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Transition of freshwater sustainability in the face of climate change

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By Eng. Thushara Dissanayake

Water demands in various sectors of the country, such as the domestic sector, hydropower, and industry, are constantly growing with the increasing population and changing lifestyle of the populace. Throughout the world, the conventional approach to meet the increasing demand has been to construct more dams to retain rainwater and exploit other surface and groundwater resources, build centralised water treatment and distribution systems, and other infrastructure, and they have hitherto been very successful. Sri Lanka has been no exception; it has been increasing surface water storage capacity by constructing tanks, since the times of ancient kings. The philosophy of the construction of reservoirs, and related structures, to meet the water demands of the people, is technically known as hard path water solutions. Their objective is to find new water sources to meet the demand. Even though Sri Lanka is a water-rich country, and has been increasing its water storage capacity, it is facing ever-increasing challenges, as available water resources for almost all water use sectors, are reaching their absolute limits.

Research, done by International Water Management Institute (IWMI), reveals that Sri Lanka faces water scarcity due to different reasons; physical scarcity, economic scarcity, and institutional and political scarcity. This may lead to various conflicts within and between water users, and water use sectors, as well. Further, IWMI highlights that water quality deterioration is also leading to a scarcity of usable water. So hard path water management would not be able to manage our water resources, and we need a different approach.

The alternative to this hard engineering approach is to put greater emphasis on demand-side policies, promoting water efficiency and conservation, and it is called the soft path of water management. The concept of soft path water management has been introduced by water experts Dr. Peters Gleick of Pacific Institute, California, and David Brooks.

The soft path is an alternative to the hard path which primarily focuses on the satisfaction of human and ecological requirements, relieving pressure on limited water resources, encouraging transparent and democratic decision-making, and pave way for more rational and efficient economic choices. Thus, when compared to the hard path the soft path has to invest in decentralised facilities, efficient technologies and policies, human capital, and new management techniques and skills which focus on reducing water demand. It requires institutional changes and needs the involvement of a broader section of stakeholders, rather than technical experts. Perhaps, the demand management would mean changing socio-cultural habits and practices of water use.

In comparison with hard path, soft path water solutions can be elaborated as below.

1. The soft path emphasises the role of the government, or private agencies, is not merely to supply water but to work to meet the water-related needs of the people and the industry. If such agencies work to satisfy customers’ demands for different water uses, rather than just issue or sell water, then there are higher chances for emerging new ways for improving water use efficiency, with the help of more sustainable technologies. Further, the use of highly treated wastewater will reduce stress on natural ecosystems. In short, while the hard path focuses on building infrastructure for water storage the soft path rethinks about supply.

2. Satisfying the projected demand for water, using whatever sources available, has been the present practice. The bleak fact is that projected demand always increases with the increasing population and the growth of the economy. However, the soft path recommends rethinking the demand by finding ways to do what we want with less water being the concept of water use efficiency. In other words, we should reduce the demand for water without decreasing the benefits water provides us.

3. Currently, we are using treated water for not only drinking but for other uses as well. Even industrial requirements are satisfied with water that is treated to drinking quality standards. The soft path recommends that different kinds of water uses should be provided with appropriate water qualities and higher quality water should be provided for such requirements only. Hence, rainwater and different types of wastewater can be used for suitable applications, like irrigation and other non-potable uses. Eventually, single pipe distribution for all types of water requirements would no longer be the pragmatic way and different uses would have specific supply lines.

4. The soft path recommends providing water from decentralised facilities. It recognises that investments in decentralised solutions are reliable and cost-effective, similar to those of centralised facilities. Decentralised investments are highly reliable when the available opportunities for centralised rainwater storage are over.

5. The soft path stresses the need for water agencies to actively interact with water users and to effectively engage such communities in water management. Earlier, water management was believed to be the responsibility of engineers and water professionals. But time has proved that water users play an important role in the planning and management of water. If communication is effective and transparent many of the objectives of the soft path can be achieved while reducing problems of environmental justice and equity.

6. The soft path highlights the importance of maintaining ecological health and recognises that water, naturally purified, may still be productive. Rather than focussing on water treatment, we should try to maintain the source water quality. Probably, the hard path, not only ignores these natural systems but leads to their destruction.

7. Like all other economic goods we have to deal with complex aspects of water such as water economics and management. The soft path recognises the power of economies of scope, as it integrates across competing interests. The economies of scope will result in if combined decision-making process allowing specific benefits to be delivered at a lower cost rather than would result from individual decision-making processes. For instance, flood mitigation efforts can be integrated with land use management aspects, and thereby the total cost of such endeavours can be reduced. On the contrary, the hard path looks only at the economies of scale and works with limited institutions.

However, implementing the soft path water solutions would be a hard task as it is strongly intertwined with socio-cultural aspects of the people and continuous and strenuous dedication of all stakeholders is a must. However, the soft path does not consider water only as an economic good but as an economic good and a human right. Soft path recommends fair subsidies to people below the poverty line when supplying portable water. Further, according to Peter Gleick, the transition to freshwater sustainability from the present era of unsustainable water management and use will be slow and climate change will be a real and complicating factor during the journey. However, the more we implement soft path water solutions the less would be the water stresses we have to deal with.

(The writer is a chartered Civil Engineer)



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BRICS emerging as strong rival to G7

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It was in the fitness of things for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to hold a special telephonic conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin recently for the purpose of enlightening the latter on the need for a peaceful, diplomatic end to the Russian-initiated blood-letting in Ukraine. Hopefully, wise counsel and humanity would prevail and the world would soon witness the initial steps at least to a complete withdrawal of invading Russian troops from Ukraine.

The urgency for an early end to the Russian invasion of Ukraine which revoltingly testifies afresh to the barbaric cruelty man could inflict on his fellows, is underscored, among other things, by the declaration which came at the end of the 14th BRICS Summit, which was held virtually in Beijing recently. Among other things, the declaration said: ‘BRICS reaffirms commitment to ensuring the promotion and protection of democracy, human rights and fundamental freedoms for all with the aim to build a brighter shared future for the international community based on mutually beneficial cooperation.’

It is anybody’s guess as to what meanings President Putin read into pledges of the above kind, but it does not require exceptional brilliance to perceive that the barbaric actions being carried out by his regime against Ukrainian civilians make a shocking mockery of these enlightened pronouncements. It is plain to see that the Russian President is being brazenly cynical by affixing his signature to the declaration. The credibility of BRICS is at risk on account of such perplexing contradictory conduct on the part of its members. BRICS is obliged to rectify these glaring irregularities sooner rather than later.

At this juncture the important clarification must be made that it is the conduct of the Putin regime, and the Putin regime only, that is being subjected to censure here. Such strictures are in no way intended to project in a negative light, the Russian people, who are heirs to a rich, humanistic civilization that produced the likes of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, among a host of other eminent spirits, who have done humanity proud and over the decades guided humans in the direction of purposeful living. May their priceless heritage live long, is this columnist’s wish.

However, the invaluable civilization which the Russian people have inherited makes it obligatory on their part to bring constant pressure on the Putin regime to end its barbarism against the Ukrainian civilians who are not at all party to the big power politics of Eastern Europe. They need to point out to their rulers that in this day and age there are civilized, diplomatic and cost-effective means of resolving a state’s perceived differences with its neighbours. The spilling of civilian blood, on the scale witnessed in Ukraine, is a phenomenon of the hoary past.

The BRICS grouping, which encompasses some of the world’s predominant economic and political powers, if not for the irregular conduct of the Putin regime, could be said to have struck on a policy framework that is farsighted and proactive on the issue of global equity.

There is the following extract from a report on its recent summit declaration that needs to be focused on. It reads: BRICS notes the need to ensure “Meaningful participation of developing and least developed countries, especially in Africa, in global decision-making processes and structures and make it better attuned to contemporary realities.”

The above are worthy goals that need to be pursued vigorously by global actors that have taken upon themselves the challenge of easing the lot of the world’s powerless countries. The urgency of resuming the North-South Dialogue, among other questions of importance to the South, has time and again been mentioned in this column. This is on account of the fact that the most underdeveloped regions of the South have been today orphaned in the world system.

Given that the Non-aligned Movement and like organizations, that have espoused the resolution of Southern problems over the decades, are today seemingly ineffective and lacking in political and economic clout, indications that the BRICS grouping is in an effort to fill this breach is heartening news for the powerless of the world. Indeed, the crying need is for the poor and powerless to be brought into international decision-making processes that affect their wellbeing and it is hoped that BRICS’s efforts in this regard would bear fruit.

What could help in increasing the confidence of the underdeveloped countries in BRICS, is the latter’s rising economic and political power. While in terms of economic strength, the US remains foremost in the world with a GDP of $ 20.89 trillion, China is not very far behind with a GDP of $ 14.72 trillion. The relevant readings for some other key BRICS countries are as follows: India – $ 2.66 trillion, Russia – $ 1.48 trillion and Brazil $ 1.44 trillion. Of note is also the fact that except for South Africa, the rest of the BRICS are among the first 15 predominant economies, assessed in GDP terms. In a global situation where economics drives politics, these figures speak volumes for the growing power of the BRICS countries.

In other words, the BRICS are very much abreast of the G7 countries in terms of a number of power indices. The fact that many of the BRICS possess a nuclear capability indicates that in military terms too they are almost on par with the G7.

However, what is crucial is that the BRICS, besides helping in modifying the world economic order to serve the best interests of the powerless as well, contribute towards changing the power balances within the vital organs of the UN system, such as the UN Security Council, to render them more widely representative of changing global power realities.

Thus, India and Brazil, for example, need to be in the UNSC because they are major economic powers in their own right. Since they are of a democratic orientation, besides pushing for a further democratization of the UN’s vital organs, they would be in a position to consistently work towards the wellbeing of the underprivileged in their respective regions, which have tremendous development potential.

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Queen of Hearts

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She has certainly won the hearts of many with the charity work she is engaged in, on a regular basis, helping the poor, and the needy.

Pushpika de Silva was crowned Mrs. Sri Lanka for Mrs. World 2021 and she immediately went into action, with her very own charity project – ‘Lend a Helping Hand.’

When launching this project, she said: “Lend a Helping Hand is dear to me. With the very meaning of the title, I am extending my helping hand to my fellow brothers and sisters in need; in a time where our very existence has become a huge question and people battling for daily survival.”

Since ‘Lend a Helping Hand’ became a reality, last year, Pushpika has embarked on many major charity projects, including building a home for a family, and renovating homes of the poor, as well.

The month of June (2022) saw Pushpika very much in action with ‘Lend a Helping Hand.’

She made International Father’s Day a very special occasion by distributing food items to 100 poor families.

“Many are going without a proper meal, so I was very keen, in my own way, to see that these people had something to keep the hunger pangs away.”

A few days later, the Queen of Hearts made sure that 50 more people enjoyed a delicious and nutritious meal.

“In these trying times, we need to help those who are in dire straits and, I believe, if each one of us could satisfy the hunger, and thirst, of at least one person, per day, that would be a blessing from above.”

Pushpika is also concerned about the mothers, with kids, she sees on the roads, begging.

“How helpless is a mother, carrying a small child, to come to the street and ask for something.

“I see this often and I made a special effort to help some of them out, with food and other necessities.”

What makes Pushpika extra special is her love for animals, as well, and she never forgets the street dogs that are having a tough time, these days, scavenging for food.

“These animals, too, need food, and are voiceless, so we need to think of them, as well. Let’s have mercy on them, too. Let’s love them, as well.”

The former beauty queen served a delicious meal for the poor animals, just recently, and will continue with all her charity projects, on a regular basis, she said.

Through her charity project, ‘Lend a Helping Hand,” she believes she can make a change, though small.

And, she says, she plans to be even more active, with her charity work, during these troubled times.

We wish Pushpika de Silva all the very best, and look forward to seeing more of her great deeds, through her ‘Lend a Helping Hand’ campaign.

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Hope and political change:No more Appachis to the rescue

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KUPPI on the current economic and political crisis: intervention 1

by Harshana Rambukwella

In Buddhist literature, there is the Parable of the Burning House where the children of a wealthy man, trapped inside a burning house, refuse to leave it, fearful of leaving its comfort – because the flames are yet to reach them. Ultimately, they do leave because the father promises them wonderful gifts and are saved from the fire. Sri Lankans have long awaited such father figures – in fact, our political culture is built on the belief that such ‘fathers’ will rescue us. But this time around no fathers are coming. As Sri Lankans stare into an uncertain future, and a multitude of daily sufferings, and indignities continue to pile upon us, there is possibly one political and emotional currency that we all need – hope. Hope is a slippery term. One can hope ‘in-vain’ or place one’s faith in some unachievable goal and be lulled into a sense of complacency. But, at the same time, hope can be critically empowering – when insurmountable obstacles threaten to engulf you, it is the one thing that can carry you forward. We have innumerable examples of such ‘hope’ from history – both religious and secular. When Moses led the Israelites to the promised land, ‘hope’ of a new beginning sustained them, as did faith in God. When Queen Viharamahadevi set off on a perilous voyage, she carried hope, within her, along with the hope of an entire people. When Martin Luther King Jr made his iconic ‘I have a dream’ speech, hope of an America where Black people could live in dignity, struck a resonant chord and this historical sense of hope also provided inspiration for the anti-Apartheid struggle in South Africa.

This particular moment, in Sri Lanka, feels a moment of ‘hopelessness’. In March and April, this year, before the cowardly attack on the Gota Go Gama site, in Galle Face, there was a palpable sense of hope in the aragalaya movement as it spread across the country. While people were struggling with many privations, the aragalaya channeled this collective frustration into a form of political and social action, we have rarely seen in this country. There were moments when the aragalaya managed to transcend many divisions – ethnic, religious and class – that had long defined Sri Lanka. It was also largely a youth led movement which probably added to the ‘hope’ that characterized the aragalaya. However, following the May 09th attack something of this ‘hope’ was lost. People began to resign themselves to the fact that the literally and metaphorically ‘old’ politics, and the corrupt culture it represents had returned. A Prime Minister with no electoral base, and a President in hiding, cobbled together a shaky and illegitimate alliance to stay in power. The fuel lines became longer, the gas queues grew, food prices soared and Sri Lanka began to run out of medicines. But, despite sporadic protests and the untiring commitment of a few committed activists, it appeared that the aragalaya was fizzling out and hope was stagnant and dying, like vehicles virtually abandoned on kilometers-long fuel queues.

However, we now have a moment where ‘hope’ is being rekindled. A national movement is gathering pace. As the prospect of the next shipment of fuel appears to recede into the ever-distant future, people’s anger and frustration are once again being channeled towards political change. This is a do-or-die moment for all Sri Lankans. Regardless of our political beliefs, our ideological orientation, our religion or class, the need for political change has never been clearer. Whether you believe that an IMF bailout will save us, or whether you believe that we need a fundamental change in our economic system, and a socially and economically more just society, neither of these scenarios will come to pass without an immediate political change. The political class that now clings to power, in this country, is like a cancer – poisoning and corrupting the entire body politic, even as it destroys itself. The Prime Minister who was supposed to be the messiah channeling international goodwill and finances to the country has failed miserably and we have a President who seems to be in love with the idea of ‘playing president’. The Sri Lankan people have a single existential choice to make in this moment – to rise as one to expel this rotten political order. In Sri Lanka, we are now in that burning house that the Buddha spoke of and we all seem to be waiting for that father to appear and save us. But now we need to change the plot of this parable. No father will come for us. Our fathers (or appachis) have led us to this sorry state. They have lied, deceived and abandoned us. It is now up to us to rediscover the ‘hope’ that will deliver us from the misery of this economic and political crisis. If we do not act now the house will burn down and we will be consumed in its flames.

Initiated by the Kuppi Collective, a group of academics and activists attached to the university system and other educational institutes and actions.

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