With the monsoons have come the deluge – and the dengue. Flooding has become a perennial problem; however much we say we have faced it before, we do not seem competent to meet the challenge. In just a week of the clouds opening up after a heat-wave in April and May, the casualty figures are [...]


Flood and blood as dengue rages


With the monsoons have come the deluge – and the dengue. Flooding has become a perennial problem; however much we say we have faced it before, we do not seem competent to meet the challenge. In just a week of the clouds opening up after a heat-wave in April and May, the casualty figures are alarming. This includes deaths and, as is often the case, the poorest of the poor are the worst affected.

The statistics alone speak for the damage caused throughout the country, but the compensation allocated by the Government for the victims is a pittance. Rs. 15,000 is given for a funeral and the entire Ratnapura district received Rs. 1 million. The same for the entire Galle district. This is only adding insult to injury. One reader acidly commented in the dailies that “when the Government spends several million rupees to buy one vehicle, Rs. 1 million to a district is a joke”.
The Disaster Management Centre has become the new Social Services Department. Distributing hand-outs is not its job. Its duty is to ensure disaster avoidance and take measures to see that people are protected. Many of the disasters we face are a result of man-made causes.

There are a host of reasons. Take the case of sea erosion on the coastal belt. The destruction of mangroves, illegal sand-mining and unauthorised construction with the backing of local politicians go on unchecked by the powers-that-be despite increased awareness on the part of the public of the consequences of such actions.
Dengue is back with a vengeance. Rains always increase the mosquito density and most vulnerable are schoolchildren and the elderly. There is suspicion that a new subtype of virus has emerged. Unfortunately though, there is no collection of data and no resultant early warning systems. There is no proper intensification of ground-level inspections and destroying of breeding places. Two or three mosquitoes can infect a hundred people, say Public Health officials who ought to know.
Turning Colombo and the big cities into ‘garden cities’ has its aesthetic attraction, but the requisite dengue fighting mechanisms need to be in place. For when the rains descend, more greenery means more mosquitoes as plant axils and tree holes collect rain water and can be breeding sites.

Urbanisation contributes to the spread of dengue because people live in close proximity and the pockets of outbreaks occur in densely populated residential areas.
In Colombo, hospitals are overcrowded and the Municipality is in the throes of an internal battle with the new Deputy Commissioner in charge of Health Services not given a room at Town Hall to direct operations but disconnected in isolation at Kompannaveediya. Provincial Councils are way too full of self-importance, and bloated to tackle the dengue scourge leaving it to the local councils to handle the issue.
And so, the dreaded disease raises its ugly head once again in the face of all this official apathy.

Poaching: Go  to the ICJ
The Sri Lanka Navy arresting South Indian fishermen brazenly poaching in Sri Lanka’s northern waters — while President Mahinda Rajapaksa releases them is now becoming farcical. The problem however, is that this is serious business.

President Rajapaksa seems to want to use the poaching crisis to build bridges with India; except that the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu sees it very differently. She met India’s new Prime Minister this week and in a 65-page memorandum to him, she has called for India to sponsor a resolution at the UN condemning purported “genocide” in Sri Lanka; the holding of a Crimea style Referendum in Sri Lanka amongst the Tamils “and displaced Sri Lanka Tamils across the world” for a separate Tamil Eelam; the “retrieval” of Kachchativu island and also, to ensure the “traditional fishing rights” of Tamil Nadu fishermen in the Palk Strait are some of her other demands.

This is supreme irony. The Tamil Nadu Chief Minister in a blatant contradiction of terms, wants the “continuing discrimination against the Tamils” in Sri Lanka punished while continuing to poach in their waters and deprive them of their traditional livelihood.

Does she not see the beam in her own eye, or has no one the courage to tell her what a celluloid fantasy world she continues to live in. The problem for Colombo, however, is that the Chief Minister has outrun her political opponents who championed the ‘Tamil cause’ in Sri Lanka, won herself a large bag of seats in the Lower House of Parliament in New Delhi and has some seats in the Upper House of Parliament also on offer for the new Government of India that has a shortfall of seats in the Upper House despite its thumping majority in the Lower House.

With her calling the shots on Sri Lanka, the untested political dispensation in New Delhi can be unpredictable. So far, the Ministry of External Affairs seems to have the grip on the new Government’s foreign policy, but then for how long is the question when political compulsions take precedence. The new BJP Government has no allies in the state of Tamil Nadu, and the Chief Minister is willing to fill the void. With what appear to be her outrageous demands, even the unthinkable must be thought of from a Sri Lankan perspective.

The fishing crisis can well boil over. In an editorial on December 1st, 2013 we said that this issue is not going away easily. “Sri Lanka will have no alternative, if it has the diplomatic capability and the political guts (as it did during the Kachchativu issues from 1960-74) to take the matter before the International Court of Justice (ICJ)”, we said. We referred to precedence and the victories won in that forum of international law by smaller nations like Iceland and Norway over the mightier Britain in inter-state fishing disputes they had.

We might never go down that route; but should we not contemplate such an eventuality? Or are we happy catching poachers and releasing them to placate the Indians?

One might also ask for the renaming of the “Indian Ocean” because India seems to run away with the idea that all the fish and the mineral resources in it belong to it, and it can do as it pleases in these waters.

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