Communicating Research on Global Change: How to engage policy-makers?

What is to be done? With a few strategies, this gap can be bridged...

What is to be done? With a few strategies, this gap can be bridged…

How to ‘Bell’ the policy ‘cats’? I posed – and tried to answer – this question in October 2013 when addressing a group of Asian research leaders gathered in Bangkok, Thailand.

It’s a question without easy or simple answers. Policy makers come in different forms and types, and gaining their attention depends on many variables — such as a country’s political system, governance processes, level of bureaucracy and also timing.

I revisited this question this week when speaking to a group of young (early to mid-career) researchers from across South Asia who want to study many facets of global change. They were brought together at a regional workshop held in in Paro, Bhutan, by the Asia-Pacific Network for Global Change Research (APN) and the National Environment Commission of the Royal Government of Bhutan.

Nalaka Gunawardene speaks at APN South Asian Proposal Development Training Workshop in Paro, Bhutan, 14-16 Dec 2016. Photo Xiaojun Deng, APN

Nalaka Gunawardene speaks at APN South Asian Proposal Development Training Workshop in Paro, Bhutan, 14-16 Dec 2016. Photo Xiaojun Deng, APN

Titled as the ‘Proposal Development Training Workshop (PDTW)’ and held from 14 to 16 December 2016, PDTW aimed “to raise awareness of APN among early career scientists and practitioners, and to increase the capacity to develop competitive proposals for submission to APN”.

The workshop involved two dozen researchers and half a dozen mentors. I was the sole mentor covering the important aspect of communicating research.

I urged researchers to try and better understand the imperfect, often unpredictable conditions in which South Asia’s policy makers operate.

Researchers and activists who would like to influence various public policies. Everyone is looking for strategies and engagement methods. The policy cycle cannot run according to text book ideals when governments have to regularly cope with economic uncertainties, political upheavals and social unrest, etc.

Asia-Pacific Network for Global Change Research (APN): Proposal Development Training Workshop 2016 — in Paro, Bhutan. Photo by Xiaojun Deng, APN

Asia-Pacific Network for Global Change Research (APN): Proposal Development Training Workshop 2016 — in Paro, Bhutan. Photo by Xiaojun Deng, APN

Imagine what keeps your policy makers awake at night, I suggested. Are they worried about balance of payment, disaster responses or a Parliamentary majority? How can research findings, while being evidence based, help solve problems of economic development and governance?

I also suggested that researchers should map out the information behaviour of their policy makers: where do they get info to act on? Is there a way research findings can be channeled to policy makers through some of these sources – such as the media, professional bodies and international development partners?

I suggested two approaches to communicating research outcomes to policy makers: directly, using own publications and/or social media; and indirectly by working with and through the media.

Finally, I shared some key findings of a global study in 2012 by SciDev.Net (where I was an honorary trustee for nearly a decade) which looked at the different contextual settings within which policy makers, the private sector, NGOs, media organisations and the research community operate to better understand how to mainstream more science and technology evidence for development and poverty reduction purposes.

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South Asian race each other to set world records in ‘human national flag’

The Tudikhel open ground in central Kathmandu is transformed into a large flag holder as 35,000 Nepalese break the world record for the biggest human flag - 23 August 2014 - Photo by AFP/Getty Images

The Tudikhel open ground in central Kathmandu is transformed into a large flag holder as 35,000 Nepalese break the world record for the biggest human flag – 23 August 2014 – Photo by AFP/Getty Images

If there’s one thing (many) South Asian nations have in abundance, it’s people. Now, countries of this populous region are competing to hold the world record in an unusual phenomenon called the human national flag.

On 23 August 2014, more than 35,000 Nepalese came together in Kathmandu’s city centre to form the world’s largest “human national flag”. The feat was best seen from the air, and had a special visual significance too: the Himalayan nation has the world’s only flag which is not a quadrilateral (it’s made up of two triangles).

Yahoo News http://news.yahoo.com/nepalese-attempt-worlds-largest-human-flag-record-102255975.html

The exercise was billed as an effort to ‘unite the hearts of Nepal’. As seen from the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/events/1521476671414710/), it entailed plenty of preparation. Unless you’re in North Korea, getting thousands of people to perform an act of mass coordination isn’t easy.

If Guinness World Records accepts this claim based on photographic and video evidence, Nepal will replace Pakistan as current record holder. On 15 February 2014, a total of 28,957 people came together at the National Hockey Stadium in Lahore to make up their flag during Punjab Youth Festival 2014. http://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/world-records/2000/largest-human-national-flag

On 5 February 2014, a total of 28,957 Pakistanis came together at the National Hockey Stadium in Lahore to create their national flag

On 5 February 2014, a total of 28,957 Pakistanis came together at the National Hockey Stadium in Lahore to create their national flag

Pakistanis beat Bangladesh to this record. A total of 27,117 volunteers, mostly students, stood up with red and green blocks to form their flag at the National Parade Ground in Sher-e-Bangla Nagar in Dhaka on 16 December 2013. They stood there for 6 minutes 16 seconds, though the requirement for setting a new world record was 5 minutes.

My friend Shahidul Alam photographed it from the air – see: http://www.driknews.com/issue/849

Bangladesh human national flag created at the National Parade Ground in Sher-e-Bangla Nagar in Dhaka on 16 December 2013. Photo by Shahidul Alam/Drik News

Bangladesh human national flag created at the National Parade Ground in Sher-e-Bangla Nagar in Dhaka on 16 December 2013. Photo by Shahidul Alam/Drik News

So here’s a chance for Sri Lanka’s patriots to literally fly their flag into a world record. Of course, coordinating the creation of the Lion Flag will be more demanding (making up Pakistani and Bangladeshi flags is relatively easier than Nepal’s).

Who’s willing to take up this little challenge?

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.”

සිවුමංසල කොලූගැටයා #104: බලන සැම තැන කුමන්ත‍්‍රණවලින් සපිරි දේශයක්!

Map of Pakistan, courtesy Lonely Planet

In this week’s Ravaya column (in Sinhala), I take a look at rampant conspiracy theories in Pakistan, arguably the most conspiracy-happy country in South Asia. This is partly inspired by my recent visit to Karachi, a strong contender for the title ‘conspiracy capital of the world’.

From weather extremes to food shortages, and from political violence to maternal health, every aspect of life in Pakistan is linked to a ‘foreign conspiracy’ supposedly meant to undermine the nation.

Some of these tall tales provide harmless amusement, while others have dire consequences for public health and safety. I cite two examples: resistance to polio vaccination, and misplaced and widespread fear of iodised salt.

‘හොඳ කුමන්ත‍්‍රණ කථාවකට අපි කවුරුත් කැමතියි!’

මගේ මාධ්‍ය මිතුරකු ළඟදී මට මෙසේ කීවේ මෑතක පටන් අපේ රටේ වඩාත් ප‍්‍රබලව පැතිර යන නොයෙක් අභව්‍ය හා මායාරූපි (ෆැන්ටසි) කුමන්ත‍්‍රණ කථා ගෙඩි පිටින් විශ්වාස කරන අය සිටින බව මා පෙන්වා දුන් විටයි.

සමහරුන් කියන හැටියට අපේ දුපතට වින කරන්නට, රජය හා ජන සමාජය අස්ථාවර කරන්නට විජාතික දේශපාලනික හා වාණිජ බලවේග රාශියක් පෙළ ගැසී සිටිනවාලූ. මෙබඳු කථාවලින් ජන සමාජයක මානසික තත්ත්වය ගැන දළ හැඟීමක් ලද හැකියි.

එහෙත් අපේ කුමන්ත‍්‍රණ දුපතටත් වඩා බොහෝ සෙයින් මේ ‘කලාව’ ප‍්‍රගුණ කළ රටක් දකුණු ආසියාවේ තිබෙනවා. ඒ තමයි පාකිස්ථානය. මිලියන් 180ක් පමණ ජනගහනයක් වෙසෙන, න්‍යෂ්ටික අවිවලින් සන්නද්ධ වූ මේ රට තරම් කුමන්ත‍්‍රණවාදී කථා බිහි කරන, පතුරුවන හා අදහන තවත් රටක් මට නම් හමු වී නැහැ.

පසුගිය සැප්තැම්බරයේ මා කරච්චි නගරයේ දින කිහිපයක් ගත කළ අවස්ථාවේ පාකිස්ථානයේ කුමන්ත‍්‍රණවාදී මානසිකත්වය නෙතඟ බැල්මක් ලැබුණා.මගතොටේ දී මෙන් ම සරසවි හා විද්වත් සභාවලත් අතිශයින් නිර්මාණශීලි වූ එහෙත් කිසිදු පදනමකින් තොර භීතිකා හා කුමන්ත‍්‍රණ කථා සංසරණය වන හැටි මා දුටුවා.

එහිදී තර්කානුකූල වීම, සාක්ෂි සොයා යාම හෝ වෙනත් බුද්ධිගෝචර ක‍්‍රියාදාමයක් වෙනුවට ලිහිල් හා ආවේගශීලි පදනමක් මත බොහෝ ජනමාධ්‍ය, වෘත්තිකයන්, දේශපාලකයන් හා අනෙකුත් ජනමතය හසුරුවන්නන් ක‍්‍රියා කරනවා.

එරට දේශපාලකයන්ගේ ප‍්‍රසිද්ධ ප‍්‍රකාශ හා මැතිවරණ පොරොන්දු ආදිය ගැන කිසිදු විශ්වාසයක් නොතබන උගත් නාගරික ජනයා පවා රටට හා ජාතියට එරෙහි බහුවිධ කුමන්ත‍්‍රණ තිබේ යැයි තරයේ අදහනවා.

සරල එදිනෙදා සිදුවීමක් වූවත් පැය හෝ දින කිහිපයක් ඇතුළත ලෙහෙසියෙන් ම විදේශික බලවේගයක හෝ අදිසි හස්තයක බලපෑමක් හෝ බවට පත් කර ගනු ලබනවා. කුමන්ත‍්‍රණයක කොටසක් ලෙස විග‍්‍රහ කැරෙනවා. එය පසුපස සිටින විජාතික බලවේගය ලෙස වැඩිපුර ම නම් කරනු ලබන්නේ අමෙරිකාව හා ඉන්දියාවයි. මීට අමතරව ඉස්ලාම් විරෝධී යැයි සලකා ඊශ‍්‍රාලයත්, පොදුවේ බටහිර රටවල් මෙන් ම ගෝලීය මට්ටමෙන් වෙළඳාමේ යෙදෙන බහුජාතික සමාගම් ද නිතර කුමන්ත‍්‍රණ චෝදනා ලබනවා.

සොබා දහමේ ක‍්‍රියාවන් පවා මේ කුමන්ත‍්‍රණවාදී කථාවලට හසු වනවා. වෙලාවට වැස්ස නොලැබුණොත් එය පාකිස්ථානය ‘මට්ටු කරන්නට’ දියුණු රටක් කළ ‘කාලගුණ පාඩමක්’. එකවර බොහෝ වැසි ලැබී ගංවතුර ඇති වූ විට එයත් විජාතික ‘කාලගුණ ප‍්‍රහාරයක්’.

මේ කුමන්ත‍්‍රණවාදී කථා එරට ප‍්‍රබල ම ජනමාධ්‍ය වන ටෙලිවිෂන් පුවත් නාලිකාවලට Breaking News සඳහා නිරතුරුව මාතෘකා සපයනවා. එබඳු වාර්තාකරණයේදී මෙබඳු කථා බරපතල ලෙස කියන්නටත් වාද විවාද කරන්නටත් මුකරි බව තිබෙන අන්තවාදී විද්වතුන් (ටෙලි-පණ්ඩිතයන්) රොත්තක් ද බිහිව සිටිනවා.

පාකිස්ථානු සමාජයේ සැබෑ ප‍්‍රශ්න හා විසමතා ගැන නොබියව වාර්තා කරන පුවත් නාලිකා අතර (2012 ඔක් 21දා කොලම බලන්න) මෙබඳු කට කථා, ප‍්‍රබන්ධ කථා හා ප‍්‍රලාප බෙදා හරින නාලිකා ද තිබෙනවා. දුෂමාන ආරංචි තහවුරු කිරීමකින් තොරව කාලීන තොරතුරු ලෙස ප‍්‍රචාරය කිරීම නීතිවිරෝධි නොවූවත් සදාචාර විරෝධි හා සමාජ විරෝධි ක‍්‍රියාවක්. මෙය නියාමනය කරන්නට පාකිස්ථානු රජය ඍජු උත්සාහයක් නොගන්නේ මාධ්‍ය නිදහසට හරස් වීමේ චෝදනාව මතු වන නිසා.

පාකිස්ථානයේ මුද්‍රිත හා විද්‍යුත් මාධ්‍යවලට විශාල නිදහසක් තිබෙනවා. එහෙත් ඒ නිදහස තුළ වගකීමකින් යුතුව ක‍්‍රියා කරන්නේ සමහර මාධ්‍ය පමණ යි. විශේෂයෙන් ම දේශිය බසින් වාර්තාකරණයේ යෙදෙන නාලිකා සමහරක් කෙටිකාලීන ජනප‍්‍රියත්වය සඳහා කුමන්ත‍්‍රණ රටට බෙදීම සරුවට කරනවා!

පාකිස්ථානයේ සාක්ෂරතාව අඩුයි. පිරිමි අකුරු කියවීමේ හැකියාව 70%යි. කාන්තාවන් අතර එය 46%යි. අධ්‍යාපන මට්ටම් සීමිත වීම නිසාත්, දැඩි වැඩවසම්වාදී සමාජයක් නිසාත්, එරට බොහෝ දෙනකු විචාරශීලි වනවා වෙනුවට ආවේගශීලි වීම දැකිය හැකියි. දැඩි ලෙස ආගම්වාදී වීම පාකිස්ථානු සමාජයේ තවත් ලක්ෂණයක්. එරට ජනමතය හැසිරවීමේ විශාල බලයක් පූජකයන්ට තියෙනවා.

එරට නිර්මාතෘ මොහමඞ් අලි ජින්නා පූජක බලය සීමා කොට රාජ්‍යකරණයේ යෙදුණත්, ඉන්පසුව බලයට පත් වූ (හෝ බලය අල්ලා ගත්) නායකයෝ කෙටි කාලීන වාසි තකා සමාජ සංස්ථා දැඩි ලෙස ඉස්ලාමීයකරණය වන්නට ඉඩ දුන්නා. සියලූ දෙනා නොවූවත් බොහෝ ආගමික නායකයන් රටට හා සමාජයට එරෙහිව බහුවිධ බලවේග පෙළ ගැසී ඇති බවට නිතර මොර ගානවා. කුමන්ත‍්‍රණ අදහන පසුබිම සකස් වන්නේ එලෙසයි.

සමහරක් කුමන්ත‍්‍රණ කථා හුදු විනෝදාස්වාදය සපයන අතර, ඉතිරි ඒවා ජනයා මුලා කරමින් ඔවුන්ගේ එදිනෙදා ජීවිතයට, සෞඛ්‍යයට හා යහ පුරුදුවලට හරස් වනවා. මේ දෙවැනි කාණ්ඩයට අයත් දැඩි සේ ප‍්‍රචලිත වූ කුමන්ත‍්‍රණවාදයක් පෝලියෝ ප‍්‍රතිශක්තීකරණයට සම්බන්ධයි.

Polio vaccinaation in Pakistan - AFP Photo

Polio vaccinaation in Pakistan – AFP Photo

මුළු ලෝකයෙන් පෝලියෝ රෝගය තුරන් කිරීමේ දැවැන්ත ප‍්‍රයත්නයක අවසන් අදියරට පිවිස සිටින මේ අවස්ථාවේ පෝලියෝ හමු වන රටවල් තුනක් ඉතිරිව තිබෙනවා. එනම් නයිජීරියාව, ඇෆ්ගනිස්ථානය හා පාකිස්ථානය. පාකිස්ථානයේ 2012 දී වාර්තාගත පෝලියෝ රෝගීන් සංඛ්‍යාව 58යි. http://www.polioeradication.org

මේ මට්ටමට පෝලියෝ පාලනය කර ගත්තේ දශක ගණනාවක සිට පාකිස්ථානු රාජ්‍ය සෞඛ්‍ය සේවය හා ස්වේච්ඡ සංවිධාන විසින් කරගෙන ආ ප‍්‍රතිශක්තීකරණය නිසා. එහෙත් සමහර දෙමවුපියන් තම දරුවන්ට පෝලියෝ එන්නත දීම ප‍්‍රතිකේෂ්ප කරනවා. එයට හේතුව පෝලියෝ එන්නත “ඉස්ලාම් ජාතිය වඳ බවට පත් කරන්නට බටහිර රටවලින් ක‍්‍රියාත්මක කුමන්ත‍්‍රණයක්” යැයි රාවයක් පැතිරීම.

කිසිදු වෛද්‍ය විද්‍යාත්මක සත්‍යතාවක් නැති මේ කටකථාව මත එල්බ ගෙන තම දරුවන් භයානක පෝලියෝවට ගොදුරු වන්නට ඉඩ දෙන තරමට සමහර දෙමවුපියන් එය අදහනවා!

මහජන සෞඛ්‍යයට විශාල වශයෙන් බලපාන තවත් පාකිස්ථානු මිථ්‍යාවක් අයඞීන් මිශ‍්‍රිත ලූණු වටා ගෙතී තිබෙනවා.

අයඞීන් අපේ ශරීර ක‍්‍රියාකාරිත්වයට අත්‍යවශ්‍ය ක්ෂුද්‍ර පෝෂකයක්. තයිරොයිඞ් ග‍්‍රන්ථිය මඟින් ස‍්‍රාවය කරන හෝමෝන දෙකක් නිපදවීම සඳහා සිරුරට කුඩා පරිමාවලින් අයඞීන් ඕනෑ. මුහුදු මාළු මේ ක්ෂුද්‍ර පෝෂකය ස්වාභාවිකව ලැබෙන හොඳ ප‍්‍රභවයක්. එහෙත් මුහුදු මාළු ලෙහෙසියෙන් හමු නොවන දුර බැහැර ගොඩබිම ප‍්‍රදේශවල වෙසෙන ජනයාට අයඞීන් ඌණතාව හට ගත හැකියි.

ලෝක සෞඛ්‍ය සංවිධානය (WHO) කියන හැටියට ලෝක ජනගහනය බිලියන් හතෙන් බිලියන් 2ක් අයඞීන් ඌණතා අන්තරායන්ට මුහුණ දෙනවා. ළමයින් වැඩෙන කාලයේ හරිහැටි අයඞීන් නොලැබීම නිසා ඔවුන් මන්දබුද්ධික විය හැකියි. අයඞීන් ඌණතාව නිසා හට ගන්නා අනෙක් ආබාධය නම් ගලගණ්ඩයයි.

සුළු අමතර වියදමක් දරා විශාල ජන සංඛ්‍යාවකට ලෙහෙසියෙන් අයඞීන් ලබා දීමේ උපක‍්‍රමය ලෙස ලොව පුරා මහජන සෞඛ්‍ය විශේෂඥයන් දැන් පිළි ගන්නේ ලූණුවලට අයඞීන් ස්වල්පයක් එකතු කිරීම. අමෙරිකාවේ අයඞීන් මිශ‍්‍රිත ලූණු අලෙවිය ඇරඹුණේ 1946දී. ගෙවී ගිය දශක කිහිපය තුළ බොහෝ රටවල මෙය හඳුන්වා දී තිබෙනවා.

පාකිස්ථානය අයඞීන් ඌණතාව බහුල රටක්. එරට ජනගහනයෙන් භාගයකට අයඞීන් හරිහැටි ලැබෙන්නේ නැහැ. මේ නිසා දිගුකාලීනව හට ගන්නා දැඩි අලස බව හා අඩු බුද්ධි මට්ටම පාකිස්ථානයේ සමාජ ප‍්‍රගතියට හා ඵලදායීතාවට අහිතකරයි.

එහෙත් “අයිඞීන් මිශ‍්‍රිත ලූණු කන්න එපා!” පාකිස්ථානයේ අන්තවාදීන් ජනතාවට අනතුරු අඟවනවා. ඔවුන් කියන්නේ අයඞීන් එකතු කරන්නේ මුස්ලිම් ජනයා අතර වඳබව ඇති කිරීමට බටහිර කුමන්ත‍්‍රණයක් ලෙස බවයි!

කිසිදු අතුරු ආබාධයක් ඇති නොකරන ලොව පිළිගත් මෙබඳු සරල සෞඛ්‍ය පියවරකට පවා පාකිස්ථානයේ අස්ථාන භීතියක් හා ප‍්‍රතිරෝධයක් මතුවීම සෞඛ්‍ය සේවයකයන් කම්පාවට පත් කරනවා. සෞඛ්‍ය බලධාරීන් හා වෛද්‍යවරුන් කෙතරම් පැහැදිලි කළත්, අයඞීන් මිශ‍්‍රිත ලූණු භාවිතය නතර කරන්නට සැළකිය යුතු ජන කොටසක් පෙළඹී සිටිනවා. මෙය සමහර උගත් මධ්‍යම පාන්තික පවුල් අතරත් හමුවන බියකරු ප‍්‍රවණතාවක්.

මේ අස්ථාන භීතියට පසුබිම කුමක් ද?

පාකිස්ථානයේ අධික ජනගහන වර්ධනය දිගු කාලීනව රටට හා සමාජයට ඇති කරන අහිතකර බලපෑම් ගැන 1995දී විද්‍යාත්මකව තක්සේරු කළ එරට රාජ්‍ය නිලධාරීන්, මාතෘ හා ප‍්‍රජනන සෞඛ්‍යය ගැන ජනයා දැනුවත් කිරීමට විශාල පරිමානයේ සන්නිවේදන දියත් කළා. රජයට අයත් PTV ටෙලිවිෂන් නාලිකාව හරහා කාන්තාවන්ට පෝෂණ හා සෞඛ්‍ය දැනුම සරලව කියා දුන්නා. අයඞීන් නිතිපතා ආහාරයේ තිබීම වැදගත් බව ද කියැවුණා.

එම දර්ශනය අවසානයේ එය නිර්මාණය කළේ රජයේ ප‍්‍රාථමික සෞඛ්‍යය හා පවුල් සැළසුම් පිළිබඳ දෙපාර්තමේන්තුව (Department of Primary Health and Family Planning) බව කියැවෙන නාමාවලියක් පෙන්වනු ලැබුවා. අයඞීන් ගැන කථා කොට මොහොතකට පසුව මේ දෙපාර්තමේන්තු නම දිස්වීම නිසා ටික දෙනකු මේ දෙක අනිසි ලෙස සම්බන්ධ කරමින් කුමන්ත‍්‍රණවාදී තර්කයක් මතු කළා.

Iodine deficiency is a common cause of goiters, an affliction visible in this woman and child in Nothiya, Pakistan, a village on the outskirts of Islamabad (Photo courtesy - Network for Consumer Protection)

Iodine deficiency is a common cause of goiters, an affliction visible in this woman and child in Nothiya, Pakistan, a village on the outskirts of Islamabad (Photo courtesy – Network for Consumer Protection)

පවුල් සෞඛ්‍යය යනු පුළුල් විෂයයක්. ළමා හා මාතෘ පෝෂණය, ළමා රෝගවලින් ආරක්ෂා වීම ආදී සංකල්ප සමඟ පවුලක දරුවන් අතර නිසි පරතරයක් පවත්වා ගැනීම හා ගැබිණි මවුවරුන්ගේ සෞඛ්‍යය ගැන විශේෂ අවධානය යොමු කිරීම ද එයට ඇතුළත්.

එහෙත් කුමන්ත‍්‍රණවාදියෝ එය පවුල් සෞඛ්‍යය පවුල් සැලසුම් කිරීමට පමණක් ලඝු කොට “ජාතිය කප්පාදු කරන්නට රජය හා විජාතිකයන් ගන්නා උත්සාහයක්” යැයි බොරු බියක් පතුරවනවා. ජන මනස මෙසේ දුෂණය කිරීම හරහා කාන්තාවන් හා දරුවන්ගේ ජීවිතවලට කරන හානිය ගැන කිසිවකු සිතන්නේ නැහැ!

පාකිස්ථානයේ කුමන්ත‍්‍රණ මේනියාව යථාර්ථයෙන් හා වගකීම්වලින් අත්මිදීමේ බොළඳ උත්සාහයක් යැයි එරට ප‍්‍රමුඛ පෙලේ පෞද්ගලික ටෙලිවිෂන් නාලිකාවක අධ්‍යක්ෂවරියක් මට කියා සිටියා. “මේ විකාර කථා වැඩිපුර ම අදහන්නෙත් පතුරු වන්නෙත් පිරිමි උදවිය. ඔවුන් කැමතියි කථාන්තර කියමින් එදිනෙදා කළ යුතු දේ කල් දමමින් වගකීම්වලට මුහුණ නොදී සිටින්න. මේක දැන් වසංගතයක් වෙලා!” ඇය කීවා.

ප්‍රෞඪ ශිෂ්ටාචාරයකට හිමිකම් කියන, උගත් මධ්‍යම පාන්තිකයන් විශාල සංඛ්‍යාවක් සිටින, අපට වඩා මාධ්‍ය නිදහස තිබෙන පාකිස්ථානයේ මෙබඳු පසුගාමී මානසිකත්වයක් දැඩි ලෙස මුල් බැස ගත්තේ කෙසේ ද?

අනේ අපේ රටේ නම් මෙහෙම දේවල් වෙන්නේ නැහැ! අපි සාක්ෂරතාවයෙන් හා අධ්‍යාපනික මට්ටම්වලින් ඉහළ, ලෙහෙසියෙන් රවටන්නට බැරි මිනිසුන් වෙසෙන දේශයක්…

Love that Bug: Spinal Beetle completes charity run across South Asia

Here's looking at you, people! The Love Bug had only two eyes, but the Spinal Beetle has four. Photo by Nalaka Gunawardene


Deep down in our hearts, we are all Volkswagen Beetle fans: some of us have owned one (my first car was a red bug!), others dream of doing so. The world’s most enduringly popular car design has a particular appeal in South Asia.

And now, South Asian VW Beetle fans have a adorable new mascot. Move over, Disney’s Love Bug (thanks for tons of fun); welcome, Spinal Beetle!

My friend – and hero – Kanak Mani Dixit and his wife Shanta have just completed a 2,200 km (1,100 mile) journey in their nearly 40-year-old Beetle that took them from Kathmandu in Nepal to Peshawar in Pakistan. It was a 12-day, 3-country drive that was to raise funds for spinal injury treatment in Nepal.

By happy coincidence, I was in Kathmandu on 4 Nov 2011 when the President of Nepal waved off Kanak and Shanta on their journey from the President’s House. It was an informal gathering of friends and well-wishers — with none of the pomposity usually associated with heads of state.

So the photos in this post are all mine. The text that follows is from Kanak and his media team:

President Ram Baran Yadav about to send off Kanak Mani Dixit and Shanta Dixit on 12-day journey in Spinal Beetle - Photo by Nalaka Gunawardene

The ‘Great Nepal-India-Pakistan Spinal Beetle Drive’ arrived in Peshawar on 16 November, ending a 1100-mile odyssey that took the 1973 VW Beetle from Kathmandu through Lucknow, Agra, Delhi, Amritsar, Lahore, Islamabad and Rawalpindi.

“It was an exhilarating journey across the friendly landmass of Southasia, and I hope a pointer towards easy land-crossings for people from all our countries,” said Dixit. “Most of our journey was along the Grand Trunk Road, built originally by Sher Shah Suri in the 16th century. The 21st century demands that we open this highway for the people, commerce and ideas to flow.”

The journey of the sky-blue Beetle was conducted with three goals of promoting ‘land connectivity’ in Southasia, developing links between spinal injury institutions across the Subcontinent, and raising funds for the Spinal Injury Rehabilitation Centre in Nepal.

“The matter of land connectivity is important because airline links can never provide the mass-level contact that our people and economies deserve. One would want to see the same cacophony at the Atari-Wagah border as at the Nepal-India border of Bhairahawa-Sunauli,” said Dixit.

The trip was helpful in developing linkages between organisations such as the Spinal Centre in Nepal, the Indian Spinal Injuries Centre in Delhi (ISIC), the Mayo Hospital in Lahore, the National Institute for Rehabilitation Medicine in Islamabad, the Armed Forces Institute for Rehabilitation Medicine in Rawalpindi, and the Paraplegic Centre in Peshawar.

As for the goal of raising emergency funds for the Spinal Centre-Nepal in order to cope with sudden rise in demand for its services, Dixit said that a little over half of the USD 110,000 goal had been raised. “We hope to complete our goal through a retroactive campaign because the spinally injured of Nepal badly need support,” he said.

Dixit is a civil rights activist, writer and journalist who injured his spine in a trekking accident a decade ago. The Spinal Centre was started in 2002 and inaugurated by the late Sir Edmund Hillary.

Kanak and Shanta Dixit setting off on their long journey in Spinal Beetle from Sheetal Niwas on 4 Nov 2011 morning - Photo by Nalaka Gunawardene

In the ‘Spinal Beetle’ driven by Dixit, he was accompanied by Shanta Dixit, educator and founding member of the Spinal Centre-Nepal. The back-up car, a Mahindra Bolero, included VW Beetle specialist Naresh Nakarmi, Spinal Centre staff member Suman Khadka and Eelum Dixit, doing videography and photography. Social worker Meera Jyoti is chair of the Spinal Centre-Nepal.

The Spinal Beetle drive was flagged off on 4 November by President Ram Baran Yadav of Nepal. In New Delhi, it was received by Maj. H.P.S. Ahluwalia, founder of ISIC, as well as journalist Kuldip Nayar and actor Om Puri. The physicist and peace activist A.H. Nayyar received the Spinal Beetle at the Wagah-Atari border. Throughout the Southasian drive, the team was graciously hosted by members of the Pakistan-India People’s Forum for Peace and Democracy and other organisations, such as the Indian Doctors for Peace and Development in Agra, and Asha for Education in Lucknow.

Among the many interesting aspects of the trip, from the emotional to the historical, Dixit includes the following:

• The Spinal Beetle team responded to the request of 96-year-old Barkat Singh ‘Pahalwan’ of Jalandhar (Indian Punjab) that some earth be collected from his childhood village of Fatehgarh near Sialkot (Pakistani Punjab). Taking a detour from the GT Road, the team found the place, which had now become an urban suburb of Sialkot, and collected a jarful of agricultural earth for Barkat Singh. (for a picture of Barkat Singh and other images, go to ‘Selected Photographs’ on http://www.sirc.org.np)

• The memory of Sher Shah Suri, the Afghan sultan from present-day Bihar who ruled from Agra, followed the team through much of the route, which he had regularised in the mid-16th century as an administrative and commercial artery. His memory was revived by the ‘kos’ markers along the Delhi-Chandigarh stretch, a neglected postal station outside Wazirabad, the great roadside banyans providing shade to travellers then and now, and the Rohtas Fort on the approach to Rawalpindi.

A Nepali on wheelchair watches Spinal Beetle about to depart on a long journey to raise funds for people like him - Photo by Nalaka Gunawardene

• Having started in the Lumbini region of Nepal, where the Buddha was born more than 2,500 years ago, the Spinal Beetle ended its journey in the Gandhar region around Peshawar, a vast centre for Buddhist learning, art and architecture where the Sakyamuni was first etched in human form a few centuries later. In the Potohar Plateau near Islamabad, the Spinal Beetle visited the gigantic Buddhist stupa at the village of Manikyal.

• Arriving in Agra, the Spinal Beetle visited the Taj Mahal on the day of Eid ul-Azha. It arrived in Amritsar and visited Harminder Saheb (the Golden Temple) on the Guru Nanak’s birthday. Passing Gorkha District of Nepal (named after the Gorakhnath temple situated there), the Spinal Beetle traversed Gorakhpur, the base of the Nath sect, and ended its journey in Peshawar where the team visited the Gorakhnath Temple there, opened only a month ago after 60 years of closure. The Delhi-Amritsar leg of the journey was started with a visit to the dargah of Nizamuddin Aulia.

• After watching the mock-militarist show at the Wagah-Atari border between the Indian and Pakistani goose-stepping men in khaki, that very evening the team attended a play on Bhagat Singh and his fight for independence, put on by the Ajoka Theatre of Lahore.

• The Bharatpur government hospital in Chitwan District of Nepal was the first stop of the Spinal Beetle out of Kathmandu. The Bharatpur hospital sought help for setting up a spinal injury rehabilitation unit, which is in line with the Spinal Centre’s belief in decentralising rehabilitation. As a gesture of goodwill for the Nepal-India-Pakistan drive, the hospital committee donated NRs 50,000, which was gratefully received.

• In New Delhi, Maj. H.P.S. Ahluwalia of ISIC suggested that Dixit work to set up a Southasian network for spinal injury rehabilitation, given the specificity of the need. There was an enthusiastic response to this idea throughout the rest of the trip all the way to the Paraplegic Centre in Peshawar.

• At the Mayo Hospital in Lahore, the Medical Superintendent Dr. Zahid Pervaiz and Head of Rehabilitation Medicine Dr. Waseem Iqbal provided information on spinal injury and trauma response that had been developed in Pakistan. They graciously offered four-year full fellowships for two doctors to be sent by the Spinal Centre-Nepal.

Only a Nepali team and a German Bug could get past border babus like this!

• In Islamabad, the Nepal team got specific information on the response to the 2005 earthquake which hit Kashmir and the Hazara division. The team invited Pakistani specialists to Kathmandu to share information on the medical, rescue, social work and humanitarian aspects, so that Nepal would be better able to tackle the mega-tremor that is projected to hit Kathmandu Valley and surrounding areas before long.

• In Islamabad, activist and politician Nafisa Khattak introduced the team to the Melody Theatre, which had served as a staging ground for the sudden rush of victims from the 2005 earthquake. Poignantly, this only cinema hall of the city had been set to torch by a radical mob some years earlier.

• In Agra, members of the Indian Doctors for Peace and Development reminded the team that while there were 8-9 neurosurgeons in the city, there was no rehabilitation centre.

• The Volkswagen Club of Pakistan (VCP) took the Spinal Beetle under its wings in Islamabad and made sure that the car was made ship-shape after the climb up from the Punjab plains. Discussion was started with the club members about organising a VW Beetle rally from Islamabad all the way to Dhaka through India and via Kathmandu, as an exemplary means to develop people-to-people contact in the Subcontinent. This would require cooperation between the VCP, the Association of Nepal’s Beetle Users (ANBUG), the Volkswagen Club of Bangladesh and the Volkswagen Beetle community in India.

• At a meeting organised by the Pakistan-India People’s Forum for Peace and Democracy and the Islamabad Cultural Forum, Dixit spoke on the theme of ‘land connectivity’ in Southasia. “If on an old VW Beetle can do the Kathmandu-to-Peshawar trip with ease, imagine how easy it will be for everyone else.” At this time of geopolitical rapprochement between India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, a special push must be made for land connectivity, he added. “Let a hundred thousand networks bloom across Southasia, in the spectrum from spinal injury to VW Beetles and beyond, to bring the people together.”

More on the Spinal Beetle drive: The sudden rise of the number of patients over the last year has forced the Spinal Centre-Nepal to raise its service from 39 beds to 51. We seek to raise USD 110,000 from the 1,100 mile journey of the Spinal Beetle, at the ‘rate’ of USD 100 per mile from friends and supporters worldwide. By the time the Spinal Beetle arrived at Peshawar on 16 November, a little over half that amount had been raised. The Spinal Beetle Rally is also an effort to raise awareness of spinal injury prevention, rescue, care and rehabilitation in the Subcontinent.

The Spinal Beetle has done the Kathmandu-Dhaka stretch twice, in 2002 and 2005, and touched base at the Centre for the Rehabilitation of the Paralysed (CRP) in Bangladesh. The CRP would be a key institution in the networking of spinal injury rehabilitation institutions that is proposed.

The Spinal Beetle will carry their hopes and dreams across three countries, driven by that small man standing behind - Photo by Nalaka Gunawardene

Sri Lanka’s Sacred Cows and Orbital Dreams: Asking difficult questions

Holy cow! How does she do it?

Cows have been a part of South Asian cultures, economics and societies for millennia. Many among us are connected to cows in one way or another – some worship them while others feast on them. Even a secular vegetarian in South Asia – like myself – can’t avoid bumping into the occasional cow on our delightfully messy streets…

We probably gave the term ‘sacred cow’ to the English language. It means an object or practice which is considered immune from criticism, especially unreasonably so. As the Wikipedia explains, “The term is based on the popular understanding of the place of cows in Indian religions as objects that have to be treated with respect, no matter how inconvenient.”

Well, some of us beg to differ on modern-day sacred cows. My latest op ed essay, just published on Groundviews.org, is all about sacred cows in rapidly modernising South Asia. It starts with my experience as a young science journalist covering the impending launch of Pakistan’s first digital communications satellite, Badr 1, in early 1990.

At the time, Pakistan had recently returned to civilian rule after many years of dictatorship, and Benazir Bhutto was Prime Minister (in her first term). The political mood was generally upbeat. But I soon found out — from Pakistani journalists and independent scientists — that they weren’t allowed to ask critical questions about the country’s nuclear or space programmes.

In Sacred Cows and Orbital Dreams in Sri Lanka, I write: “The message was clear: democracy or not, some sacred cows always enjoy their privileged status! This has certainly been the case with both the space and nuclear programmes in India and Pakistan: they have been shielded from public and media scrutiny for decades.

What price for having our own?

“For the past few months, it seemed as if we too were following this South Asian tradition. Plans to build Sri Lanka’s own satellites were announced and pursued with little information disclosure and no public debate. The government wanted to launch our very own ‘sacred cows’ into orbit. We the public were to just applaud on cue, and then cough up the money for it…”

The essay is a critique of Sri Lanka’s much hyped plans to build its own satellites. The project was announced in February 2009 and appeared to gain momentum during the year. Going by official statements and media reports, the plan was to launch not one but two satellites.

Suddenly, there seems to be a change of heart. In a interview on 6 June 2010 covering a range of issues, head of the Telecom Regulatory Commission (TRC) disclosed that the government was not going ahead with the much-hyped project. At least not in its originally announced form. The reason: the very high cost, and the need to ‘explore other options such as hiring satellites’ instead of building our own.

Hmmm. Better to be wise later than never. This is the first time in over 15 months that the high costs of this high cost project have been acknowledged.

The satellite is not the only mega-science project being pursued in post-war Sri Lanka. In June 2009, the Ministry of Science and Technology directed the Atomic Energy Authority to set up a national committee to study technical and financial aspects of setting up a nuclear power plant.

Again, this mega project has not been opened up for public discussion and debate, in spite of a few citizens and activists expressing concern, highlighting safety and public health risks, high cost of construction and the unresolved problem of nuclear waste disposal.

I end the essay arguing that as long as public safety and public funds are involved, sacred cows – whether orbital or radioactive – can’t be allowed free range.

Read the full essay on Groundviews: Sacred Cows and Orbital Dreams in Sri Lanka

A compact version appeared in The Sunday Times, 13 June 2010: Sri Lanka’s Satellite: Lost in Space?