The Next Bomb: Arsenic to follow the Kidney Disease and Dengu
Posted on September 18th, 2016

By Garvin Karunaratne

Firstly the Kidney Disease, then the Dengu and what I think is coming over the horizon- is Arsenic. No one upto now has stated that the third,  Arsenic is on its way. But signs are there and unless immediate action is taken it will take a major toll. Both the Kidney Disease and Dengu are out of control today. Both take toll of thousands annually and the toll doubles every few years.

Let me give my opinion on the Kidney Disease. I have given my opinion earlier too but no one has picked it up. To start with it has to be accepted that the Kidney Disease is of recent origin. If the kidney disease had been there our ancient irrigation system  and the ancient  tank civilization that has lasted on a sustainable basis for centuries  would not be there.

It is my opinion that the kidney disease started with the excessive use of fertilizer, weedicides and such chemicals.

Something drastic did happen and the kidney disease erupted.

I happen to know the Dry Zone , its agriculture systems well because I have worked long in the Agrarian Services. I was  one of the pioneer administrators  in introducing the use of new varieties of paddy and enlisting the farmers to use inorganic fertilizers to boost yields. I introduced the Paddy Lands Act to the Anuradhapura District in 1963, organized cultivation committees, democratically elected , three hundred of them. It was  a vast staff of three Assistant Commissioners, ten Divisional Officers and some fifty to sixty overseers working, holding meetings till late in the night, planning paddy cultivation and the use and supply of fertilizer and chemicals. That was a yeoman effort including weekends working 14 or more hours on most days. It was a combined effort of our Agrarian Services and the technical agricultural department that enabled the breakthrough- the Green Revolution  came to stay.  The farmers got bounty harvests and benefited.

Today we have got cracking with this Kidney Disease, as it has reached almost epidemic status- some 40,000 dead and a mass of people going through medical attention. Farmers do not have the funds to travel for dialysis at hospitals far from home.  Dialysis machines offer a solution but our hospitals are also short of dialysis machines. The use of Glyphospate has been banned and water is even distributed by bowsers.  To my mind all what has been done is in the short term, because we have failed to find the real cause.

It is my opinion that the real cause is the breakdown of the agricultural extension service..

It is sad that many authorities will not believe this.

How did the extension system breakdown?

Firstly the World Bank decided to sabotage the agricultural extension system that Third World countries had developed through  imposing the Training & Visit System(TVS) of Agricultural Extension, by which the agricultural extension staff were required to contact the farmers direct, without using any of the farmer’s organizations like cooperatives and cultivation committees.  Accordingly the agricultural extension staff had no method of working with the entire farming population. At best the extension staff met a few farmers and this precluded the majority of farmers from being involved. This was a system that was suitable for a context where there were few farmers like in the USA. In Third World countries the farmers were legion in number and they could never be contacted by any extension staff unless they use cooperatives and other farmer’s organizations. This TVS was imposed on our countries by force.  As pointed out by me as far back as 1983,

What  happened was the imposition of a system akin to the US  on the Third World… The TVS is financed under IDA Credit, where funds are brought in on foreign aid to meet the salaries of local officers and servicing costs. The IDA Credit is  based on a design that has a repayment grace period of ten years, so that the Government that takes the loan has nothing to worry about the consequences  of re payment… The writer is of the opinion that  this is the main cause for the adoption of the TVS.”(From  Administering Rural Development in the Third World, University Press, 1983)  It was my contention then that this TVS was intended to cripple the extension services built up by Third World Countries. This is a part of the sabotage that is evident today in the IMF’s Structural Adjustment Programme, which entices countries to give up exchange controls, import controls, liberalise the use of foreign exchange, and depend on borrowed finance leading to our countries getting into debt. Debt was the weapon used to bring our countries to a ‘colonial’ subservient state. My book, How the IMF Ruined Sri Lanka, Godages tells this sad story.

In the case of Sri Lanka two other changes were made. Firstly the cultivation committees were abolished and with this change there were no farmer organizations  at the village level.

Secondly President Premadasa with one stroke of the pen promoted  all agricultural overseers to be Grama Niladharis and with this the agricultural extension staff no longer existed at the village level.  The overseers had an year’s training. The qualified extension staff was at the Divisional Level and each Agricultural Instructor had around five to thirteen thousand farmers. Years later Niyamakas were appointed, to handle the work of the agricultural overseers. These Niyamakas have no training whatsoever and with this the farmers had no one to contact for advice., Instead of farmers looking for advice, the Niyamakas are actually the laughing stock of the farmers even today.

Due to these changes the farmers had no one to guide them and they commenced using fertilizer, applying weedicides etc  as they pleased and this to my mind is the  cause for the spread of the kidney disease.

To add to the problem today we have a system of private companies providing advice. This is a very ineffective extension service.

Sadly our experts have failed to identify this very important cause. Ministries of Agriculture do not wish to admit that the agricultural extension system  is ineffective.

It is sad to realize that the entire farming community in the Dry Zone of Sri Lanka will be wiped out within a few decades unless immediate action is taken.. This is happening within our very eyes. The banning of chemicals is not the answer. The banning of Glyphosphate has already reduced the crop in paddy and tea. Scientists including Professor Chandre Dharmawardena have opined that banning chemicals that are essential for cultivation is not the remedy. The remedy is to ensure that there is an effective and systematic extension system like what we had when there were trained agricultural. Overseers and vibrant farmer institutions like cultivation committees and multipurpose cooperatives at the village level.

An attempt is being made to get farmers to use traditional varieties and to use compost- organic fertilizer. Traditional varieties yield only half the crop of new varieties and crop production will suffer  with the result that we will have to import rice. The entire Green Revolution was based on using new varieties with the use of inorganic fertilizer. An effective extension service has to guide the farmers in the use of chemicals.

The remedy is simple- to train the Niyamakas and also to strengthen the staff of Agricultural Instructors at the Divisional level aimed at establishing an effective extension system.

The Dengu

Dengu has reached almost epidemic levels and  many people have died. Dengu eradication commenced in the Nineties and then hordes of individual spraying staff were busy everyday, swarming out of the Urban Councils. They could be seen visiting the homes of people and spraying. What was not evident is what they sprayed. They took with them the chemical which they mixed with water and then sprayed.  The problem was that they sprayed with the chemical only if they were paid a santhosam lavishly. Otherwise they did spray but with water.

I pointed this out in an article that appeared in the Press but no one took notice. I suggested the system which was followed to spray DDT to eradicate malaria. I served in Anuradhapura and the spraying was done by a team of sprayers with a supervisor.

We are today reaping the effect of our own folly. It is time that we even resort to spraying DDT, but in an effective manner like what we did in the case of malaria.

Further we today concentrate only on  home gardens and the premises that we can see. We have conveniently forgotten the drains on either side of the roads which are full of putrid water and infested with dengu and other mosquitoes. It is essential that this is done by a team equipped with iron rods and at times tractors may be required to remove large slabs of concrete. I suggested this but no one has picked it up. When slabs are used  crevices should be kept to enable spraying.

The Arsenic Bomb is coming. This is due to the fact that almost ninety nine percent of the bottled water sold in Sri Lanka comes from tube wells.

Tube wells were concentrated on in the green revolution in Bangladesh and the benefits were extolled in terms of crop production. However the incessant pumping of water from a particular strata of soil has made the water have a concentration of arsenic. Today after decades of extracting water through tube wells it has been found that the arsenic content is high. The result is arsenic  in human beings that causes death through Cancer. The arsenic epidemic in Bangladesh is well documented. The Bulletin of the WHO states:

Exposure to arsenic through drinking water sourced from tube wells is a global health problem   that is particularly devastating in Bangladesh. (It is) estimated that 35 to 77 million people are involved…. The largest mass poisoning in history…. Causing cancers of the skin, bladder, kidney and lung.”( From  Flanagen, Johnson & Zheng, Arsenic in Tube Well Water in Bangladesh”, in Bulletin of WHO, 14/09/2012)

Today 43,000 people are killed annually in Bangladesh..

We can easily get over this problem if we concentrate on our springs and streams as the source for bottled water. . I have worked on minor irrigation in the districts of Nuwara Eliya, Kandy and Kegalla and can state that it is easy to find streams and springs from which bottled water can be harnessed.  The Sinharaja Area in the Matara District can also be a source.

Some authorities may think that my suggestion re bottled water is far fetched. But unless this fact is taken into consideration immediately we will have the Arsenic bomb on our population.

My suggestions re the Kidney Disease and Dengu have gone unheeded. Let us take immediate steps to eradicate the Kidney Disease and Dengu and also take immediate action to ensure that bottled water is sourced at springs to avoid the emergence of Arsenic.

I am sad to realize that I was in charge of the team that spread the use of new varieties of paddy and the use of inorganic fertilizer and chemicals. Little did I know then that  five decades later our  valiant effort then  will cause death to the farming population in the Dry Zone.
Garvin Karunaratne

Former SLAS, Government Agent, Matara

17 the September 2016

11 Responses to “The Next Bomb: Arsenic to follow the Kidney Disease and Dengu”

  1. aloy Says:


    “Scientists including Professor Chandre Dharmawardena have opined that banning chemicals that are essential for cultivation is not the remedy. ”

    So, this is a part of the same campaign. There are other large scale agricultural input production companies that have stopped the use of glyphosate because they too have carried out research work and found that it is harmful. Apparently this campaign has produced the desired result. A cabinet minister from upcountry announced today that they are to going to lift the ban. They want to prop up the dying tea industry and give a good time for the Indian labour at the expense of Sinhalas. Perhaps their votes are more important that the lives of people of Rajarata where the rivers carry the poison.

  2. Fran Diaz Says:

    We thank Dr Karunaratne for drawing our attention to these issues.


    * How was mosquito or/& excesssive insect growth/eradication done then ?

    We wonder how in ancient Lanka people managed their Agriculture. How did they save their crops from weeds & insects then ?
    At one time, Sri Lanka was called the Granary of the East.

    * How were weeds managed in crop areas ?
    They say that a ‘weed’ is a plant whose uses are not yet discovered.
    In fact, in the west, they are just discovering that one weed’s products are inimical to another.

    Research has to be done using local plants & substances to eradicate both weeds & insects, etc.

    NOTE: Arsenic is highy diluted, potentised and used as a Medicine in Homeopathy.
    Homeopathy medicines can be used for plants too.

  3. Nimal Says:

    My late sister’s daughter who was only 36 years old died in Kandy two years ago due to kidney failure, died during they were performing the dialysis. we blame her for careless lifestyle, being a pompous Ehalaopla never wanted to go to the kitchen even to make her cup of tea and got the servants to do it and added much sugar and spoilt her selves with sweets, cakes etc.Never cooked a meal at home but to the three wheeler to the nearest cafe for all three meals and the husband to followed her bad habits. He died last year with the same illness perhaps at the same war during dialysis.
    My elder brother’s wife too died a few years ago due to kidney failure, she too being a Bandaranayake never made a cuppa got the servants to do that with lots of sugar. Food that was cooked with a lot of salt and craving for sweets were unimaginable and my brother survived up to know because he despised her for her bullying was towards the servants and he ate at my house which is vacant and walked to it for 2 miles every day. His walk and active life preserved his health while his daughter who ate from the same house is over weight, again eating unhealthy at Colombo’s cocktail circuit, will die soon with diabetes.
    at this very moment several of my friend and close relatives, also employee have renal problems. My sister will be admired to hospital tomorrow for 7 days to get a dose of antibiotic which supposed to be strong. Today I went to the hospital to see another patient taking some vital drugs for another spoilt relative due for dialysis tomorrow. He too is a spoilt brat,as he eats large amount iof rice for all three meals a day and he is too stubborn and giving my niece hell. My hardworking niece had already lost her sister as mentioned above and have to look after this bed ridden idiot.
    Doctors have recommend that they should be given Cranberry juice, which I usually take in uk with blueberry drink. Fortunately I shipped several dozs from UK as gifts that have come handy for all these people. Perhaps I will import more for the people close to me and patriots could do the same for the loved ones left behind in this horrible country would be great.
    I say horrible with reason. I don’t see much kindness,tolerance,honesty in this country anymore and to call it a Buddhist country is an insult to Lord Buddha.
    Few hours ago I went to the hospital as mentioned above and I was not let in because I have no pass. Only 1 pass is given to 1 patient and in my case the one with the pass had gone to patient’s home to get the evening meal and by the time he came with the meal,it was the closing tome for the visitors and with a heated argument that person was allowed to get in but I was not allowed after staying 2 hours at the gate.This is cruel and never seen this in other countries and only in our Ammge Darmadeepaya this is possible.
    I can give many examples of cruelty and injustice we see daily in the country. By the way several people with political connections went there without a pass, like last time few years ago the governor’s Private secretary and his whole family wet to the kidney war wearing shoes while we had to remove ours. At lest two three of us were allowed without shoes but today ,even without any cloths only one with a pass(single) is allowed. THIS IS DIVIDE AND RULE AND WE NEED THE COLONIALS TO PUT OUR COUNTRY BACK,so get back from your ivory towers in sudas country and come and sort your country you people left behind.
    As far as I remember one of my relatives had a paddy field, this is in 1947 where after the harvest they let the grass grow and sometimes the burn the weed with the hay from the harvest, then they let in the water and flood the growing area, then use the buffaloes to tilt the ground. They tilt that for a long time while adding naturally made compost and only chemical that was added was lime. They did not use any chemical fertilizers. Pest control was done with having sticky layers on kadjans ted on poles that swing in the wind that trap insects.
    But when the tractors were used on contract, they did a quick job that encourage weeds as the soil wasn’t tiled vigorously.
    People hardly lived beyond 25 years due to malnutrition and disease. Disease killed even the colonials, if one could visit the Kadny’s garrison cemetery, the British who are buried there are very young that included Sir John Doyle,who prepared the first Kandy’s perahara but died without even seeing it at young age.
    Malaria and other diseases was so rampant my grandfather gave up his job as a senior teacher in Trinity collage Kandy, paled up with an English Lady name Evelyn Karni when to settle in a place close to Talawa and they did treat hundreds of people who was sick with various illnesses.Miss Karni’s my grandfather’s work was so appreciated the only land owner in the area was on Dissanayake who also move from the south like us to Mirihana area, insisted my grandfather marry his only daughter.Dissanayake owned suppose to own the all the lands that hardly any one lived.He supposed to be related to Dutu Gamunu,the king.It baffled me how a man from south be related to king in Anurada pura.
    Miss Kani and my grand father traveled as far as Anurathapura,Mannar and Trinco to treat people with severe diseases.
    This is real history. Dissanayake was so mellowed by the presence and dedication of miss Kani and my grandfather he allowed hundreds of poor families to settle in his lands in Talawa,I think they were all given 5 acres of land.Then the colonial government on the request of Dissanayake and Kani sent a detachment of British soldiers to construct the Thalawa rail station. My grandfather said that people came in hundreds from run down area in Colombo.
    Though Miss Kani came from the CMS mission, no attempt was made to convert them to Christianity.Her home was named ‘house of Joy’ where she had a handful of Christians gathered and my dad was born in that house, sadly his mum died during his child birth along with his twin sister.Dissanayake and Kani was so upset due to lack of medical care,they build the first maternity hospital with the help of the new settlers and the British army.
    Today that house was demolished by Gamini Dissanayake who may have tried to take credit for that area history.Our Dissanayke got my grandfather’s only sister to marry his only son and he changed his name to Edward. Since the settlers had no temple to worship, My grandfather’s sister and her husband moved away from Thalawa area to a small settlement named Ralapanawa,where there was a lake, though she was a Christian she helped to build the first Buddhist Temple in Ralapanawa and more settlers moved in with Edward and his wife and many settlements were built around the lake where it prevented the wild elephants to come to the lake to drink water and the elephants were followed by a herd of deer.
    Since they were prevented in coming to the lake,elephants raided the settlements and to prevent this the young Buddhist priests were asked to collect bananas and the banana trees and were laid in a manmade corridor and the elephants were encouraged to use the corridor to come for their drink and bath.
    Edward took his wife on his bicycle to another town created named Sinharagama to get their pensions.After the husband died she still traveled on a bike to get the pension to the age of 85, amazing I say.Her last days were spent next to the temple looked after by the kind monks and during the great floods in 1958 she was brought to our house in Kandy by my father and died at the age of 105,and she was so healthy, like my dad and grand dad never lost a tooth.
    Miss Kani and my grandmother is buried in the same grave and Miss Smith who helped in the hospital in the next grave in the cemetery in Talawa.
    When we visited Ralapanawa and Talawa the hedmen said that the old still remembered Miss Karni and she was known as Kiri Amma.Sir Charles Ondajji after writing the book about Leonard Woolf(Judge in Mathara),wanted me to tell more about it to write a book but I declined to co operate.

  4. Nimal Says:

    Sorry about the bad grammars as I don’t have the time to go through.

  5. aloy Says:

    This is the real situation in Rajarata according to news report in Divaina of today’s edition:

    ත්‍රස්‌තවාදී යුද්ධයට වඩා
    රජරට වකුගඩු රෝගය දරුණු වෙලා
    ස්‌වර්ණහංස පදනමේ සභාපති

    එප්පාවල – රත්න බී. ඒකනායක

    පාලකයන්ට පෙනෙන්නේ නෑ. ඇහෙන්නේ නෑ… දැනෙන්නේ නෑ. ඔවුන් තනතුරු බදාගෙන කන්තෝරුවල. රජරට ගමින් ගමට යනවිට මාරාන්තික වකුගඩු රෝගයේ බිහිසුණු කම අපට දැනෙනවා. පසුගිය කාලයේ පැවති ත්‍රස්‌තවාදී යුද්ධයට වඩා රජරටට වකුගඩු රෝගය දරුණුයි. උතුරු මැද පළාත භාරව සිටින උතුරු මැද පළාත් සභාව ආපදා තත්ත්වයක්‌ ප්‍රකාශ කොට අනෙක්‌ සියල්ලටම වඩා වකුගඩු රෝග නිවාරණයට ප්‍රමුඛත්වය දී කටයුතු කළ යුතු මොහොත දැන් උදා වී තිබෙනවා. හොරොව්පොතාන, නබඩවැව ගම්මානයේ පැවති වකුගඩු රෝගීන්ගේ රැස්‌වීමේදී ස්‌වර්ණ හංස පදනමේ සභාපති ගාල්ලගේ පුණ්‍යවර්ධන මහතා පැවසීය.

    මෙහිදී සෑම වකුගඩු රෝගී පවුලකටම ස්‌වර්ණ හංස පදනම මඟින් පැන් තාලියක්‌ පරිත්‍යාග කරන ලදී.

    තවදුරටත් කරුණු පැහැදිලි කළ ගාල්ලගේ පුණ්‍යවර්ධන මහතා මෙසේද පැවසීය. මැති ඇමැතිකම් කරන්න…රාජ්‍ය තනතුරු දරන්න…ජනතාව ජීවත් විය යුතුයි. ජනතාව ශුන්‍යවූ ප්‍රදේශවලට අර සභා…..මේ සභා ආදියෙන් අර ඇමැති…..මේ ඇමැති ආදී ඇමැතිවරුන්ගෙන් කිසිදු ඵලක්‌ නෑ. මේ නිසා මේ කොයි කවුරුත් රැකෙන්න නම් පළමුවෙන් ජනතාව ජීවත් කරවන්න ඕන. ඒ සඳහා බලය – සම්පත් හා හැකියාව පළාත් සභාවට තියෙනවා. නමුත් ඔවුන්ට වුවමනාවක්‌ නෑ. තනතුරු බදාගත්තම තනතුරු ලබාදුන් ජනතාව ගැන මතකයක්‌ නෑ. රටට වුවමනා කරන්නේ ජනතාවට වගකියන, ජනතාව ගැන නිතර සොයා බලන පළාත් සභාවක්‌. රජරටට වකුගඩු රෝගය කඩාවැදිලා දැන් අවුරුදු 14 ක්‌. මේ වන විට රෝගීන් ලක්‌ෂයකට වැඩියි. රෝගයෙන් මැරුණ ගණන දහදාහකට වැඩියි. පළාත් සභාව තවමත් කෙකර ගානවා.

    I hope Garvin and the scientists promoting chemicals would note.

  6. S.Gonsal Says:

    We must than Garvin for bringing up this.

    Thank you Nimal for colourful story.

    You said “I say horrible with reason. I don’t see much kindness,tolerance,honesty in this country anymore and to call it a Buddhist country is an insult to Lord Buddha.” and went on to say all the bad sides of “Buddhist Country” and good side of “Christians”.
    For you information, next door to Jetawanarama where Buddha spent many years, there was a pig farm. Buddha did not use his powers to remove it. This is the nature of the world, regardless of religion they follow and to be fair to Buddhist , you cannot expect more form them.

  7. Fran Diaz Says:


    I am sorry to hear of the troubles of your family re poor health issues.
    Meditation & Homeopathy medicines, Naturopathy, exercise, Yoga, etc. help tide over bad times.

    We have to start producing Clean Air, Water & Food Supplies. Jobs have to be created in those areas.

    The whole world should spend funds to that purpose, whilst offering free birth control material.

    A friend of mine said in the 1980’s : ‘Life seems cheap in Lanka …’.


    I am referring to the period prior to Colonisation in Lanka.
    How did Lanka farmers manage then ?

  8. Nimal Says:

    I am about to leave Kandy to the airport to pick up my son who is coming from London.His 40KG is full of Cranberry juice for the people in my sister’s ward where she will be placed for 7 days to receive a strong antibiotic.I am critical of all of them as they are stubborn and greedy and I have threatened to measure their coffins.
    We are truly surprised how much rice they eat.Rice and bread is poisonous if you eat too much and if you don’t exercise.My sister has body pains resulting in sitting on the chair all day,thus adding more weight to her body.One of my British doctors who is a tenant in London advised her that she has too much carbs that cause inflammation and to cut down on white bread and rice.She worsen her situation by taking painkillers that damages the kidney.
    It’s my pastime to meet people who are different or strangers because I am curious about their countries and their foods because I don’t have the time to visit those places.Most of them are persuaded to cook a meal of their country.One that I came to understand that some tribes and communities in Argentina and Uruguay have a lower rate of kidney diseases than the rest be cause they eat their food out of Argentinian buckwheat that is lower in Gluten Argentinian wheat is a hard wheat too has a lower level of gluten which is good to prevent inflammation that cause chronic pains in some people.
    My wife of Japanese origin lived most of her live in Malaysia where her grand mother seems to have eaten Mungatta for her meals instead of rice or noodles had no body pains while her rest of the family had kidney problems and body pains due to high gluten intake.
    This doctor who is a tenant of mine advices both of us to eat little as the kidney’s and liver of the aging people are weak and should not be subjected heavy meals,says that the kidneys are old as well,will not put up with the heavy dosage of food.
    On my first two weeks in Kandy I suffered a chest disease and my ankles swelled,which happened every year.Now I get down the water from a place in Nuwara eliya and I stay mostly in two rooms that is airtight(almost) with an electrical air intake that seem to filter some of the impurities.Moment I go out polluted air affects my breathing and I am forced to take a puff,which I never did in central,busy London.To stay this long in sL is my karume.

  9. Fran Diaz Says:


    What you say about food is correct.
    But, rice is gluten free, as far as I know. Bread (particularly with white flour, is not healthy) and has gluten which damages brain cells.

    Mung dhal is really good for health. I agree !

    More veggies and some fruit & nuts will help.
    The lesser known grains are good for health. I guess people have to acquire a taste for these foods. Restuarants ought to make exotic dishes using them !

    As for clean air : modern day industries have fouled up the air. An air cleaner in the rooms we sleep in may help. Some People in some large cities such as Tokyo wear masks when stepping outside.

    We have a polluted Planet !
    Money should be spent now to clean it up. Education must be geared to clean it up. Jobs created to clean it up !!

  10. Fran Diaz Says:

    PS: Corriander is a really good diuretic !
    It’s cheap and it’s locally produced.

  11. Nimal Says:

    Coriander must be good also saffron.I got it from UK and the Indians call it Jereera and even garammasala which I used for my cookings. I.I do the cooking for myself as the maids have the bad habit of putting large amount of salt. Yesterday we came from the airport and stopped at a small cafe to drink a fruit juice and I saw him putting a tea spoon of salt.I never drank it as it was salty.I was curious and asked him if his family is healthy and I was not surprised to hear that almost all his family members are diabetic.Even the cup of tea was too sweet,but they blame the chemicals in the paddy fields(which is right also) but the cause is at their own homes.Yet again I was not allowed to see my sick relative in the Kandy hospital,though we drove at breakneck speed to get there in time,truly a heartless country.As usual some people with the right connections were allowed.Two such people in half a hour.

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