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How to make Sri Lanka great again?


by Victor Cherubim

2018 was a year of high drama and low comedy in Sri Lanka. 2019 ought to be a year of rising hope and filled with great expectation. But with the preparation for elections Presidential, Parliamentary and Provincial Councils later this year political uncertainty is going to be the predominant theme?

Our mounting debt may get messy, to avoid default. The only question is: How big a mess are we going to be in by the time we find a way out of our troubles? Standing in the rain and blaming the weatherman is useless. We will all still get wet.


People around the country, especially the rural poor, whether they live in the South or the North, have to take the impact what is thrown at them and prepare for the consequences, no matter how unpleasant.

There will be casualties as investment in infrastructure is delayed and consumers hold back on making financial commitments. The impact of decisions not made or delayed until the election is over, is another possibility and more difficult to visualise. It will take mind and mood to shape feeding existing negative feelings caused by the prevailing uncertainty.

Every disaster is an opportunity

Thoreau wrote “it’s not what you look at, but you see,” which matters. The progress we spend so much of our time striving for does not rid us of any of our problems. It just alters the shape of them.

We need to get on with it and look at least two possible scenarios, and take action in the year ahead.

Drainage

People anywhere and everywhere in Sri Lanka have to make the most of change. The things we can do to make us happier and healthier should attract priority. Rural Sri Lanka has over time been starved of an efficient and effective drainage system. We need to make rural communities safer and more active and to protect and initiate natural water in rural areas. Conservation of water resources is a necessity in 2019.

The proposal of channelling Iranamadu Tank water to Jaffna has been taken seriously by the new Governor of Northern Province. It was revealed by Irrigation Engineers that only 40% of the water capacity of Iranamadu Tank is used for agricultural purposes. The remaining 60% flows into the sea or lagoon and is wasted. A project proposal of supplying the excess water leaking into the sea can be diverted with a drainage project for Jaffna? It may take years but you have to start sometime, somewhere. Funding for this project is available from the World Bank.

Sri Lanka is considered a country of abundant water resources, with an annual per capita water supply of 2,400 cm. However, there are frequent water scarcities in many parts of the country, as a result of “spatial and temporal “variations of rainfall and changing weather patterns. Currently we are told 84% of the water is used for agricultural development. However, in the past two decades, due to rapid urbanisation there is increased demand in towns.

The Government of Sri Lanka is unable to satisfy this demand due to the present lack of resources and the lack of private overseas investment appetite. It is willing however, to encourage the private sector and community based organisations to take over water supply schemes for supply of drinking and domestic water.

The biggest bugbear is fear of contamination of water. This fear is not only in water supply but in other aspects of livelihood. Attempts to legislate have constantly been opposed, sometimes rightly by the Opposition, other interested parties and by some environmental groups.

But can we live in a permanent mode of fear? If that is the case there won’t be any private water companies supplying water and drainage around the world. Our problem, in a nutshell, is we have no clue of a regulatory mechanism and we need to get it done fast before the Central Bank uses up all our reserves for Debt Management Services, or before we resource Chinese, Indian further bonds and loans.

Water supply implementation and drainage system projects are an absolute necessity, which need to be seriously addressed before the elections. Pipe borne water and access to domestic water has improved sanitation and land values around the world. If we keep changing our leaders every so often and our administrators have no long term strategic plans to make implementation possible, we become a third grade nation, because water and drainage is the measure of progress.

Sexual violence

We recently saw many hundreds of thousands of women from various walks of life participate shoulder to shoulder in a parade called “ Women’s Wall in Kerala” in the beginning of January 2019. The 620 km long state sponsored campaign stretching from north to south of the State of Kerala was aimed at “gender equality and renaissance values.”

Don’t ask me what renaissance values mean? But we all know and want women, particularly rural women to have the right to be free from violence, slavery, debt bondage and discrimination, to be educated, to own property, to vote and to contest elections and to earn a fair and equal living wage. A snapshot of women being forced to work abroad on meagre wages, terms and conditions leaving their young children at the mercy of family caretakers, has to be regulated so that they are not unduly discriminated.

Besides, where is the legislation enforced for violation in the home, harassment inside public transport, crowded buses and trains, abortion, unregulated adoption, property and employment rights, dowry discrimination, among others?

There is however, no doubt, that women in Sri Lanka are far better off than in many other countries, but they are still far from being equal with men in the workplace?
Here again, the paranoia of fear reigns. We need to overcome this anxiety condition if we want to progress. Of course, certain things have improved for women but still Parliament is stubbornly male dominated. We hope more women will take up the opportunity of contesting the next elections in the year ahead to right any anomalies.

Life with possibilities  
      
Life is rife with possibility and opportunity. Let us set a goal and stop when we reach it, as fear of the unknown is time wasted and cannot be regained.

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