Archive for the ‘United Nations’ Category

Threatened dugongs thrown a lifeline

March 28, 2017

The dugong is the most threatened marine mammal likely to disappear from our waters, but there are efforts to save the species reports Malaka Rodrigo. Published on SundayTimes on 26.03.2017  http://www.sundaytimes.lk/170326/news/threatened-dugongs-thrown-a-lifeline-234096.html

A Dugong (Dugong dugon) swims in the Red Sea (c) Fergus Kenedy

Thirteen dugongs were killed last year, according an informal survey in the North Western coastal areas by marine activists. This is one dugong killed every month and considering their rarity, is worrying, says Prasanna Weerakkody of Ocean Resources Conservation Association.

A dugong washed ashore on Nadukuda beach in December, 2016 (c) ORCA

The latest dugong deaths occurred December last year. A carcass was found on Nadukuda beach in Mannar. A few weeks earlier, another carcass washed ashore near Thavilpadu beach. Fishing activities using explosives are common in the nearby Vankalai Coral Reef and marine activists initially thought dynamite had killed the dugong found in Nadukuda.

“Through informal discussions with fishermen, we found out that one dugong had been trapped in a net. The fishermen knew it was illegal to pull it ashore and had it anchored under water to collect it when the navy is not around. But the carcass got loose and washed ashore,” revealed Weerakkody. There could be many other dugong deaths that go unreported, he said.

Dugongs are also called mermaids of the sea because some sightings of mermaids are actually misidentified dugongs seen from afar

The dugong is also known as the ‘sea cow’ for its habit of grazing on the seagrasses on the ocean bed. Seagrass is different from seaweeds (which is an algae) and are actually more closely related to the flowering plants with roots, stems, leaves, flowers and seeds. Seagrasses can form dense underwater meadows and an adult dugong consumes as much as 45 kg seagrass according to experts.

Dugongs are vulnerable to extinction because they are killed directly or indirectly by human-related activities, which include fishing, coastal development and hunting. The seagrasses on which they depend are thought to be one of the most threatened ecosystems on Earth.

In 2015, the “Dugong and Seagrass Conservation Project” was initiated to improve protection and conservation of dugongs and their seagrass habitats around the world, said United Nation’s Environment Program (UNEP)’s Max Zieren who recently visited Sri Lanka. Indonesia, Madagascar, Malaysia, Mozambique, Solomon Islands, Sri Lanka, Timor Leste and Vanuatu is part of the project, which is the first coordinated effort, he added.

In Sri Lanka, the project focuses on the northwest region, namely the Gulf of Mannar and Palk Bay where dugongs have been recorded. The project is coordinated by the Department of Wildlife Conservation and eight other partner organisations are supporting.

Sugath Emmanuel, local fisherman and diver in Kalpitiya, said he had not seen a dugong alive. He recalled eating dugong flesh during his childhood, in an area where many dugongs were caught. The flesh was considered a local delicacy. Hundreds of dugongs were killed before it was outlawed in the 1970s. Now, about 90 percent of the dugong killings are accidental or by-catch.  

Dugongs are categorised as ‘vulnerable’ in IUCN’s threatened species list considering global populations, but they can be ‘critically endangered’ in Sri Lankan waters, says Arjan Rajasuriya, project manager of International Union of Conservation of Nature (IUCN). He has been diving for the past 30 years, but has yet to see a dugong alive.

IUCN’s responsibility in the project aims at establishing an additional 10,000 hectares of marine protected area in the Gulf of Mannar and Palk Bay. Rajasuriya says dynamite fishing should be halted.

The project also aims to raise awareness among people and also give incentives to abandon illegal fishing methods. Project partner, Sri Lanka Turtle Conservation Project, is seeking to reduce the negative impact of destructive fishing practices on seagrass habitats and provide income generation opportunities to local communities in return for their commitments for the prudent use of habitat and natural resources in the Puttlam lagoon.

The Biodiversity Education and Research NGO has taken on the education aspect of the project, especially targeting schools. Ranil Nanayakkara, who heads the group, says the response from school children has been positive.

The overall project is financed by Global Environment Facility (GEF) and Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP / UN Environment)  supports its implementation together with the Memorandum of Understanding on the Conservation and Management of Dugongs and their Habitats throughout their Range of the Convention on Migratory Species.

Dr Lakshman Peiris, who is the project manager of DWC, said the Wildlife Department was focused on addressing marine issues with the establishment of a special unit.

The Sunday Times also asked Peiris what will happen after the four-year project ends in 2018. “The project will give us lots of information. We will create a management plan and will make sure its implementation together with other strategic partners such as Department of Fisheries, Coast Conservation & Coastal Resources Management Department, and the Marine Environment Protection Authority. The Sri Lanka Navy and Sri Lanka Coast Guard can give us lots of support by monitoring and stopping illegal activities,’’ Peiris added.

Dugongs are also found in the Indian part of the Gulf of Mannar, but unfortunately India is not part of the project. Marine biologists say India too needs to get on board. Peiris of the DWC said plans are underway to increase coordination between two countries.

Marine biologists also stress the need for action, once a strategy to save the dugongs are made. “Since the dugong is a charismatic species, we can use activities geared to protecting it to also help us to provide a refuge for other threatened marine creatures,” marine expert Rajasuriya said.

Experts gather to discuss future of Dugongs 

The third Meeting of Signatories to the Memorandum of Understanding on the Conservation of Dugongs and their habitats (Dugong MOU) was held last week in Abu-dhabi. A number of DWC and NARA officials participated at the meeting representing Sri Lanka that signed the Dugong MOU on 2012.

IUCN’s Sirenia Specialist Group (dugongs and manatees)’s Sri Lankan representative Ranil Nanayakkara said the gathering provided a good platform to learn about conservation initiatives used by experts in other countries

Surveying Seagrass habitats

Tech tools track dugongs
The National Aquatic Resources Research and Development Agency has developed seagrass mapping methodology and is doing research to produce seagrass maps on distribution, species composition, density and status, and threats in Mannar, Palk Bay and Palk Strait.
Prasanna Weerakkody says sonar is being used to identify seagrass beds. These are then mapped and what varieties of seagrass available in that area is marked. The Ocean Resources Conservation Association team is using drones above shallow waters to map the areas. “We particularly focus on areas in which fishermen say they had seen dugongs in the past,’’ Weerakkody said. “To conserve, we first need to know where dugongs are.’’
He says informal investigations are necessary to find out where dugongs are being caught. DWC’s Channa Suraweera showed us a new mobile app they had developed to get more records of exact dugong sightings. When a dugong is seen, a fisherman who has the mobile app can record its exact GPS location while taking a photo at the same time.

Mannar Dugong carcass washed ashore in November, 2016

Dugong also attracts tourists

Toxic waste water disposal goes on unchecked

March 26, 2017
World Water Day falls on 22nd of March. This article was published on SundayTimes on 17.03.2017http://www.sundaytimes.lk/170319/news/toxic-waste-water-disposal-goes-on-unchecked-233273.html

A canal brings pollutants into the Kelani River. Note the difference in colour of the water

Industrial waste water and municipal sewage released untreated poses a danger to Sri Lanka’s environment, experts warn on the eve of World Water Day, which falls on Wednesday  (March 22).

The theme this year is “waste water” with the campaign focusing on reducing and reusing waste water.

Globally, over 80 per cent of the waste water generated by society flows back into the ecosystem without being treated or reused, says a United Nation’s report. This has been the case even locally, water experts in Sri Lanka say.

“Most collected waste water in Sri Lanka is released to surface water bodies and eventually the ocean without any treatment. Even Colombo has so far only a sea outfall for its waste water,” says Pay Drechsel researcher at International Water Management Institute (IWMI).

A recent study by the Ministry of Environment in partnership with UNICEF and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) reveals that pollution in the Kelani River basin is severe and industrial waste water as well as domestic waste water aggravates the pollution.

A separate study by the Environmental Foundation Limited to identify industries located along the river mapped facilities that discharge waste water to the river.

Service stations are another major waste water generating source, but the discharge goes directly to natural water sources.

These polluting industries and service stations should not be allowed on river and stream banks, says Kusum Athukorala of Sri Lanka Water Partnership. She suggests zoning laws that restrict these into industrial zones.

Apart from industrial polluters, there are also households which discharge their effluents into rivers and water bodies.

The World Health Organisation says in a 2014 report that 1.8 billion people use a source of drinking water contaminated with faeces, putting them at risk of contracting cholera, dysentery, typhoid, and polio. Unsafe water, poor sanitation and hygiene cause around 842,000 deaths each year.

“Too many toilets pits in business premises and houses in wayside communities such as Gampola and Pilimatalawa seem to lead directly into streams and rivers. “Trucks transporting sewage are often seen dumping loads into main rivers such as the Kelani in places such as Sedawatta,” said Kusum Athukorala, chairperson of Sri Lanka Water Partnership.

Most households rely on septic tanks or pit latrines. However, there are only very few treatment plants for human waste collected from these pits or septic tanks, once they fill up. Only 1 per cent of the excreta (fecal sludge) are treated. Due to the lack of dumping/treatment sites, illegal dumping in landfills is common, and surface and groundwater can get heavily polluted, points out IWMI researcher Drechsel.

Due to population growth, accelerated urbanisation and economic development, the waste water volumes and pollution are increasing globally.

This will be an issue for the proposed megapolis development, and experts say waste water management should not be neglected.

But there are ways to make use of waste water. Safely managed waste water is an affordable and sustainable source of water, energy, nutrients and other recoverable materials. There are many treatment processes and operational systems that will allow cities to use waste water to meet the growing water demand, support sustainable agriculture, and enhance energy production and industrial development.

Experts say treated waste water can be used safely for agriculture or service stations etc.

Waste water has its uses

Every time we use water, we produce waste water. According to UN Water, 80 per cent of all our waste water just flows back to nature untreated. Households should to try to reduce waste water, said Kusum Athukorala of Sri Lanka Water Partnership. And the waste water that is generated can be used for watering of plants and washing cars.  

20 Ways to Conserve Water at Home

Sri Lanka to set up Secretariat to monitor development goals

October 4, 2015

Published on SundayTimes on 04.10.2015 http://www.sundaytimes.lk/151004/news/sri-lanka-to-set-up-secretariat-to-monitor-development-goals-166676.html

The Ministry of Wildlife and Sustainable Development is to set up a Sustainable Development Secretariat, in keeping with President Maithripala Sirisena’s pledge at the UN Sustainable Development Summit.

The initial task of the Secretariat would be to raise awareness on how Sri Lanka can develop sustainably, a spokesman for the Ministry of Wildlife and Sustainable Development said.

Addressing the Summit, President Sirisena pledged that, the Government of Sri Lanka fully supports the Post-2015 Sustainable Development Agenda in pursuance of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) to be completed by 2030.

President Sirisena addressing the UN’s Sustainable Development Summit

“While emphasising the protection of natural resources, we will also formulate a State policy on resource consumption, based on the sustainable capacity of the environment.

We will strive to ensure that the relevant policy framework is implemented within an institutional structure, based on the principles of good governance adopted by my Government,” the President further stated.

Former Vice Chairman- UN Framework on Climate Change, Prof Mohan Munasinghe, says the SGDs will be a good framework to carry forward Sri Lanka’s development in a sustainable manner. It is also important to look at them collectively to achieve better results.

He calls the previous set of goals known as Millenium Development Goals (MDG) set up in 2000 for 15 years, and expiring this year, as an abbreviated version of the real requirement, and says the SDGs would provide a better platform.

In many aspects of the MDGs, Sri Lanka led in South Asia. This is especially true in the Health sector, where indicators on child and maternal mortality rates show Sri Lanka benefiting from a well-developed public Healthcare system in which, almost 100% of births are attended by properly trained health professionals.

Likewise, in the Education sector, almost all children of primary school age are in school and 98% of youths are literate. However, Sri Lanka has not done well in Environmental Sustainability.

Likewise, on SDGs, we could have a head start on some of them and achieve more. “However, Sri Lanka should also prioritise on achieving goals that are more relevant,” advises Prof Munasinghe who is also a UN expert on Sustainable Development.

Special attention should be focused on Poverty Alleviation (SDG 1), Food Security (SDG 2), Energy (SDG 7), Education (SDG 4), minimizing Income Disparity (SDG 10) and Urban Development (SDG 11) he recommends.

President Sirisena stated that Sri Lanka will also be fully committed to dealing with SDG 13 relating to Climatic Change. “Regarding Climate Change, Sri Lanka should be more focused on Climate Adaptation and Vulnerability Reductions of Impacts of Climate change,” Prof Munasinghe emphasised.

Former Chairman of Tourist Board, Renton de Alwis, an advocate of Sustainability, says, if the President is keen on achieving sustainability, he should make if the central policy where all other policies and implementations fall around it. Mr de Alwis opposes it being called ‘Sustainable Development’, and says it should called ‘Sustainable Economy’.

“Sri Lanka should avoid following the development paths of countries such as USA or China that consumed lots of resources. Instead, follow countries such as Switzerland and Sweden which followed sustainable economies” he stated.

“Big roads, cars aplenty, big airports that no airplane lands or large conference halls where conferences are not held, should not be our priorities,” he pointed out. “Meritocracy, to govern with people selected according to merit, is also key to sustainability,” he added.

The SDGs will be effective from 2016. But, if they are not genuinely pursued, they will become mere words on paper, like how many other ambitious projects ended up in the past.

As the world pushes towards the point of no return, with many important living systems on the verge of collapse, this could perhaps be one of the last major opportunities to get our act right. Perhaps, we should start with ourselves in achieving the SDGs, and set the example for others to follow.

Published on SundayTimes on 04.10.2015 http://www.sundaytimes.lk/151004/news/sri-lanka-to-set-up-secretariat-to-monitor-development-goals-166676.html

The goals1. End poverty in all its forms everywhere

2. End hunger, achieve food security, improve nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture

3. Ensure healthy lives and promote wellbeing for all ages

4. Ensure inclusive, equitable and quality education, promote lifelong learning opportunities for all

5. Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls

6. Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all

7. Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all

8. Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all

9. Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation

10. Reduce inequality within and among countries

11. Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable

12. Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns

13. Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts

14. Conserve and use the oceans and marine resources for sustainable development

15. Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss

16. Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all, and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels

17. Strengthen means of implementing revitalisation of global partnerships for sustainable development
As of August 2015, there were 169 proposed targets for these goals and 304 proposed indicators to show compliance