Create New Settlements in Vanni for a More Sustainable Solution to the Arsenic Problem
Posted on September 5th, 2011

– Kumar Moses

Thank god people are now aware of the arsenic problem that was hitherto a silent killer in the North Central Province. Indeed it was known as the silent killer of the NCP. This awareness has translated to actively seeking remedies to reduce (cannot be eliminated) arsenic in drinking water in affected areas, cure affected people, impose a total effective ban on chemicals containing arsenic and various other approaches to mitigate the impact of this dangerous chemical. However, this is only part of the problem. Arsenic in ground water also ends up in rice, fruits and vegetables grown in these areas. It affects not only the people of these areas but across a wide geographical area. This is the main reason the government plays down the significance of the problem. Obviously the government doesnƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢t want another economic problem. Health bill associated with the problem is enormous for a developing country. Affected farming families suffer tremendously as their only livelihood demands rigorous labour throughout the year. An affected person may never be able to work effectively. Unless health complications kill farmers, the unbearable financial burden will certainly kill them.

Given the huge political ramifications of the problem, the government and many other quarters play down the risk. Whatever the scientific, political and other ancillary concerns are, it is a fact that a large number of people are suffering from arsenic poisoning particularly in a certain area. Via food produced in these areas, the problem is spread around the country. Although in a basket of foods consumed elsewhere the arsenic content may be well within healthy levels, prolonged consumption may still be dangerous. All available remedies to the (immediately) affected are beyond affordability to the poor farmer in the North Central Province. Even if the government and organised groups distribute material among them for once or twice, it is not sustainable. Treating soil by adding chemicals and growing certain plants to absorb and allay the arsenic in soil cannot be done since these lands are being used. It perpetuates the problem. We certainly need a more sustainable solution to this problem.

We have been looking at the problem from within the problem much like the proverbial frog in the well. Out-of-the-box solutions must be looked at for a sustainable, long term and affordable remedy.

North Central Province, northern parts of the Eastern Province and southern parts of the Northern Province are strategically important to ruin separatist agendas and maintain peace. People of these areas withstood vile terror unleashed on them by Tamil Tigers. Today the biggest threat to their lives comes not from Tamil Tigers but from arsenic. Unless these settlements are protected and expanded, there will be adverse defence implications.

Areas with the worst concentration of arsenic in drinking water must be identified in the North Central Province and surrounding areas. People living in the worst affected areas must be systematically relocated to new settlements that can come up in fertile Vanni. Running water and ground water accessibility should be a primary consideration in choosing a location. Closeness to military bases ensures economic co-operation that benefits both parties.

This was how other countries handled very badly polluted areas. Main pollutants include arsenic, lead and mercury.

Of course relocating every area with high arsenic content in ground water would not be possible. It must be done in phases. Planned villages with all amenities and facilities with a generous land allocation must be created to house them. Security forces can play a significant role in development works. Leaving their native land will be a heartbreaking experience for people in affected villages. However, they will eventually have to move out or perish if they continue to stay in the affected areas. There is no affordable remedy to take out arsenic from soil and ground water, especially when under constant use.

Lands abandoned should be taken over by the government. Certain types of ferns have been found to absorb arsenic and lead from soil and water according to research carried out in Florida and elsewhere. There are also other means of treating arsenic affected soil. However, all these methods require disuse of affected land until treatment is complete. It is a very slow process. After arsenic is absorbed from the soil over a long period of time, this area can be reopened to habitation and cultivation.

New settlements should be created in areas with access to ground water and preferably to rivers as well. Climatic conditions are the same in the North Central Province and in Vanni and Trincomalee.

Chena farming that is on its way out made it compulsory for farmers and their communities to move with finding new lands for cultivation. Therefore, a large move would not be all that strange. It is a cheap solution in the long run. Even if it is not implemented, people in affected areas will eventually move out probably ending up as landless farmers or beggars elsewhere. Needless to say property prices of affected areas would not be attractive.

Instead of wasting billions to develop mono ethnic areas with no resultant appreciation for development and further strengthening racist politics, it is much better to channel funds to save lives. There seems to be confusion about national development priorities. What needs to be developed is the entire nation. Particular attention may be directed to the north which was worst affected by war but there is no earthly reason to develop Tamils as a means of developing the north. Developing the north may well mean developing non-Tamil communities in the north. Tamil or non-Tamil, what matters is northern development! Creating new planned settlements in the north is certainly development. Human capital and expertise is already in the possession of the settlers, therefore, there is no need to invest in start-up costs apart from infrastructure development. This is the type of development that pays both financial and political dividends.

Let us stop arguing over who says what and the scientific schools of those who highlight the arsenic problem and those who play it down. There is a genuine problem that kills people which is associated with chemicals in water and food produced in a given geographical area. It is time to find permanent, affordable and sustainable remedies to the arsenic problem that is killing our farming families.

The alternative is to let the suffering people continue with their suffering and temporarily mitigate the problem by distributing water purification filters when the hype is around. Such plaster solutions cannot solve the problem. They can only convince the good hearted that they did something in their capacity to tone down the sufferings temporarily. Once the hype dies down no one will notice the continuing suffering. It will once again become the silent killer in the NCP.

Drinking water purification filters cannot take out arsenic in food produced in these areas anyway, leaving part of the problem unresolved.

The nation gains heaps and loses nothing by creating new settlements in Vanni, etc. for a more sustainable and complete solution to the arsenic problem. It must be done as soon as possible. Are we waiting till gods point out the solution as well?

5 Responses to “Create New Settlements in Vanni for a More Sustainable Solution to the Arsenic Problem”

  1. Ben_silva Says:

    Damage to the environment will affect all citizens. Authorities and others need to take environmental protection far more seriously.Well said Kumar. People who would suffer and die will be the poorest, voiceless and powerless people. The people with power and weallth appears not to care at all of the poor.

  2. jayt Says:

    Sinhalese are fully responsible for his. why Sl govts bought this poison from the west by knowing the West is harboring and funding Tigers and so many white women and women have written hate propaganda against Sinhalese. Hate propaganda was enough to be suspicious and think these men and women looking for any way is possibly to harm Sinhalese and reduce Sinhalese population to win the war for Tigers.
    This is also result of not having a skillfully trained international intelligent agency. And if SL had one, SL could have discovered how West plays on two side and destroy. West could not find very good reason to sell it to Western public to bomb Sl land with poison and destroy farmland. therefore, they used friendship which is one of the best tools used to cheat Sinhalese and inflict permanent harm to Sl lanka farmland and public.

  3. Dilrook Says:

    A workable solution.

    At the same time a total ban on agrochemicals containing arsenic should be in place. Otherwise the new area too will be affected.

  4. nishan123 Says:

    This is a technical/chemical problum, has any one mapped the consentration of arsenic in the soil, the depth of soil effected. Once the consentarations are studies could we not find out if the element/compound is leached in to the soil. If Arsenic is introduced as part component of fertilsers then the element/compound consentrations may not have a patern, if their is a patern then we might be able to find whare the compound is comming from.
    I have heard that; as was found in Bangladesh; the tube well water was found to be contaminated with Arsenec over prolonged use of the tube well, because of naturally occuring arsenic in the soil. Ask any Hydro geologist, it’s common to suffer from brackish water due to increased consentartions of ground saults in water due to over use of aquifer water., as water begins to deplete within the soil layer that the aquifer is present. I do not know if the same applies to ground water.
    We are all fed up listening to so called experts fighting among them selves, on these matters. Please focus on the people who are suffering because of so called experts lack of action. I have observed the resovoir surfaces covered with water plants (salvenia) no action – over a prolonged time. These are floating plants, these can be removed easilly by controlled floatation and capture, whare are the experts.
    Whoever may have caused it, the problum is now with us, let some one publish a report on the problum of arsenic. let it be wright or wrong we the public will make a decision if the so called experts cannot make a decision because of their interlectual Ego. lets go forward in life, do not have time as innocent are dying and the experts do not know the wright from wrong.

  5. Fran Diaz Says:

    In the GoSL, which Ministry is responsible for import of pesticides, fertiliser & chemicals ? There should be qualified professionals in the Ministry/Ministries concerned who could formulate a proper plan to allow only safe products be imported into the country.

    As for the damage already done to the water & soil in NCP, indeed it is the concern of the GoSL and all citizens of this country.
    Whatever can be done to improve the situation, must be done soon. Perhaps GoSL should appoint a Committee to look into this problem and act on it asp.

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