SciDev.Net: Going upstream for lasting kidney disease remedies

High inputs to  make high yields - at a heavy price

High inputs to make high yields – at a heavy price

“For sure, the double-edged legacy of the Green Revolution which promoted high external inputs in agriculture must be critiqued. Past mistakes can be rectified at least now.

“However, corrections have to begin upstream by questioning macro-level policies. For example, for half a century, Lankan farmers have had a huge — 90 per cent — state subsidy on chemical fertilisers. This does not encourage thrifty use, yet successive governments have hesitated to fix the massive drain of taxpayer funds.

“Thus, mass kidney failure is more than just a public health emergency or environmental crisis. It is symptomatic of cascading policy failures in land care, water management and farming over decades.”

This is an excerpt from the first of a monthly series of analysis blogs (columns) I will be writing for SciDev.Net in 2014.

Titled “Going upstream for lasting kidney disease remedies“, the first essay looks at the broader implications of a chronic kidney disease that is spreading in India and Sri Lanka for which medical and other researchers still cannot pinpoint a specific cause.

I have been writing and broadcasting about this public health issue for sometime, and have listened (or interviewed) most key players on the Lankan side of the investigation. In this opinion essay, I look at the policy dilemmas and healthcare challenges posed by Chronic Kidney Disease of uncertain aetiology, or CKDu.

I argue: “There are no quick fixes. In searching for solutions, health and environmental activists must rise above their single-issue advocacy positions. They can bring grassroots concerns to national debates. Collaboration – not confrontation or conspiracy theories – is the need of the hour.

“Hijacking a human tragedy for scoring some debating points is not worthy of any true follower of Rachel Carson.”

Full text: Going upstream for lasting kidney disease remedies

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South Asian Coasts Reeling Under Pressure

News feature published in Ceylon Today broadsheet newspaper, 23 January 2014

South Asia Coastal Management Convention in Pondicherry - L to R Chandra Bhushan, Aurofilio Schiavina, Sunita Narain, Tahir Qureshi, Anil Premaratne

South Asia Coastal Management Convention in Pondicherry – L to R Chandra Bhushan, Aurofilio Schiavina, Sunita Narain, Tahir Qureshi, Anil Premaratne

South Asian Coasts Reeling Under Pressure

By Nalaka Gunawardene in Pondicherry, India

As economic development gathers pace in South Asia, its coastal regions are coming under pressure as never before. More ports, power plants and tourist resorts are jostling with fishermen and farmers.

Balancing livelihoods, economic growth and environmental conservation is the only way to avoid a major resource crisis, acknowledged participants at the South Asia Convention on Coastal Management held in Pondicherry, India, from 19 to 21 January 2014.

Over 70 senior government officials, researchers, civil society activists and journalists from Bangladesh, India, Maldives, Pakistan and Sri Lanka came together for this event, organised by Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) and Pondicherry-based citizen group, PondyCAN.

They reported how a disproportionately high share of South Asia’s industrialisation, urbanisation and tourism development is concentrated along its combined 11,240 km of coastline. In total, coastal areas support livelihoods of some 400 million South Asians through fisheries, tourism and other activities.

In many parts of the region, high population density exists alongside sensitive ecosystems – such as mangroves and coral reefs and river estuaries. This intensifies the challenge of managing coastal resources. Climate change impacts, already felt as extreme weather events, add to these pressures.

Participants discussed strategies for regulating coastal development, protecting coastal habitats and coping with climate change.

They agreed on the urgent need for improving scientific understanding of coastal regions, which begins with clearly defining, demarcating and mapping such areas. Evidence based policy making and effective regulation depend on such a knowledge base, currently lacking or inadequate.

“There is a need to strengthen regulatory systems, build capacity and do more research to better manage coastal challenges in South Asia,” said Sunita Narain, Director General of CSE.

In CSE’s view, she said, the most important intervention is to strengthen existing institutions to get them to deliver with greater transparency and accountability.

She added: “We need to balance conservation with benefits to local communities. We also need partnerships between conservation, development and livelihoods without which coastal resource management is not possible in a region like South Asia”.

Ibrahim Naeem, Director of the SAARC Coastal Zone Management Centre, located in the Maldives, explained the value of integrated coastal zone management (ICZM) in balancing competing interests.

Only such an approach can reconcile the many pressures faced by South Asia’s maritime countries including poverty, depleting resources, increasing hazards and large scale enterprises seeking quick profits from the coastal resources.

“We need to make sure these plans incorporate climate change to make them more meaningful to countries like ours,” he added.

Large scale infrastructure development projects are adding to other pressures. India – which already has 202 commercial ports and 27 thermal power plants on its coastline – is planning another 76 ports and 59 power plants. Over 70% of Sri Lanka’s tourist hotels are located in the coastal zone, with more coming up. The scramble for the coast is increasing in other countries, too.

Meanwhile, over two thirds of the world’s ship breaking takes place on open beaches in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan with little regard for worker health or environmental pollution. It is a highly hazardous industry with lucrative returns for operators.

Participants agreed on the need for the South Asian countries to share experiences and approaches and to learn from each other.

“It is important for South Asian countries to learn from each other’s successes and failures,” said Dr Anil Premaratne, Director General of Sri Lanka’s Coast Conservation Department.

Premaratne pointed out that laws and regulations are just one strategy for better managing coastal areas. Other strategies include awareness raising and public education, and the involvement of local communities in resource management and benefit sharing.

Participants also stressed the need for placing all scientific information and maps in the public domain. Right now, these are often trapped in state agencies or research institutes, with no easy access to researchers or other citizens.

Probir Banerjee, President PondyCAN, stressed that the “worst affected are the people living at the margins and the objective has to be to enhance livelihoods, and not compromise them.”