By Dr. Tilak S. Fernando reporting from Colombo

The currents of ancient culture and splendor have swept like a tidal wave across Sri Lanka for centuries shaping the island with colourful and natural beauty in the form of mountains, lakes, waterfalls, rivers and a rich flora and fauna. In the heart of Kandy, nestled among hills and the most popular and venerated Buddhist icon, Dalada Maligawa, is equally the historic Kandy Lake surrounded by a 'Cloud wall'.

This lake, built by the last king of Ceylon, Sri Wickrema Rajasinghe, spans over an area of 19.10 hectors of land, surrounding a perimeter of 3.37 km with a maximum depth of 18.24 meters. Ceylon history reveals that during the Kandyan kingdom water from this lake was used to meet all royal household requirements; subsequently the local residents started to consume water from the Lake for decades.

Until very recently, approximately up to two decades ago, fresh water from this lake was suitable for human consumption. However, with the explosion of population and the breakdown of moral and social fabric in this conurbation, pollution has taken root towards unprecedented levels due to man losing respect for environment and natural water resources by becoming 'stooges' of a 'tap water cult'. The result we experience today is quite obvious. People who used to adorate water once upon a time are polluting the very water today by releasing filth and garbage into it. This is evident from the mass contamination taking place in Kandy from the muck that pours into the Kandy Lake in the form of waste from hotels, buildings and the hospital etc. In some instances even the sewage tanks too are allowed to open up to the lake.

Why is such a sad situation allowed to continue into a degrading state of affairs? The Municipal Council appears to point a finger at insufficient gullies or drains in Kandy to dispose of the polluted water effectively. However, cynics see it differently as an excuse only, due to high costs involved in overcoming the problem. Another argument put forward on this dreadful situation appears to be the congestion in the city due expansion of buildings as much as streets becoming narrower as a consequence. Nonetheless, the management of gullies in this city has now become an absolute nightmare! Also it is said that the polluted water disposed by the gullies are purified in tanks built for this very purpose in a village called Gohaboda. According to experts view point such tanks are inadequate for the task!

Currently the Government and Irrigation Department's efforts in taking the initiative, by spending vast amounts of money on the reconstruction work to bring this Lake back to its original condition, whereby people can reap true benefits out of a rejuvenated and clean reservoir need to be recognized. Yet, such temporary solutions will only be seen as a short-term remedy to overcome a precarious situation that already exists. What is needed today is a long-term and a permanent solution to protect the environment.

So what are the basic ingredients that are necessary to surmount this problem? Firstly it is vitally important to educate the people of Kandy with the importance of environmental conservation activities that the government is taking to undo this catastrophe. The government also needs to identify nationals who specialize in environmental issues and obtain maximum assistance from them. Equally, it is vitally important to identify any elements in the society who are, hell bent on only selfish activities with any ulterior motives, coming forward only for their own gains and try to challenge the knowledge and the skills of the experts. It is, therefore, very important to distinguish between the true friends of the environment as against the imposters, who at times may appear in the form of politicians whose aim would be only towards their political advantages.

Another important factor in government's efforts to clean up the Lake should not only be to concentrate on removing mud and sludge which have become breeding grounds for bacteria. As much as purifying the polluted water, steps are needed to ensure and protect and maintain water springs in the lake and the surrounding areas alike.

The final outcome of such an exercise should not only be to look at the polluted element of the Lake but also to focus on the living creatures in such waters as they too have an equal right, like human beings, to live comfortably. Of late, there have been many newspaper articles highlighting the poisonous state of water in the Lake, when dead fish started to float on the polluted waters. Whilst it has been the main topic for a limited period of time by the news media to draw attention to this issue, the heat has seemingly died down without finding a proper and constructive solution for this problem.

Time is running out fast. Pollution in the Kandy Lake does not mean that the whole environment around the sacred city should be allowed to stink up to high heaven. But it means ill health for thousands of inhabitants living in the area as well as for those who visit this tourist town. This, therefore, is the most opportune moment for everyone to rally round and pay more attention to water and cleanliness.

Many governments, present and past, have been trying to bring the water management in the country to center stage, but so far no proper or remedial action has been taken to any satisfactory level. It is also alleged that from time to time several vital decisions taken on the subject have been allowed to procrastinate at a snail's pace. Therefore, along with the reconstruction work of the Lake, a new project aiming at maintaining clean water needs to be initiated. For this purpose the existing laws are said to be quite adequate and accommodative, but what is vitally important would be the co-operation and participation of the people as a single unit. If we are to concentrate sincerely in keeping our national wealth (the water) clean, it is also no point in just focusing on the Kandy Lake only, as it alone will not solve the water problem in the country. There are many other waterways in the country in village level with polluted water that need attention as thousands upon thousands of innocent villagers are daily suffering from polluted water related diseases while many young children are recorded dying as a result.

Today mother Lanka has produced intelligent and intellectual children whom she can depend on, and be proud of, but the unfortunate factor is that due to numerous reasons what mother Lanka has lost has been a vital gain so far, for many other countries abroad. Therefore, it is the bounden duty of every Sri Lankan to cooperate and support any developmental efforts of the government by putting aside their political attachments and start working on a common national theme to save our valuable waterways, which are our national wealth. As citizens of Sri Lanka shouldn't we have an obligatory responsibility to work in unity and harmony towards a common national goal by keeping our environments and waterways clean? Now that the government has taken the initiative to battle against water pollution it would be best that a water-purifying campaign should start from Kandy and every citizen should support it.


14 April 05



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