Ruhuna Shouldn’t Frolic While Raja Rata Is Devastated
TV commentaries on Monday, on the ‘historic day’ of ‘great significance’ at Hambantota took our thoughts to the story (in Greek mythology) of the brash young boy Icarus who had acquired a pair of wings, trying to reach the sun despite the warnings of his father, Daedalus. The tragic end of Icarus has given rise to many fables and even to a mental state identified in psychoanalysis as the Icarus Complex.
This state of mind has been described as that of a personality who does not realise his own limitations. Another definition is: the constellation of mental conflicts, the degree of which reflects the mental imbalance of a person’s desire for success, or achievement of material goods and the ability to achieve these goals. The greater the gap between the ideal goal and reality, the greater the likelihood of failure.
We expect us to be called pessimists, cynics and of course traitors for these observations. But to our rational mind the soaring rhetoric of commentators and speakers on the potentialities of ‘our people’ with the accent placed on Southerners, their intrinsic talents and their historic achievements was as worthy of commentaries when the Americans first landed on the moon. American commentators, we recall, were much more subdued in their claims. The spirit that emanated on Monday at Mattala can be expressed in that much used Latin saying: Per aspera ad astra (Through hardship to the stars).
The history of Sri Lankan aviation was traced beginning from the Dandumonara of Ravana, to British colonial times ending with Prabakaran’s War and with this spanking new airport, a new chapter would be opened in this history of aviation with Mattala being the ‘Hub of Aviation’.
Certainly the Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport (MRIA) built with a loan of US$ 290 million from China will be an achievement if the stated objectives are realised: one million passengers and 45,000MT of cargo for a year.
A nation attempting to reach for the stars cannot be faulted even though the task seems impossible particularly when ground realities such as the airport being a hundred miles away from most urban centres. Only a mutt will travel such distances to Mattala when an international airport is close at hand.
Spirit of Mattala
However to us, all this razzle-dazzle in Mattala right now is a misplacement of national priorities. The focus of national opinion is rightly on the UNHRC sessions where powerful countries including our friendly neighbor across the Palk Strait is attempting to besmirch the name of Sri Lanka on charges of violation of human rights with the allegations of war crimes implied in the resolution that is being moved.
While Geneva poses a grave and positive threat to this nation, an even greater danger is the threat of the devastation of the dry zone – the Raja Rata and regions surrounding it, the rice bowl of the country – with the spread algal toxins – that are killing the rice farmers at an alarming rate. It has been estimated that about two persons die a day from kidney failure or associated diseases as a result of these algal poisons. A WHO report has said that the waterways, ground water and most sources of drinking water are being polluted by these algal toxins and they may have even entered the food chain.
Emeritus Professor of Botany of the Peradeniya University, S. A. Kulasooriya, who is currently research professor of the Institute of Fundamental Studies, Kandy, in a recently published paper has stated: ‘Accumulation of Algal toxins in water is dangerous. These toxins have been reported to contribute to liver and kidney ailments and some types of cancers. As these toxins are thermo stable they are not destroyed by boiling the water. They are cumulative poisons that could pass from lactating mothers to their infants. In this state all of us have a responsibility to protect not only the present but even future generations from this danger’.
The professor has stated that it ‘is imperative that the government coordinate the activities of the National Drainage Board, the Irrigation Department and the Agriculture Department and take some unified action to minimize the excessive use of soluble fertilizer. If public awareness by itself does not have an impact, it may be necessary even to enact legislation to reduce this menace as done in certain countries.
Prof. Kulasooriya has quoted a research paper by Dr Sarath Amarasiri, former Director General of Agriculture and his associates where they have held that water bodies received so much of phosphorous primarily due to application of high levels of soluble phosphorus fertilizers like triple super phosphates far in excess of what is required. We are not only wasting money on such fertilizers but pollute our water bodies which pose a danger to the people. Farmers and the general public should be made aware to be alert to this situation.
This danger of algal toxins has not come out of the blue. As far back as in August 2005 Prof. Kulasooriya had published a paper pointing out that algal populations of our freshwater reservoirs have gradually changed from harmless species to toxin producing algae from the beginning to the end of the 20th century. Recent survey conducted by the Institute of Fundamental studies in 61 inland reservoirs of the island has shown that potential toxin producing bacteria are common in them. The paper notes that high levels of available phosphorus have been reported by the National Water Supply and Drainage Board as well.
The question to be asked is what the officials responsible for determining the quality of water consumed by people living in agricultural regions doing as the people kept dying of unknown causes. What were they doing as the poor farmers kept dying from kidney and other diseases caused by these poisons? Didn’t the MPs care? Was it the karmic fate of these unfortunates to die without assistance being provided?
How can they exist?
The hapless people of the dry zone and surrounding regions still have no other sources of water to drink than the deadly polluted water. What are the allegedly concerned ‘people’s representatives’ doing?
President Mahinda Rajapaksa was reported on Thursday saying that 60,000 lives were saved by his government by ensuring water supplies to the people after terrorists closed the Mavil Aru sluice. Indeed it may be so but a greater number would have dropped dead in recent years by the poisoning of waterways by fertilizers with heavy doses of toxic chemicals as officials and the people’s representatives did nothing.
Immediate action should be taken to provide safe drinking water to tens of thousands if not millions of people who seem to have no choice but to drink polluted water if they are to exist even for a limited time.
Ruhuna should not frolic over Mattala while the Raja Rata is being devastated.