Yearning for ‘bakery paan’ (bread), and not for the sliced mass-produced kind, for breakfast this sunny Thursday morning, I walked down to the nearby ‘tea kade’ to purchase two loaves. At the ‘kade’, a young chap was engaged in a lively conversation with the shopkeeper on recent forest fires. “You know, forests fires are not [...]

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Dousing forest fires


Yearning for ‘bakery paan’ (bread), and not for the sliced mass-produced kind, for breakfast this sunny Thursday morning, I walked down to the nearby ‘tea kade’ to purchase two loaves.

At the ‘kade’, a young chap was engaged in a lively conversation with the shopkeeper on recent forest fires. “You know, forests fires are not good for the environment and climate change,” he was heard saying. Walking back with the bread, I was intrigued by those remarks and how the environment was impacting on the younger generation.

As I walked past the margosa tree, I could hear Serapina, the youngest in the trio of friends, telling Kussi Amma Sera and Mabel Rasthiyadu, about the fires that had affected the Ella forests in the central hills.

“These fires are not good, as they affect the environment and have an impact on weather patterns,” she said, speaking in Sinhala. “How has it happened?” asked Mabel Rasthiyadu.

“I read in the newspapers that they were set off by people seeking to clear areas for farming. These are man-made fires,” said Kussi Amma Sera.
According to reports, the fires had been burning for three days in this region with forest officers seeking help from the security forces to douse the fires.

As I sat down to have my breakfast of ‘bakery paan’, pol sambol and dhal curry accompanied by my morning cup of tea, the phone rang. It was ‘Dosai’ Danny, my verti-wearing buddy from Trincomalee.

“I say, did you hear about the Amazon fires. It’s in the news,” he said with a drawl. I replied that I had heard about them and was surprised that they had caught ‘Dosai’ Danny’s interest.

Apparently a record number of fires in recent weeks ravaging the Amazon has drawn international attention because of the rainforest’s importance to the global environment with Brazilian authorities dispatching the military to assist in firefighting.

The Amazon, 60 per cent of which is in Brazil, is the world’s largest tropical rainforest. It is considered a biodiversity hotspot, with many unique species of plants and animals.

According to international media reports, the dense jungle absorbs a huge amount of the world’s carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas believed to be the biggest factor in climate change, so scientists say that preserving the Amazon is vital to fighting global warming. Forest fires across Brazil have hit the highest level since at least 2013 and are up 84 per cent this year as of mid-August, compared to the same period a year ago, according to Brazil’s space research agency, INPE.

Brazilians in more than a dozen cities have taken to the streets to protest against government inaction on the fires, reports said.

Here in Sri Lanka, social media has been buzzing both on the Ella fires and the Amazon disaster with concern growing that there was little information on the Amazon fires until it emerged on social media two weeks ago. There have been vibrant conversations about the Amazon burning and young people are miffed that the news came out only recently and as to why the media – amidst all the political happenings — hasn’t paid sufficient attention to this disaster.

The importance of the Amazon’s contribution to climate change is reflected in the fact that planet earth’s biggest rainforest provides 12 per cent of the world’s oxygen.

‘Dosai Danny’ and I then engaged in a conversation about climate change, sea-level rise and how these developments are impacting on Sri Lanka. Ironically, this happened as my neighbour, with utter disregard to rules of civilian conduct, was burning trash (which is banned) with billowing smoke affecting the entire neighbourhood. Burning garbage affects not only human health but the environment since smoke and ash pollute the air, water and food supply, and if plastics and chemicals are among the garbage, it releases hazardous toxins.

Global warming, climate change and sea-level rise are still not sufficiently discussed in the local media even as the threat looms nearer than one would expect. According to experts, there are three main reasons for global warming to cause a sea-level rise: Oceans expand, ice sheets lose ice faster than they form from snowfall and glaciers at higher altitudes also melt.

The global sea level has been rising over the past century and the rate has increased in recent decades.

In neighbouring Maldives, there is concern at the increase in the sea-level rise and the impact on small islands and whether people there would become climate refugees if their country gets submerged by the sea. There has been discussion in the past on whether the Maldives needs to buy space elsewhere and relocate its populations. On the other hand, there is also a technological discussion on whether it is possible to lift the islands, a very expensive option, and overcome these challenges.

Here in Sri Lanka where weather patterns are rapidly changing, Prof. Mohan Munasinghe, one of Sri Lanka’s experts on climate change, once warned that global warming would see a sharp change in the environment. Among his predictions are that parts of the northern peninsula will be submerged, mosquitoes will shift from dry zone areas to wet areas like Nuwara Eliya (unheard of as mosquitoes thrive in hotter areas), and there will be a change in the monsoons. Sea erosion is also happening rather rapidly in Sri Lanka.

The plus point in a gloomy environment is that there is a conversation taking place among millennials and the young generation here in Sri Lanka and that’s how I was alerted to the happenings of the forest fires in the Amazon and Ella. They are showing concern and these developments emerged amidst the political talk-shows and daily media diet of political happenings.

The conversation under the margosa tree had ended and in walked Kussi Amma Sera with another cup of tea, as I was winding up my column.

“Elle ginna ikmanata nivanna puluwan-vei kiyala mama balaporottu venava (I hope they are able to put out the Ella forest fires quickly),” she said. “Ov, ov (yes, yes),” I said with a worried look, reflecting on how Sri Lankans are still to grasp the reality of global warming, sea-level rise and climate change and their long-term impact on our lives.

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