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29th August 1999

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Mirror Magazine

    Alcohol and the poor

    Chronic alcoholism prevents 30 per cent of the low income group Sri Lankans from getting out of poverty, says a survey report released by ADIC ( the Alcohol and Drug Information Centre.) If this report is correct, the worst fears about alcohol consumption in this country are confirmed.

    Sri Lanka has a reputation for high suicide rates and high levels of alcohol consumption, but yet, it’s not often that these reputations are confirmed by solid ststistics.It now seems that alcohol- culture is deep rooted in this contry, and that a social consensus is necessary on the fact that alcoholism, like terrorism, should be rooted out.

    Though this is not advocate prohibition, it is to suggest that war must be declared on alcoholism. Here, the accent is on “alcoholism”, and not on the concept of a “having a social drink”- even though organisations such as ADIC would say the lines are blurred.

    There is no way , some say,that alcoholism can be rooted out without attacking the concept of a “social drink”which is often what eventually leads to alcoholism in most cases.

    That another debate for another time and another forum, but the moot issue is whether a society can ignore the insidious damage done by alcohol while the more vivible destructive effects of the war, for instance, occupy the minds of social crusaders.

    It ‘s not to say that the war situation should not receive top priority among the socially conscious policy - making elite, but it is to say that there are other evils which may be causing more damage than the war on the long run, which do not receive one fiftieth of the attention that the war gets. In other societies, such as the rural communities of Bangladesh for instance, the people have identified the fact that a war has to be waged sometimes in times of peace against alcohol for instance.

    The concept of rural credit which is encapsulated “ Grameen Bank” idea is a classic example of how social problems have been addressed by looking at the root causes of chronic poverty in rural communities.

    Social reformers in Bangladesh cottoned on to an evolving consciousness among womenfolk in remote villages that men are the cause of poverty in these outposts, because it is the men who receive the credit from the banks and fritter it away on booze. So , the activist women banded themseleves togethere to save their villages by forming rural credit facilities which extended small-credit strictly only for females.

    The woman became the backbone of small evolving rural economies,and even though the problem of booze did not disappear at least the ensuing problem of chronic poverty was addressed.

    It seems that the alcohol problem has yet to be identified in this way in Sri Lanka society, even though there is always an underlying notion that our society has some “problem connected with excessive alcohol consumption.”But the notion is hazy, and it is in some ways merely an association of ideas.Sri lanka are identified with heavy hard liquor consumption, and that is a fact that seems to raise intermittently some eyebrows among the curious observers of the passing social scene.

    It is that sort of complacency that to be avoided. A start has been made, with certain policy decisions made pertaining to the display of alcohol related advertisements.But how can this government take any meaningful steps in the combat aginst alcoholism when it not only issues liquor licences to its Mps to make money, but also turns a blind eye to adulteration of local arrack When an Excise officer raided a distillery run by a man known to have funded the PA, the officer gets interdicted by the Finance Ministry and the culprits live to adulterate another day.And with its ill-gotten profits raid blue chip companies buying up shares as they go along. As the radically reformist Buddhist monk, Ven Gangodawila Soma observed, it is almost as if bars and taverns are mushrooming aimlesly in this land It is this sort of glaring proliferation of alcohol that is gross; rather than identify the problem, this proliferation seems to have made alcohol commonplace and government’s two-faced policy a mockery, to say the least.

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