Much is talked about these days by the Department of Meteorology, National Building Research Organization and many other connected departments about change in weather patterns, extreme heat, heavy rain, landslides and lightning  Who or what is the cause for all these changes? It is a well-known fact that humans are the cause for these changes [...]

The Sunday Times Sri Lanka

Of climate change, floods and landslides


Much is talked about these days by the Department of Meteorology, National Building Research Organization and many other connected departments about change in weather patterns, extreme heat, heavy rain, landslides and lightning  Who or what is the cause for all these changes? It is a well-known fact that humans are the cause for these changes all over the globe. Corrective action has being taken in most developed countries as they have realised that they are the cause for Al Nino, depletion of the Ozone layer and so on.

In the past pink clouds and smog was seen in most capital cities of the West, not any more. Currently it is a big issue in India, China and a few other countries. Sri Lanka is also affected the same way as on dry days there is a constant haze in the sky over the country and on some days pink clouds too can be seen. Pollution in Colombo was to be measured and the public informed. This no longer happens. May be the equipment is malfunctioning. If it rains in the night, the next morning a clear blue sky is seen as all the polluted clouds get washed down.

Acid rain
Recently while walking along a road it started to rain suddenly. All ran into nearby shelters. There was a vendor selling fresh fruits. He started to cover his fruits with a polythene sheet. I asked him why he was covering the fruits as the rain will wash away the dust and clean the fruits. His answer was “Acid Rain, if this water falls on the fruits the fruits will perish soon”. The vendor knows the effect of acid rain on fruits. How about the pollution of ground water by this rain? It is high time legislators are made to understand the ground situation by walking among the public instead of moving about at high speed with escorts in luxury vehicles with tinted windows.

The Western world took corrective action to plant trees, plan forestation/deforestation, stop the use of Ozone depleting devices, control Carbon Dioxide emissions/Monoxide from vehicle exhausts and brought back pollution to controllable levels by introduction of strict legislation and implementation of the law. Vehicle manufacturers were compelled to move into fuel efficient and electric vehicles thereby reducing the use of fossil fuel resulting in a drop in fuel consumption and prices.China and India have gone to the extent of banning the use of vehicles on certain days to reduce pollution.

The West converted public transport on to clean fuel such as Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) with India and China following. This country is yet to introduce clean air public transport but keeps on importing diesel buses and trucks. Educating and dedication of the public is most important in the transference. In the US most parks and places of public interest have stopped private vehicles entering and use CNG or electric vehicles on Hop-and-Drop. In this country belching vehicles and buses are allowed into Yala and other animal habitats.

Vehicle emissions
We in Sri Lanka … the so called Paradise! What have we done? Introduction of vehicle emission control a few years ago was a step in the right direction. Some 90 per cent of the vehicles on the street are clear. Balance 10 per cent is still not clean due to corruption in the system and the non-dedication of the public. Let us be happy that there are honest citizens in the country with respect to pollution control of exhaust. Expensive machinery was imported to check vehicles at random moving on the street with much publicity. What has happened and where has the equipment gone?

All Presidents of the country had tree planting campaigns. Plant a million trees, etc. What has happened or where have these trees been grown? The forest cover is reducing daily. Only trees planted by late President Ranasinghe Premadasa is seen in some parts of the country.  Since independence from the British administration the country is like a bottle of soda when the cap is opened.  Fortunately the UDA/RDA started to plant trees along the newly developed roads but Colombo Municipality has failed to act as Curator to maintain the trees by chopping off branches that are a hindrance to public as well as to balance the growth of the trees in a controlled growth pattern for shade as well as beauty. They are not been fertilised to maintain growth as some leaves are yellow or the trees are stunted. Yahapalanaya is required here.

Destroying forests
Destruction of forests is taking place to a great extent. Legislators and citizens have to only pass timber saw mills to see the majestic trees that have been felled from the forests of this country. It is easy to notice the difference from the trunk of the downed trees if they are from cultivated forests or from natural forests. If the law is to be enforced and implemented, the Police, Department of Forest Conservation and other connected authorities have only to visit the saw mills and take action against them instead of checking vehicles transporting timber logs which leads to corruption and a way of income for those entrusted in checking and preventing transport of unauthorised logs. There is technology available to determine the life span of a tree.

Of course the judicial system in the country has to be accelerated as action taken by the authorities will drag on for years and years due to the lethargy and inefficiency of the judiciary resulting in the timber being lost to the country by natural causes due to rotting and no production of whatever the timber was supposed to produce  We talk of rainfall and landslides. If the Department of Meteorology collects data, the average rainfall for the country has not varied much other than for a minimal +/- year to year. Floods and landslides have increased. What is the reason? Rain falling on land is not retained as there is fewer shrub, trees and roots to reduce the flow of water downstream resulting in more water flowing from high elevation to low elevation prior to ground absorption and finally onto rivers there by raising the level of water in rivers.

Rain water wasted
Landslides too are caused by rain water finding its way down at a faster rate reducing ground water absorption due to non-availability of shrub, trees and roots resulting in the surrounding earth being washed away. During the days Ceylon was administered by the British no deforestation was allowed over a height of 4,000 feet if I remember correct, although they grew tea at high elevation. Sri Lanka forgot all these environment friendly laws of the British and continued on a destructive path influenced by politicians mostly for political and personal benefit. Some 30 per cent of forest cover since independence has now reduced to 19 per cent.

Destruction of forest cover on mountains, wild life, fauna and flora, affects the life and limb of innocent citizens of the country who work in estates and live in villages at high elevation. It is the general public that has to bear the cost of rebuilding and relocating these innocent people but life lost cannot be replaced.  Landslides occur each year. Up to now the country has not purchased equipment to detect life beneath a landslide. Nor do we have trained canines to smell out humans and other living beings under a slide but we import luxury vehicles for politicians. “Koheda Yanne … Malle Pol”!

If the President, Prime Minister, legislators and those responsible take a tour by helicopter or a low flying aircraft over the hill country or use GPS technology, they will be able to note the bare mountain tops especially in Nuwara Eliya, Diyatalawa, etc. There are many golf courses that have popped up at high elevation on state land. Fox Hill was a thick jungle a few years ago, it is now a race track with no trees in sight in the surrounding. Knuckles range has many areas cleared; Sinharaja has many vacant areas which was thick jungle a few years ago. All this destruction for reasons known only those in power. Sad but true!

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