Monday, March 03, 2014

Second Tree ordination held at Welioya and Soragune

Soragune Forest is the water catchment for more than 7000 farmers living downstream. This 628 acre forest is belongs to the Soragune Shrine. 

Although such "Nindagam' forest cannot transfer to an individual, the forest has been illegally sold to a  hotelier to build a 36 hole Golf Course and a 1500 room hotel. 

In order to bring the necessary attention, several trees were symbolically ordained  on the 1st March 2014 and the forest has been now handed over to the Buddhist monks to save it. Buddhist Monks lead by Venerable Kalupahana Piyarathana Thero issued a 'Sahngaachna" to the gods to save the forest. 

The Centre for Environmental Justice took the lead in organising the Dharma Yathra started at Vihara Maha Devi park on the 27th February 2014 which reached the Forest on the 1st March 2014. Over 60 buddhist monks and more than 4000 people joined this second tree ordination ceramony.  
Dharma Yathra was very successful in bringing public attention to the forest destruction. Many temples and the local people along the route supported the 3 day long travel.

Looking at the large number of public attended the Tree ordination ceramony, I see that it is getting  high recognition by the local communities. No wonder why. The authorities have continuously failed to protect the water catchments in Sri Lanka. 

In this case, it the Commissioner of the Buddhist Affairs who has failed to act. Other than this 628 acre forest another 3000 acres belongs to Soragune "Kuda Katharagama Devalaya" has been sold to rubber plantations. This forest is also the water catchement of Weli Oya and Walawe river.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Dharmayathra for Forest Conservation

Soragune Forest which is belongs to Soragune shrine has been illegally sold to a businessman to build a hotel and a golf course. People downstream of Welioya, a river that provides life for more than 7000 families are in danger due to the possible destruction of the Soragune water catchment. Yet the authorities keep blind eye on this issue.  As of the request of the local communities of Welioya and Soragune, Centre for Environmental Justice, Sri Lanka Environmental Congress, Engaged Buddhist Solidarity for Nature will launch " Dharmayathra for Forest Conservation" at the Viharamahadevi Park on the 27th February 2014. The Dharmayathra will reach Welioya and Soragune on the 1st March 2014 and ordain the trees in order to protect the soragune forest.  This 628 acre forest area is home to more than 35 elephants and many other animals.The reservoir provides water for more than 7000 families living downstream.

Let's Ordain Trees!

Let' s Ordain Trees! Protect Soragune Forest

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

“Thou shall not cut these trees” They are ordained now The story of Tree ordination in Sri Lanka

-->Hemantha Withanage
Writer is the Executive Director of the Centre for Environmental Justice/ Friends of the Earth Sri Lanka. He is the Treasurer and an executive member of the Friends of the Earth International and the Convenor of the NGO Forum on ADB.

Buddhist monks chanting “pirith” “Kesha , Loma, Nacha, Dantha, Tacho……… wrapped the trees with a saffron and red color robes, and ordinated 1000 trees while local communities and the environmentalists were chanting “Saadoo” “Saadoo” “Saadoo”. Venerable Badullagammana Sumanasara Thero, Venerable Kalupahana Piyarathana Thero, venerable Thalangalle Sudhamma Thero and Venerable Dr. Balaharuwe Sirisumana Thero took the lead in this tree ordination.

This first massive tree ordination ceremony in Sri Lanka was held on the 11th January 2014 in Akkara Anuwa and Dimbuldena villages in the Nilgala Forest. Fifty Buddhist monks, over 300 local people and the environmental organizations participated the event. Muslim religious leaders of the area also joined the event. Centre for Environmental Justice (CEJ) initiated this Tree ordination ritual in order to highlight the massive forest destruction in Nilgala by powerful people.

History of Tree ordination

Symbolical tree ordination is a ritual initiated by Ecology Monks (Phra Nak Anuraksa) a group of Thai Buddhist Monks which has also practiced by the Cambodian, Vietnam and Burmese monks in the last two and half decades. On the surface, tree ordination is presented to the world environmentalist movement as a highly clever and original idea, using the widely respected symbol of monastic robes to make loggers hesitate to cut down trees. It is a combination of bringing the pre-buddhist values of spirit worshiping and the buddhist values of respecting the nature and the political messaging of saving the forests and trees from destructive development.

It is generally acknowledged that the first tree ordination, wherein a tree not already considered sacred was wrapped in saffron-colored cloth and given monastic vows, was performed in Thailand in 1988 by the monk Phrakhru Manas Natheepitak of Wat Bodharma in Phayao Province, Northern Thailand. Phrakhru Manas arrived at the idea after hearing the story of two highway workers who had been forced to cut down a bodhi tree, and thereafter were beset with misfortune.[1]

Venerable Keeranthidiye Pannasekera Thero and several environmental activists ordinated the giant “Dun” tree located along the Baduraliya-Kukulegama road in 1997 which was suppose to cut down for the road expansion for the Kukule hydropower project.  Venerable Dr. Balaharuwe Sirisumana Thero and the farmer organisations and with the support of CEJ ordinated the giant ‘Red Sandalwood’ tree in the Badulla town in 2008 when the Municipal council decided cut it down for the road expansion.  Two trees still standing and offer shade to every one passes and refuge to other living being.

Every tree is a “bodhi” 

Lord Buddha said, that "A tree is a wonderful living organism which gives shelter, food, warmth and protection to all living things. It even gives shade to those who wield an axe to cut it down" .
Primitive man had the highest regard for the trees because in his view it was another living being. In Buddhist thinking like a being, the tree also has a soul and thus it could, when hurt or damaged, feel pain, or even bleed. Buddhism and Hindu religions believe that 33 Crore ( 330 million) of gods, goddess and deities are in the world and among them some are living in the big trees. People sometimes make small shrines under the trees to worship them. Some also believes that the spirits of our ancestors are also living on the trees. Banyan trees are commonly believes as such sprit trees.

We all know that no one ever try to axe the sacred “Bo” tree or even a branch for any purpose since Gauthama Budda attained Nibbana under a ‘Asathu Bo’ tree. The term bo or bodhi is used by Buddhists to imply two distinct meanings: in a narrow sense, it implies the Bo Tree (Ficus religiosa) tree under which the last of the Buddhas, Siddhartha Gautama attained Enlightenment. In a broad sense, it implies any tree under which a Buddha has attained enlightenment. 

The most historical and most venerated tree is the Sri Maha Bodhi located in Anuradhapura. Any other Bo tree is believed to be treated on the similar way. Twenty eight Buddhas that we believe sat under different trees when they attained enlightenment. Ruk Atthana, Kaela, Pulila, Neralu, Sal, Na, Kumbuk, Murutha, Kiripalu, Bak Mee, Una, Sapu, Rath Karaw, Kinihiri, Kohomba, Nelli, Palol,  Atamba, Mara, Dimbul, Nuga, and Asathu are the trees that gave shade to 28 Buddha’s [2] to attain enlightenment. It is widely believe that none of these trees should be cut down similar to the ‘Bo’ Tree.  

A Buddhist monk is prohibited from cutting down a tree or having a tree cut down not only because it has life but because it could also be the abode of a deity. The Vinaya Pitaka, the Book of the Discipline, which lays down rules for the proper behaviour of monks, states specifically that there is an offence of expiation, pacittiya, for the destruction of vegetable growth, by which is meant five different kinds of propagation: what is propagated from roots, from stems, from joints, from cuttings and from seeds. [3]

Ancient Buddha followers also practiced the principle of ‘no harm to the trees’ unless the felling of a tree or cutting of a branch is necessary.  They followed the strict rituals and urged the deities and animals in the trees to move away before cut the tree and burn the forest for cultivation. 

Similarly, in the old days in Thailand when certain big trees were required for the making of the traditional royal barge or posts for the tall roof of a royal pire, an offering was made and a royal proclamation was read to the spirit before it could be cut down. This was a wise practice to preserve big trees of the forest from wanton felling by the simple folk.

In that sense the massive destruction of the forest is a modern practice and not in line with the buddhist beliefs.

Ordination of a tree

In the modern society where money has become the only determination, people look at forest as a ‘land’ and the tree as ‘timber’. There we loose all our buddhist beliefs on the nature, forest and trees. This very problem is the main reason for all the natural disaster we face today.

If one has to reverse the trend, there is no other solution than returning to our ancient practices and respecting to the religions. Among the religions Buddhism is more close to the forest and the trees. A tree is a symbol of altruism. It doesn’t expect anything, which it provides the other living being and the nature. In the modern culture humans has very little or no respect in return. Therefore, it is important to bring the ancient belief on the forest and trees.

One can ask whether ordination of a tree is the right approach and a right ritual according to the Buddhism. Thai Buddhist Monk Achan Chah once said, “They ask, “Then are you an arahant?” Do I know? I am like a tree in a forest, full of leaves, blossoms and fruit. Birds come to eat and nest, and animals seek rest in its shade. Yet the tree does not know itself. It follows its own nature. It is as it is.” (Ajahn Chah, A Tree in a Forest)[4]

Therefore one can say that every tree is an ‘Arhat’. In that circumstances we don’t want to ask the question whether wrapping a robe around the tree trunk is an acceptable ritual.  Although we were not needed to remind people that every tree is a sacred tree in the ancient society, we have to constantly remind people that tree need to be respected and worthy for worshiping.

Therefore the notion of the ordination of a tree is a timely ritual to bring back. The tree ordination, adapted from a traditional Buddhist ritual, to build villagers' and nations commitment to protect the trees from unending development is the way to live longer and respect to the rights of the other living being.
It also denoted the basic rights such as right to life, right to nature. It also respect the Sri Lankan constitution section 28.f which states that “The exercise and enjoyment of rights and freedoms is inseparable from the performance of duties and obligations, and accordingly it is the duty of every person in Sri Lanka -(d) to preserve and protect public property, and to combat misuse and waste of public property; (e) to respect the rights and freedoms of others; and (f) to protect nature and conserve its riches.
We have given the pledge during the tree ordination that;

“Nilgala Forest which gives shade water, coolness and air with no benefit will offer to the ‘Buddha Sasana’ to be protected as long as the sun and moon prevails. 

We admit the equal rights of the human and other living being to the forest and agree to consume the fruits and other things that can be taken without destroying the trees and the creepers.

We understand that any damage to the Nilgala medicinal plant forest created by King Buddddasa ( 397 A.D) of the Anuradhapura Era is a sin which will affect in this life and also put us in the hell in the end of this life.

Our children and we will become the protectors of this forest as the forest deities and the souls of our ancestors protect this forest.

We pledge to protect all the large and small trees living in this forest that ordained from now on. We know that harming the ordained is a great sin.”

Instead of elites and officials protecting the forest from commoners, now it is the commoners who had to protect the forest from the encroaching elites and powerful land grabbers. Instead of picking trees to be felled, the villagers now picking trees to be saved.

Let the trees remain standing and serve the nature because they are ordained now. “Thou shall not cut these trees.”

[1] Avery Morrow,Tree Ordination as Invented tradition

3  Prof J. B. Dissanayake, What Buddhists believe about the Bodhi Tree "Thou Shalt not cut this Tree!"


Sunday, August 04, 2013

People asked water- they gave them bullets

Hemantha Withanage

The brutal military attack on the nightfall of 1st August 2013, against the unarmed peaceful protestors in Welivariya who demanded water, ended killing a 17 year old school boy, Akila Dinesh (who was the only child in the family) and wounding many others. They were demonstrating against the Venigross Gloves Factory, located in Rathupaswela ( about 17 km from Colombo, Sri Lanka), which is responsible for the water contamination in more that 3 km radius and for 12 villages.

It reminds me the ending to the demonstration in Cochabamba in Bolivia in year 2000 which Victor Hugo Daza was killed. It was against the privatization of public water in Cochabamba.

The incident is Sri Lanka is a warning to the people, how they will act if people go against the neo liberal and corporate interests. It is shameful how some politicians are painting a wrong picture on the incident when the media footages and people’s testimonies clearly shows how the attack was done.

As media reported “About 1,000 soldiers wearing flak jackets and armed with T-56 assault rifles were deployed to the area. Members of the army’s motorcycle brigade arrived in Belummahara at about 2 p.m. and immediately began harassing demonstrators, demanding they disperse.

About two hours later another group of soldiers were mobilised to Weliweriya to break up the demonstration. While the protestors eventually agreed to a directive from an army brigadier to disperse within five minutes, in the ensuing commotion, commandoes suddenly started firing live rounds. Protestors were also attacked with long batons, tear gas and water cannon.” 

On the surface, the protest is a water conflict. People were just demanding clean water for their daily consumption and to close down the factory. When go deeper, it is an issues of exploitation of a common good by a corporate giant and a business tycoon for corporate interest. The military was serving the businesses indirectly against the public interest.

The affected people are living in the rural villages, who totally depend on the well water. There are no pipe water facilities and no monthly bills. Factory has released acidic effluent and given the untreated sludge as the manure to the local people, which also made the groundwater acidic.

Farming families now cannot go to the paddy fields due to factory pollution. Even they cannot drink own well water. Therefore, people those who have setup a polluting factory in such as a pristine place should be blamed for destroying the traditional life and livelihood. 

Affected people have a legitimate right to oppose to the polluting factory. They also have a right to demand clean water, which is a basic need and a human right. However, their new water will come with a bill. Their lands cannot grow uncontaminated foods anymore. The water table will not be recovered next 2-3 decades. The factory, which they thought a solution for their jobs, become a burden for the next few decades. 


Friday, August 02, 2013

Crushing the protest against the gloves factory in Nadungamuwa and the idleness of the CEA

Hemantha Withanage

It was amazed to see over five thousand protestors at least in three different locations are protesting against the Venigros Gloves Factory located in Nadungamuva, Rathupaswela near Weliveriya. Men, women and children lead by Theripaha Siridhamma thero were blocking the entrance of the factory, which is responsible for polluting their drinking water sources.

The website of the company claims that they are eco friendly and engage in an ethical manufacturing process. If that is true, why the people in the surrounding villages are blaming them for polluting their drinking water sources and making the water acidic. They claim that men women and children are suffering from various illnesses due to the consumption of high acidic water. They also say that company has dumped the untreated sludge into the lands in the vicinity, which has also contributed to making their water acidic.

The million dollar question is where was the Central Environmental Authority, and public health inspectors all these years. Factory has been established eighteen years ago. I believe they own an Environmental Protection License provided by the CEA. Should CEA staff to be blame for issuing license for some rewards. Or should the company be blamed for violating the conditions.

Whatever, the reason the authorities gave a military solution this afternoon by beating the protestors and crushing the protest with tear gas and rubber bullets. Men, women and children who seek water to drink, were sent home with pain and another lesson of fake democracy.

I heard the factory would also be closed for 2 weeks until the necessary tests are done. But I also heard people don’t trust the testing by the government agencies.

Water is a human right. I believe there was an early and better solution if the environmental agencies in Sri Lanka are live. Contamination of water in ten villages within more than 1 km radius is not something insignificant for the CEA and health authorities to have deaf years.

This is not the first time that Central Environmental Authority is sleeping on its laws and regulations. Politicization of this mammoth agency is the most ill advised decision of the rulers in this decade. This is not the only place that people and the environment is suffering due to the lethargy of the CEA.

It took one life to give such a short-term solution. CEA must know that thousands of other lives are dying due to the idleness of the CEA.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Rio+20: Protest Against ‘The Future Corporations Bought’

Rio de Janairo (Brazil), June 22, 2012 –  Friends of the Earth International  delegates joined on June 21 a key protest by a group of young people and civil society organisations denouncing world leaders’ failure to tackle the planetary crisis at the UN Rio+20 Summit.

Hundreds of people condemned the failed Rio+20 Summit process as “the future corporations bought, first sitting down at the entrance of the Rio+20 Summit and then tearing up copies of the Ri~20 Summit text. They later walked out of the conference centre, handing in their badges, and chanting 'the  future we want is not here'.

The protestors said that the voices of people and in particular the young people are being ignored at this UN Summit in the interest of corporations that continue to promote a business-as-usual model based upon dirty fossil fuels, and social and environmental exploitation.

Rio+ 20 final deal has no gains due to corporate lobby

19th June 2012, Rio de Janeiro, The new and final text entitles "The Future We Want" out at the Rio+20 negotiation shows that the new deal does nothing to address the environmental and social crises the world is facing nor does it tackle in any way the structural causes of the economic crises we are facing. 

This failure by our governments to respond to people’s needs and benefits only the corporate polluters that hold UN decision-making hostage to further their economic interests.

The deal does not prevent countries from selling out nature to multinational corporations, nor does it include any measures to hold corporations accountable for their negative impacts.

This text is does not provide any new financial commitment and no technology transfer to developing countries. While the so called “Green Economy” does not have the prominent role that some would have wished to see in this declaration, and this is a victory for all those opposed to the destructive Green Economy agenda promoted by industrialized countries and multinational corporations.

Some industrialized countries tried to delete the Rio Principles agreed 20 years ago from the Summit declaration but fortunately their attempt failed.

The text promotes mining, which is a serious environmental destruction to the environment. Further, it requests the Members of the WTO to redouble their efforts to achieve an ambitious, balanced and development-oriented conclusion to the Doha Development Agenda.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Durban Package serves Corporate interests

After two weeks of painful process “Durban package” was delivered by the COP 17 at 5 am in the 11th December 2011. Last 48 hours of the negotiations was non transparent similar to Copenhagen and Cancun climate negotiations. Many national delegations were not inside some negotiations which were happen in the green rooms. Many decisions have been rushed through in the last minute. Many negotiators were not in the room due to the extension of the COP 17 for an extra day. While many spectators and the civil society still believed the UN multilateral process, it was evident that multilaralisms is not functioning in the UN system.

The so called “Durban Package” has come to a number of controversial decisions around many of the major issues written in the Cancun Agreements, yet many of the elements have been postponed. Countries such as Russia was not sure what was just signed onto, as many of the final decisions involving relatively new texts were rushed through.

India played a major role in bringing equity and Common but differentiated responsibility in to the next commitment period of the Kyoto protocol but lost in the last minute. Final plenary discussions on both the Kyoto Protocol and Long Term Cooperative Action were noisy due to the disagreements on the disputed texts forwarded to the main COP plenary despite objections.

Despite the disagreements, parties were successful in agreeing to a 2nd commitment period to the Kyoto Protocol, which is rather weak and unambitious. Yet, it does not include major polluters such as US, Canada, Japan etc. It was decided that quantifiable emission reductions targets to be decided in May 2012, which will be “an agreed outcome with legal force”. Second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol shall begin on 1 January 2013 and end either on 31 December 2017 or 31 December 2020. However due to the lack of ambition in emission reduction targets the KP second commitment period, it will cover less than 15% of global emissions. According to the  CMP decision “the aggregate emissions of greenhouse gases by Parties included in Annex I are reduced by at least 25-40 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020, and a review to be concluded by 2015.

Many countries felt that unless ambition is increased, KP second commitment period could potentially lock the world onto a pathway of dangerous climate change to 3-3.5 degrees, as opposed to the 2 degrees currently aimed.

One of the serious problems under the KP second commitment period is with monitoring and reducing greenhouse gas emissions from Land Use and Land-Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF), which is a critical structure under the Kyoto Protocol. As it was discussed the LULUCF loopholes in forest management would allow developed countries to increase their emissions by up to 6 gigatonnes by 2020.

One of the most contentious issues in COP 17 is the establishment of the Green Climate Fund (GCF). The private window of the GCF was heavily criticized by the civil society and by Venezuela.  The Fund however was approved without funds as an empty shell. The World Bank will remain as the interim trustee, but and independent board will be formed by March 2012. However, Fund is suppose to produce safeguard, disclosure and accountability mechanisms. The Durban package invites Parties, to submit to the Board expressions of interest for hosting the Green Climate Fund by 15 April 2012. The independent nature of the GCF is therefore uncertain at this stage. Among other disappointment the programme on National Adaptation Plans decision has been postponed until COP18.  

The Durban Package hasn’t delivered much on the need for immediate action and ambitions to cut the GHG emissions in time. While developing country negotiators were struggling to keep the multilateral process, rich countries, had green room discussions to influence selected countries and groupings with bilateral financial packages.

Following the Copenhagen and Cancun processes,  once again the people been let down by the governments in Durban. US, EU and developed nations have won by allowing the polluters to profit from the climate crisis. As pointed out by Sarah Jayne Climate Coordinator of the Friends of the Earth International “It is clear in whose interests this deal has been advanced, and it isn’t the 99% of people around the world. The noise of corporate polluters has drowned out the voices of ordinary people in the ears of our leaders”.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Don't Kill Africa

Hundreds of climate activists form Friends of the Earth International, Greenpeace, and many other civil society movement protested inside the COP 17 venue in Durban for delaying actions and against killing Kyoto Protocol. They sung

Ku lezontaba
Stand strong, stand strong for Africa
Wen u ya baleka
Ku lezontaba
Stand strong, we support Africa..............

Environmental Minister from Maldives join the activists and demanded no kiling of Kyoto Protocol.

Thousands of people rally demanding climate justice

Over 10,000 people join the rally on the 3rd December 2011 for demanding climate justice for the people in the world. Centre for Environmental Jutice/ Friends of the Earth Sri Lanka join the rally together with Friends of the Earth International and others. Thousands of the protesters demanded to LISTEN TO THE PEOPLE NOT THE POLLUTERS. They demanded no corporate window in the proposed Global Climate Fund, No Carbon Markets, No REDD. 

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Coal in the hole; Oil in the Soil; Tar sand in the land- but Nuclear unclear-

Coal and oil are the main fossil fuels responsible for the most Green House Gas emissions. Rich nations burn most of these fuels and responsible for emitting CO2 in to the atmosphere. Oilwatch International demand keep “oil in the soil” and “coal in the hole” and “tar sand in the land”. This solution is simple. What are the alternatives? Earth receives enough solar energy and wind power if the world needs to harness them.

Yet most developed countries plan to build more and more nuclear power. South Africa Government planning to spend 1 trilling Rand for building nuclear power plants. India, Russia, Malaysia are some other countries to build nuclear power. Sri Lanka is also planning to follow the same path.

Germany is the only country to abandon all nuclear power stations. All remaining nuclear power stations should be closed by 2020. Will rest of the world follow Germany?

Greedy Corporate Fund or Green Climate Fund

Green Climate Fund was one of the hopes of the developing countries during the last two climate negotiations. It was agreed in COP 16 held in Cancun and had series of negotiations to shape it. However, two questions remain unresolved. Its interim Trustee the World Bank can become the permanent Trustees and there are no provisions to stop that. It also has created a private window which will benefit the greedy corporations. As civil society pointed out both corporations and the World Bank have no rights to engage in a green climate fund.

In most current examples Bankers, Fund managers, companies and the consultants are the beneficiaries of these public funds and not the poor communities or the developing country governments.

Several developed countries including UK are threatening to turn the Green Climate Fund into a Greedy Corporate Fund that would serve the interests of the corporate and financial sectors, instead of financing activities to save the planet and protect the poor in developing countries.

Let the Fund be green and not to serve the corporate greedy.

COP and COPs

A police constable guarding our hotel in the city of Durban in South Africa where COP 17 is happening told me that local people here wondering whether this is an event organised by them. As you know COP is an acronym for (Police) constables. He asked me what is happening inside the International Convention Centre (ICC) where the world governments are gathering to discuss the future of the climate on the Earth. He told me that local people don’t understand how to react to the climate problem and if they were told they could have done something that would help reduce climate change.

Sunday night downpour killed 13 people in the area of Durban. The same cyclone killed 11 people in Sri Lanka and reported many fishermen are missing. Sri Lankan authorities admitted that they failed to inform the people about the Cyclone on Sunday. This is the story across the world. More cyclones and droughts are common in the World.  According to the IPCC experts it is virtually certain that on a global scale hot days become even hotter and occur more often. For the high emissions scenario, it is likely that the frequency of hot days will increase by a factor of 10 in most regions of the world. Likewise, heavy precipitation will occur more often, and the wind speed of tropical cyclones will increase while their number will likely remain constant or decrease.

Pablo Solon, former chief negotiator of Bolivia said “In Cancun, the developed countries listed their greenhouse gas emission reduction pledges for the 2012-2020 periods. The United States and Canada said they would reduce emissions by 3% based on 1990 levels, the European Union between 20% and 30%, Japan 25%, and Russia from 15% to 25%. Adding up all the reduction pledges of the developed countries, the total reduction in emissions by 2020 would be 13-17%, based on 1990 levels. However, Kyoto targets expect to reduce GHG emission by 30% by 2020 and 80% by 2050. The current pledged are far behind this expectations and it will increase the temperature 5-8 degrees Celsius. Are we ready for this?

It is clear that United State want to kill Kyoto protocol. They are not signatory to it. Russia, Canada and Japan declare that they will never agree to a second commitment of period of the Kyoto Protocol. Will the Kyoto protocol die in Durban?

It is clear that the countries are not going to agree on the earth climate future in Durban. However, South African Government is trying hard to produce a “Durban mandate” as a result of the ongoing negotiations. The “mandate” is nothing else other than agreeing on the EU position. The EU publicly supports a second commitment period as it believes that a single legally-binding instrument would be the best while that it should be the last one before convergence between the Kyoto Protocol and Convention outcomes, and that in any case it should last no longer than 2020. So hopefully Kyoto will survive although it is in great danger in Durban.

Other than the Kyoto protocol is being the only legally binding treaty, it has provision to cover the  principle of “historical responsibility”  and the principle of “common but differentiated responsibility. It is in the opinion of many in the climate justice movement that the world is no longer going to have these principles in any future agreement. Saving Kyoto Protocol therefore is the responsibility of the developing countries.

Many African countries and small Island states are trying hard to save it. G77 and China is also trying its best to stop wrecking the Kyoto ship in Durban harbour. Yet, is not an easy task. Many smaller countries including Sri Lanka has no voice in the climate summits. Unfortunately as one of the most vulnerable island nation, we haven’t played our role in the climate negotiations.

Developing countries should be committed to direct the UNFCC negotiations in line with the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recommendations of greenhouse gas emissions reduction for developed countries (including the EU) of at least -25 to -40% based on 1990 levels by 2020, and -80 to -95% by 2050 to avoid an increase in global temperature of more than 2°C by 2100. However, division in African, Asian and other developing country groupings may decide the survival of the vulnerable communities due to climate change.

Duty of the COP (Constables) is to secure the people. Can COP 17 secure all of us living on the earth?

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Arsenic in Rice

Is this the cause for Chronic Kidney Disease in Rajarata?

It is wrong to say that there is no Arsenic [As] in Rice. The studies shows inorganic arsenic and its related organic compounds are available in various items and sources in many countries. Prof. Meharg’s study suggests that rice from the US, France, Italy and Bangladesh has the highest levels of inorganic arsenic tested, with about 30 per cent of American long grain rice samples found to contain levels above the Chinese strict standards. He had suggested that rice from India and Egypt had the lowest levels; with basmati rice is the best type. While Indian, Pakistani, Nepalese, Chinese, Egyptian, Thai suppose to be safer, he suggest avoiding American, Italian, French and Bangladesh rice.

It is not a surprise to me when Prof. Nalin de Silva, Dr. Channa Jayasumana and other researchers found Arsenic in Sri Lankan Rice. They are not the first research team to find Arsenic in Sri Lankan rice. But the question is how the Minister of Agriculture, ITI and the other agencies assure that there is no Arsenic in Sri Lankan rice. Whatever, the controversy once again shows the inadequate and low standard testing facilities in Sri Lanka are a great danger to the health and environment.

The important question is what the primary source of arsenic in rice? One possible explanation could be natural sources. Other source is undoubtedly the industrial products such as pesticides, fungicides animal growth-promoters, preservatives in wooden timbers etc. Therefore, I do not wish to ignore the idea that pesticide is a possible source for Arsenic in rice. But one cannot conclude unless without adequate research assessing all possible causes.

Yet, is this the cause for Chronic Renal Disease unidentified etiology (CKDue)? Some researchers say “No”. Why the Kelaniya and Rajarata research team jump to the conclusion that Arsenic [As] in the pesticides when converted to Calcium Arsenate [Ca3(AsO4)2] with the hard water causes the Kidney disease. They say it is not only rice, but when they consume contaminated rice and hard water (with Calcium Carbonate [CaCO3]) it causes the problem. While the chemistry is correct, is this adequate to prove Arsenic is the reason for the Chronic Renal Failure? If Calcium Arsenate is the problem, why the patients don’t show similar symptoms to the Arsenic contamination in Bangladesh. Their skin shows brown patches and skin cracks but this is not the case in Sri Lanka.

However, as a result Sri Lanka Customs become proactive and already found nine pesticides with Arsenic. Sri Lanka does not allow importation of Arsenic pesticides since 2001. Unfortunately we have learned that Registrar of Pesticides is going to make new specification with a permissible Arsenic level and release the pesticide containers. I will not surprise if this happens. The corporations are very powerful. Whether Arsenic is the missing link to Renal deceases in North Central province or not, importation of pesticides with Arsenic is a wrong act. All citizens have the duty to fight against this.

Let Us live- Don’t Poison us

This is the campaign we launched in July 2011. It is not a new theme. We have been fighting against the Agrochemicals for over 3 decades. We are much aware of the 12 POPs which include 6 pesticides. However, all pesticides, weedicides and fungicides are harmful to the human, other living being and to the ecosystems.

Immediate reason for revamping the Pesticide campaign is the recent controversy on Arsenic in Pesticides. Some researchers from the Universities of Kelaniya and Rajarata claims that they found Arsenic in Pesticides and they believe that is the reason for the unidentified kidney disease in the North Central Province of Sri Lanka. This disease has killed more than 20,000 people already and another 20000 people are suffering from the disease at the moment.

However other researchers say the reason is not the Arsenic in Pesticides but Cadmium in Fertilizer. Others claim it is high Fluoride levels in water. Some others say it is due to the Cyanotoxin which is a result of Cyano-algae found in some reservoirs.

“We do not wish to limit the campaign against pesticide just because it has Arsenic. Pesticide includes Mercury, Cadmium and other heavy metals as well. However the active ingredient itself is highly poisonous” says Hemantha Withanage, Executive Director of the Centre for Environmental Justice/ Friends of the Earth Sri Lanka.

The open Forum held on the 7th July 2011 was organized by the Centre for Environmental Justice, Vikalpanie, Sri Lanka Soba Samuhikaya, MONLAR, New Era, Swarnahansa Padanama, Buddhist Actions on the Nature and number of other organizations. Over 200 farmers, CSO members , environmentalists, Academics and many other professionals joined the event.

We Demand
• complete ban of all harmful agrochemicals
• support organic farming
• ensure right to live and right to health for the people in Rajarata and nearby areas
• bring strict regulations to control all agrochemicals
• stop distribution of low quality fertilizer and
• ensure food and water safety.

Friday, June 10, 2011

CEJ celebrated World Environment Day 2011

Centre for Environmental Justice/ Friends of the Earth Sri Lanka celebrated World Environment Day 2011 in Dehiattakandiya a remote town near Ampara in the Eastern Province. The Event was co -organised by Dehiattakandiya Divisional Secretariat and the social service organisations in the area.

Over 5000 visitors from the different locations in the Eastern Province visited the environment day exhibition held on the 6th june 2011. Center for Environmental justice (CEJ/Friends of Earth (FOE) Sri Lanka and the Dehiattakandiya Division Secretariat have organized an essay completion, art competition and a debate on the themes related to forest protection observing the world environment day. More than 30stalls in the Environment Day exhibition at the Mahaweli ground in Dehiatakandia near Mahiyanganaya exhibited the traditional farming equipments, local seeds, paddy varieties and more.

The UNEP theme for the World Environment Day in 2011 is “Forests: Nature at your service” in complementary to the UN year of Forest which is celebrating in this year. Forest is the home for millions of species. It cleans air and conserves water. It provides food, seeds, timber and many other natural and human needs.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Uma Oya EIA decision- A lost opportunity

Hemantha Withanage
1st May, 2011

I heard that the Uma Oya project has been approved by the authorities on 12th April 2011. The project is a river diversion. It is controversial more than the Upper Kotmale. Yet there is no debate similar to Upper Kothmale.

There is no doubt that the Environmental Impacts Assessment (EIA) law is not the holy Bible, but a tool for development. If one does a correct EIA, developer can reduce the costs, negative impacts while maximize social and economical benefits. Unfortunately in Sri Lanka, the EIA has been looked as a legal tool only. It has been used to stop the project but not to improve them except in very few cases. This is a serious drawback of the current EIA process. This has lead the political leaders and the bureaucrats undermine the EIA and see it as a negative development tool. Thus, many development projects in Sri Lanka do not follow the EIA process anymore. But the EIA for the Uma Oya Hydropower project was published in Ceylon Daily News of 27th December 2010, seeking public comments.

Uma Oya is a river flows down from the central hills to join the Mahaweli River. It passes through Welimada in the Uva province providing water to large extent of rice fields and other agricultural lands. Under the Uma Oya Hydropower project water will be diverted to Kirindi Oya basin which will take water to Hambantota through a more than 19 km long underground tunnel across mountains in Bandarawela by creating a dam at Puhulpola (in Welimada) and a reservoir in Diaraba. The project cost of headwork is USD 529,059,197 which is equivalent to SLR 60,841,807,770. In brief, 85% of the project cost is provided by a loan from Export Development Bank of Iran and the rest 15% is supplied by the Government of Sri Lanka.

According to the EIA, the objective of the project is to divert water to Hambantota development. The EIA states that, “……..Under this initiative, an International Airport, a Harbour and an Oil Refinery have been taken up for development. These mega projects and the urban and industrial development activities that are expected to take place as a result would need considerable quantities of water in addition to the irrigation and domestic water demands of the region. This project initiative is focused on these requirements”.

But when analyzed the predicted benefits of the project, increased yield of water is only 2% and cultivation of other crops in new areas is 11% of the total benefits of the project. 84% of the benefits are from energy generation. But that aspect has not well covered by the EIA. If energy has recognized as main benefit, this may achieve without trans-basin diversion and many other structures of the project which would result major negative environmental and social impacts in the Uma Oya basin.

Cost benefit analysis

An environmental cost-benefit analysis of a proposed project is essential for decision-makers to determine whether the potential benefits of a proposed project outweigh the project’s environmental costs. An environmental cost-benefit analysis is even more essential for a project of this nature, where the Government of Sri Lanka is planning to borrow several hundred million dollars from a foreign government, and will be obliged to repay the loan even if the project’s benefits do not outweigh the project’s environment costs.

A poor decision will bind the Government of Sri Lanka, and its taxpayers and citizens, to repayment a loan for a project that is also damaging to the environment.

Unfortunately, the environmental cost-benefit analysis presented in the EIA is too deeply flawed to serve as a basis for decision-makers in Sri Lanka to make this determination.

Chapter 6 of the EIA presents a cost-benefit analysis of the proposed Uma Oya Multipurpose Development Project in which the benefits of the project are presented in the following headings and in the following amounts:

As is readily apparent, the benefit of energy generation is alleged predominant benefit of the project, amounting to more than 84% of the project’s total alleged benefits of $221 million per year.

However, the EIA grossly overstates the value of the project’s energy yield. In arriving at a value of nearly $187 million per year, the EIA determined the “cost saved in construction and operation of the cheapest alternative facility that could provide power supply of equivalent quality and quantity to the intended beneficiaries” (Page 284).

Environmental costs

Unfortunately the EIA states that “Certain costs and benefits have not been included in the analysis due to unavailability of methodologies and lack of data.” This includes Impacts on flora and fauna, geological impacts, soil erosion, noise pollution, etc, during the construction stage, River pollution and its long term cumulative impacts on aquatic flora, fauna and humans, clearing of forest areas and damages to ecosystems and functions performed by such ecosystems, including fragmentation, impacts on humans forced into involuntary resettlement, Impacts on wildlife, including endangered elephants and other rare/endemic species, Impacts on aquatic fauna, including anadromous and migratory fish species, Impacts on sites of historical, cultural and religious significance. It is highly erroneous to say that these methodologies ate not available. By not including values for these impacts of the proposed project, the EIA does not contain a true environmental cost-benefit analysis of the proposed project.

If the costs of any of these impacts, either individually or separately, are significant, then the project could be a financial as well as an environmental tragedy. For example, if the project were to lead to the extinction of Sri Lanka’s remaining elephant population, would the production of an additional 231 GW-hr of electricity offset the cost of this tragic result?

Therefore, we consider that the environmental costs of the above are very significant aspects which are totally missed in this proposed EIA and therefore developing an Environmental Impact Assessment fades away.


The proposed EIA repeatedly stated the serious impacts to the biodiversity specially the fauna. The project would cause substantial impacts to aquatic life, especially through fragmentation of habitat. The EIA, then, recognize the risk of extinction for migratory species. Among the migratory species who live in the area there are Garra ceylonensis and Garra ceylonensis phillipsi. Both endemic species can run to extinction due to the project . But the impact of the fragmentation of habitats will affect all the species and also the other indigenous species of the area Puntius bimaculatus.

In Section 5.4.7 of Management Actions to Mitigate Impact on Aquatic Inhabitants, it states that “However, these species are available in the other undisturbed tributaries of the country. Therefore, no mitigation is recommended as the fish ladders are very expensive and therefore not practical for this project”.

The EIA categorizes the impact of the project on fauna by stating: “Moderate impact on the animals living associated with Victoria-Randenigala-Rantambe Sanctuary is anticipated. This is due to the diversion of Uma Oya water away from it normal path where this Sanctuary is located. Animals living there can face water scarcity problems especially elephants that are ranging downstream areas of Uma Oya. Similarly other activities that take away wildlife habitats located close proximity to any form of reserve will have an impact on species that are having larger home ranges covering outside areas.”

Especially, the EIA recognize an impact on reaming bears. Sri Lankan Sloth Bear is a subspecies of the Sloth Bear who live in Sri Lanka and who is considered Critically Endangered and its population is considered in decrease by the IUCN. However the EIA states: “Last reaming Bear habitats close proximity to Bogahapttiya area and Slender Loris habitats are also affected.”

The EIA also recognize a strong impact on elephants. Of course there is a current debate whether Sri Lanka has too many elephants that cannot be sustained. The EIA of the Uma Oya project clearly states: “The Uma Oya development project has significant impact on elephants” and “Nearly more than 1500 elephants inhabit the area and majority will be affected covering Hambantota and Moneragala Districts.” According to the recent statistics, this is nearly half of the total elephant population of the country.

Chapter 5.4.4 of the EIA report described the proposed mitigatory measures to minimize human elephant conflict such as extension of Lunugamwehera NP, Yala Block IV, and Manage Elephant Range etc. In the monitoring plan none of the measures have defined for monitoring. Recent incidents clearly revel that relevant authorities fail to translocate the displaced elephants, therefore the mentioned mitigatory measures could not be predicted.


The EIA states the necessity of permanently relocating a total amount of 202 households. Moreover the agricultural lands of 197 families will be acquired for the project and the livelihood of those families will be disrupted. Although in Chapter 5.1.4 states that “Agricultural land holders who lost their lands will be entitled to receive lands in downstream area”, the locations and the distance from households have not mentioned.

Also it states that, around 38% of affected people are farmers, specially vegetable and potatoes which cannot be continued in the proposed resettle areas and they have to shift to a totally different employment of tea. Although 1 acre of land is provided, “it is doubtful” whether they would be able to adapt to the new life.

However, above findings show that the recommendations given in the EIA are not based on the true cost and benefits. It shows that energy benefits have overstated and the environmental cost has underestimated. The recommendations also not based on the adequately considered alternatives and the environmental impacts. I believe the government of Sri Lanka has lost the opportunity to benefit from the EIA process in the case of Uma Oya Diversion.