Large scale development projects appear to be least people oriented and may be mooted by the vested interests of investors and politicians. Benefits from these schems are not equitably distributed and neither are they reflected in the cost of living and living condition.
Such matters emerged at a half day long media briefing conducted by the New Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) and TVE (Television for Education and Environment) Asia Pacific based in Colombo, organized jointly to brief on ‘The Challenges of Air Quality and Mobility Management in South Asian Cities’.
The briefing also took cognizance of the alarming magnitude of the air pollution and public health, languishing vehicle technology and mobility crisis in South Asian cities.
The sum total of the whole briefing indicated that ‘by breathing the poisonous fumes emitted by vehicles’ a alarming number of people die from respiratory ailments, specially small children. The briefing cautioned that the ignorance of those mandated and responsible agencies not acting results in people dying.
In an hour long revelation, Ms Anumita Roychowdhury, Executive Director – Research and Advocacy, CSE indicated how these deaths occur, how vehicle-centred road construction drives people off the roads and the magnitude of air pollution in comparative terms in Delhi and Colombo.
She said that the development of roads are car-centred, specially motor cars and in planning itself, the environmentally unique modes of transport like pedestrians, bicycle rickshaws, bullock carts and other such modes are ignored.
She said that cars, motorcycles and 3-wheelers are the cause of high emission of fumes considering the large numbers and causes heavy traffic congestions.
The solution to this problem is to improve public transport (buses) and provide for pedestrians, bicycles, bullock carts and other such forms that do not pollute the air.
She said that making the different vehicles using different lanes such as buses one lane, cars one lane, bicycles one lane, motorcycles one lane, 3-wheelers one lane and unobstructed pavements for pedestrians to walk would ease traffic congestion and would result in improved air quality.
Prof. O. A. Ileperuma, University of Peradeniya who spoke on ‘Challenges of understanding and combating air pollution in Sri Lanka’ said that at the scale at which air is polluted the future may see people carrying their ‘clean air’ like they carry water bottles.
He said that the Sri Lanka media is not as strong as the Indian media and also the judiciary. He also said that Sri Lanka is unfortunate that it does not have such organizations as CSE India where they have gone to the Supreme Court on issues and in one case the Indian Supreme Court ordered action within two weeks, whereas such actions are rare in Sri Lanka – indicating the importance of Public Interest Litigation in Sri Lanka.
Prof Illeperuma pointed out that the Indian Supreme Court even appoint expert committees to advice the Court on various issues.
He lashed out at authorities as they appear not to be concerned about real issues in Kandy and the closure of Dalada Weedhiya adds up to air pollution as if this road is opened much traffic loads from other roads could be taken in as this is a main road in Kandy.
He said that in Sri Lanka 45% of patients admitted to leading hospital are with respiratory disorders.
Followed presentations that were made, a panel discussion ensued. The panelists were D S Jayaweera, Director General, Ministry of Finance; Ms Priyanth Fernando, Executive Director, Centre for Poverty Analysis; Dr T L Gunaruwan, Senior Lecturer, University of Colombo (former Secretary to the Ministry of Transport and General Manager of Railways) ; Dr Thusitha Sugathapala, Clean Air, Sri Lanka; Anura Jayatilake, Air Resource Management Centre (AirMAC) Ministry of Environment and the two frontline speakers.
Dr Gunaruwan in his remarks said that it is a pity that railway transport is not included when considering the transport system as a whole and also considering how it could lessen air pollution compared to road transport.
Trains could carry large numbers with less air pollution. Improving train service would ease the road congestion immensely.
The conditions could be further improved if the trains could be electrified and if the single railway tracks could be turned into double tracks.
He said that container traffic has been a major cause of traffic congestion on roads and also pollute the air. He said that if the containerized goods could be transported through trains major traffic load could be taken off from the roads.
Ms Fernando who actually represented the non-air polluters as poor people do not use transport but walk, said that Colombo is not suited for schooling and said that her perception is people centered and thus more investment should be on public transport (bus) which is less polluting in comparative terms and is also convenient.
She said that more attention should be paid to pedestrians as poor people walk and no pollution is involved in walking.