THE large oil spill in the Colombo Port was a warning that needs serious attention. The Government, with its almost obsessive development drive, needs to understand the importance of safety and environmentally-safe procedures to protect the natural resources of Sri Lanka.
With harbours springing up around the country and potential oil drills in the Mannar Basin, the chances for an environmental disaster are almost limitless. In a world where the BP oil spill has left horrible memories, the need for standardisation of safety mechanisms is important. Hambantota and Oluvil, along with a score of smaller harbours, are in the upgrade pipeline. This means that Sri Lanka needs to pay greater attention to greening its development drives and ensuring that they meet international safety standards.
In this multipronged drive for economic growth, confusions abound. The Government is focusing on so many mutually exclusive projects that the onlooker can be excused for becoming confused. Despite vehement promotion of tourism, which clearly requires an unspoiled and pristine environment, the Government is also promoting large scale development projects that destroy most of what would attract tourists to our sun-dappled land.
Coal power plants, highways and airports are just a few programmes that are tabled to fast-track the development drive. The Government is even targeting nuclear power, which as any person knows, also generates nuclear waste. These are all strong arguments against the process that would convert our paradise isle to a gutted-out environmental horror.
The one positive point about the war was that the north and east remained unpolluted, making it ripe for tourism. Yet now the Trincomalee area is being parcelled out as an economic zone and the numerous little bays are being tagged by massive factories or high end hotels. On the one hand, there is pollution and on the other, the fact that the average man may not have access to certain parts of their own country.
No one denies that Sri Lanka has great potential and an above-average chunk of resources. Yet the environmental concerns also directly tie-in with other inclusive issues such as the assistance provided for the poor – finding adequate food, clean water and other basic requirements. Focusing on the greening is not just to look good in the eyes of the world, but to include sustainability in economic practices.
Parading paradise around the world is a great idea, but we must also make sure that Sri Lanka remains that way. Diversifying into too many areas while sounding great and in theory a fantastic method of doubling profits can also morph into a multipronged disaster with development cannibalising itself.
As the second swearing-in of the President draws ever nearer, the time has come to consolidate. The first term was about testing the waters of development and seeing how many boats we can float. The next six years should be focused on building a solid ship and charting out an important voyage with everyone on board. Disregarding the environment would be tantamount to boring a hole in the bottom of the ship and after a three-decade conflict; the last thing we want is to sink when we are just learning to swim.