Halt this devastation | Daily News

Halt this devastation

A dangerous trend is being observed relating to acts that have caused great harm to the environment such as clearing of forests, encroachment on reservations, destruction of biodiversity and large-scale sand mining etc. allegedly with local-level political backing, that if not checked could lead to a great calamity for the country's ecosystem.

Hardly a day passes without some act of environmental depredation including wanton destruction of forest land being reported on television. The latest is the attempt to fell an endangered and priceless tree in Gampaha that stands in the way of a road development project. The tree was about to face the axe but for the timely intervention of the Gampaha Assistant Forest Conservator that recalled a similar intervention of the self-same intrepid female officer to salvage a rich stretch of mangroves that was about to be cleared to pave the way for the construction of a playground. Prior to this we reported that vast acreages of mangroves in the Puttalam District were being cleared for prawn farming but this was stopped in the nick of time by the authorities, preventing grave environmental destruction.

The authorities must put a halt to this runaway destruction of the environment through massive deforestation, indiscriminate sand mining and other depredations that had gravely impacted the ecosystem, contributing to Climate Change. The country’s forest cover which stood at 40 percent in the 1920s has today dwindled to a pathetic 17 percent. Ambitious programmes have commenced to extend this to 20-30 percent by 2050 and it is estimated that 65,000 hectares of new forest cover should be added to increase forest density by just 1 percent.

Environment Minister Mahinda Amaraweera said 100 persons who used political and money power to cause environment destruction had been brought before the law during the past six months. From what is evident this has not acted as an effective deterrent as forest destruction is going on apace. The Minister also says that plans are afoot to plant nearly 100,000 saplings countrywide during the next three months. But will this suffice if we are to see forest cover increased to 30 percent by 2050? How long will this programme be sustained? Besides, replanting if it is to have any effect, should be carried out where the original destruction had taken place.

Today farmers are hamstrung having to confront erratic climatic shifts, the chief cause for crop destruction and/or crop failure. Mass tree planting campaigns should be done where it matters most. Having schoolchildren carry out tree planting in their school premises or getting commercial establishments to grow trees along roads is no solution in the effort to increase the country’s forest cover. The denudation of forests to the extent it has taken place has not only wreaked environmental havoc and caused an ecological imbalance, it has also robbed the country of its much acclaimed beauty. Unlike in the past what we see today in the once salubrious climes in the hill country are dried up streams, spouts and waterfalls that once gushed in their enthralling majesty and the equally forlorn flora and fauna - all victims of rampant forest rape, which is a tragedy of immense proportions.

This Government came to power with a fund of public goodwill and great expectations that it will right the wrongs of the past. There is no doubt that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa would start cracking the whip against those responsible for clearing forests and inflicting other forms of environmental destruction on the ecosystem.

The President showed by example when he took prompt action to issue orders that the roadway being built across the Sinharaja forest should be constructed with no damage to the environment. The President should read the riot act once again. The wanton destruction that is being caused to the environment will certainly lead the country into a great calamity making it vulnerable to a myriad of natural disasters resulting from geological imbalances.

The spate of unprecedented landslides in hitherto safe zones has been directly attributed by experts to the indiscriminate damage caused to the environment. President Rajapaksa who as Secretary Urban Development Ministry, launched several environment friendly projects in the city of Colombo no doubt, would ensure the country would go green once again by regaining its lost forest cover which will also see an end to droughts, distorted weather patterns and ecological shifts.

The present human–elephant conflict which has gained the close attention of President Rajapaksa could also be directly attributed to the wanton destruction of the elephant habitat by politically backed businessmen for the construction of tourist hotels and similar projects.

True, economic advancement and commercial imperatives have placed all available space and land at a premium with the massive demand necessitating inroads into the country’s pristine forests. If the trend continues, we will soon see this country turned into a desert land sans its signature flora and fauna as greed overtakes the future well-being of the country reducing it to a wasteland for our future generations. All efforts must be taken to prevent such a catastrophe.