Director, Projects Centre for – Environmental Justice (CEJ)
Our planet is our only home. As human beings living on it we are duty bound for our sake, and for the sake of all future generations of living beings, to take all steps we possibly can to protect it.
Natural disasters are natural and cannot be prevented but we can prevent the causes to a certain extent.
One of the major man-made disasters is the production of Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) also called the “Dirty Dozen” mainly contained in the chemicals used in the agricultural and industrial sectors. It has taken hundreds of years for us to realise the dire consequences of such pollutants. As a result of the gravity of the situation all countries pooled their ideas together and produced the “Stockholm Convention” to which we were a signatory among the 156 member states determined to get POPs out of our planet.
Sri Lanka being an agricultural country has been a victim of large scale introduction of pesticides for quite a long time. Out of 12 POPs items 8 are pesticides named Aldrin, Endrin, Chlordane, Heptachlor, DDT, Mirex, Dieldrin, and Toxaphene. Production, import, storage and distribution of these pesticides are totally banned. The other two items are industrial chemicals, Hexachlorobenzene and Polychorinateted Biphenyls (PCBs). Within Sri Lanka we use PCBs for transformers. But they are only for the few existing transformers, and those are kept very carefully. There is also an inventory done by Ministry of Environment. The other two POPs are un-intended by- products, Dioxins and Furans. The major source of these is open burning. Garbage burning mostly affects our health because smoke produced consists of various poisons. But most people continue doing this. Cultivators resorting to chena cultivation always engage in large scale open burning or cutting down due to being unaware of repercussions of their activities on themselves and future generations.
Giving significance to a toxics free future world by 2020 and also in keeping with the requirements of the Stockholm Convention, the Centre for Environmental Justice (CEJ) continued to make its contribution to achieve the proposed targets.
The majority of the Sri Lankan population being agricultural, had a tendency to depart from their ancestral cultivation practices and adopt superficially easy methods, fertilizers, weedicides and pesticides. They were unaware of the long term dangers that they were creating for themselves and future generations.
In the field of promoting awareness among the various categories of civil society regarding POPs and their dangerous long term impacts on the environment and animal life, various steps were taken. The idea was to make information available to especially women, children and the least educated as specified in the Stockholm Convention in Article 10.
CEJ’s strategy was to give priority to creating an awareness of these dangers among the population mainly women, children, farmers and also those with comparatively less education. Towards attaining our objectives awareness programmes and campaigns were held and the results obtained were heartening as we had imparted the knowledge we were aiming at on the various strata of the population.
The majority of participants at these awareness programmes acknowledged that they were unaware of the dangers they were being party to by using plastics, polythene etc. and they gave us an assurance that they would be eliminating the use of lunch sheets and use other alternatives. Burning of plastics and polythene is creating POPs and it is very harmful to health. They also assured us that they would refrain from burning polythene and plastics. Their intentions were to use paper bags in place of polythene bags and glass bottles instead of plastic bottles.
Chena cultivators were unaware of the dangerous consequences created by burning of forests. They also acknowledged that they were ignorant of the dangers of large scale use of chemical fertilizers, weedicides and pesticides. All of them consented to avoid such malpractices and to minimise using them. Safety measures also would be used by them when using these artificial fertilizers. They were also made aware of the benefits that they would gain by the use of compost as manure, both financially and safety wise.
We further impressed on them, the fact that our ancestors had lived a full, contented and healthy life up to close upon hundred years, as they were never addicted to the artificial and sophisticated lifestyles that were prevalent among the present generation. We were happy that they accepted this fact. The CEJ appealed to the general public through the media representatives, awareness programmes and various other activities to acclimatize themselves to environment friendly concepts and the response we are receiving is very encouraging for a bright future.
This article was appered on The Nation sunday 8th June 2008