‘Poison Dump of the East’?



Tuesday 29th August, 2023

Has Sri Lanka, which was once known as the Granary of the East become the Poison Dump of the East? A study carried out by the Centre for Environmental Justice (CEJ) has revealed that 40 out of 139 pesticides used in this country are highly hazardous and cause serious diseases such as cancer besides reducing fertility in humans.

Sri Lanka has become a dumping ground for substandard medicines and harmful food products. Hardly a day passes without a death or two allegedly caused by substandard drugs being reported. Nobody has been held accountable for this sorry state of affairs, and the government’s cavalier attitude is sickening. Health Minister Keheliya Rambukwella and the Health Ministry mandarins trot out lame excuses, and the crooks who procure poor-quality and contaminated pharmaceuticals and make a killing get off scot-free. No wonder public faith in the state-funded healthcare system is eroding rapidly.

Health professionals, especially doctors, are trying their best to convince the public that the state-run healthcare institutions are safe, but it is only natural that the people are wary of seeking treatment there. Instead of taking action to rid the Health Ministry of corruption, ensure the safety of patients, save state funds, and restore the people’s faith in the public health sector, President Ranil Wickremesinghe has chosen to dare the Opposition to go ahead with its no-faith motion against the Health Minister, who is under a cloud!

As if the danger posed by substandard pharmaceuticals were not enough, the country is awash with harmful food colourings and flavour enhancers, and recycled cooking oil, according to media reports. The Public Health Inspectors and the Consumer Affairs Authority officials are doing precious little to prosecute the errant restaurant owners for selling food items containing substances that endanger people’s health. Moreover, the Excise Department and the police baulk at cracking down on illicit breweries where artificial toddy, which is notorious for its toxic chemical composition, is manufactured. Illicit liquor manufacturers with political connections, corrupt Excise officers and police bigwigs laugh all the way to the bank; those who consume the toxic brew end up in government hospitals, where they run the risk of being killed by substandard drugs.

The CEJ has also revealed that the use of the aforesaid dangerous pesticides, some of which have been banned in other countries, was approved by the Registrar of Pesticides (ROP) in 2016. Has ROP taken upon itself the task of controlling the country’s population by snuffing out lives and reducing human fertility. A spokesman for ROP has reportedly said no internationally-banned agrochemicals have been approved here, but in this country, nobody believes anything until it is officially denied.

A thorough probe must be conducted into the findings of the CEJ study, and if the pesticides concerned are found to be highly hazardous, those who registered them, permitting their use here, must be brought to justice immediately. Minister of Agriculture Mahinda Amaraweera is reported to have called for a report from ROP on the hazardous pesticides named by the CEJ. One can only hope that his directive will be carried out expeditiously, but there is no guarantee that ROP will tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, for some of its officials are allegedly involved in unethical practices. Will Minister Amaraweera entrust the task of conducting a probe to a group of independent experts?

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa blundered by imposing an ill-conceived blanket ban on agrochemicals, and ruining the agricultural sector. The present-day rulers have gone to the other extreme; they are allowing even extremely hazardous pesticides to be imported. The government must ensure that only agrochemicals that conform to international standards are allowed here; it must not hesitate to ban the highly hazardous ones that endanger the lives of humans and harm the environment.


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