Sri Lanka’s sustainable development dream

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By 2017-04-08

by Lakshman I. Keerthisinghe

"Sustainable development is the pathway to the future we want for all. It offers a framework to generate economic growth, achieve social justice, exercise environmental stewardship and strengthen governance."

-Ban Ki-moon

Last week 'Sustain Lanka' national celebration, organized in parallel to the three-year plan for a Toxin Free Nation, a concept of President Maithripala Sirisena and in accordance with the Sustainable Development Goals announced by the United Nations was held from 31 March to 4 April at the Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall (BMICH) in Colombo. The celebration was held covering the Sustainable Development goals of eradicating poverty, promoting agriculture, health, education, empowering women, water, energy, employment, industries, reducing inequalities, sustainable cities and communities, climate change, marine biodiversity, peace and implementing a common plan, announced by the UN at the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit 2015.

The five days of the exhibition had been allocated according to the UN Sustainable Development goals and separate themes were used for each day. The themes were (1) 'Sustainable Livelihoods' where the priority was given to the sustainable development goals; a world without poor, green jobs and sustainable industries; (2) 'A Space for the Environment', where the emphasis was on toxin-free foods, clean water, a path to protect the climate, an equitable space for all life, and a toxin-free ocean (3) 'A sound foundation' where the priority was to a conscious society, green energy and the concept 'Onwards Together!' and (4)'A quality society' which focussed on 'an equalized society, sustainable cities and communities and an equitable society.' In addition, a series of cultural shows named Gemi Ranga Madala was held throughout the evenings of the five days. Art competitions for children, angampora exhibitions, toxin free cookery programmes, health clinics, green job fair, supporting programmes for green entrepreneurs, publishing research reports, exhibition of new creations, debates, screening of films, farmers' meetings, solutions for customers' issues, physical fitness programmes and intellectual discussions were held in line with this national celebration. The celebration has been organized in cooperation with State agencies, private firms, small scale entrepreneurs, non-governmental organizations, community based organizations, cooperative societies, scientists, creative artists, researchers, inventors, media personnel, school children, youth, farmer communities and consumers.

Global agenda

It must be noted that in 2012 the member States of the United Nations came together in Rio de Janeiro for the purpose of creating a new, global agenda for sustainable development. They agreed, in a document called 'The Future We Want,' to create a set of goals that would build on the success of the Millennium Development Goals, or 'MDGs' – a set of eight objectives that guided countries and the UN from 2000 through 2015 in the battle against poverty. The MDGs were considered relatively successful. The world made rapid progress on combating poverty during those years. But the MDGs didn't go far enough. The new goals would need to target more than poverty-related issues. They should apply not just to the world's poorer nations, but to all. And they would have to raise the bar even higher. Thus the new goals would have to be universal, integrated, and transformative.

The new Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs, would cover all nations. And they would cover the whole sustainability agenda: poverty, human development, the environment and social justice. The United Nations was given the task of developing these new goals. It took three years of countless meetings and consultations, ultimately involving the participation of hundreds of thousands of people. On 2 August 2015, the long process of consultation and negotiation came to a stunningly successful conclusion: 'The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.' The 2030 agenda was formally adopted on 25 September 2015, at a UN Summit attended by over 150 Heads of State. It includes the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, supported by 169 specific targets (several targets under each Goal). The 2030 agenda also includes recommendations on how nations should proceed in the implementation of the goals.

Comprehensive vision

The 2030 agenda marks the first time in human history that the nations of the world have come to agree on a comprehensive vision with clear goals and targets, for the development of our civilization on planet earth. One of the key recommend' basically boils down to this: involve everybody. Governments, businesses, communities, education – everyone has a role to play in making the SDGs a reality. Thus the 17 goals were created after much discussion.

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals included (1) End poverty in all its forms everywhere, (2) End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture, (3) Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages (4) Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and 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 sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development, (15) Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and 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 and (17) Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development.


In 'Sustain Lanka' national celebration, referred to above an attempt appears to have been made to consolidate these17 goals under four heads. At the inauguration ceremony, the speakers revealed a strategy by which toxin free organic manure has been prepared in our motherland thereby leaving out the imported manure with toxins which resulted in our people being subjected to kidney malfunction by CKDu and such other ailments. The organic manure has increased agricultural production contrary to the opinions expressed by some experts supporting the import of the harmful toxic manure. It was a dream of President Sirisena which has come true. The micro-organisms in the organic manure kept the soil moist and the yield improved. The ancient agricultural methods used by our forefathers were indeed quite effective. Almost all of the 17 SDGs were compatible with the principles laid down in the Buddhist scriptures it was further revealed.

It must be noted that the 15th SDG is to protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss. Environmental concerns in Sri Lanka include 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.

Population pressure

The forests in Sri Lanka have been removed to make way for agricultural land and plantations and to provide fuel and timber.

The sale of timber is a part of the national economy to raise revenue. Population pressure is also a significant factor as is the removal of forest areas to make way for irrigation networks which were a major process in the 1980s. Apart from the environmental implications deforestation in Sri Lanka has caused ill effects such as flooding, landslides and soil erosion from exposure of the deforested areas. It is also the primary threat to the survival of Sri Lanka's biodiversity. Effective measures including promulgation of new laws for the protection of biodiversity is an immediate necessity.

In conclusion, it must be stated that the present government's efforts are indeed laudable to make the dream of sustainable development of our motherland a reality.

The writer is an Attorney-at-Law with LLB, LLM, MPhil (Colombo)




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