Balancing nature and development
Protecting the environment and carrying out
development projects is a balancing act, says Environment Minister Anura
Priyadharshana Yapa. Following are the excerpts of the interview.
[The Ďgreení areas]
* Environment and development
* Climate change
* Solid waste management
*Managing human-elephant conflict
* Illegal mining
Minister Anura Priyadharshana Yapa
Q: How are you going to balance environment protection with the major
development plans implemented?
A: When considering development, it is also necessary that we have to
provide facilities for development projects. But while giving priority
to development projects, we have to think about the environmental aspect
as well. We, as the Ministry, have to do a balancing act. While
preserving the environment, we have to provide facilities for
We have several mechanisms to do it. The Central Environment
Authority (CEA) is capable of handling all the issues when it comes to
development and environment. For any development project one has to get
a licence from the Environment Authority. So we have the capacity,
capability and ability to cope with that. CEA is the key in this
mechanism. Except in the North and Eastern provinces, the CEA has
branches everywhere in the country.
While guiding the CEA in its work, I believe that there has to be a
balance between environment protection and development of industries in
the country. We will take examples from other countries.
Q: What are the major contemporary issues your Ministry is concerned
A: Speaking in a global context, we are concerned about the climate
change issue. A number of countries and parts of those countries have
felt the impact of the rising sea level. As an island, we have to get
ready for that. That is one of our priorities. We will have to minimize
greenhouse gas emissions. The emission levels of most developed
countries are very high. But in a country like Sri Lanka, we do not have
such an issue, since our emission levels are very low. Developed
countries want to carry out their development uninterrupted, and want us
to reduce those gas emissions. There is no consensus when it comes to
Solid waste management is one of the key areas that we have to look
into. We have initiated discussions with local bodies to provide us with
facilities in every province for solid waste management solutions.
We also need to have a separate discussion on solid waste management
specially for the Western Province and Colombo. We have to educate
people in every household to separate the garbage as recyclable and
other waste. We will carry out a campaign in this regard. This was
started by my predecessor and I will continue with that. We have to
encourage people to follow this method.
We will also look at protecting the environment pertaining to other
areas. We will have to work very closely with the Local Government
Ministry as well as the Provincial Councils.
Protecting the flora and fauna is also needed. Even marine pollution
will be looked into.
Another important aspect is reforestation. That is also a must. We
have attached great priority to this particular issue, including
reforestation in hill tops. The forest cover is becoming very thin in
those areas. For this too we are going to start a campaign. We will also
deal with the human-elephant conflict. It is becoming a serious issue in
various parts of the island. Elephants come out of the jungles and they
encroach human habitats. As a result there is a conflict. Elephants
damage houses, destroy cultivation and kill people. However, we have to
protect those animals too. So, we are going to work very closely with
the Economic Development Ministry to find solutions to that issue too.
Even noise pollution and air pollution pose a huge threat. Those are the
key areas we plan to tackle.
Q: Illegal sand mining and gem mining are continuing on a large
scale. How would you deal with this problem?
A: Illegal sand mining and gem mining is also a serious issue. Sand
construction work is taken on a large scale and we have to enforce laws
strictly to work this. We have large gem deposits in the country. Even
outside the Ratnapura area. Even in some places like Anuradhapura we
have found that gem deposits are available. So we are going to conduct a
survey in the entire country not only on gems, but other minerals too.
Once we get the results, we will be able to take action. At the same
time, we must also support the gem industry.
There are a lot of environment issues coming to us daily. So what Iím
trying is to get the CEA and the Geological Survey and Mines Bureau, to
tackle each and every problem in an effective manner. They will have to
submit a report in the end. So, I will be able to analyze whether they
have taken necessary actions.
Q: How will you coordinate with NGOs and other private institutions
which contribute to the conservation of nature?
A: We want to work with them very closely. As long as they are
helping us we are very happy about it. I want to meet them. We can have
a forum to meet periodically to get their ideas and combine them with
ours to come to a conclusion about various issues.
Q: Awareness programs in schools will be helpful in your effort to
solve environmental problems. Has your Ministry initiated such plans?
A: We have started awareness programs in schools. They were there
even during the time of my predecessor. The Indian IOC has started a
program of replanting in schools. They met me recently and they want to
continue it. We want help from other institutions too. All can help us
in this endeavour. They can initiate programs such as taking
responsibility of part of the city and keeping it nice.
Q: What is your objective in holding this particular Ministry?
A: I really like this Ministry. The President has kept trust in me to
hand over this Ministry that is very responsible. I will try my best to
discharge my duties to the best of my ability. I am a nature lover
myself and, I have always wanted to take measures to protect the