With tourism comes many other menaces and the issue of drugs is one that local officials have few answers for.
It was reported over the weekend that the headline-hitting drug detection at the Central Mail Exchange on Thursday has added to the worries of the Police Narcotics Bureau where detectives believe that Sri Lanka is fast becoming a preferred transit hub of international drug syndicates, especially cocaine smugglers.
Alarmed by the high incidence of detection of drugs at the Bandaranaike International Airport, PNB detectives said the rise in tourist arrivals had created a huge demand for cocaine, which is popular in the Western world. The street value of a gram of cocaine, an alkaloid substance obtained from cocoa leaves, is around Rs. 15,000 in Sri Lanka.
However, the widely used narcotic in Sri Lanka is cannabis followed by heroin. Last year some 22,700 people were arrested for using cannabis. Also last year, 11,787 people were arrested for using heroin while only four were caught for using cocaine and seven for hashish, according to PNB statistics.
In detections made last year, 23 kilos of heroin, 10 kilos of cocaine, 18 kilos of hashish and 50,000 kilos of cannabis were taken into custody.
The small number of arrests for using cocaine and the large quantity and greater frequency of detection of the drug indicate that much of the contraband is either used by tourists undetected in hotels and resorts or smuggled to other countries via Colombo.
Last week, Customs officials and detectives arrested two Thai women who had tried to smuggle in 1,489 grams of cocaine in 160 tiny capsules which they had swallowed. The street value of the drug was estimated at Rs. 23 million.
Investigations revealed that the Thai women, aged 28 and 33, were married and had children. Narcotics Bureau detectives said the women were veterans in the trade and one of them was a mistress of a big-time drug peddler. They had travelled to Argentina and Brazil before coming to Colombo through Doha.
The detection was made when one of the women fell sick in the transit lounge. There have been many reports in recent months where Thai, Philippine and Pakistani women have been arrested for drug transportation showing that this is a steadily growing problem.
There are also more drug detections from the Northern Province and it is an open secret that some of the fishing boats crossing into Lankan waters also carry narcotics. Given the abundant increase of tourism the appearance of a steady market for narcotics and prostitution makes this a double edged problem.
Within the first two months of 2012 over 1500 people were detected as staying in the country after their visas expired. Last year the number was closer to 3000 and many of these offenders stay for nefarious reasons, ably supported by local partners. The Immigration Department earlier in the year even appealed to the public to assist them in detecting these offenders and deporting them.
There are many other countries in the Asian region that are facing the same challenges as Sri Lanka. It is common to find drugs being peddled in tourism areas such as Cambodia, Viet Nam and increasing numbers of drug caches are being found in China. In fact Asia is one of the fastest growing drug markets in the world.
Along with the economic war there is an imperative needed to address these issues and not allow for political patronising to put the future of Sri Lanka into jeopardy.