Biodiversity Educational and Research Center for North

Though it is not practical to simply return to nature all land and water diverted from the natural ecosystems for human use, countries can and should make up for the loss by maximising the value to nature of the land and water that remain to its use. Many countries have begun doing this and Sri Lanka should follow the same without wasting time, to this end for the North, its Provincial Council should in its Economic Development Plan include for the establishment of a Biodiversity Educational and Research Center to be located preferably at Kilinochchi in the mainland.

For the first time in its short history the Northern Province Council (NPC) has the opportunity to participate with the central government in planning the Economic Development of the province. Taking an optimistic view, many major infrastructural development plans are already in place to these contributions from NPC and other provinces could benefit and be the icing on the National Development Plan cake. Among the many bottom up proposals for Northern Province, NPC could include the establishment of a Biodiversity Educational and Research Center (BERC). BERC would enable NPC to empower the rural population in the Agricultural and Fisheries Sector in working out Industries with natural resources internally available at a time when the province is less prepared for future climate migrants than sorting out the lives of displaced persons returning; by providing them with expertise that would allow use of available natural resources without exhausting them. For there has been many examples in the past of over exploitation both in terms of minerals and marine resources resulting from top down planned projects executed in the region. On these and other environmental concerns it is necessary to have local environmental experts in the province to consult and their opinion obtained. Because the northern regions have a different terrain, topography and climate with most of the low-lying areas are threatened by flooding, storm surges, salinity and erosion. Therefore these needs to be researched and studied for optimise utilisation of available natural resources like water and habitable land without depleting them and if necessary come up with alternate proposals with a view of conserve them.

Sri Lanka is considered to be one of the high bio diversity hot spots in the south Asian region to which development projects have become a real threat and the construction of which has damaged the nature of this little island. Added by the state in the recent past were many ill planned projects undertaken with heavy borrowings that have turned into non-profit making white elephants and the present government has spent most of the past two years in power to find funds to repay these borrowings. Sri Lanka is already facing many environmental challenges and conservation issues such as deforestation, freshwater, air and noise pollution, soil erosion, wildlife poaching, coastal degradation etc. However, the open economic policies of the government and the implementation of development projects with the view of placing the country as the center for many sectors such as trade, aviation and education would hasten environmental dilapidation in a country that has a history of late implementation of rules and regulations in preventing the preservation of its bio diversity. It has reduced almost to half of what existed during the last 50 years as a result of these unsustainable development projects. Due to various human induced practices mainly allowing settlements in forests, commercialisation of forests, unplanned development has caused much destruction. Deforestation has increased soil erosion, landslides, floods and flora degradation which result in the damage to human life, property, genetics and eco system diversity.

Northern Province have had its share of destruction and project failures and many were covered in earlier postings of Northern Breeze. These includes the limestone extracted locally for use at the KKS Cement Factory that began operation in the middle of last century has left large craters with depths below sea-level at KKS in the peninsula that could end up polluting the groundwater by letting seawater to seep. Then the ground water pollution in Jaffna peninsula over the years caused by many pollutants, including dumping industrial waste in particular the pollution caused by the Fuel Oil and Grease, “FOG” that halted supply of drinking water to people in Chunnakam town and its neighbourhood the past five years is still left unresolved. The ‘River for Jaffna project’ to fill the lagoons was left abandoned from second half of last century and later proposal to develop the Iranamadu tank to enhance the water service in the Northern Province was another ill planned project too left abandoned. Then due to the lack of holistic National Development Plan by successive governments that has prevented the diversion of Mahaweli River to feed Kanagarayan Aru, which was part of the original Mahaweli Development programme conceived in the middle of last century. Today, both projects are considered unsustainable as they depend on water from this non perennial river in mainland and though funds have been spent and politician are blaming each other for abandonment of both projects.

The government has plans to provide houses in the north on land returned by the security forces to the displaced owners. While majority of the displaced from the North have been resettled, many landless families are still to be resettled and the land distribution is being implemented at present is not completed as yet. Already a total of 5000 acres of land has been released and another 3000 acres are to be released shortly in all districts of North and East Provinces for the resettlement of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). But the Muslim IDPs requested for more land, that too in the forest areas are causing serious environmental concerns. This previous government sponsored human settlement within the Wilpattu Forest Complex bordering the northwestern coast is an important ecological complex and a cradle of global biodiversity, home to close to 1,000 plant and animal species. Human settlement commenced outside the northern boundary of West North Province (WNP), following the 2009 construction of a road on 300 acres of land, cutting through WNP and bridging the areas ‘Eluvankulam’ and ‘Mullikulam’ and subsequent to the road’s construction the deforestation programme has accelerated heavily damaging its biodiversity.

Due to the shortage of materials and labour putting up houses is a costly affair even if the owners use their own labour. The main stumbling block is the escalating prices of sand and non-availability of timber as most of the palmyrah trees in the Northern Province have been cut down for various purposes and sand mining remains a big issue in the North. There also exit many ad hoc restrictions imposed on sand mining, resulting in artificially created shortage of sand for construction purposes in the province at the same time over mining taking place at river banks and elsewhere. This sand mining problem was exploited by unscrupulous suppliers of sand for construction projects, backed by local politicians for their financial benefit. Many people have been arrested for sand mining and there is a severe shortage of sand in the Northern Province. To overcome the housing issue government had planned to build prefabricated houses; but opposition from NPC delayed implementation and the government has now given the green light to build over 20, 000 prefabricated houses in the North and East within the first two years.

There are plans for the next year is to upgrade the irrigation system in the Northern Province to help the farmers and plans are there to provide the fishermen with mechanized boats to improve their fishing activities. But the biggest problem that needs proper planning is to conserve the quality and control the use of groundwater in Jaffna Peninsula. Most of the top down conceived efforts of the state has not produced desired results and to make matters worse disposal of garbage and sewerage have added to the pollution of ground water. A proper water management plan is needed as reported in an earlier posting in Northern Breeze to prevent mass migration of population to the mainland from the peninsula, particularly from the islands south of it.

As these matters require environmental considerations and to overcome a proper scientific approach is needed and to accomplish it a Biodiversity Bank supported by a Biodiversity Educational and Research Center for North is considered appropriate.  The Biodiversity Educational and Research Center for North is a holistic concept for the protection, restoration and enhancement of minerals and marine resources.

Biodiversity banking is often applied so that there is no “net loss of a particular biodiversity feature”. It compensate for the loss with a maintenance goal through a framework which allows biodiversity to be measured and solutions applied to improve and provides a means to place a monetary value on ecosystem services. In practice, biodiversity banks rely on existing governmental laws, which forbid buying up land in an area that houses, say a critically endangered species, provided there is exception in place in the governmental law which allows people to buy up the land, if they also buy a certain amount of compensation credits with a certified biodiversity bank. These credits, which represent a significant extra cost to the buyer, are then used to provide revenue for the biodiversity bank, but the revenue derived thereof is also used by the bank to buy up conservation area elsewhere for the endangered species. Typically this involves land protection, restoration and enhancement. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, by 2004, interest in voluntary biodiversity offsets was growing in the United States, Brazil, Australia, Canada and the EU. Experience suggested that industry, governments, local communities and conservation groups all benefit from biodiversity offsets or biodiversity banking. Taking land that supports native species and converting it to agriculture and urban uses (roads, buildings, gardens) reduces biodiversity and this impact can be offset by converting land back to the support of native species and by enhancing the biodiversity of land already devoted to native species through careful management. Buildings for example provide us with shelter, storage, and a place for cultural and social activities, should be affordable and safe. Natural resources such as land, energy and water, consumed for building construction and ongoing operation, should be minimised. The impact by human structures and activities on biodiversity in one area of land, can be made up for by building up biodiversity in another area, either through cultivation of appropriate plant and other species in an area set aside for this, or simply by withdrawing human activity from an area and allowing nature to reclaim it. To raise the money to pay land owners to cultivate native species, a levy could be charged on those converting land from natural use. The conservation of biodiversity is now big business in many countries and using the market and businesses to promote conservation is growing rapidly. Biodiversity offsets are designed to compensate for residual environmental damage caused by development after minimization of environmental impacts have been considered and implemented. The goal of offsets is to compensate for the loss of biodiversity at one location with conservation gains elsewhere.

Biodiversity research aims to document the enormous diversity of life on earth and to identify the factors that generate and maintain this diversity. Scientists at the Biodiversity Research Centre (BRC) investigate the ecology, evolution, and conservation of biological diversity through research at all levels, from genes to ecosystems through to interactions with society. As the scope of climate change, human-caused habitat alterations, and associated extinction rates rise, the need to understand and conserve biodiversity and the ecosystem functions that it sustains has never been more pressing. Special studies are needed to conserve and control use of ground water in general in the province, more so in the peninsula and the surrounding islands. NPC should rely on existing governmental laws and facilitate implementing them for this purpose and if needed with BRC draw up additional laws for the approval of the legislature and implement to achieve the goals and set an example for other PCs to adopt as appropriate in their provinces for the benefit of the whole nation.

BERC (Biodiversity Educational and Research Center) is needed for North to promote understanding and appreciation of biodiversity and to provide independent advice to both the central and provincial government authorities and the public to understand the spectrum of biological diversity, its evolution, and its preservation through research at all levels, from genes to ecosystems of the province. The center is to have educational and research facilities to train experts in the study of biodiversity and the application of biodiversity science and carry out research on a wide range of topics, including evolution, systematics and phylogeny, population and community ecology, fisheries management, conservation biology, and theoretical modeling. The knowledge imparted would be beneficial to the total population in the country working and living in the province.