The Sunday Times Editorial

19th May 1996

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Clean Lungs

Thousands of people especially in the cities and suburbs are known to be suffering from various respiratory complications. Are we damaging our lungs because of unplanned and uncontrolled developments.

Air pollution in Sri Lanka is reaching menacing proportions mainly where emissions from vehicles are concerned, Environment Minister Srimani Athulathmudali warned at a ceremony recently. There is an urgent need to bring about more awareness on this life-or-death issue and take effective action.

During the past month almost everyone has been sweating profusely mainly during the power cuts. According to a UN report, 1995 was the hottest year in history and 1996 might be worse.

Colombo today is not only overcrowded but also overloaded with vehicles, lots of them smoking tin cans that won't be tolerated in any developed country. During the past decade the number of vehicles being used on our streets has increased more than tenfold. Motor cycles alone account for 600,000. The belching vehicles, mainly buses, private coaches and scooter cabs, have played havoc with the environment and depleted the protective ozone layer. The heat we experience nowadays is not merely a natural phenomena but partly contributed by the polluted air.

Many of the vehicles on our streets today mean death on wheels not only through accidents but also through air pollution which is a silent unseen killer. Sometime ago the police got down some meters to check the level of emissions from vehicles but it all ended in smoke. Today we often see vehicles belching, forcing people on the road to hold their breaths or cover their noses with saree potas.

Laws on this are obsolete. Recently 'The Sunday Times' published a report on how garment factories were dumping waste material down a hill at Nuwara Eliya. The maximum fine that could be imposed by the Municipality was a ridiculous Rs. 50/-.

We need to impose stern laws and enforce strict discipline among factory owners, motorists and other people on environmental issues. In most western countries, smoking is banned in many public places but in Sri Lanka we see selfish people smoking in crowded buses or offices to cause slow death to the innocent people.

Perhaps because most of the vehicles in our midst are Japanese, we might say using a Japanese phrase that we are committing hara-kiri with ourselves and our children. We must learn the lessons the west has bitterly experienced by upsetting the balance of nature.

Power Corrupts

Gen. Anuruddha Ratwatte must surely be having mixed feelings these days. While troops under his political directives having wrested control and dominance over the Jaffna peninsula for the first time since 1985, power cuts also under his political direction have played havoc with the daily lives of millions of Sri Lankans.

True to a point, Gen. Ratwatte blames the UNP for today's power crisis. 'The Sunday Times' repeatedly highlighted how super secretaries of the UNP period blocked power projects merely because, it seemed, their financiers were not getting the tenders. They dragged their feet and withheld their signatures that in one case the German Ambassador complained to the government and the ADB cancelled the loan due to blatant cheating.

But that is why the UNP was thrown out of office. The PA had been in power for 21 months and done sweet nothing to rectify the situation.

Blaming the past gives little comfort to those sweating it out in the present.

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