Photo courtesy of Rukshan Kuru-Utumpala
Today is World Environment Day
The country’s recent economic and political woes have diverted attention from the countless instances of gross environmental degradation that occur every day. Big business interests, corrupt officials, unscrupulous politicians and their henchmen are wantonly destroying vast tracts of forests, polluting waterways and killing wildlife as people struggle to feed their families bereft of basic necessities. such as fuel, cooking gas and electricity.
The economic crisis has had a huge impact on efforts to create a sustainable environment, as people resort to cutting down trees for firewood, selling wild animals for meat, and animal trafficking wild. The Department of Forest Conservation even grants free licenses to people to enter forest reserves to pick jackfruit, prompting an outcry from environmentalists.
But on World Environment Day, it’s good to take a look at what things could be like in a more docile world through the ministry’s National Environment Action Plan 2022-2030. of the Environment, which is indeed a triumph of hope over experience. In line with the World Environment Day theme for 2022, Only One Earth, focusing on sustainable living in harmony with nature, the plan is seen as a pathway to sustainable development.
Sri Lanka was one of the first countries to have a conservation strategy in 1988. Since then there have been many policies, strategies and plans on how to preserve and protect the natural resources of the country, but the most have come to nothing, crushed by greed and corruption, inefficiency and disinterest.
It is clear that for successive governments led by selfish politicians and their civil servants, protecting and preserving the country’s natural assets to pass on to future generations is the last thing on their minds as they exploit all the resources, from forests and from rivers to sand and wildlife. for their personal gain.
“As a nation, Sri Lanka currently faces the formidable task of balancing the country’s development aspirations, while preserving the integrity of the natural environment and its resources for future generations. Unless development is sustainable, it cannot be achieved,” reads the introduction to the plan, which is aligned with the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
The plan has eight themes – air quality management, conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, climate actions for sustainability, conservation and sustainable use of marine and coastal resources, sustainable management of land resources, holistic waste management, integrated water resources management and environmental management in cities and human settlements. It defines the detailed means by which these problems can be tackled and specifies the government ministries and departments responsible for these tasks.
But unless politicians and the government are held accountable, nothing will change. This is why concerned individuals, environmental organisations, lawyers and the business sector must come together to fight. Unfortunately, their task has been made even more difficult by the country’s devastating economic crisis which is crippling all sectors and putting additional pressure on scarce and exploited environmental resources.
Groundviews spoke with Professor Sevvandi Jayakody, Senior Lecturer at Wayamba University, Member of the National Environment Council and Director of the Environmental Foundation Limited, about the multiple crises facing the environment and what what we can do to fix it.
How has the current economic crisis exacerbated environmental problems?
In every economic crisis, the very first thing that is hit hard is the environment. Smugglers and poachers proliferate as there is a demand for bushmeat. Wildlife trafficking is increasing, having a devastating impact on crucial species. People have to use firewood for cooking. In addition, when allocating funds, priority will be given to poverty reduction rather than environmental conservation.
Can a country’s natural resources help it out of an economic crisis?
The environment can indeed help pull the country out of the economic crisis. There are many natural resources that can be upgraded and exported to earn money. Tourists come here to see our natural features; we are not Las Vegas. We did not take advantage of the geographical situation and did not look at what is in the country to help us out of the economic crisis. Natural features that attract tourists must be preserved at all costs. Development should only proceed after all safeguards and environmental checks have been completed; profits must go to local people. In times of economic crisis, the country can negotiate with other eco-responsible governments and environmental NGOs. For example, in its debt restructuring negotiations, Seychelles got governments to commit to taking care of its coral reefs. In Sri Lanka, we are surrounded by the ocean, which has many resources that can be used to generate income.
Is the National Action Plan for the Environment 2022-2030 (PNAE) be implemented successfully?
The plan is the way forward for a better future. However, since the government has no funds, the private sector, universities, environmental organizations, affected people and volunteers must do all they can to overcome the crisis. Now is the best time to show our support for nature and invest in nature. Key agencies need to take responsibility for implementing their part of the plan with a good monitoring committee to ensure this happens.