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We can do worse than the worst over there!

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My article titled above is a play on the famous song belted out by Betty Hutton in Annie get your Gun – ‘Anything you can do I can do better’. Cass discerns the truth of this vis-a vis our mobs, politicians and terrorists with the change of ‘better’ to ‘worse’.

The entire world was abuzz with the assault on the Capitol after Trump’s call in his speech at a Republican rally instigating action must be taken. So white supremacists stormed the Capitol targeting the US Congress and House of Representatives. Cass’ reaction was: Oh, we Sri Lankans can do better and surpass those beefy guys who scaled the walls of the seat of American government; smashed windows, crawled, crept and swept into rooms. Trump’s call for sedition was to disrupt the votes being taken within that, would seal the coffin of his departure from office; his coffin in actuality. Though disrupted, the Senate did convene later through the night and passed all electoral college votes to confirm Biden’s bid for Presidency, and Harris for VP.

Here was true democracy within the government in sharp contrast to the anarchy without, instigated by a megalomaniac. He seems to be assured his true dessert – impeachment and even a judicial case against him as instigator of a coup. But will he do worse in the few days left to the 21st and the inauguration of the new President? You never know with a psychopath.

The war cry over there was: Trump did not lose the elections; it was rigged and fraudulent. Thus, the American whites have to grab power by whatever means. Many of the rioters have been apprehended; some in positions of power who encouraged the riot including two Republican Senators. Five have died, one being the pitiable police officer who was shown on TV as suffocating, wedged in a too small space by the rioters and screaming for help. Most of the beefy ones who rioted are lower down types – mostly ill-educated Republicans.

How did we fare over here and do worse, as I contend? SWRD Bandaranaike, soon after he won the Premiership with forming his own party, introduced the Pancha Maha Bala Vegaya as the backbone of the country. Thus, a motley group of farmers, ayurveda practitioners, Buddhist monks, teachers and workers were invited to roam around the Parliament – then by Galle Face Green. Their exhilaration was so great, one sat on the Speaker’s chair – truly sacrosanct then. SWRD for sure is guilty of dragging members of the peasantry to a false sense of power which they overrode.

His Sinhala Only Act paralleled Trump’s incitement to the mob, but with a difference. Though, Trump gloated for a short while, maybe four hours, and the wrong was quickly righted, the violence incited by the Sinhala Only Ac, at first with no concession to either Tamil or English, continued down the decades and though modified to be more accommodating, is still a sharp thorn in the flesh of Sri Lankans. A 28-year civil war resulted with thousands killed. Trump will get his due punishment; SWRD was shot by a Buddhist monk instigated by another.

To parallel the assault on the Capitol was the uproar within the Sri Lankan Parliament in September 2018. The major difference is that while mostly white thugs stormed the Capitol, our Members of Parliament, Sri Lanka’s premier legislators turned rioters and ruffians flouted outrageously the protocols and rules of Parliament. The Americans went in with bull strength. Many may have had firearms but did not whip them out. They used hastily gathered ‘weapons’ like legs torn off chairs. Our rioting MPs went berserk too and were better armed with bound Holy Bibles, torn off equipment, chairs, and deadly chilli powder. We can equal Trump’s role of inciter to the leader of the Party gone berserk, who sat quietly watching. The facilitator was the Prez at the time: Sirisena. No one can deny we did not do worse than the Americans. (‘better than’ as in the song Cass mentioned). Cass looked out for women in the Washington DC melee. Just a very few; unrecognisable in their winter coats. We went better: we had two screaming women cheerleaders in our August House, leading on the Johnstons and Gammanpilas. Yes, Pavithradevi, now of Peni and Mutti fame, and Dr Sudarshini, currently mercifully earning respect as State Minister in charge of C19 prevention. House of Reps Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, was on hand and took the lead to get business done, though it was late night. Our parallel: sage saviour, again of high repute, who braved the gang of uncouth MPs and their missiles and restored the House to order: – Speaker Karu Jayasuriya.

‘Black Lives Matter’ and all that occurs often in the States. In the latest two incidents, two black men were attacked and killed by white policemen. The entire country: Blacks, Whites, Hispanics rose up as one to protest and got laws changed and criminals duly punished.

Oh, goodness, one clash with Tamils (1983) condemned us in the eyes of the entire world; caused a 28-year civil war; saw the rise of the worst terrorist of all times and climes: Prabhakaran and his ‘gift’ to the world – the most horrendous suicide bomber. Wounds of the 1983 riot against Tamils have yet suppurating wounds exposed unjustifiably by the Tamil diaspora. Later, rampages against Muslims and them retaliating had the worst massacre – merciless killing of churchgoers and five-star hotel guests at breakfast by radicalised Muslims.

Thus hasn’t Cass justified fully the statement – we can do worse than even the American mindless thugs.

Continuing Covid 19

Neil Ferguson. epidemiologist of Imperial College UK, interviewed by Stephen Sackur on the BBC HARDtalk programme on Saturday 9 January, admitted that often politicians and the scientific community did not see eye to eye, particularly during the Covid pandemic. Politicians watched economic indices sink low and thus their hopes of re-election later and present popularity, while scientists from virologists across the spectrum to doctors in the forefront of attending to Covid-19 patients had the target of reducing deaths and containing infection with all its attendant corollaries. He said that this pandemic was not going to leave the world for very long. Asked the percentage that should be vaccinated so infection rates are reduced, he did not trot out a definite statistic like 70% but said if over 50s and frontline health workers are immunised, the situation would improve fast. Sackur enquired whether poorer countries and Third Worlders would be ruled out as vaccines roll out. Ferguson disagreed because he said India and Brazil are manufacturing vaccines, even the Oxford one, in bulk and therefore obtainable to poorer countries closer at hand and at less cost.

Cambodia and Vietnam, along with richer Australasia and South Korea were able to contain the spread of infection well since strictures were followed closely, lockdowns were ordered and contact tracing and quarantine efficiently carried out. We, tiny Sri Lanka, would have been in this praiseworthy category if not for resting on laurels after the first success and concentrating on passing the 20A, opening up, and not only disregarding health advice of specialists but even encouraging dissidence among scientists and the medical profession.

++

And then of course came the Ukrainians, made to be detestable by an admirer of theirs, a sponsor of sorts, an arranger of their leisure and R&R, of scantily dressed, holidaying gals with others overflowing our holiday resorts and tourists sites – the former selected to benefit only some hoteliers, it is rumoured. The Ukrainians – a pilot – introduced the influx of the second wave of greater virulence (no denying this at all) and a promoter of tourism – outside the tourism sector – but living grand with address: Temple Trees, Colombo 3, is continuing the risk we face for weeks on end with thousands of Ukrainians flying here – all in a test run, protective bubbles or whatever only imagined. You know Cass remembered her maternal grandmother, four feet something, but in nature a red hot chilli. Deiya saakki was the neatest expression of disgust and annoyance in seven villages surrounding hers; and her curse: Hena hathak gahapan with a spat out nodaking. Cass echoes the lady now as she dreads the announcement of a high rise of C19 in the areas flooded across by the Ukrainian holiday makers. They have even been taken to the Dalada Maligawa, always full of devotees. Were the two Mahanayakes not informed?

An experiment, she thought, is a one-off until test results are obtained and measured and deductions made. So, if the first batch of Ukrainian tourists was a test run, bringing in the second contingent should have been suspended until the situ here was assessed. Two weeks at least to ascertain whether fresh cases of infection were reported from people involved and sites visited. No. This was NOT done and not criticized by anyone with political clout. The JVP has shouted against the move; others have come out strong. Not a squeak from the Presidential Task Force for the prevention of Covid 19 spread. We admired them so much earlier, to the point of veneration. Did Jasinghe’s kick to an alien field from the medical where he rendered yeoman service debilitate the Task Force though led by no less a smart person than the Army Commander?

We wait fearfully studying the sure rise of the second wave of infection which should have been well on the wane, but for the Ukrainians.



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Sinharaja world heritage

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Conservation Outlook Assessment: Significant Concern

By Professor Emeritus Nimal Gunatilleke

Continued from Yesterday

 

Water diverted from Ampanagala reservoir to Muruthawela will be used to meet the irrigation deficit of Muruthawela and Kirama Oya systems and the balance will be transferred to Chandrika Wewa, through existing LB canal of Muruthawela scheme up to 13.8 km and a new canal of 17.0 km. After that, the water requirement of Hambantota harbour is to be transferred to Ridiyagama tank through the Walawe river and Liyangasthota anicuit. However, due to the extreme length of the diversion through the three-river basins of Nilwala, Kirama Ara and Urubokka Oya, it will lead to a massive conveyance losses of the diverted water while on the way to the Walawe basin. Furthermore, enormous costs associated with its construction, a failure to fully realise the intended outcomes due to a shortage of water budget will simply be a burden that Sri Lanka cannot afford with her current economic condition, according to Eng. Prema Hettiarachchi. It may be worth recording that the water ingress into the grouted tunnel of the Uma Oya near Ella has still not been fully repaired, even though the Uma Oya project is nearing completion. An expensive lesson to be learnt on the nature of the weathered geological structure, lineaments and implementing its unexpected and costly mitigatory measures which will eventually to be paid back by this and future generations of tax payers of this country.

According to the Irrigation Department web site postings, Mahaweli Consultancy Bureau has initiated the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA), but due to the unavailability of concurrence of the Forest Department, revised TOR has not been issued by the CEA. Therefore, due to the unavailability of updated TOR, the EIA study has been delayed.

Environmentally, the most contentious issue highlighted in the news media is the proposed construction of a RCC dam at Madugeta to build a reservoir for which around 79 ha of forested (and some agricultural) lands in Sinharaja and a portion of prisine riverine forest in Dellawa would be inundated. On the Sinharaja side of the proposed Madugeta reservoir (right abutment) at present there are home gardens and small-scale tea plantations in addition to good riverine forests. In contrast however, proportionately a larger area of luxuriant forest of Dellawa, which is a part of the new ‘Sinharaja Rain Forest Complex’ would go under the chain saw for this reservoir construction (left abutment). The Geo-engineering report of May 2019 on GNDP has revised the siting of the dam to a more favourable location with supposedly reduced impacts but they forewarn that the three core-drilling along the proposed dam axis that had to be temporarily abandoned due to protests made by the villagers, need to be completed to confirm the geological suitability for the dam site.

 

Are there any Environment-Friendly Alternative Options?

As an alternative site for a dam on Gin Ganga, Eng. Nandasoma Atukorale (Specialist Engineer [Hydropower]) has proposed a location at the confluence of Mahadola with Gin Ganga at the village of Mederipitiya, way back in 2006. According to him, the riverbed at this site is 261 masl and have a catchment area of 132 km2. He proposes the construction of a 35 m high concrete gravity type dam that would form a reservoir with a storage capacity of 65 million cu.m and a potential discharge of 320 million cu.m of water annually which could divert 293 million cu. m of water to the SE Dry Zone. Most importantly, this region passes through a relatively narrow section of the river which is ideally suited for a dam according to him. However, geological suitability and socio-economic impacts of local communities need to be investigated, beforehand.

Quite interestingly, Eng. Athukorale claims that ‘although it is not economically very attractive, another 200 million cu.m of water could be diverted to the Nilwala basin by constructing a dam across Gin Ganga at the downstream of the confluence with Dellawa Dola at the village of Madugeta, with an 8000 m long tunnel which could be considered at a later stage provided further water shortages are experienced in the area’.

 

Now that the proposed Madugeta reservoir is receiving heavy criticisms from the environmental front, wonder whether Mederipitiya option proposed by Eng. Athukorale could be revisited for the diversion of Gin-Nilwala river water to the SE Dry Zone.

In a research paper titled ‘Comparison of Alternative Proposals for Domestic and Industrial Water Supply for Hambantota Industrial Development Zone’ Eng. Prema Hettiarachchi makes a comparison among three irrigation projects Kukule Ganga, Gin-Nilwala and Wey Ganga to convey water from the SW wet zone to SE dry zone.

She proposes yet another option that is probably still on the drawing boards to be considered which is the Wey Ganga diversion in Ratnapura District. According to her, this could meet the industrial and drinking water requirement (154 MCM + drinking water) of Hambantota metropolitan area at a significantly lower cost and with less damage to the environment. Further, there is a possibility of augmenting this scheme by diverting a part of Kalu Ganga catchment at a later stage.

Eng. Hettiarachchi further states that ‘by comparing the workload, it could be estimated to be nearly one third that of the Gin-Nilwala diversion. The Wey Ganga diversion can be carried out at a significantly lower cost by local agencies. That can also address the water scarcity of Hambantota metropolitan area including the requirements of international harbour and proposed industrial development zone with the relatively less environmental damage which is a major issue with respect to large scale projects. Construction period will also be less since the workload is less and can be carried out by the local agencies’.

What I have strived to show with this detailed irrigation engineering information available on public domain in the form of research publications, is that the Madugeta reservoir option is not the only one available for taking water from the wet zone rivers to the SE Dry Zone which is indeed a legitimate requirement for agricultural and industrial development of that region.

Pre-feasibility studies have been conducted on these options since 1968 and a considerable wealth of technical information is already available with the Irrigation Department. Apparently, according to knowledgeable irrigation engineers, there are more environmentally friendly, and cost-effective options with greater assurance of water conveyance to the SE Dry Zone available for consideration. It is often the case that during pre-feasibility studies of these large engineering projects, environmental concerns are given the least priority. Steady supply of water during extreme drought events which are becoming more frequent depends very much on the nature of the vegetation cover of the watershed area. These environmental aspects need to be critically evaluated before such costly projects are designed. As an example, although, the major engineering work of the Uma Oya project has been almost completed, its cost-effectiveness is yet to be seen with a denuded watershed, a potential of heavy soil erosion on top of the unexpected heavy expenditure on tunnel boring and other engineering works.

Biologically speaking, the Dellawa Forest Reserve is an integral part of Sinharaja Rain Forest Complex representing the pristine climax forest vegetation of SE wet lowlands and provide a vital connectivity link to adjoining Diyadawa forest of equal significance via the remains of Dombagoda forest. Therefore, clearing a riverine strip of this forest for the construction of Madugeta Reservoir would lead to an irreparable and irreplaceable damage to its characteristic riverine/flood plain forest vegetation.

On the other hand, pledging a reforestation initiative of a much larger area with Hevea rubber as a compensatory measure proposed by the political administration is totally unacceptable. Preserving intact forests in protected areas has no substitutes or replacements. Furthermore, the Natural Heritage Wilderness Area act and the binding articles of the UNESCO Convention on Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage to which Sri Lanka is a signatory, clearly state that causing direct or indirect damage to a natural heritage is legally not permissible.

In summary, the Sinharaja World Heritage Site is already in a state whose biological values are threatened and/or are showing signs of deterioration and significant additional conservation measures have been recommended to restore these values over the medium and long term. Adding more threats like the construction of reservoirs inside protected areas at this stage would inevitably downgrade the values further to a ‘critical conservation outlook’ which is not what the citizenry of Sri Lanka and the world at large would acknowledge as ‘sustainable development’.

The author of this article is a member of the National Sustainable Development Council of Sri Lanka and he thanks Dr Jagath Gunathilaka of Peradeniya University for providing the geotechnical information described herein. The author can be contacted at .)

 

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US seeking way out of Afghan killing field

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As the Biden administration makes its initial moves to extricate the US’ remaining security forces personnel from Afghanistan, it would do well to ponder on former US President John F. Kennedy’s insightful comment on foreign policy: ‘Domestic policy can only defeat us; foreign policy can kill us.’ This is a rare nugget on the nature of foreign policy.

Considering the high costs, human and economic, a country could incur as a result of blundering on its foreign policy front, Kennedy could be said to have spoken for all countries. However, there is no denying that the comment is particularly applicable to expansionist powers or ‘hegemonic’ states.

Sensible opinion is likely to be of the view that the US decision on quitting Afghanistan should have come very much earlier; may be a couple of years after its bloody misadventure in the conflict and war-ridden country. Considering the terribly high human costs in particular the US’ 20 long years in Afghanistan have incurred, the US could be said to have committed one of its worst foreign policy blunders, overshadowing in severity the blood-letting incurred by the super power in Vietnam. However, in both theatres, the consequences for the US have been of unbearable magnitude.

The US death toll speaks for itself. At the time of writing more than 2,300 US security forces personnel have been killed and over 20,000 injured in Afghanistan. Reports indicate that over 450 Britons have died in the same quagmire along with hundreds of similar personnel from numerous other nationalities. Apparently, it took an exceptionally long period of time for the US to realize that Afghanistan for it was a lost cause.

The lesson that the US and other expansionist powers ought to come to grips with is that it would not be an ‘easy ride’ for them in the complex conflict and war zones of the South. The ground realities in these theatres are of mind-boggling complexity and Afghanistan drives this point home with notable harshness. Power projection in South-west Asia and persistence with its ‘war on terror’ were among the apparent prime objectives of the US in Afghanistan as well as in Iraq but what the US did not evidently take into consideration before these military involvements were the internal political realities of these countries that are not at all amenable to simplistic analyses and policy prescriptions.

The Soviets ought to have come to grips with some features of the treacherous political terrain presented by Afghanistan in the late eighties but their principal preoccupations were related more to the compulsions of the Cold War. Simply put, the Soviets were bent on preserving the ‘satellite’ status of Afghanistan and their war effort was aimed at this in the main. Preparing Afghanistan for democracy was not even least among the Soviet Union’s concerns, of course.

However, the same does not apply to the US. The latter helped the Mujaheddin in the task of getting rid of the Soviet presence in Afghanistan but its aim was also to have a US-friendly regime in Kabul that would be a veritable bridgehead of US power and influence in the region on a continuous basis. In other words, the US expected the regime which replaced the Soviets to be pro-Western and essentially democracy-friendly. The US did not in any way bargain to have in Afghanistan Islamic fundamentalist regimes whose political philosophies were the anti-thesis of democracy as perceived in the US and practised by it.

However, the Islamic fundamentalist Taliban regime which eventually came to power in the mid-nineties in Afghanistan, once the Soviets withdrew, defied all Western expectations. As is known, the Taliban was not only repressive and undemocratic but was staunchly opposed to everything Western. There were no hopes of the Taliban working towards Western interests. Besides, the US did not expect to see in Afghanistan a country dangerously divided on ethnic, tribal and religious lines. The problems of Afghanistan have been compounded over the years by the coming together of the Taliban and the Al-Qaeda and these groups have world wide Islamic fundamentalist links.

It has been the aim of the US to have in Kabul religiously moderate, pro-democratic regimes but as developments have proved over the past few decades these administrations have not been in a position to hold out against the Taliban. In fact, it is the Taliban that is veritably at the helm of power in Afghanistan currently and years of futile attempts at trying to contain the Taliban have brought home to the US and its allies that they have no choice but to talk to the Taliban in order to secure some respite to effect ‘an honourable exit’ from the bloodied land. This is where matters stand at present.

However, as pointed out by commentators, it is the Afghan civilian population that has suffered most in the decades-long blood-letting in the country. Conservative estimates put the number of Afghan security forces personnel killed in Afghanistan at around 60,000 to date and the number of civilians killed at double that figure.

Accordingly, the Afghan people would be left to face an uncertain and highly risk-riddled future when the last of the US security forces personnel and their allies leave Afghanistan in September this year. The country would be left to its own devices and considering that the Taliban will likely be the dominant formation in the country and not its legitimate government, the lot of Afghan civilians is bound to be heart-rending.

There is plenty to ponder on for the US and other democratic countries in the agonies of Afghanistan. One lesson that offers itself is that not all countries of the South are ‘ready for democracy’. This applies to very many countries of the South that already claim to be democracies in the Western sense. Southern ‘democratic’ polities defy easy analysis and categorization in consideration of the multitude of identity markers they present along with the legitimacy that they have achieved in the eyes of their states and populations. What we have are dangerously volatile states riddled with contradictions. Relating to them will prove to be highly problematic for the rest of the world.

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The Soul

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The Soul (also known as Ji hun) is based on the sci-fi novel ‘Soul Transfer’, written by Jiang Bo in 2012. The novel was widely popular and inspired director Cheng Wei-Hao to adapt the tale into a movie. The story is about a married couple who are determined to uncover the truth behind strange activities in their community. According to the official synopsis for the film from Netflix, while investigating the death of a businessman, a prosecutor and his wife uncover occult secrets as they face their own life-and-death dilemma. The film stars Chang Chen, Janine Chang and Christopher Lee among others.

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