to be done to save lives. Our countrymen and countrywomen hailed us as their saviours, singing hosannas to all of them for so selflessly handling the crisis. The healthcare personnel showed results and they sacrificed many things and went through hell on earth, to save lives.

However, there is a looming dragon that is likely to inflict telling blows to cripple this hallowed service that is provided for our people. It is not due to shortages of drugs or equipment. Those can be handled to the very best of our abilities. The problem is due to severe human resource depletion that is the likely result of the current fuel shortage. It is a looming catastrophe, as large as life, where our healthcare personnel will not be able to get to their places of work, and they will not be able to respond to sudden emergencies, as there is no transport. The government, ministers and all other stupid politicians do not seem to realise this, and perhaps could not even care less about that. That is of course to be expected, as they have their agendas. They will somehow get their things done, but the people who suffer would be the poor who come to our hospitals.

However, the most distressing thing about this entire fiasco is how among our general public, the thugs, ruffians, desperados, those engaged in nefarious hoarding of fuel and all kinds of Mafias, are beginning to treat healthcare personnel at fuel queues and fuel sheds. Healthcare personnel are not asking for special treatment at fuel stations. They are an absolutely essential service, and all they are asking is for some fuel to enable them to attend to their essential service provisions. Even ambulances have to wait in queues, and are not allowed by the irate public to get priority for fuel.

A couple of weeks ago we saw in the news that a lady doctor driver was driven away from a fuel station by a mob. The most distressing thing about that entire episode was the bravado of a non-health staff lady driver, who shouted with powerful gesticulation of her arms that she had children in the car and could not make concessions to lady doctors. God forbid, but what if one of those children suddenly fell ill and the person to attend to them was the very same lady doctor who was chased away, and that person was not able to get to the hospital due to the lack of fuel?

Starting from Friday the 24th of June 2022, there was a lukewarm arrangement made to provide fuel to essential services, from certain designated fuel stations. every Friday. This was not communicated properly through all the media, and in very many places the public vehemently objected to this. The Borella junction Ceypetco fuel shed was one of the stations which were allocated for this purpose, where the essential services people, including healthcare personnel, queued up in their vehicles from around 6.00 am. The bowsers of fuel arrived only in the late evening, after a 12-hour long wait. There was hardly any security cover and virtually a free for all, with the sparse security personnel turning a blind eye to all the misdemeanors of the general public. There were loads of nurses, doctors and other healthcare workers from the National Hospital, Lady Ridgeway Hospital for Children, National Eye Hospital, De Soysa Maternity Hospital and the Castle Street Hospital for Women, who were in these vehicle queues, twiddling their thumbs and being forced to keep away from their places of work. No doubt, these hospitals worked with only minimal skeleton staff. All these hospitals have a collective staff strength running into very large numbers, all working in an absolutely vital essential service. In some outstation areas, the incensed public insisted on the healthcare personnel queuing up with the general public, even on that dedicated Friday, and at least in one area, the hospital had to be closed as most of the hospital staff had to be in fuel queues. For whatever it is worth, this writer has not been able to see his patients for more than a week due to lack of fuel.

Unless a proper system to provide fuel to essential services is implemented by this impotent government, this situation will go from bad to worse. Many hospitals will have to be closed, not due to strikes or trade union actions, but due to a lack of human resources to run the hospitals. Medical personnel will not be able to attend to emergencies, especially outside working hours, and many lives will be lost. Our inability to provide timely treatment could also lead to some patients being maimed for life.

So be warned, our people of our own country. Selfishness and scant regard for law and order on the part of the general public will lead to an unprecedented catastrophe. There will be riots inside and outside the medical institutions with damage to public property. Innocent lives will be lost and blood will necessarily have to be on the hands of the decision-makers and the powers-that-be.

Continue Reading

Trending