Role of Engineers In Sustainable Infrastructure Development

May 2021 |SLEN Podcast

In the seventh episode of the SLEN Podcast, Eng. Chamil Edirimuni speaks with the Secretary to the State Ministry of Rural Roads and other Infrastructure, Vice President of IESL,Chairman, Green Building Council of Sri Lanka, Eng. Prof. Ranjith Dissanayake about Sustainable Green Construction in a Sustainable Built Environment. .

Eng. Chamil Edirimuni:

You are listening to the IESL SLEN Podcast, featuring a wide range of conversations on diverse engineering and non-engineering sectors of national importance. I am Eng. Chamil Edirimuni, and today, for our 7th podcast, we have a special guest. He holds quite different roles simultaneously, in the capacity of a senior professor in Civil Engineering at the University of Peradeniya, also as one of the Vice President of IESL and further as the Secretary to the State Ministry of Rural Roads and Other Infrastructure. Let us warmly welcome Eng. Prof. Ranjith Dissanayake for today's discussion.

Prof. Ranjith Dissanayake:

Hello Eng. Chamil

Eng. Chamil:

Sir, this is my first question to you. As an academic and also as an entrepreneur in the field of civil engineering, your involvement in Sustainable Built Environment is quite remarkable.

Could you please explain to us the importance of sustainable green construction in the context of today’s Sri Lankan construction industry?

Prof. Dissanayake:

Chamil, in conventional construction, or what we called as built environment, while we are building the infrastructure, we may end up with a lot of environmental issues, that we see today, such as waste in the land, water and air. Not only that, we also consume a lot of energy while building the built environment.

In fact, the construction industry accounts for nearly 36% of the energy use, as well as 40% of the Carbon Dioxide emission which results in a huge damage that we are doing through the construction industry. When we go to sustainable construction, or sometimes we call it building a sustainable built environment, it is planned to reduce the environment issues and the energy and water consumption as much as possible.

Eng. Chamil :

Sir, you know that in all stages in the building construction process, there may be many things to be looked at in terms of sustainability. You can briefly explain about some key aspects that need to be considered to make a building a far better environment friendly product.

Prof. Dissanayake:

Chamil, there are several criteria that we consider in the sustainable construction. Some of them are sustainable sites, energy efficiency and water efficiency. We are looking at the indoor environment quality of the building that we are building and material and resources efficiency, which directly influence the reduction of the environmental issues as well as the resources consumption.

Therefore, let me explain how it effects. In the built environments, say, when you want to build a new structure. It can either be a road or a building, but there can be an old structure. So what we do in the sustainable built environment, rather than demolishing this one? We try to repair or reuse or recycle or something like that. We're not going to demolish It and put it as a dump. So, we try to make use of the structure.

Some other aspects are available. In order to get the energy that we require we will go for the green energy, may be the wind or the solar panels. Similarly, the water requirement. We try to satisfy at least a part of the water requirement by Rainwater Harvesting. Then again, if you are constructing a building we would like to encourage to get the daylight in to the building itself. At the end of the day, resource consumption will be reduced by doing sustainable construction.

Eng. Chamil :

…as well as you will save the natural resources.

Prof. Dissanayake:

Of course.

Eng. Chamil :

You may have heard about the recent public outcries against the destruction of the natural environments, especially the destruction of forest covers to build roads and highways.

You are the Secretary of State Ministry of Rural Roads and other infrastructure. The fingers are pointing at your ministry on these environmental issues.

Being an engineer, who advocates environment-friendly sustainable development, what do you have to say about these criticisms? Adding to that, are you practicing any alternative strategies to compensate for the possible environmental impact of these road development projects?

Prof. Dissanayake:

Yes, Chamil, a lot!

In our Ministry we mainly built roads and bridges. You can’t develop any infrastructure without damaging the environment. That is true. But we have taken a lot of measures.

Not only just implementing those measures within the activities that we are doing, also we have few other programs too, you might have heard. We have a launched the program “Magadepasa Thuruwewana - Surakumata Parisaraya” ("මග දෙපස තුරු සෙවන - සුරැකුමට පරිසරය") that simply in almost all the roads, including existing roads, we are trying to plant two million (2,000,000) trees during next four years. Right now close to 50,000 trees have been already planted. So we're trying to build up to two million trees.

Not only that. Before, when I was in the Ministry of Urban Development, we developed a program called “Surakimu Ganga” (“සුරකිමු ගංගා”). We have 103 rivers. We would like to make sure that we have clearer rivers. You can't do it tomorrow. you can’t do it even within the next five years, but in the course of may be 10, 15 years’ time, we would like to make sure that our trees, rivers are cleaner.

In general, if somebody want to drink the water in case of an emergency, we have to make sure that the rivers are clean up to that level. That is the program which is called “Surakimu Ganga”. Like just I mentioned, we are always trying to make sure that while building our infrastructure, mainly roads and bridges, we are targeting to go for Environment Protection.

Eng. Chamil :

Thank you for your Answer, it was very comprehensive. This one I should ask from you.

You are one of the rare engineers who have been involved in active party politics. We know that in some developed countries, a big portion of the country’s Cabinet of Ministers are engineers! However, in this part of the world, politics is quite a different ball game.

Do you believe that, by engaging in active politics, engineers can do a far better service to the country? Or else, by joining politics, will the engineers too fall into the same vicious political system?

Prof. Dissanayake:

I look at it in this way. We are a developing nation. My understanding is that when you look at the developed nations, while those are at their developing stage, to get it correctly, mainly the contribution of engineers is very important.

That is why we, a group of engineers, thought we should help the government. So, we are now helping the government. There are few Secretaries, Chairmen, and many in the Director Boards. Not only that Chamil, for the last one and half years’ time, the government had a lot of confidence on us. Actually, we have right now, converted few organizations which were running at a loss earlier, to profitable organizations. Having that confidence on our group of engineers, now the government is asking our support for a list of organizations, that they wanted to make profitable.

Now we are not only doing our service only to the organizations which are being run by ourselves, but also to some other organizations as well. Now a group of engineers are visiting some of these organizations and discussing with them and we are giving them our ability to make those organizations sustainable, profitable and develop other areas wherever possibilities are there. Like while we have not only engaged with the government, for the time being, we are getting the trust of the government and we are helping the government to come up with this situation.

herefore, I think Chamil It is important. When you look at any nation developed, for an example, I remember when I looked at the list of Cabinet Ministers of Singapore, I understood that more than 50% of them are engineers and that means they have the understanding of engineers’ value. We have to keep in mind in the process of development, engineers’ involvement is very important.

Therefore, I think that we made the right decision to help the government as engineers. Rather than getting into dirty politics we can give our knowledge to that one. We have to show our capability because being engineers, we can think logically, we can solve problem analytically. So, they have understood our power. That is what I can say. For the time being, I’m very happy that I joined the government and doing some work with the government of Sri Lanka.

Eng. Chamil :

My last question to you, sir. Being an academic, an educator, entrepreneur as well as a key state officer what is your final message to the young engineers on their contribution towards the engineering industry and national interest?

Prof. Dissanayake:

If you are an engineer, whatever the field that you are working on, first you must know your subject well. That is very important. Then you have to think a little bit because of the country situation, think out of the box, then again, be resilient. These are the most important thing that I believe that we must have.

Being a developing nation we engineers can do a lot for the nation. Therefore, knowing your subject, thinking out of the box, becoming resilient getting to the field and do something for this nation. That is what we are lacking. We need the people who really can do the work. That is what the government wants.

We engineers can do it! Get ready for it! That is my message to the young engineers.

Eng. Chamil :

We engineer, we can do it!

Thank you very much to you sir. Prof. Ranjith Dissanayake for spending your valuable time to share timely insights based on your vast experience. We wish you all the success in your future endeavours.

Prof. Dissanayake:

Thank you Chamil and all.

Eng. Chamil :

So, that is it. That is the end of our discussion. This is engineer Chamil Edirimuni from SLEN podcast. Have a great day. Thank you.

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