[op-ed] Disaster Management in Sri Lanka: Never say ‘Never Again’?

Text of my op-ed article published in Weekend Express newspaper on 2 June 2017

In Sri Lanka, never say  ‘never again’?

By Nalaka Gunawardene

 

Cartoon by Gihan de Chickera

Never Again!

We as a nation collectively uttered these words as we raised our heads after the Indian Ocean tsunami of December 2004. That mega-disaster, which caught our government unawares and society unprepared, devastated many coastal areas, killing around 40,000 and displacing over a million people.

Even a 30 minute early warning could have saved many of those lost lives, by simply asking them to run inland, away from the waves. But there was no such warning.

Badly shaken by that experience, the then government reformed disaster related laws and institutions. Until then, dealing with disaster response was lumped under social services. The new system created a dedicated ministry for disaster management, with emphasis on disaster risk reduction (DRR).

Living amidst multiple hazards is unavoidable, but preparedness can vastly reduce impacts when disasters do occur. That is DRR in a nutshell.

But in immature democracies like ours, we must never say never again. Our political parties and politicians lack the will and commitment required to meet these long-term objectives. Our governance systems are not fully capable of keeping ourselves safe from Nature’s wrath.

Disaster resilience is not a technocratic quick fix but the composite outcome of a myriad actions. Good governance is the vital ‘lubricant’ that makes everything come together and work well. Without governance, we risk slipping back into business as usual, continuing our apathy, greed and short-termism.

This big picture level reality could well be why disaster response has been patchy and uncoordinated in both May 2016 and last week.

Fundamental issues

As the flood waters recede in affected parts of Sri Lanka, familiar questions are being asked again. Did the government’s disaster management machinery fail to warn the communities at risk? Or were the hazard warnings issued but poorly communicated? And once disaster occurred, could the relief response have been better handled? Are we making enough use of technological tools?

These are valid questions that deserve honest answers and wide ranging debate. But having been associated with disaster communication for a quarter century, I get a strong sense of déjà vu when I hear them.

Finger pointing won’t get us very far, even though public anger is justified where governmental lapses are evident. We need to move beyond the blame game to identify core issues and then address them.

In my view, two high level issues are climate resilience and improved governance.

DRR is easier said than done in the best of times, and in recent years human-made climate change has made it much harder. Global warming is disrupting familiar weather patterns and causing more frequent and intense weather. What used to be weather extremes occurring once in 25 or 50 years in the past now happens every few years.

Climate imperatives

The UN’s climate panel (IPCC) says that global average temperatures could rise by somewhere between 2 degree and 6 degrees Centigrade by 2100. This would trigger many disruptions, including erratic monsoons, the seasonal oceanic winds that deliver most of our annual rains.

Sri Lanka has been oscillating between droughts and floods during the past few years. This time, in fact, both disasters are happening concurrently. This week, the Disaster Management Centre (DMC) confirmed that more than 440,500 people in the Northern Province are adversely affected due by the severe drought that had persisted over many months.

That is more than two thirds of the total number of 646,500 people affected by floods and landslides in the South, as counted on June 1. But slowly-unfolding droughts never get the kind of press that floods inspire.

One thing is clear: disaster management can succeed today only if climate realities are factored in. And coping with climate change’s now inevitable impacts, a process known as climate adaptation, requires technical knowledge combined with proper governance of both natural resources and human systems.

Sri Lanka: Not only oscillating between droughts and floods, but now also having both disasters at the same time. Cartoon by Gihan de Chickera

Adapt or Perish

Sri Lanka joined the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 1992. But 25 years on, climate considerations are not fully factored into our development planning and public investments. State agencies in charge of roads, railways, irrigation works and utilities don’t appear to realise the need to ‘insure’ their installations and operations from climate impacts.

Climate adaptation is not something that the disaster ministry and DMC alone can accomplish. It needs to be a common factor that runs across the entire government, from agriculture and health to power and transport. It needs to be the bedrock of DRR.

In the wake of the latest disaster, technical agencies are highlighting the need to upgrade their systems by acquiring costly equipment. Yet massive big money or high tech systems alone cannot ensure public safety or create resilience.

We need aware and empowered local communities matched by efficient local government bodies. This combination has worked well, for example, in the Philippines, now hailed as a global leader in DRR.

See also:

Better Governance: The Biggest Lesson of 2004 Tsunami. Groundviews.org, 26 Dec 2009.

Nalaka Gunawardene is a science writer and independent media researcher. He is active on Twitter as @NalakaG

Advertisements

වකුගඩු රෝග නිවාරණය හමුවේ මාධ්‍යවල කාර්ය භාරය: නිදන්ගත වකුගඩු රෝගය වාද පිටියක් නොව ජාතික ආපදාවක් ලෙස සලකමු!

Image courtesy: Health Education Bureau, Ministry of Health, Sri Lanka

Image courtesy: Health Education Bureau, Ministry of Health, Sri Lanka

Beginning in the 1990s, thousands of people in Sri Lanka’s Dry Zone – heartland of its rice farming — developed kidney failure without having diabetes or high blood pressure, the common causative factors. Most affected were men aged 30 to 60 years, who worked as farmers. As numbers rose, puzzled doctors and other scientists started probing possible causes for what is now named Chronic Kidney Disease of unknown etiology (abbreviated as CKDu).

CKDu has become a fully-fledged public health crisis and humanitarian emergency, affecting thousands of people and their families – most of them subsistence farmers. Investigating causes of this ailment — still not pinned down to a specific cause or factor — has proven difficult. While scientists follow rigorous scientific methods, some ultra-nationalists and opportunistic politicians are trying to hijack the issue for their own agenda setting.

Sadly, some journalists and media outlets have added fuel to the fire with sensationalist reporting and unwarranted fear-mongering. For several years, I have documented the kind of misinformation, myths and pseudo-science uncritically peddled by Lankan media on CKDu.

In late 2012, speaking at an Asian science communication workshop held in Colombo, I first coined the phrase: Mass Media Failure is complicating Mass Kidney Failure. In December 2015, I revisited and updated this analysis, arguing that there are many reasons for systemic media failure in Sri Lanka that has allowed ultra-nationalists and certain environmental activists to pollute the public mind with half-truths and conspiracy theories. These need media industry level reform. Meanwhile, for improving the CKDu information flow in society, I proposed some short, medium and long term recommendations.

This article was written in December 2016 at the invitation of the Presidential Task Force on Prevention of Chronic Kidney Disease, to be included in a book the Presidential Secretariat was compiling.

kidneydeceasencp-2

හේතු හඳුනා නොගත් වකුගඩු රෝගය (Chronic Kidney Disease of uncertain aetiology, CKDu) ජාතික ආපදාවක්. මානුෂික ඛේදවාචකයක්. මේ ගැන මීට වඩා පුළුල් හා ප්‍රශස්ත ලෙසින් සමස්ත ලක් සමාජයේ අවධානය අවශ්‍යයි.

නගර කේන්ද්‍රීය වූ අපේ ජනමාධ්‍යවලට CKDu රෝගය හරිහැටි ග්‍රහණය කර ගැනීමටත් වසර කිහිපයක් ගත වුණා. මන්ද රෝගය මතු වී පැතිර ගියේ අගනුවරට දුරින් වියලි කලාපයේ නිසා.

දැන් මෙය නිතර පුවත් මවන මතෘකාවක් වුවත් බොහෝ වාර්තාකරණයන් කැරෙන්නේ ආවේගශීලී ලෙසින්. රජයට, සෞඛ්‍ය බලධාරීන්ට චෝදනාත්මක ස්වරයෙන්.

වකුගඩු රෝගය ගැන මහජනයාගේ හා ප්‍රතිපත්ති සම්පාදකයන්ගේ නිසි අවධානය යොමු කිරීමට මාධ්‍ය වාර්තාකරණයට විශාල මෙහෙවරක් කළ හැකියි. එහෙත් සමහර මාධ්‍යවේදීන් හෝ පරිසරවේදීන් බලාපොරොත්තු වන මට්ටමේ සරල හා ක්ෂණික විසඳුම් දීම නම් ප්‍රායෝගික නැහැ.

මේ රෝගය මතුව ඇත්තේ ශ්‍රී ලංකාවේ පමණක් නොවේ. ඉන්දියාවේ ආන්ද්‍රා ප්‍රදේශ් ප්‍රාන්තයේත්, මෙක්සිකෝව, ග්වාතමාලාව, එල්සැල්වදෝරය, නිකරගුවා, හොන්ඩුරාස් හා කොස්ටාරිකා යන ලතින් අමෙරිකානු රටවලත්, ඊජිප්තුවේත් මෙයට සමාන රෝග තත්ත්ව හමු වනවා.

මේ සියළු රටවල සෞඛ්‍ය බලධාරීන්ට තිබෙන ලොකුම අභියෝගය නම් විද්‍යාඥයන් හේතු සාධක සොයන අතරේ තිබෙන දැනුම යොදා ගෙන රෝගීන්ට ප්‍රතිකාර ලබාදීම හා එය හමු වන ප්‍රදේශවල අන් අයට රෝගයෙන් වැළකී සිටීමට දිය හැකි හොඳම උපදෙස් ලබා දීමයි.

හේතුකාරක තවමත් සොයනවා

ශ්‍රී ලංකාවේ 1990 දශකයේ උතුරුමැද පළාතේ මුල් වරට වාර්තා වූ මේ රෝගයට හේතු වන නිශ්චිත සාධකයක් තවමත් හඳුනා ගෙන නැහැ. මිනිස් සිරුර එක විට බොහෝ බලපෑම්වලට හසු වන නිසා එක් රෝගාබාධයකට තුඩු දෙන තනි සාධකයක් වෙන් කර ගැනීම විද්‍යාත්මකව ඉතා දුෂ්කරයි.

ගෙවී ගිය දශක දෙකකට වැඩි කාලයක් තුළ ජානමය, පාරිසරික හා ජීවන රටා ලෙස කාණ්ඩ කළ හැකි සාධක රැසක් විද්‍යාත්මක විමර්ශනයට ලක්ව තිබෙනවා.

රටේ සමහරක් ජනයාට මේ රෝගය හට ගැනීමට පාරම්පරිකව ලද ජානමය නැඹුරුවක් ඇත්දැයි පර්යේෂකයන් සොයා බලමින් සිටිනවා. මන්ද මේ රෝගය වාර්ත වී ඇත්තේ රටේ සමහර ප්‍රදේශවලින් පමණක් වීමයි.

ජීවන රටාව කාණ්ඩය යටතේ දුම්කොළ, මත්පැන් (විශේෂයෙන් කසිප්පු), ජලය ඇති තරම් නොබීම, දැඩි උණුසුමට ලක් වීම, එළිමහනේ දිගටම වැඩ කිරීම ආදි සාධක පර්යේෂකයන්ගේ විමසිල්ලට ලක් වනවා.

පාරිසරික සාධක කාණ්ඩය යටතේ භූගත ජලයේ ස්වාභාවිකවම හමු වන ෆ්ලෝරයිඩ්, වතුරෙහි කැල්සියම් වැනි ඛනිජ ස්වාභාවික මුසු වී තිබීම, මතුපිට ජලයේ බැක්ටීරියා ශ්‍රාවය කරන විස, බැර ලෝහ (කැඩ්මියම්, ආසනික්) ආහාරවල හෝ ජලයේ මුසු වීම ආදිය පර්යේෂණයට ලක්ව තිබෙනවා. මේ සමහරක් එන්නේ කෘෂි රසායනික (පොහොර, කෘමිනාශක, වල්නාශක) හරහා බවට කල්පිතයක් තිබෙනවා.

ජාත්‍යන්තරව පිළිගත් විද්වත් පර්යේෂන සඟරාවල පළ වූ නිබන්ධවලින් මේ දක්වා මෙවන් කල්පිත 30කට වඩා මතු කර තිබෙනවා. එකක්වත් තහවුරු වී නැහැ. ඒ සියල්ල තවමත් වැඩිදුර විවාදයට විවෘතයි. රෝගයට හේතුව එක සාධකයක් නොව සාධක කිහිපයක සංකලනයක් විය හැකි බවටත් අනුමාන කැරෙනවා.

විද්‍යාවේ ස්වභාවය පියවරෙන් පියවර, සාක්ෂි මත පදනම් වී, ආවේගශීලී නොවී දැනුම සොයා යාමයි. තිබෙන දැනුම ටිකෙන් ටික නිරවුල් කිරීමයි. එහෙත් වකුගඩු රෝගය ගැන සංවාදවලට කිරීමට යොමු වී සිටින සමහරුන්ට මෙසේ ක්‍රමානුකූලව ඉදිරියට යාමට ඉවසිල්ලක් නැහැ. ඔවුන් ප්‍රතිපත්ති සම්පාදකයන්ට බල කරන්නේ අනුමාන මත පදනම් වී යම් හදිසි හා ප්‍රබල පියවර ගන්නා ලෙසයි.

මෙවන් තත්ත්වයකදී යම් ආරක්ෂිත පියවර (precautionary measures) ගැනීම වැදගත්. තවත් ජනයා රෝගයට ලක් වීම හැකි නම් වළක්වා ගැනීම සඳහා. එහෙත් මේ ආපදාව නිමිත්ත කර ගෙන කෘෂි ප්‍රතිපත්තියේ හෝ ප්‍රතිපත්තිවල ප්‍රබල වෙනස්කම් කිරීම හා අනුමාන මත රාජ්‍ය ප්‍රතිපත්ති නිර්ණය කිරීම අවදානම් සහගත කාරියක්.

වසර 25කට වඩා මෙරට විද්‍යා මාධ්‍ය සන්නිවේදනයේ යෙදුනු අයකු ලෙස මගේ මතය නම් මෙවන් අවස්ථාවකදී මාධ්‍ය එක් මතවාදයකට පක්ෂග්‍රාහී නොවිය යුතු බවයි. පැත්තක් ගන්නට ඕනැම නම් රෝගයට ලක් වී පීඩාවට පත් අය හා ඔවුන්ගේ පවුල් වෙනුවන් හඬක් නැගීම කළ හැකියි.

බොරු භීතිය පතුරවන්න එපා!

Dr. Tilak Abeysekera

Dr. Tilak Abeysekera

පේරාදෙණිය ශික්ෂණ රෝහලේ වකුගඩු රෝග විශේෂඥ වෛද්‍ය තිලක් අබේසේකර විසින් CKDu මුල් වරට හඳුනා ගනු ලැබුවේ 1990 දශකයේදී. එතැන් පටන් වසර 20කට වැඩි කාලයක් පුරා මේ රෝගය හරිහැටි අවබෝධ කරගන්නට ඔහු තැත් කරනවා.

ඔහු අවධාරණය කරන මූලික කරුණක් නම් සමහර වකුගඩු රෝගීන්ගේ එයට තුඩු දෙන ශාරීරික සාධක හඳුනා ගත හැකි බවයි. මේ සාධක අතර දියවැඩියාව හා අධික රුධිර පීඩනය ප්‍රධානයි. මේ රෝග තත්ත්වයට CKD යයි කියනවා. එහි කිසිදු අබිරහසක් නැහැ.

CKD හරහා වකුගඩු අකරණයට ලක්වන යම් ජන පිරිසක් හැම රටකම හමු වනවා. හඳුනා ගන්නා විට පවතින තත්ත්වය අනුව බෙහෙත් මගින් හෝ රුධිර කාන්දු පෙරීම (dialysis) මගින් හෝ නිරෝගී වකුගඩුවක් බද්ධ කිරීමෙන් හෝ ප්‍රතිකාර කරනවා.

එහෙත් CKDu මීට වෙනස්. CKDu යනු විද්‍යාවෙන් දැනට හඳුනා ගත් ශාරීරික සාධක නැති පුද්ගලයන්ටද වකුගඩු අකරණය හට ගැනීමයි. එබැවින් ‘හේතු හඳුනා නොගත්’ යයි කියනවා.

මේ CKDu රෝගය මුලින් හමු වූ අනුරාධපුර දිස්ත්‍රික්කයේ වකුගඩු රෝගීන් සමස්තයෙන් 70%ක් පමණ  CKDu. ඉතිරි 30% හේතු දන්නා වකගුඩු අකරණය හෙවත් CKD. මේ රෝග තත්ත්ව දෙක එකට මිශ්‍ර කිරීම හෝ පටලවා ගැනීම හෝ නොකළ යුතු බව වෛද්‍ය අබේසේකර කියනවා.

වෛද්‍ය අබේසේකර කියන්නේ පුවත්පත්වලට ලිපි ලියන ඇතැම් දෙනා මේ වෙනස නොදැන හෝ නොසලකා හැර හෝ තත්ත්වය සැබෑවට වඩා වැඩි කොට දක්වන බවයි.

‘‘සමහරු මෙය 2004 සුනාමියටත් වඩා බිහිසුණු යැයි කියනවා. මාධ්‍යවල මේ රෝගය ගැන සඳහන් කැරෙන බොහෝ සංඛ්‍යා ලේඛන අතිශයෝක්තීන්. මෙසේ කිරීමෙන් මේ රෝගය හරිහැටි තේරුම් ගැනීමට හා ප‍්‍රතිචාර දැක්වීමට වෛද්‍ය හා සෞඛ්‍ය බලධාරීන්ට තිබෙන අවකාශය ඇසිරෙනවා. රටේ හා සමාජයේ අනවශ්‍ය බියක් හා කලබලයක් ඇති කෙරෙනවා.”

එසේම CKDu ‘ශීඝ්‍රයෙන් පැතිරෙනවා’ වැනි ප්‍රකාශ කිරීමේදී ද ඉතා ප්‍රවේශම් විය යුතු යයි ඔහු කියනවා. මෙය රෝගියකුගෙන් තව කෙනෙකුට බෝවන ආකාරයේ රෝගයක් නොවෙයි.

‘‘අපට හරියටම කිව නොහැකියි මේ රෝගය පෙර තිබුනාට වඩා වැඩි දිස්ත්‍රික්ක ගණනකින් හඳුනා ගන්නේ එය වඩාත් දෙනකුට හට ගන්නා නිසාද නැතිනම් වැඩිපුර දෙනකු මෙය හට ගෙන ඇත්දැයි පරීක්ෂාවට ලක් වීම නිසාද කියා. සමහර විට ඇතැම් ප්‍රදේශවල රෝගීන්ද නොදැන මෙය වසර ගණනක් ඔවුන් තුළ කෙමෙන් හට ගනිමින් පැවතුණා විය හැකියි.”

CKDu රෝගයේ අදියර 5ක් තිබෙනවා. එයින් මුල් අදියර තුනේදීම රෝගියාට පෙනෙන හෝ දැනෙන රෝග ලක්ෂණ නැහැ. එය සොයා ගත හැක්කේ රුධිර හා මුත්‍රා සාම්පල් රසායනාගාර පරීක්ෂණවලින්  පමණයි.

රෝග ලක්ෂණ පහළවන විට වකුගඩු සෑහෙන පමණට හානි වෙලා. එවිට කළ හැක්කේ බෙහෙත් හා රුධිර කාන්දු පෙරණය හරහා යම් තාක් කාලයක් ජීවත් වීමට රෝගියාට ඉඩ සලසා දීම පමණයි. මෙය පාලනය කරගත හැකි වුවත් සුව කළ හැකි රෝගයක් නොවෙයි.

‘වකුගඩු රෝගය මාරාන්තිකයි’ වැනි ප්‍රකාශ හරහා ද සමාජය භීතියට පත් නොකරන්න යැයි වෛද්‍ය අබේසේකර මාධ්‍යවලින් අයැද සිටිනවා. ‘සුව කළ නොහැකි වුව පාලනය කර ගන්නා දියවැඩියාව වැනි රෝග ගැන සමාජ ආකල්පය මීට වඩා බෙහෙවින් වෙනස්. ඇත්තටම නිරෝගී වකුගඩුවක් බද්ධ කළොත් CKD/CKDu රෝගින්ට දිගු කලක් ජීවත්වීමට ද හැකි වනවා.’

රෝගීන්ට සමාජ සත්කාරය

CKDu සෙමෙන් දිග හැරෙන මානුෂික ඛේදවාචකයක්. වෙනත් ආපදාවලදී මෙන් එක්වර ඇස හා මනස කම්පා කරවන ආකාරයේ ඡායාරූප හෝ විඩියෝ දර්ශන ජනිත කරන්නේ නැහැ.

රෝගය හමු වන ප්‍රදේශවල බිමෙහි හෝ අවට පරිසරයෙහි බැලූ බැල්මට වෙනසක් පෙනෙන්නේ නැහැ. හානිය වන්නේ මිනිසුන්ට, ගැහණුන්ට හා ඔවුන්ගේ පවුල්වලට පමණයි.

මේ ව්‍යසනයට මුහුණ දී සිටින පවුල් දහස් ගණනක් සිටිනවා. මෙයට ප‍්‍රතිචාර දැක්වීම හා රෝගීන් රැක බලා ගැනීම හුදෙක් රජයට පමණක් කළ හැකි දෙයක් නොවෙයි. පෞද්ගලික අංශය, ස්වේච්ඡා ආයතන, මාධ්‍ය, විද්වත් කණ්ඩායම් ඇතුලූ සමාජයේ සැමට මෙම සුබසාධනයේ කොටස්කරුවන් විය හැකියි.

රෝගයට ලක් වූ පවුල් සාමාජිකයා බොහෝ විට පවුලේ ප‍්‍රධාන හෝ එකම ආදායම් උපදවන්නායි. මේ නිසා රෝගීන්ගේ පවුල් ආර්ථික වශයෙනුත්, ඉනික්බිති මානසිකව හා සමාජයීය ලෙසත් මහත් පීඩාවට පත්වනවා.

මේ ව්‍යසනයට මුහුණ දී සිටින පවුල් දහස් ගණනක් සිටිනවා. මෙයට ප‍්‍රතිචාර දැක්වීම හා රෝගීන් රැක බලා ගැනීම හුදෙක් රජයට පමණක් කළ හැකි දෙයක් නොවෙයි. පෞද්ගලික අංශය, ස්වේච්ඡා ආයතන, විද්වත් කණ්ඩායම් ඇතුළු සමාජයේ සැමට මෙම සුබසාධනයේ කොටස්කරුවන් විය හැකියි.

පර්යේෂකයන් රෝගයට හේතු සොයන අතරේ සෙසු සමාජයකළ හැකි හා කළ යුතු බොහෝ පියවර තිබෙනවා. සමාජ ආර්ථික පැත්තෙන් මෙන්ම මානසික හා ආකල්පමය පැත්තෙන් ද රෝගයට ලක් වූ අයගේ පවුල්වලට සමාජයේ කාරුණික උපකාර අවශ්‍යයි.

උදාහරණයකට මේ රෝගයට පානීය ජලය සම්බන්ධ යැයි සැක කැරෙනවා. රෝගය පවතින සියලුම දිස්ත්‍රික්කවල සැමට පානයට හිතකර පවිත්‍ර ජලය ලබා දීම අවශ්‍යයි. ජාතික ජල සම්පාදන හා ජලාපවාහන මණ්ඩලය මේ ලොකු වගකීම භාර ගෙන තිබෙනවා. ස්වේච්ඡා ආයතනවලටද මේ කාරියෙහි කොටස්කරුවන් විය හැකියි.

ගංවතුර, නායයාම් හා සුනාමි වැනි ආපදා සිදු වූ පසු ආධාර එකතු කිරීමට යොමු වන පිරිස සමග සසඳන විට මේ රෝගීන්ට පිහිට වන්නට පෙරට විත් තිබෙන්නේ සාපේක්ෂව ටික දෙනයි. ‘මාරාන්තික’ වකුගඩු රෝගය ගැන මොර දෙන මාධ්‍ය පවා රෝගයෙන් පීඩිත අයට ප්‍රායෝගිකව පිහිට වන්නේ කලාතුරකින්.

රෝග හේතුකාරක ගැන දිගටම කථා කරන අතරේ, වාද පිටියෙන් ඔබ්බට ගොස් මාධ්‍යවලට කළ හැකි මෙහෙවරක් තිබෙනවා. රාජ්‍ය හා ස්වේච්ඡා ආයතන නිහඬව කරන CKDu මානුෂික මෙහෙයුම් ගැනද මාධ්‍ය අවධානය මීට වඩා යොමු කළ යුතුයි.

රෝගීන් සිටින පවුල්වල ආත්ම අභිමානය පවත්වා ගනිමින් ඔවුන්ට ආර්ථික උදවු මෙන්ම මානසිකව ඔවුන්ට දිරියක් වීමත් අවශ්‍යයි.

සර්වෝදය මහ ලේකම් වෛද්‍ය වින්යා ආරියරත්න කියන්නේ මෙයයි: ‘රෝග කාරක හරියටම නිර්ණය කැරෙන තුරු බලා සිටීමට අපට බැහැ. අවශ්‍යත් නැහැ. නිශ්චිත රෝග කාරක සාධකය නොදැන අප ප්‍රතිචාර දක්වන තවත් රෝගාබාධ තිබෙනවා. (පිළිකා හා දියවැඩියාව වැනි). මේ නිසා පර්යේෂණ ඉදිරියට යන අතරේ අප සමාජයක් ලෙස මේ රෝගයෙන් පීඩාවට පත් අපේම සහෝදර ජනයා වෙනුවෙන් පෙළ ගැසෙමු. අපට ඔවුන්ගේ දුක හා දුෂ්කරතා අඩු කරන්නට හැකි අවස්ථා සොයා ඒ ඔස්සේ ඉදිරියට යමු.’

ඔහුගේ අදහස නම් 2004 සුනාමිය වෙරළබඩ බොහෝ ගම් නගරවලට හානි කළ විට රටක් හා සමාජයක් ලෙස එයට අප ප්‍රතිචාර දැක් වූවාට සමාන්තර ආකාරයේ දැවැන්ත කැප වීමක් වකුගඩු රෝගය සම්බන්ධයෙන් ද ඕනෑ බවයි.

උතුරුමැද පළාතේ රුධිර කාන්දු පෙරීම සඳහා පැමිණෙන රෝගීන්ගේ භාවිතය පිණිස සර්වෝදය හා මියුසියස් විදුහලේ බාලදක්ෂිකාවන් 2015දී අනුරාධපුරයේ ඉදි කළ ‘සුවෝදය’ නිවහන ඔහු උදාහරණයක් ලෙස සඳහන් කරනවා. මෙවැනි සමාජ සත්කාර අවස්ථා රාශියක් තිබෙනවා. තවත් බොහෝ උදවු අවශ්‍ය ද වනවා.

සංවේදී වාර්තාකරණය

නමුත් බොහොමයක් සමාජ සත්කාර ගැන මාධ්‍ය වාර්තාකරණයක් නෑ. සමාජ මාධ්‍ය ජාලවලින් (social media) නම් මේවා ගැන යම් කතාබහක් කැරෙනවා. ඒත් සමාජගත වනවා මදි.

Dr Kalinga Tudor Silva

Dr Kalinga Tudor Silva

මේ අතර සමාජ විද්‍යාඥයන් සොය ගෙන ඇත්තේ රෝගියකු සිටින පවුල් එම ප්‍රජාවේ කොන්කිරීමට (stigma) ලක් වන බවයි. ඒ පවුල්වලින් කසාදයක් පවා කර ගැනීමට මැලි වන තරමට මෙය දුර දිග ගිහින්. මෙය HIV ව්‍යාප්තියේ මුල් යුගයේ තිබූ සමාජ ප්‍රතිචාරයට සමාන්තර බව සමාජ විද්‍යාඥ ආචාර්ය කාලිංග ටියුඩර් සිල්වා පෙන්වා දෙනවා.

HIV මෙන්ම CKDu අරභයාත් මෙය අනියත බියක්. එය දුරු කිරීමට සංවේදී හා සානුකම්පිත මාධ්‍ය වාර්තාකරණයට ලොකු මෙහෙයක් කළ හැකියි.

මේ මානුෂික ප‍්‍රශ්නය තමන්ගේ පටු න්‍යායපත‍්‍රවලට අමතර තර්කයක් බවට හරවා ගත් සමහර අන්තවාදී පරිසරවේදීන් හා දේශපාලන ක‍්‍රියාකාරිකයන් ද සිටිනවා. ඔවුන්ගේ ප‍්‍රකාශ හා උද්ඝෝෂණ නිසා මේ අභියෝගය හරිහැටි තේරුම් ගෙන එයට ප‍්‍රතිචාර දැක්වීම ව්‍යාකූල වී තිබෙනවා.

උදාහරණයකට, සියලු කෘෂිරසායන භාවිතය එක් වරම නතර කිරීම සමහර හරිතවේදීන්ගේ දැඩි නිර්දේශයයි. පරිසර හිතකාමී ගොවිතැනකට කෙමෙන් අප යොමු විය යුතු නමුත් එය බලහත්කාරයෙන් හෝ කඩිමුඩියේ හෝ කළ හැකි දෙයක් නොවෙයි.

වකුගඩු රෝගය හා කෘෂිරසායන අතර මෙතෙක් හරිහැටි තහවුරු නොවූ සම්බන්ධය ගැන දිගටම වාද විවාද කිරීමට මාධ්‍ය නිසි වේදිකාවක් ලබා දිය යුතුයි. නැතිව අන්ත හරිතවාදීන්ට පමණක් ඉඩ දීම මාධ්‍යයේ වගකීම නොවෙයි.

ඒ අතර වකුගඩු රෝගීන්ගේ අවශ්‍යතා හා සුභසාධනයට මුල්තැන දෙන, එහෙත් ඔවුන්ගේ දුක විකුණා නොගන්නා සංවේදී හා සානුකම්පිත මාධ්‍යකරණයක් ඕනෑ.

ලේඛකයා ගැන:  විද්‍යා ලේඛකයෙකු හැටියට වසර 25 අධික කාලයක වෘත්තීය අත්දැකීම් ඇති නාලක ගුණවර්ධන පුවත්පත්, සඟරා, රේඩියෝ, ටෙලිවිෂන් හා ඉන්ටර්නෙට් යන සියලුම මාධ්‍ය හරහා සන්නිවේදනය කොට තිබෙනවා. එක් මාධ්‍යයකට, ආයතනයකට හෝ රටකට සීමා නොවී නිදහස් ලේඛකයෙකු ලෙස ඔහු දෙස් විදෙස් මාධ්‍ය හා පර්යේෂණ ආයතන සමඟ ක්‍රියා කරන්නේ විද්‍යාව, තාක්ෂණය හා සංවර්ධනය ගැන තොරතුරු සරලවත්, ආකර්ෂණීය ලෙසත් බෙදා හදා ගන්නටයි. 2011 පෙබරවාරියේ සිට රාවය පත්‍රයටට “සිවුමංසල කොලු ගැටයා” නමින් සතිපතා තීරු ලිපියක් ලියන නාලක, 2012 වසරේ විශිෂ්ඨතම තීරුලිපි රචකයා ලෙස විද්‍යොදය සාහිත්‍ය සම්මානයක් දිනා ගත්තා. ඔහුගේ ලිපි සියල්ල ඉන්ටර්නෙට් හරහා බලන්න: http://nalakagunawardene.com

[Echelon column] Sri Lanka’s Dilemma: Open Economy, Closed Minds

Column appearing in December 2016 issue of Echelon business magazine, Sri Lanka

Echelon magazine, Dec 2016 issue - column by Nalaka Gunawardene

Echelon magazine, Dec 2016 issue – column by Nalaka Gunawardene

Sri Lanka’s Dilemma: Open Economy, Closed Minds

By Nalaka Gunawardene

Each time I see a Finance Minister struggling to deliver annual budget speeches, I remember Ronnie de Mel.

President J R Jayewardene’s Finance Minister from 1977 to 1988 was one of the most colourful and articulate persons to have held that portfolio. Ronnie was instrumental in creating the free market economy, ending years of socialist misadventures in the early 1970s.

In a recent economic policy speech, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe described the 1977-78 policy switch as the ‘first generation of economic and social reforms’.

Ronnie, now a nonagenarian, still keeps an eye on the transformative reforms he initiated. In a recent media interview (The Nation, 24 Sep 2016), he recalled the big challenges his government had faced in explaining to the people about the benefits of an open economy.

“The whole country…had all got so used to a closed economy that it was rather difficult to convince them that an open economy with certain restrictions would be better for Sri Lanka than the closed economy which had been in existence for a long period and was strongly supported by the leftist parties and by a powerful section of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party,” he said.

The hardest part, according to Ronnie, had been to get the media to support those reforms. “In fact, it took a long time to convince the press that the open economy would be better for Sri Lanka than the closed economy. As has always to be emphasized, it had to be an open economy which would safeguard the poor.”

Closed Minds

JR and Ronnie set in motion economic reforms that have since been sustained by successive governments, sometimes with minor modifications. We will soon be completing four full decades under free market policies.

Yet the market still seems a dirty word for some Lankans, especially those in their middle or advanced ages. Their mistrust of the country’s economic system occasionally rubs off on the younger generation too, as evidenced by university students’ political slogans.

There is a pervasive notion in our society that businesses are intrinsically damaging and exploitative. I attribute this to ‘residual socialism’: we have plenty of frustrated socialists who grudge the current system, even though they often benefit from it personally.

So we pursue free market economics only half-heartedly. We were never a communist state but we seem to be more ‘red’ than Marx, Lenin and Mao combined.

In other words, many among us have closed their minds about the open economy.

Yes, it’s a free country and everyone is entitled to own myths, beliefs and nostalgic fantasies. But collectively harking back to the bad old days – and romanticising them – does not help anyone, and can distort policy choices. Protectionism and monopolies can thrive in such a setting.

Anti-market attitudes also feed public apprehensions about entrepreneurship in general, and against certain economic sectors in particular.

Pervasive prejudices

Take, for example, the tourist industry. Half a century has passed since Sri Lanka adopted policies of tourism development and promotion, but large sections of society still harbour misgivings about it.

Never mind that nearly 320,000 persons had direct or indirect employment in the tourism sector in 2015, or how a large number of small and medium businesses depend on tourist income for survival. Certain ‘guardians of culture’ and a moralist media are obsessed with the sexual exploitation associated with (a relatively small number of) tourists.

A few years ago, I helped organise an environmental education programme for school children in the Negombo area. A leading hotel chain which originated from that city provided the venue and catering for free. Yet some accompanying teachers were rather uneasy over our venue choice: for them, all tourist hotels seemed to be ‘dens of vice’.

This perception, reinforced by prejudiced commentary in Sinhala language newspapers, extends to other sections of the leisure industry such as spas. I recently heard how a Lankan spa chain struggles to recruit female therapists. Because spas are demonised by media and society, few women apply despite the competitive salaries.

Societal prejudices might also be one reason why the country’s 12 industrial zones, administered by the Board of Investment (BOI), are struggling to fill some 200,000 vacancies from the domestic labour market. Many youth would much rather drive three-wheelers instead of working in factories. There are no sociological insights as yet on why they frown upon such work.

Media portrayal

To be sure, there are unscrupulous businessmen who cynically exploit our country’s poor governance and weak regulation. There are also some schemers and confidence tricksters. But our anti-biz media would make us believe that all entrepreneurs are corrupt and untrustworthy.

Study any Sinhala daily for about a week, and we are bound to find several headlines or news reports using the phrase Kotipathi Viyaparikaya (multi-millionaire businessman). In the peculiar worldview of Sinhala journalists, every businessman is a kotipathiya, and is usually presumed guilty until proven innocent! Often a Roomath Kanthawa (pretty woman) is linked to the businessman, suggesting some scandal.

Tele drama makers love to portray businessmen as villains. Newspaper editorials frequently highlight unethical biz practices, condemning all businesspersons in the process. Bankers and telecom operators get more than their fair share of bashing in letters to the editor.

And even our usually perceptive cartoonists caricaturise entrepreneurs almost always negatively – either as pot-bellied black market mudalalis, or as bulging men in black suits and dark glasses, complete with a sinister smile. These images influence how society thinks of business.

Lankan industrialists vs the country's first environment minister Vincent Perera. Cartoon by W R Wijesoma, circa 1991

Lankan industrialists vs the country’s first environment minister Vincent Perera. Cartoon by W R Wijesoma, circa 1992

Rebuilding Trust

So what is to be done?

Teaching business and commerce in schools is useful — but totally insufficient to create a nation of entrepreneurs and a business friendly public. Corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities can help soften society’s harsh judgement of business and enterprise. But that too needs a careful balancing act, as a lot of CSR is self-serving or guilt-assuaging and not particularly addressing the real community needs.

More ethically driven businesses and less ostentatious biz conduct would go a long way in winning public trust. As would more sensitive and thoughtful brand promotion.

The biggest challenge now, as it was to Ronnie a generation ago, is to nurture a media that appreciates and critically cheers entrepreneurship.

Paradoxically, media’s own revenues rely critically on advertising from other businesses. No, we are not asking media to compromise their editorial independence under advertiser pressure. But simply toning down media’s rampant and ill-founded prejudices against entrepreneurship would be progress.

The open economy’s legacy must be rigorously debated, and the policy framework needs periodic review. Let’s hope that it can be done with more open minds.

Science writer Nalaka Gunawardene is on Twitter @NalakaG and blogs at http://nalakagunawardene.com.

[Echelon column] Sri Lanka Plugging into the Sun, with caution

Column published in Echelon business magazine, November 2016 issue.

Cartoon by Ron Tandberg

Cartoon by Ron Tandberg

Plugging into the Sun, with caution

By Nalaka Gunawardene

 One of my favourite cartoons on energy was drawn by Australian cartoonist Ron Tandberg. It shows two men standing on a bare land and looking intently at the ground. Says one to the other: “There must be a source of energy down there!”

Overhead, meanwhile, the sun looms large and blazes away…

For too long, despite living on a tropical island, most of us have looked everywhere for our energy needs — except skywards. Is that about to change? Is the government’s new solar power drive likely to be a game changer?

Plugging to the sun is not entirely new: Sri Lanka has taken an interest in solar photovoltaic (PV) technology for over 40 years. The earliest PVs – which can turn sunlight into electricity — were installed in the village of Pattiyapola, in the Southern Province, where the United Nations set up a rural energy demonstration centre in 1975.

Those early prototypes had many problems which were fixed within a few years. By the mid-1980s, small, stand-alone solar PV units came on the market. This time, it was private companies that promoted these while the government’s power utility (CEB) was mildly interested.

In the late 1980s, three entrepreneurs – Lalith Gunaratne, Viren Perera and Pradip Jayewardene – pioneered local assembling and marketing of solar PVs. Their company, initially called Power & Sun (Pvt) Ltd, offered simple, easy-to-use solar units for rural homes that were not yet connected to the grid.

Branded as SUNTEC, their basic solar unit could power five light bulbs plus a radio and a (black and white) TV set. The introductory price in 1988 was LKR 7,000 (bulbs and battery cost extra). At the time, two thirds of all households did not have electricity so this generated much interest.

Grassroots Revolution

 Power & Sun not only sold domestic solar units, but also ran rural workshops that trained youth on the basics of solar energy and equipment maintenance. By reaching out to the grassroots through innovative marketing schemes and tech support, the SUNTEC team ushered in a quiet revolution.

They not only provided clean, safe and cheap energy to rural homes but in that process, also raised people’s aspirations. They were no longer beholden to politicians with promises of ‘gamata light’ (electricity for the village), a common but often unfulfilled promise. (Read full Suntec story at: http://tiny.cc/SunTec)

During the 1990s, other companies — and non-profits such as Sarvodaya and SoLanka — entered the domestic solar market. The World Bank came up with a credit mechanism for solar units through SEEDS, the economic arm of Sarvodaya. Thanks to these efforts, over 100,000 homes adopted solar PV within a dozen years.

“The establishment of community-based solar photovoltaic programmes by non-governmental organizations…has developed a novel approach to bridge the gap between this state-of-the-art technology and the remotely located end-users,” wrote Lalith Gunaratne, a pioneer in off-grid domestic solar power, in 1994.

But the early appeal of solar PV diminished as rural electrification intensified. In some areas, families who had taken loans for their solar PVs defaulted repayment after the grid reached them. Sarvodaya, for example, was left with lots of half-paid loans and second hand solar units.

See also:

Solar photovoltaics in Sri Lanka: A short history by Lalith Gunaratne

Sri Lanka solar power history in brief, by SELF

Nonetheless, that first phase of solar energy promotion holds valuable lessons still relevant today. For example, it’s not simply a matter of promoting PV technology but providing a package of training, maintenance support and on-going engagement with solar consumers.

Illustration by Echelon magazine

Illustration by Echelon magazine

Scaling up

While off-grid solar PV can still offer energy solutions to specific, isolated locations, a second solar revolution is urgently needed in cities and towns. It is the higher consuming homes, offices and other buildings that most drive the electricity demand which keeps rising by about 9% each year.

Bulk of the country’s electricity is generated using large scale hydro or thermal power plants (burning either oil or coal). The ratios vary from year to year according to data tracked by the regulator, the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka (PUCSL). In a year of good rainfall, such as 2013, 50% of all electricity was generated using hydro, and another 9.85% through non-conventional renewables (NCR) like mini-hydro, wind, biomass and solar. Less than half came from thermal plants.

But in 2014, the last year for which PUCSL data has been released, hydro’s share dropped to 29.4% and NCR share remained about the same. The balance (over 60%) was generated by CEB’s oil or coal plants, complemented by private power producers burning oil.

The fuel bill weighs heavily on the country’s already overburdened budget. Low petroleum prices since 2014 have helped, but that is not a bankable option in the long term.

“Sri Lanka annually imports 2 MMT of crude oil, 4 MMT of refined petroleum products and 2.25 MMT of coal. This costs approximately 5 billion USD and covers 44% of the energy requirements. It also accounts to 25% of the import expenditure and almost 50% of the total export income,” wrote Chatura Rodrigo, research economist with the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) in August 2015. (Petroleum also supports the transport sector that relies almost totally on this fuel source.)

Burning petroleum and coal also contributes to global warming and causes local air pollution – more reasons for phasing them down.

For all these reasons, scaling up NCR’s share of electricity generation mix is thus receiving more attention. This can happen at both power plant level (e.g. with wind power plants that could tap an estimated 400MW potential in Mannar), and also at household levels.

Decentralised solar power

Encouraging consumers to self-generate part of their electricity from renewables received a boost in 2009 with the introduction in net metering. This allows private individuals or companies to supply their surplus power – usually generated by solar panels — to the national grid, for which they receive ‘credits’ or rebates from the monthly bill. A two-way electricity meter enables this process.

During the past few years, hundreds of households and businesses have vastly reduced their electricity bills through this method. However, this made economic sense only to high end electricity users as the initial investment remained high.

"Soorya Bala Sangramaya" (Battle for Solar Energy) in Sri Lanka - image courtesy Ministry of Power and Renewable Energy

“Soorya Bala Sangramaya” (Battle for Solar Energy) in Sri Lanka – image courtesy Ministry of Power and Renewable Energy

The new solar energy drive, announced in August 2016, intends to change this. Known as “Soorya Bala Sangramaya” (Battle for Solar Energy), it is expected to make at least 20% of electricity consumers to also generate electricity using solar panels – they will be able to sell their excess to the national grid under a guaranteed tariff.

The new scheme will introduce two new concepts, viz:

  • Net Accounting, where a consumer will get paid in money if her solar-generated power is greater than what is consumed from the grid. Tariff is set at LKR 22 per unit (1 kilo Watt hour) for the first 7 years, and at LKR 15.50 thereafter.
  • Net Plus, where there is no link between how much electricity the consumer users from the grid (for which billing will happen), and how much of solar-generated electricity is supplied to the grid (which will be paid in full at the above rates).

The government’s plan is to add 220 MW of clean power from NCR to the country’s energy grid by 2020, which is about 10% of the country’s current daily electricity demand. Another 1,000 MW is to be added by 2025.

The solar PV technology market will be left to multiple private sector suppliers. In a recent TV talk show, deputy minister of power Ajith C Perera said national standards would soon be set for solar panels and associated technology.

Balancing acts

Currently, installing 1 kWh of solar generation capacity costs around LKR 200,000. Investing this much upfront will only make sense for those consuming 200 kWh or more. Under the current, multi-tier tariff system, those consuming up to 30 units of electricity a month pay LKR 7.85 per unit while those above 180 units have to pay LKR 45 per unit.

How much and how fast Soorya Bala Sangramaya can energise the solar PV market remains to be seen. The Ministry of Power is talking to banks to encourage easy credit. PUCSL will need to monitor these trends to ensure consumers’ interests are safeguarded.

Promising as they are, renewables are not a panacea for all energy our needs. Some limitations apply, such as cloudy days that reduce sunshine and dips in wind blowing. Their contribution to the grid needs to be balanced by power from more conventional sources. At least until storage systems get better.

“Renewables have an important role in any developing country energy mix as a part of the national energy supply security strategies,” says Lalith Gunaratne. “Yet, thermal energy technologies like oil, coal and gas will not go away in a hurry. Most of them, unless we have large hydro, will provide base load power from large centralised stations for two or three more decades.”

The energy sector can become a sink for large volumes of public and private funds — unless there is an effective regulatory process.

Science writer Nalaka Gunawardene is active on Twitter as @NalakaG and blogs at http://nalakagunawardene.com.

 

[op-ed]: The Big Unknown: Climate action under President Trump

Op-ed written for The Weekend Express broadsheet newspaper in Sri Lanka, 18 November 2016

The Big Unknown: Climate action under President Trump - By Nalaka Gunawardene, Weekend Express, 18 Nov 2016

The Big Unknown: Climate action under President Trump – By Nalaka Gunawardene, Weekend Express, 18 Nov 2016

What does Donald Trump’s election as the next President of the United States mean for action to contain climate change?

The billionaire non-politician — who lost the popular vote by more than a million votes but won the presidency on the basis of the electoral college — has long questioned the science underlying climate change.

He also sees political and other motives in climate action. For example, he tweeted on 6 November 2012: “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.”

Trump's tweet on 7 November 2012 - What does it mean for his administration?

Trump’s tweet on 6 November 2012 – What does it mean for his administration?

His vice president, Indiana governor Mike Pence, also does not believe that climate change is caused by human activity.

Does this spell doom for the world’s governments trying to avoid the worst case scenarios in global warming, now widely accepted by scientists as driven by human activity – especially the burning of petroleum and coal?

It is just too early to tell, but the early signs are not promising.

“Trump should drop his pantomime-villain act on climate change. If he does not, then, come January, he will be the only world leader who fails to acknowledge the threat for what it is: urgent, serious and demanding of mature and reasoned debate and action,” said the scientific journal Nature in an editorial on 16 November 2016.

It added: “The world has made its decision on climate change. Action is too slow and too weak, but momentum is building. Opportunities and fortunes are being made. Trump the businessman must realize that the logical response is not to cry hoax and turn his back. The politician in Trump should do what he promised: reject political orthodoxy and listen to the US people.”

It was only on 4 November 2016 that the Paris climate agreement came into force. This is the first time that nearly 200 governments have agreed on legally binding limits to emissions that cause global warming.

All governments that have ratified the accord — which includes the US, China, India and the EU — carry an obligation to contain global warming to no more than 2 degrees Centigrade above pre-industrial levels. Scientists regard that as the safe limit, beyond which climate change is likely to be both catastrophic and irreversible.

It has been a long and bumpy road to reach this point since the UN framework convention on climate change (UNFCCC) was adopted in 1992. UNFCCC provides the umbrella under which the Paris Agreement works.

High level officials and politicians from 197 countries that have ratified the UNFCCC are meeting in Marrakesh, Morocco, this month to iron out the operational details of the Paris Agreement.

Speaking at the Marrakesh meeting this week, China’s vice foreign minister, Liu Zhenmin, pointed out that it was in fact Trump’s Republican predecessors who launched climate negotiations almost three decades ago.

It was only three months ago that the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitters – China and the US — agreed to ratify the Paris agreement during a meeting between the Chinese and US presidents.

Chandra Bhushan, Deputy Director General of the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), an independent advocacy group in Delhi, has just shared his thoughts on the Trump impact on climate action.

“Will a Trump presidency revoke the ratification of the Paris Agreement? Even if he is not able to revoke it because of international pressure…he will dumb down the US action on climate change. Which means that international collaboration being built around the Paris Agreement will suffer,” he said in a video published on YouTube (see: https://goo.gl/r6KGip)

“If the US is not going to take ambitious actions on climate change, I don’t think India or Chine will take ambitious actions either.  We are therefore looking at a presidency which is going to push climate action around the world down the barrel,” he added.

During his campaign, Trump advocated “energy independence” for the United States (which meant reducing or eliminating the reliance on Middle Eastern oil). But he has been critical of subsidies for solar and wind power, and threatened to end regulations that sought to end the expansion of petroleum and coal use. In other words, he would likely encourage dig more and more domestically for oil.

“Trump doesn’t believe that renewable energy is an important part of the energy future for the world,” says Chandra Bhushan. “He believes that climate change is a conspiracy against the United States…So we are going to deal with a US presidency which is extremely anti-climate.”

Bhushan says Trump can revoke far more easily domestic laws like the Clean Power Plan that President Obama initiated in 2015. It set a national limit on carbon pollution produced from power plants.

“Therefore, whatever (positive) action that we thought was going to happen in the US are in jeopardy. We just have to watch and ensure that, even when an anti-climate administration takes over, we do not allow things to slide down (at global level action),” Bhushan says.

Some science advocates caution against a rush to judgement about how the Trump administration will approach science in general, and climate action in particular.

Nature’s editorial noted: “There is a huge difference between campaigning and governing…It is impossible to know what direction the United States will take under Trump’s stewardship, not least because his campaign was inconsistent, contradictory and so full of falsehood and evasion.”

We can only hope that Trump’s business pragmatism would prevail over climate action. As the Anglo-French environmental activist Edward Goldsmith said years ago, there can be no trade on a dead planet.

Candidate Trump on CNN

Candidate Trump on CNN

Communicating Climate Change: Going Beyond Fear, CO2 & COPs!

SRI LANKA NEXT 2016 International Conference on Climate Change - http://www.srilankanext.lk/iccch.php

SRI LANKA NEXT 2016 International Conference on Climate Change – http://www.srilankanext.lk/iccch.php

On 19 October 2016, I spoke on climate change communications to a group of Asian journalists and other communicators at a workshop organized by Sri Lanka Youth Climate Action Network (SLYCAN). It was held at BMICH, Colombo’s leading conventions venue.

It was part of a platform of events branded as Sri Lanka NEXT, which included the 5th Asia-Pacific Climate Change Adaptation Forum and several other expert consultations.

I recalled what I had written in April 2014, “As climate change impacts are felt more widely, the imperative for action is greater than ever. Telling the climate story in accurate and accessible ways should be an essential part of climate response. That response is currently organised around two ‘planks’: mitigation and adaptation. Climate communication can be the ‘third plank’ that strengthens the first two.”

3 broad tips on climate communications - from Nalaka Gunawardene

3 broad tips for climate communications – from Nalaka Gunawardene

I argued that we must move away from disaster-driven climate communications of doom and gloom. Instead, focus on climate resilience and practical solutions to achieving it.

We also need to link climate action to what matters most to the average person:

  • Cheaper energy (economic benefits)
  • Cleaner air (health benefits)
  • Staying alive (public safety benefits)

I offered three broad tips for climate communicators and journalists:

  • Don’t peddle fear: We’ve had enough of doom & gloom! Talk of more than just disasters and destruction.
  • Look beyond CO2, which is responsible for only about half of global warming. Don’t forget the other half – which includes some shortlived climate pollutants which are easier to tackle such action is less contentious than CO2.
  • Focus on local level impacts & responses: most people don’t care about UNFCCC or COPs or other acronyms at global level!
Global climate negotiations - good to keep an eye on them, but real stories are elsewhere!

Global climate negotiations – good to keep an eye on them, but real stories are elsewhere!

Finally, I shared my own triple-S formula for covering climate related stories:

  • Informed by credible Science (but not immersed in it!)
  • Tell authentic and compelling journalistic Stories…
  • …in Simple (but not simplistic) ways (using a mix of non-technical words, images, infographics, audio, video, interactive media)

Poor venue logistics at BMICH prevented me from sharing the presentation I had prepared. So here it is:

Going beyond “Poor Journalism” that ignores the poor

Sri Lankan Media Fellows on Poverty and Development with their mentors and CEPA coordinators at orientation workshop in Colombo, 24 Sep 2016

Sri Lankan Media Fellows on Poverty and Development with their mentors and CEPA coordinators at orientation workshop in Colombo, 24 Sep 2016

“For me as an editor, there is a compelling case for engaging with poverty. Increasing education and literacy is related to increasing the size of my readership. Our main audiences are indeed drawn from the middle classes, business and policymakers. But these groups cannot live in isolation. The welfare of the many is in the interests of the people who read the Daily Star.”

So says Mahfuz Anam, Editor and Publisher of The Daily Star newspaper in Bangladesh. I quoted him in my presentation to the orientation workshop for Media Fellows on Poverty and Development, held in Colombo on 24 September 2016.

Alas, many media gatekeepers in Sri Lanka and across South Asia don’t share Anam’s broad view. I can still remember talking to a Singaporean manager of one of Sri Lanka’s first private TV stations in the late 1990s. He was interested in international development related TV content, he told me, “but not depressing and miserable stuff about poverty – our viewers don’t want that!”

Most media, in Sri Lanka and elsewhere, have narrowly defined poverty negatively. Those media that occasionally allows some coverage of poverty mostly skim a few selected issues, doing fleeting reporting on obvious topics like street children, beggars or poverty reduction assistance from the government. The complexity of poverty and under-development is hardly investigated or captured in the media.

Even when an exceptional journalist ventures into exploring these issues in some depth and detail, their media products also often inadvertently contain society’s widespread stereotyping on poverty and inequality. For example:

  • Black and white images are used when colour is easily available (as if the poor live in B&W).
  • Focus is mostly or entirely on the rural poor (never mind many poor people now live in cities and towns).

The Centre for Poverty Analysis (CEPA), a non-profit think tank has launched the Media Fellowship Programme on Poverty and Development to inspire and support better media coverage of these issues. The programme is co-funded by UNESCO and CEPA.

Under this, 20 competitively selected journalists – drawn from print, broadcast and web media outlets in Sinhala, Tamil and English languages – are to be given a better understanding of the many dimensions of poverty.

These Media Fellows will have the opportunity to research and produce a story of their choice in depth and detail, but on the understanding that their media outlet will carry their story. Along the way, they will benefit from face-to-face interactions with senior journalists and development researchers, and also receive a grant to cover their field visit costs.

Nalaka Gunawardene speaks at orientation workshop for Media Fellows on Poverty and Development at CEPA, 24 Sep 2016

Nalaka Gunawardene speaks at orientation workshop for Media Fellows on Poverty and Development at CEPA, 24 Sep 2016

I am part of the five member expert panel guiding these Media Fellows. Others on the panel are senior journalist and political commentator Kusal Perera; Chief Editor of Daily Express newspaper Hana Ibrahim; Chief Editor of Echelon biz magazine Shamindra Kulamannage; and Consultant Editor of Sudar Oli newspaper, Arun Arokianathan.

At the orientation workshop, Shamindra Kulamannage and I both made presentations on media coverage of poverty. Mine was a broad-sweep exploration of the topic, with many examples and insights from having been in media and development spheres for over 25 years.

Here is my PPT:

More photos from the orientation workshop:

 

 

Details of CEPA Media Fellowship Programme on Poverty and Development

List of 20 Media Fellows on Poverty and Development