The Official E-Newsletter of the Institution of Engineers Sri Lanka   |  Issue 46 - January 2020


Eng. Lalith Pallegama

'Environmental Protection and Sustainable Development in Sri Lanka' - resolution to adhere for all Engineers in year 2020. '

Year 2020 marks the beginning of a new era, and as the window to conjure up and restyle can provide the motivation and drive to overhaul by absorbing decorous perceptions. Sustainability has been discussed extensively during the previous year and yet, remain as one of the most tempting topics. Understanding the significance of 'sustainability' United Nations (UN) has delayered 17 sustainable development goals (SGDs); Millennium Development Goals. Sustainable development is the challenge to meet current human needs from natural resources, industrial products, energy, food, transportation, shelter and effective waste management while conserving and enhancing earths environmental quality. Engineering as an art of applying science to get the best from natural resources, has a major role to play achieving sustainability goals. By doing so engineers are obliged to go all out to protect the environment and to preserve the earth.

Though Sri Lanka is blessed with natural green, during past couple of decades numerous environmental concerns raised above the ground. Deforestation; soil erosion; wildlife populations threatened by poaching and urbanization; coastal degradation from mining activities and increased pollution; freshwater resources being polluted by industrial waste and sewage runoff; waste disposal; and air pollution in Colombo and other cities due to emissions from motor vehicles and factories and other industrial establishments are few noteworthy issues we had to address. Deforestation being the most significant issue has not been spoken clearly by the authorities or by public. According to Dr Ravindra Kariyawasam (Center for Environment & Nature Studies), Sri Lanka had a forest density of 82% in 1882. Fast forward to 2019, Sri Lanka's forest density stands at a shocking 16.5%. Forest covers were greatly removed due to farming actives, plantation, formation of irrigation networks, and to provide timber for constructions and fuel. These ill upshots to the environment have always followed by natural disasters such as flood, landslides, droughts, wildfire, storms etc.

It has been acknowledged that government policies are not effective in protecting the environment. Government policies have always focused on increasing the revenue by expanding plantations and production of timber. Sri Lankan governments association with multinational organizations has brought grave damage to the environment and least action has been taken to recompense the consequences. Foremost issue with government policies is that 'sustainability' has not been reflected and hasn't considered the long run. With the recent regime change in the country new government policy has been proposed by the President, namely 'Saubagyaye Dakma'. Policy proposal has identified Sustainable Environmental Management as a key policy of the government. Further the policy statement says that "The ultimate aim of all governments in the world is to achieve a series of desirable objectives such as the reduction of poverty, a healthy population, education for all, and a clean environment etc. which are among the 17 SGDs of the UN" highlighting 'sustainability' as the basis for the proposed government policy. In the policy statement president has stated to take necessary action to increase the total forest area of the country to 30% of the total land area of the country, which is a significant number compared to the current 16.5% forest cover. The proposal is to incorporate urban and semi urban areas as well in the reforestation process. Contrast to the preceding government policies on sustainable environment, this is a huge leap.

Bhutan is an interesting case on the subject of sustainable environment. The total forest area as reported by the Ministry of Agriculture in the 1995 Land Cover Figures for Bhutan (National Figures) is 29,045 square kilometers which constitutes about 72.5 percent of the land area. As reported in FRA 2005 Bhutan's forest area increased by about +0.33 percent during 2000-2005 (FAO, 2005). Going against the rest of the world trying to industrialize by reducing the forest cover Bhutan has opt to shoot up the forest cover. As we have to cope with environmental problems such as global warming, ozone layer depletion, polar ice caps melting, lowered biodiversity etc. in global scale, we too must consider 'sustainability'.

Engineering has a key role to play achieving sustainability. Though engineering will not be able to address all the sustainable goals, many can be tackled. As Engineers we solve the problems based on mathematics and logic to make human life easy and comfortable. To solve a problem, we have to consider many factors that is imposed by legislated authority. Besides that, it is also our responsibility to put into consideration the sustainable development and environmental protection of the country. Engineers responsibility towards environment protection cannot be denied and it also reflects in the code of ethics.

Our environment is intricate, made up of interacting systems of water, air, land, organic and inorganic matter and living organisms. Upholding a healthy environment for current and future generations requires the collaboration of individuals, organizations and government. Using a balanced, coordinated approach, we can protect the health, prosperity, and environmental integrity of our communities. As engineers I sincerely hope that in year 2020, we all should pay significant attention in protecting environment and sustainability.

Wishing you all a very Happy New Year!

Eng. Lalith Pallegama
Editor – SLEN