At a time where 17 of the 18 warmest years on record have occurred since 2001, climate change has become a palpable reality.
Threatening communities and countries across the world, environmental conservation is now a clamour preached with increasing vigour. Despite this, the world continues to turn a blind eye to the degradation commissioned by state entities and a variety of local and international players.
Founded in the 1980s, the Environmental Foundation Limited (EFL) was started with a monumental mandate – to safeguard the environment. The combined effort of a group of friends, this body tasked itself with the duty of protesting against the destruction of the country’s natural resources – a practice on the rise in modern-day Sri Lanka.
According to EFL Chairperson and eminent environmentalist Dr. Eric Wikramanayake, there is “a need to move beyond 1950s’ thinking” in the country.
Despite making a pledge to increase the country’s forest cover – which he believes doesn’t include planting trees at random – the state has continuously failed to deliver on its promise of safeguarding the environment. This has included a number of promises made concerning areas such as mangrove preservation and coastal conservation.
Given the national tendency to dwell on areas such as dwindling elephant numbers and those pertaining to other forms of wildlife, it’s important to note that conservation isn’t restricted to these areas.
In this regard, Dr. Wikramanayake believes that the preservation of ecosystems needs to be re-cast in light of those that support communities, livelihoods, and economies.
Speaking of his long-standing love for the environment, the expert recounted his childhood experiences; camping, fishing, and snorkelling among pastel-shaded corals. Reminiscing about the passion his parents and grandparents shared for wildlife and nature, the former University of California alumnus said that his mission began when he witnessed the destruction of the environment taking place around him.
Noting, ironically, that while foreign direct investment remains a top priority for the state, this is not possible in a country which doesn’t possess a steady supply of water or roads free of flooding – a few of the many threats the country faces at present.
While it’s tempting to get lost in the relative monotony of everyday life, climate change is coming for us all. When asked about what the country’s future would look like should we continue to neglect preservation, the celebrated conservationist replied that it would be absolute chaos.
Destroying mountainsides, in particular, is a decidedly foolhardy move. Beyond irrigating areas as distant and arid as the North Central province, without the hills, droughts and frequent landslides are likely to occur, rendering certain parts of the country completely inhabitable.
Noting with concern that the Syrian crisis had its origin in a five-year drought that caused overwhelming urban migration, Dr. Wikramanayake believes that Sri Lanka would be suspect to the same vulnerabilities, should we continue in this trajectory.
Commenting on how the government can improve their policy approach in combatting these trends, the environmentalist recommended better land use to begin with. In addition to this, improved coordination among governmental agencies was also highlighted as crucial in preventing the mismanagement and competition for resources.
When questioned about how Sri Lanka can reverse some of these trends, the face of the EFL noted that reforestation is also particularly useful.
Beyond this, greater reliance on renewable energy such as; solar power, a greener and more efficient public transportation system, and greater coordination between various NGOs working in this area would similarly prove useful.
With regard to private sector involvement in conservation efforts – a trend of increasing popularity – Dr. Wikramanayake astutely observed that beach clean-ups or the planting of a few trees are not particularly useful. Noting that these are only short-term measures that fail to address the root causes of these issues, greater focus is required in terms of water, forest cover, plastic use, and chemical pollution in the agricultural field.
Thereafter speaking about the lack of synergy in conservation efforts, the celebrated environmentalist encouraged young people and all parties interested in working in this area to combine their efforts and lobby for greater accountability.
In this regard, The Sunday Morning inquired whether the EFL would be open to receiving volunteers. Responding with enthusiasm, Dr. Wikramanayake issued an open call to anyone passionate about the environment to join hands with the organisation.
Contact the EFL through their official website or social media handles below:
Facebook: Environmental Foundation Ltd.
By Archana Heenpella