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A green Sri Lanka

Yesterday was World Wetlands Day. Tomorrow, we celebrate our independence from colonial rule. Both are significant and I believe are linked symbiotically to our nation’s well-being and future. We got our right to self-rule back from the British 62 years ago but with relative ease, for we were offered it on a platter following the success of the hard-fought Indian independence struggle.

Post-independence history

At the time, except for a few enlightened leaders among Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim communities, the rest chose to indulge in political game playing which made us stay divided as a nation. Divide and rule had served the agenda of the colonial rulers. After independence we saw the divisions getting even wider.

That then gave birth to a majority community led nationalistic movement where the urban elite and rural peasants, land owners and the landless, favoured and the neglected appeared as polarized realities on the socio-political-scape of this land. From the lack of access to opportunities domain, it sadly extended to the racial domain as well. This then, led to several dark and gloomy incidents and processes that marred our post- independence history.


Care and protect biological diversity. Picture by Thilak Perera

Our heritage

On the other hand, we as a nation have the proud claim of King Devanampiyatissa declaring the Mihintale Sanctuary in the third Century B.C., the first leader in human history to have officially declared a wildlife sanctuary. Our literature of the yore, both Sinhala and Tamil, is filled with descriptions of the natural beauty of our land and we as a nation took pride in its richness and sang its praises.

From the ‘Sigri kurutu gee’ to works such as Maura and Salalihini Sandesha kaavya and Thinais in the Sangam tradition, our appreciation of our bountiful natural heritage was documented by many. Regardless of being owners of such heritage, having come out of colonial rule, we continued to be a nation where hunting in our jungles and wetlands was accepted as a fun sporting activity of the privileged.

The revival of the nationalist movement of five forces of the sanga (clergy), veda (ayurvedic doctors), guru (teachers), govi (farmers) and kamkaru (labour) of the 1950’s, did we see some change in attitudes about such practices. Yet, with the uncertainly that prevailed in the political front and the setting-in of corrupt practises, we saw illegal logging and badly-managed clearing of forested areas, continue to take away much of our green cover and the riches therein.

Revival in awareness

The movement for conservation against the destruction of our natural resources saw a revival, and gave birth to a strong environmental movement in the country only after the 60’s and 70’s.

The Wildlife and Nature Protection Society, was till then the oldest voluntary organiztion that whispered for conservation. With the advent of teaching of biological sciences in the universities and the leadership provided by the likes of late Lyn de Alwis, the evergreen Iranganie Serasinghe and university don Sarath Kotagama saw new movements such as ‘Ruk Rakeganno’, ‘March for Conservation’, ‘Young Zoologists Association’ and the public interest legal entity of the ‘Environmental Foundation’ come into the fold to actively engage in sincere conservation centred activism. In the late 1970’s and the early 1980’s we saw the birth of the Coast Conservation Program and the Central Environmental Authority.

A new revival in awareness of the need to conserve and protect our natural resources was evident. Earlier, in spite of having some 70 statues within the judiciary system that could have dealt with various instances of malpractises in the exploitation of natural resources, we still witnessed their rapid diminution as a result of the weak implementation procedures and punch-less punitive measures it all contained.

The positive process of revival mentioned earlier, took further deep root with inclusion of environmental studies in the school curriculum and the introduction of many graduate and post-graduate level courses in our universities in conservation and related areas of study. The formation of environment and/or green brigades among schoolchildren and programs to raise awareness on the home, school and village or urban environments also helped to focus young minds to think green.

Policy in place

At this time when we have the twin celebration of independence and the take off on a new development agenda for a unified Sri Lanka, the pledge made in the Mahinda Chinthana; Vision for the Future’ policy document to work towards making Sri Lanka green is indeed a step in the right direction.

Titled ‘Respect for fauna and flora A Green Country, a Clean Environment’ a whole chapter is dedicated to presenting policies and program to create an environment for sustainable development.

Furthering the program taking on the issue of garbage management under ‘Pilisaru’ and dealing with the human-elephant conflict under ‘Gajamithuru’, a new initiative to get Sri Lanka to be carbon neutral is proposed under the ‘Haritha Lanka’ initiative to be implemented between 2010 - 20.

This green initiative includes “activities to protect our water resources and catchment areas, protection of the ocean and aquatic resources, prevention of air pollution, soil conservation, the introduction of innovative methods for agriculture, promotion of renewable energy sources, promote eco-friendly industries, build healthy towns and housing schemes, develop an environmental friendly transport system, implement waste management systems, prepare the country for environmental change, and to promote cultural awareness and education necessary for the above.”

It also goes on to focus on creating ‘Beautiful cities’ and ‘Green Villages’ and watershed management under a separate programme titled ‘Girithuru Sevena’ and planting of indigenous trees under ‘Helathuru Sevena’.

Sustainable future

I like many other likeminded, see the potential of the ‘Haritha Lanka’ initiative, as a green program that can contribute not only to making a better future for us all but to making our contribution to the climate change problem facing humankinds’ future. It can also act as a unifier of the many communities, focusing their hearts and minds on the substance, feel and the benefits of sharing a sustainable future.

Like Mother Nature and her caring and protective ways, it can provide Mother Sri Lanka and us her citizens, the tools we need for us to care and protect each others’ ways, beliefs and lifestyles. This, we can only attain through a concerted effort at conserving and protecting our natural resources, biological diversity and heritage.

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