Human Rights

In Malay, Orangutans Means ‘People of the Forest’

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7 mins read

The dust has settled at the resorts in Sharm el-Shaikh, Egypt, as delegates of countries and corporations leave the 27th Conference of the Parties (COP) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The only advance made in the final agreement was for the creation of a ‘loss and damage fund’ for ‘vulnerable countries’. However, despite being hailed as a breakthrough, the deal is little more than the financing of the Santiago Network for Loss and Damage agreed upon at the COP25 in 2019. It also remains to be seen whether this new financing will in fact be realised. Under previous agreements, such as the Green Climate Fund established at the COP15 in 2009, developed countries promised to provide developing countries $100 billion per year in financing by 2020, but have failed to meet their stated goals. At the conclusion of COP27, the United Nations expressed ‘serious concern’ that those past pledges have ‘not yet been met’. More importantly, the Sharm el-Sheikh Implementation Plan notes that a ‘global transformation to a low-carbon economy is expected to require investment of at least $4–6 trillion a year’ – a commitment that is nowhere in sight. The International Energy Agency said that, in 2022, annual global clean energy investment will remain below $1.5 trillion. This is ‘record clean energy spending’, they announced, and yet, it is far below the amounts that are required for a necessary transition.

‘A fund for loss and damage is essential’, said the UN Secretary-General António Guterres at the conclusion of this year’s summit, ‘but it’s not an answer if the climate crisis washes a small island state off the map – or turns an entire African country to desert. The world still needs a giant leap on climate ambition. … The voices of those on the frontlines of the climate crisis must be heard’.

One of those voices is that of the orangutan, the great ape of the Bornean and Sumatran forests that the Malays call the ‘people of the forest’ (in Malay, orang means ‘person’ and hutan means ‘forest’). According to the International Union for Conversation of Nature’s Red List, the Bornean, Sumatran, and Tapanuli orangutans have experienced sharp population declines and are now categorised as critically endangered – the phase preceding extinction in the wild. There are less than 800 Tapanuli orangutans in existence, with the overall population of orangutans falling by almost half in the last century. They are given no voice in our climate debates.

In 2019, the United Nations released a shocking report that showed the near extinction of one million of the world’s eight million animal and plant species, including the loss of 40% of amphibian species and a third of all marine mammals. As part of its findings on biodiversity and ecosystems, the authors wrote that ‘species that are large, grow slowly, are habitat specialists or are carnivores – such as great apes, tropical hardwood trees, sharks, and big cats – are disappearing from many areas’. The situation is bleak, they warned, ‘unless action is taken to reduce the intensity of drivers of biodiversity loss’.

What is driving this biodiversity loss? The report includes a long list in which one word comes up over and over again: deforestation. In a landmark publicationThe State of the World’s Forests 2020, the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP) and the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) noted that an astounding 420 million hectares of forest cover had been lost since 1990, although the rate of deforestation has declined from 16 million hectares per year in the 1990s to a mere 10 million hectares per year between 2015 and 2020. Forests cover about a third of the global land area, over four billion hectares. Half of the forests are relatively intact, while others – notably the rainforests – are in danger of being destroyed.

Just weeks after his re-election, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who will take office as the 39th president of Brazil in January 2023, returned to the global stage at COP27. He arrived along with a number of leaders from Brazil’s indigenous community, including federal deputy for the state of Roraima, Joênia Wapichana, and three newly elected members of Congress: Célia Xakriabá (federal deputy for the state of Minas Gerais), Sônia Guajajara (tipped to head a new Ministry of the Indigenous People), and Marina Silva (Lula’s former environment minister who is likely to resume the position). At the summit, Lula affirmed Brazil’s agreement with the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Indonesia to set up an ‘OPEC of the rainforests’, made last year at COP26 in Glasgow. More than half of the world’s rainforests are in these three countries, which are rich with resources that have been mined to profit multinational firms at great cost to the environment but have failed to advance the social development goals of their own citizens. ‘It is important for these three countries to strengthen their strategic alliance in order to increase their influence in climate change negotiations at the global level’, said Indonesia’s coordinating minister for maritime affairs and investment, Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan (Indonesia has sought to create several cartels, including one with Canada for an OPEC-like body of nickel producers).

The scale and speed at which the global rainforest is being pillaged is alarming. In 2021, the world lost 11.1 million hectares of rainforest cover, roughly the size of the island of Cuba. To put it in football terms with the World Cup underway, the world lost 10 football pitches of rainforest per minute. Brazil, under Jair Bolsonaro, witnessed the greatest devastation of any country last year, with 1.5 million hectares lost. These old forests, dense with vegetation and animals, are now gone. ‘We are going to wage a very strong fight against illegal deforestation’, Lula said at COP27.

Brazil, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Indonesia are not alone. The Forest and Climate Leaders’ Partnership, chaired by Ghana and the United States and made up of 53 countries, has made bold pledges to end deforestation. Ahead of COP27, Colombia’s minister of environment and sustainable development, Susana Muhamad, announced the creation of an Amazon Bloc made up of the nine countries that share the region’s rainforest (Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Guyana, Suriname, Venezuela, and French-occupied Guiana). Norway, meanwhile, has said that after Lula takes office it will resume providing funds to Brazil for rainforest protection, which had been suspended during Bolsonaro’s presidency.

The Brazil-Democratic Republic of Congo-Indonesia approach is designed in the framework of mitigation, adaptation, and investment, not through the empty conversation of the COP. Indonesia’s deputy minister for environment and forestry management, Nani Hendriati, explained how the country would promote ecotourism in the mangrove forests through a ‘blue carbon’ approach to ensure that tourism does not tear up the mangroves, seeking to halt the longstanding and rampant deforestation in the country (for example, 40% of Indonesia’s vast mangrove system was destroyed between 1980 and 2005 alone). New initiatives in the country, for instance, promote crab farming in the mangroves rather than allowing their destruction. In this spirit, Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo took world leaders to plant mangrove seeds in the Taman Hutan Raya Ngurah Rai Forest Park during the G20 meeting in Bali, Indonesia, which took place after COP27.

Such photo opportunities are important if they genuinely seek to shine a light on the problem of deforestation. However, no such light was shone on the multinational mining companies who have destroyed tropical rainforests around the world. A recent study published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America examined the impact of industrial mining on deforestation in tropical regions. Looking at a selection of 26 countries, the researchers found that industrial mining in Indonesia accounted for a staggering 58.2% of the total deforestation in these countries between 2000 to 2019. However, in a concerning move, Indonesia’s government passed a new mining law in 2020 that allows permits for mining to be extended with little or no environmental regulation. ‘When the mining concessions increase’, said Pius Ginting of the NGO Action for Ecology and Emancipation of the People (AEER), ‘it drives deforestation and results in a loss of biodiversity and fragments the habitat [of animals and people]’. Indonesia revoked about two thousand mining permits this year, but this revocation is mostly due to the regularisation of the permit system, not greater regulation for environmental protection. Pressure from people’s movements in Indonesia as well as from the catastrophic impact of the climate and environmental disasters have put the government on notice about its proximity to and intimacy with multinational mining companies.

Meanwhile, the question of the orangutan remains unanswered. An academic review of the $1 billion spent on orangutan conservation from 2000 to 2019 found that ‘habitat protection, patrolling, and public outreach had the greatest return on investment for maintaining orangutan populations’. However, these funds have not accomplished much. The key issue of ending deforestation – including halting the expansion of palm oil, pulpwood, and logging plantations in Borneo and Sumatra – is off the table. How much attention will be paid to these matters at the upcoming Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, which is to be held in Montreal (Canada) from 7–19 December? Will anyone listen to the voice of the orangutans?

In October, the head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Kristalina Georgieva, told a townhall of civil society organisations in Washington, DC that the IMF ‘is indeed supporting biodiversity. For instance, we have economists that are able to measure the monetary value of an elephant and the value of a whale’. Georgieva’s comments echo an observation made by Karl Marx in volume one of Capital (1867): ‘In England, women are still occasionally used instead of horses for hauling canal boats, because the labour required to produce horses and machines is an accurately known quantity, while that required to maintain the women of the surplus-population is below all calculation’.

What is the monetary value of an orangutan, let alone the survival of the planet? The ruling class might be able to calculate those values, but it is clear that they are unwilling to foot the bill to save the planet.

Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research newsletter

Sri Lanka: Oman Mission Denies the Allegations

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3 mins read

“The Embassy of Sri Lanka in Oman categorically denies the recent reports by certain Sri Lankan media accusing the Embassy of not extending welfare and repatriation assistance to the stranded Sri Lankan female domestic workers in Oman,” the Embassy of Sri Lanka in Muscat of Sultanate of Oman, has noted in an email response to the enquiry made by Sri Lanka Guardian.

However, taking action against the alleged misconduct by a diplomatic officer in the mission, the statement reiterated the fact that “according to the instructions of the Foreign Ministry and SLBFE, the Embassy has taken immediate action to terminate the services of the alleged diplomatic officer of the labour section from the SLBFE.”

“As informed through the Foreign Ministry media release on 17 November 2022, the Sri Lankan Embassy in Oman is inundated with requests for the repatriation of Sri Lankan female domestic workers. Most of them are victims of human trafficking by unscrupulous and unregistered agents and have arrived using a visit/tourist visa through Dubai. The Embassy had previously reported this illegal practice to the authorities and taken action to bring the offenders to book,” it added. 

Response from the embassy has further elaborated on the incident as follows;

“As of today, there are 77 female domestic workers sheltered at the safe-house, out of whom 63 had arrived on visit/tourist visas and only 14 had come with employment visas. The safe house was established in October 2019 with about 50 inmates. After a visa overstay amnesty period granted by the Omani government between December 2020 and January 2022, the number of inmates decreased to about 40 at the beginning of February 2022. However, due to the exploitation of visit/tourist visas by human traffickers, the number of stranded female migrants has once again increased.

The cost of providing adequate security and facilities to the inmates of the safe house is met by the SLBFE.

Their repatriation is restricted due to several reasons such as:

  • Unavailability of funds to pay overstay penalty for those who arrived in Oman using a visit/tourist visa. Omani authorities charge OMR 10 per day for overstaying. The average cost per person to pay penalty is OMR 500. (Rs. 500,000.00)
  • Unavailability of funds to pay recruitment costs demanded by employers/agents to get exit permission for those who want to return prematurely within a two-year contract period. The average cost per person is OMR 1000 (Rs. 1,000,000.00)
  • Unavailability of air tickets and COVID Vaccination Certificate. The average cost per person is OMR 45 for a ticket and OMR 15 for PCR for non-vaccinated persons. The overall cost is OMR 60 per person (Rs. 60,000.00).
  • In a few cases, the unavailability of correct data is needed to prepare temporary travel documents.
  • Pending court cases and Police complaints for alleged theft etc.

The Embassy has undergone several predicaments due to the overwhelming number of safe-house inmates, compelling the owner of the safe-house villa to issue notice to vacate. While fully understanding their plight and duress due to limited resources, it is reiterated that the onus of solving their recruitment charges with the respective employers only relies with the agents who took a commission from Omani agents/employers to send them to Oman.

The Embassy officials had successfully negotiated the cancellation of overstay penalties for several females and repatriated 21 safe-house inmates and 12 others who were residing without proper visas in November 2022. The Embassy hands over the deportees to the Labour Department every Sunday with tickets to travel on the following Thursdays as per the negotiated agreement by the Embassy with the Omani authorities. At this point, the charge for PCR (OMR 15) is handed over to the officials of the Labour Department who arrange an escort for them to the airport.

It is important to note that each worker has a distinctive problem, associated with extensive dealings with agents, employers, police, labour department etc. It is noted that the main obstacle faced by the Embassy in arranging the repatriation is due to the fact that the concerned workers try to break the contract within a short period of time causing monetary loss to the employers. Moreover, medically and physically unfit females have been brought to Oman by the agents through visit visas who either do not get any job offers or get rejected and returned to the agents. However, the Embassy ensures that it takes all endeavours to safely repatriate them at the earliest possible occasion and tirelessly seeks the assistance of donors including IOM for air-tickets, and negotiates with the agents/sponsors for cancellation of charges.

According to the instructions of the Foreign Ministry and SLBFE, the Embassy has taken immediate action to terminate the services of the alleged diplomatic officer of the labour section from the SLBFE. Further, the Embassy appeals to all those who report and comment on this sensitive matter to act responsibly and avoid tarnishing the image of Sri Lanka and Oman which will be detrimental to the well-being of the strong Sri Lankan professional expatriate workforce. Moreover, due to stringent rule of law, auctioning of females and prostitution cannot openly take place in Oman and anyone who has credible information on such incidents is requested to report it to the authorities immediately with details of the alleged victims.

World Cup: A Call to US Team to Show Solidarity With Iranian People

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2 mins read

The moral winner of the World Cup 2022 is the Iranian team. Yesterday, Iran’s national team kept silent during the Islamic Republic’s national anthem ahead of their match against England, in solidarity with the uprising against the ayatollahs. The team’s players wanted to tell the whole world that they do not represent the regime, but rather the people in their fight against dictatorship.

Yet, according to the protesters, the Iranian team is not doing enough to challenge the regime. However, by remaining silent, the players defied the Islamic Republic on live TV, in front of the cameras of the whole world. The team then lost against England, but it was not looking for a victory on the soccer field. After all, Iranians back home preferred that the English team would win the match, as officially the Iranian one still represents the Islamic Republic.

Iranian Defender Hajsafi: Protesters ‘Should Know That We Are With Them’

However, during a Sunday press conference, Defender Ehsan Hajsafi openly supported the protesters. He said: “They should know that we are with them. And we support them. And we sympathize with them regarding the conditions.” He then added: “We have to accept that the conditions in our country are not right and our people are not happy… We are here but it does not mean we should not be their voice or we should not respect them.”

London-based media outlet Iran International reported that Striker Kaveh Rezaei expressed sympathy and criticism of the recent killing of the Kurdish people in Mahabad and Javanrud. Rezaei stated: “Stop the killing of Kurdish people… Killing Kurds is equal to killing Iran.”

It may not be enough, but after all, the team will pay for any criticism of the regime once they are back home.

The Iranian Team Will Play Against The United States

On November 29, the Iranian team will play against the United States. It would be nice for the U.S. team to show solidarity with the Iranian protesters, as the American soccer players can afford to express their position freely, unlike the Iranian team.

In school, children are taught that sports teach good values, respect, equality, and resilience. The West was not strong enough to oppose the organization of the World Cup in Qatar, a country under scrutiny for its mistreatment of migrant workers and reports of human rights abuses. However, the West can still redeem itself.

The U.S. team should find the confidence and courage, developed in sports, to show that the people in the West are not indifferent. For example, when the U.S. team scores a goal, the players can take their jerseys off and show underneath another shirt with the name “Mahsa Amini” (in Kurdish: Jina Amini), the girl that became the symbol of the protests in Iran after being tortured and killed in custody by the Islamic Republic’s “morality” police, or with the slogan of the uprising: “Woman, Life, Freedom.”

This Is Showing Empathy And Comradeship

Some people may say that sports should not be “politicized.” Yet, this would be showing empathy and comradeship. It is to put into practice the values that sports teach. Athletes in the U.S. have been kneeling in several matches. It would not make sense that during a match with Iran, the same athletes would not stand for human rights, in support for the people of a country that are dying for freedom.

The West can take advantage of the World Cup’s spotlight, one of the most watched events on the planet, and make history with a strong message against dictatorship. After all this is what sport is all about: solidarity.

Views expressed are personal

Forever Young: Staughton Lynd

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5 mins read

Suddenly Staughton Lynd is all the rage. Again. In the last several years, Lynd has published a number of new books as well as new editions of classics such as Rank and File, plus a memoir co-authored with his wife Alice. In addition, two books about his life as an activist have been published, one on the years through 1970 by educator Carl Mirra (The Admirable Radical: Staughton Lynd and Cold War Dissent, 1945-1970) and another about his work since 1970 by historians Mark Weber and Stephen Paschen, Side by Side: Alice and Staughton Lynd, the Ohio Years.

            In an epoch of imperial hubris and corporate class warfare on steroids, a Lynd revival could hardly have come at a better time. Soldier, coal miner, Sixties veteran, recent college graduate – there’s much to be gained by all from a study of Lynd’s life and work. In so doing, it’s inspiring to discover how frequently he was in the right place at the right time and, more importantly, on the right side.

Mississippi

During the tumultuous summer of 1964, Lynd was invited to coordinate the Freedom Schools established in Mississippi by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). The schools were an integral part of the Herculean effort to end apartheid in the United States and became models for alternative schools everywhere. That August, Lynd supported the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) at the Democratic Party convention. Led by Fannie Lou Hamer and Bob Moses, the MFDP had earned the right to represent their state with their blood and their extraordinary courage. Instead the party hierarchy supported the official, illegal delegation, a pathetic band of reactionaries who – the irony is too delicious – supported not the candidate of their own party Lyndon Johnson but his opponent and their ostensible enemy, Republican Barry Goldwater, for president. This back-stabbing was carried out by liberal icons Hubert Humphrey, Walter Reuther and Walter Mondale and endorsed, alas, by Reverend Martin Luther King.

Vietnam

In early 1965, Lynd spoke at Carnegie Hall in one of the first events organized in opposition to the U.S.  invasion of Vietnam . A short time later, Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) asked him to chair the first national demonstration against the war, where he was again a keynote speaker. That April 17, a crowd of 25,000 that was five times larger than even the most optimistic organizers had anticipated turned out in Washington, and what would become the largest anti-war movement in US history was born.

That summer, Lynd helped organize the Assembly of Unrepresented People in Washington. Timed to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the murder of tens of thousands of civilians in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the gathering also included a rally at the White House where peace with the people of Vietnam was declared. Lynd has recalled the bemusement with which the relatively small band of demonstrators was received by those charged with protecting the government from its people. In reply, he told a military police officer that they were the first of what would eventually be millions, a statement that sooner than anyone could imagine proved prophetic. By 1967, a majority of people in the U.S. had declared peace with Vietnam.  

Movement Contributions

            Lynd would continue as one of the seminal figures of the 1960’s. He was both a tireless organizer and the author of numerous articles in important movement publications like Liberation, Radical America, the Guardian and Studies on the Left. With Michael Ferber, he documented the movement against the military draft in The Resistance, one of the best books about Sixties organizing.

            Lynd was an enthusiastic supporter of the New Left and embraced precepts like participatory democracy and decentralization. Ex-radicals of his generation like Irving Howe, Bayard Rustin and Michael Harrington, by contrast, spent much of the Sixties attacking SNCC and SDS. He spoke for many when he mocked their enthusiasm for Johnson and the Democrats as “coalition with the Marines.”

This, too, proved uncannily prophetic. Within a year of being elected in 1964, Johnson 1.) ordered a massive escalation in Vietnam; 2.) sent an invasion force to the Dominican Republic to support military thugs who had overthrown a democratically elected government; and 3.) armed and funded an incredibly violent coup in Indonesia  in which over a million people were killed. The Peace Candidate indeed. 

Blacklisted From Academia and Beyond

            At the end of 1965, Lynd made a fateful trip to Hanoi where he witnessed the carnage inflicted by US bombers. Up to that point, he was one of the most promising new scholars in the country. Upon his return, however, his career in academia was essentially at an end. A tenure track position at Yale suddenly disappeared. Department heads at other universities enthusiastically offered teaching positions, only to be overruled by higher-ups.   

            Lynd never looked back. He became an accomplished scholar outside the academy and one of the most perceptive and prolific chroniclers of “history from below,” with a special interest in working class organizing. From a series of interviews, he and Alice produced the groundbreaking book Rank and File, which begat the Academy Award-nominated documentary film Union Maids.

Youngstown

Lynd moved to Ohio in 1976, became an attorney and, when the mills in Youngstown began to close, assisted steelworkers in an unsuccessful attempt to take them over. In a book he wrote about the effort, The Fight Against Shutdowns: Youngstown’s Steel Mill Closings, Lynd explored the biggest little secret of all, one that people everywhere would do well to heed: We who do the work can build a better world, and we can best do it without the parasitic Super Rich who contribute nothing and weigh us down like a monstrous ball and chain.

Today

            Lynd is eighty-six now. The step is slower and his eyesight isn’t the best. Ten years ago he had open heart surgery – “an affair of the heart,” he calls it. “My cardiac surgeon said I came as close to becoming permanently horizontal as one can come without actually doing so.”

            He talks of how deeply he misses dear friend Howard Zinn. He recalls driving through Mississippi late at night, hopelessly lost, just days after civil rights workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Mickey Schwerner had been abducted and murdered. He talks of his remarkable life’s work with great humility and not at all wistfully, but in search of lessons it might hold, especially for the young. A teacher extraordinaire, he is guided by the principle that a teacher is also a student and all students teachers. And he writes and writes, as prolifically as ever, one book after another as well as articles and book reviews for ZCounterpunch, the Industrial Worker and numerous other periodicals and websites.  

            Lynd has seen more than his share of colleagues come and go. Some flamed out after a brief period of frantic busyness; others moved on to different lives and nice-paying gigs. Still going strong, Lynd offers long-term commitment (“long distance running,” as he calls it) and accompaniment – professionals living alongside workers and the unrepresented and contributing much-needed skills to the struggle for freedom, all the while walking side by side as equals – as alternatives. He also believes as passionately as ever that a better world is indeed possible. 

The Renewable Energy Transition Is Failing

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6 mins read

Despite all the renewable energy investments and installations, actual global greenhouse gas emissions keep increasing. That’s largely due to economic growth: While renewable energy supplies have expanded in recent years, world energy usage has ballooned even more—with the difference being supplied by fossil fuels. The more the world economy grows, the harder it is for additions of renewable energy to turn the tide by actually replacing energy from fossil fuels, rather than just adding to it.

The notion of voluntarily reining in economic growth in order to minimize climate change and make it easier to replace fossil fuels is political anathema not just in the rich countries, whose people have gotten used to consuming at extraordinarily high rates, but even more so in poorer countries, which have been promised the opportunity to “develop.”

After all, it is the rich countries that have been responsible for the great majority of past emissions (which are driving climate change presently); indeed, these countries got rich largely by the industrial activity of which carbon emissions were a byproduct. Now it is the world’s poorest nations that are experiencing the brunt of the impacts of climate change caused by the world’s richest. It’s neither sustainable nor just to perpetuate the exploitation of land, resources, and labor in the less industrialized countries, as well as historically exploited communities in the rich countries, to maintain both the lifestyles and expectations of further growth of the wealthy minority.

From the perspective of people in less-industrialized nations, it’s natural to want to consume more, which only seems fair. But that translates to more global economic growth, and a harder time replacing fossil fuels with renewables globally. China is the exemplar of this conundrum: Over the past three decades, the world’s most populous nation lifted hundreds of millions of its people out of poverty, but in the process became the world’s biggest producer and consumer of coal.

The Materials Dilemma

Also posing an enormous difficulty for a societal switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources is our increasing need for minerals and metals. The World Bank, the IEA, the IMF, and McKinsey and Company have all issued reports in the last couple of years warning of this growing problem. Vast quantities of minerals and metals will be required not just for making solar panels and wind turbines, but also for batteries, electric vehicles, and new industrial equipment that runs on electricity rather than carbon-based fuels.

Some of these materials are already showing signs of increasing scarcity: According to the World Economic Forum, the average cost of producing copper has risen by over 300 percent in recent years, while copper ore grade has dropped by 30 percent.

Optimistic assessments of the materials challenge suggest there are enough global reserves for a one-time build-out of all the new devices and infrastructure needed (assuming some substitutions, with, for example, lithium for batteries eventually being replaced by more abundant elements like iron). But what is society to do as that first generation of devices and infrastructure ages and requires replacement?

Circular Economy: A Mirage?

Hence the rather sudden and widespread interest in the creation of a circular economy in which everything is recycled endlessly. Unfortunately, as economist Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen discovered in his pioneering work on entropy, recycling is always incomplete and always costs energy. Materials typically degrade during each cycle of use, and some material is wasted in the recycling process.

A French preliminary analysis of the energy transition that assumed maximum possible recycling found that a materials supply crisis could be delayed by up to three centuries. But will the circular economy (itself an enormous undertaking and a distant goal) arrive in time to buy industrial civilization those extra 300 years? Or will we run out of critical materials in just the next few decades in our frantic effort to build as many renewable energy devices as we can in as short a time as possible?

The latter outcome seems more likely if pessimistic resource estimates turn out to be accurate. Simon Michaux of the Finnish Geological Survey finds that “[g]lobal reserves are not large enough to supply enough metals to build the renewable non-fossil fuels industrial system … Mineral deposit discovery has been declining for many metals. The grade of processed ore for many of the industrial metals has been decreasing over time, resulting in declining mineral processing yield. This has the implication of the increase in mining energy consumption per unit of metal.”

Steel prices are already trending higher, and lithium supplies may prove to be a bottleneck to rapidly increasing battery production. Even sand is getting scarce: Only certain grades of the stuff are useful in making concrete (which anchors wind turbines) or silicon (which is essential for solar panels). More sand is consumed yearly than any other material besides water, and some climate scientists have identified it as a key sustainability challenge this century. Predictably, as deposits are depleted, sand is becoming more of a geopolitical flashpoint, with China recently embargoing sand shipments to Taiwan with the intention of crippling Taiwan’s ability to manufacture semiconductor devices such as cell phones.

To Reduce Risk, Reduce Scale

During the fossil fuel era, the global economy depended on ever-increasing rates of extracting and burning coal, oil, and natural gas. The renewables era (if it indeed comes into being) will be founded upon the large-scale extraction of minerals and metals for panels, turbines, batteries, and other infrastructure, which will require periodic replacement.

These two economic eras imply different risks: The fossil fuel regime risked depletion and pollution (notably atmospheric carbon pollution leading to climate change); the renewables regime will likewise risk depletion (from mining minerals and metals) and pollution (from dumping old panels, turbines, and batteries, and from various manufacturing processes), but with diminished vulnerability to climate change. The only way to lessen risk altogether would be to reduce substantially society’s scale of energy and materials usage—but very few policymakers or climate advocacy organizations are exploring that possibility.

Climate Change Hobbles Efforts to Combat Climate Change

As daunting as they are, the financial, political, and material challenges to the energy transition don’t exhaust the list of potential barriers. Climate change itself is also hampering the energy transition—which, of course, is being undertaken to avert climate change.

During the summer of 2022, China experienced its most intense heat wave in six decades. It impacted a wide region, from central Sichuan Province to coastal Jiangsu, with temperatures often topping 40 degrees Celsius, or 104 degrees Fahrenheit, and reaching a record 113 degrees in Chongqing on August 18. At the same time, a drought-induced power crisis forced Contemporary Amperex Technology Co., the world’s top battery maker, to close manufacturing plants in China’s Sichuan province. Supplies of crucial parts to Tesla and Toyota were temporarily cut off.

Meanwhile, a similarly grim story unfolded in Germany, as a record drought reduced the water flow in the Rhine River to levels that crippled European trade, halting shipments of diesel and coal, and threatening the operations of both hydroelectric and nuclear power plants.

A study published in February 2022 in the journal Water found that droughts (which are becoming more frequent and severe with climate change) could create challenges for U.S. hydropower in Montana, Nevada, Texas, Arizona, California, Arkansas, and Oklahoma.

Meanwhile, French nuclear plants that rely on the Rhône River for cooling water have had to shut down repeatedly. If reactors expel water downstream that’s too hot, aquatic life is wiped out as a result. So, during the sweltering 2022 summer, Électricité de France (EDF) powered down reactors not only along the Rhône but also on a second major river in the south, the Garonne. Altogether, France’s nuclear power output has been cut by nearly 50 percent during the summer of 2022. Similar drought- and heat-related shutdowns happened in 2018 and 2019.

Heavy rain and flooding can also pose risks for both hydro and nuclear power—which together currently provide roughly four times as much low-carbon electricity globally as wind and solar combined. In March 2019, severe flooding in southern and western Africa, following Cyclone Idai, damaged two major hydro plants in Malawi, cutting off power to parts of the country for several days.

Wind turbines and solar panels also rely on the weather and are therefore also vulnerable to extremes. Cold, cloudy days with virtually no wind spell trouble for regions heavily reliant on renewable energy. Freak storms can damage solar panels, and high temperatures reduce panels’ efficiency. Hurricanes and storm surges can cripple offshore wind farms.

The transition from fossil fuel to renewables faces an uphill battle. Still, this switch is an essential stopgap strategy to keep electricity grids up and running, at least on a minimal scale, as civilization inevitably turns away from a depleting store of oil and gas. The world has become so dependent on grid power for communications, finance, and the preservation of technical, scientific, and cultural knowledge that, if the grids were to go down permanently and soon, it is likely that billions of people would die, and the survivors would be culturally destitute. In essence, we need renewables for a controlled soft landing. But the harsh reality is that, for now, and in the foreseeable future, the energy transition is not going well and has poor overall prospects.

We need a realistic plan for energy descent, instead of foolish dreams of eternal consumer abundance by means other than fossil fuels. Currently, politically rooted insistence on continued economic growth is discouraging truth-telling and serious planning for how to live well with less.

Across Africa, Water Conflict Threatens Security, Health, and the Environment

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4 mins read

Water is a finite resource on our planet. We can only rely on what we have, which translates to about 2.5 percent of drinkable fresh water. Of that amount, only 0.4 percent currently exists in lakes, rivers, and moisture in the atmosphere. The strain of this limited supply grows by the day and as this continues, the detrimental impact will continue to be felt in places least equipped to find alternative solutions—in particular, the African continent.

The global population is estimated to reach around 9.6 billion people by 2050. This is triple the number of humans on the planet just a few decades ago, having to exist with the same amount of water, not taking into account the nonhuman animals and plants that also rely on water to survive.

More than a third of the planet’s population living without access to clean, safe water live in sub-Saharan Africa. And nearly two-thirds—some four billion people—live in water-scarce areas. With this number set to steadily rise, the United Nations predicts that around 700 million people across the world might be “displaced by intense water scarcity” by 2030.

Scarcity-Led Conflict and Crisis

Each year, the world is seeing extreme water-related events including heatwaves and droughts. In 2021 on the African continent alone, Madagascar, Kenya, and Somalia experienced severe water shortages. And with scarcity, conflict tends to follow.

A number of African conflicts are being fueled by competition for dwindling natural resources. At a state level, Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan have been engaged in a continuing dispute over fresh water in the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. Similar issues are playing out across every level of society.

Cameroon, for instance, experienced a violent dispute over water between fishermen and herders in a town near the border of Chad in December 2021. The disagreement over rights to water found in a shrinking Lake Chad led to the death of 22 people and a further 100,000 people displaced from their homes as the two groups fought.

“Once conflicts escalate, they are hard to resolve and can have a negative impact on water security, creating vicious cycles of conflict,” said Susanne Schmeier, senior lecturer in water law and diplomacy at IHE Delft.

This negative feedback loop fueled by conflict is further compounded by the effect on water quality, agriculture, and forced migration. “With very rare exceptions, no one dies of literal thirst,” said Peter Gleick, head of the Oakland-based Pacific Institute. “But more and more people are dying from contaminated water or conflicts over access to water.”

This insight speaks to the complex interplay between water shortage and conflict. According to research from the Pacific Institute, the impact of water on agriculture plays an even greater role in contributing to conflict—a view backed up by the fact that agriculture accounts for 70 percent of fresh water use in Africa.

Another conflict-causing factor is the social impact of water shortages. With up to a quarter of the world’s population facing serious water scarcity at least one month of the year, people are being forced to migrate. In 2017, at least 20 million people from Africa and the Middle East left their homes due to food shortages and conflict caused by serious drought.

Food Insecurity Due to Impact on Wildlife and Agriculture

Food insecurity caused by water shortages is being compounded by the loss of wildlife. With a drop in their rainy seasons, Kenya’s sheep, camels, and cattle have been in decline. This has led to a threat of 2.5 million people potentially going without food due to drought, according to the United Nations.

The impact of drought is taking a severe toll on agriculture, particularly in counties where this forms the mainstay of their economy. In South Africa, for instance, agriculture is key to the functioning of the country when it comes to job creation, food security, rural development, and foreign exchange.

Water shortages in the country impact both commercial and subsistence farmers. But it is the subsistence farmers who are hardest hit by the droughts, according to a 2021 paper published by a group of international scientists in the journal Science of the Total Environment.

While commercial farmers are able to offset a lack of rain through alternative water supplies, as well as storage and irrigation technologies, subsistence farmers who are reliant on rain, the scientists write, “are particularly susceptible to drought as they highly depend on climate-sensitive resources.” They also point out that the impact is worsened by the fact that this form of farming is tied to farmers’ own food security.

Adaptation

There is no way to avoid the impacts of water scarcity and drought. The best thing to do is manage and mitigate risk where possible. A tool proposed by the group Water, Peace and Security is an early warning monitor capable of tracking information on rainfall, crop yields, and political, economic, and social factors. According to the group, this tool would “predict water-related conflicts up to a year in advance, which allows for mediation and government intervention.”

Another common de-risking approach to conflict is water-sharing agreements. Since the end of World War II, 200 of these agreements have been signed. Despite this, the UN has consistently failed to introduce a Water Convention that would see over 43 countries sharing transboundary rivers and lakes.

A good example where a water-sharing agreement helped avoid conflict can be found in Southern Africa. In 2000, with tensions rising over shared resources, an agreement was reached between Lesotho, South Africa, Botswana, and Namibia that helped avoid further issues.

Reducing water loss remains the most recommended method countries should adopt to avoid future catastrophes. Agriculture and mining, in particular, are two industries that could do more to limit their water wastage. Another policy, suggested by Iceland, is to increase the price of water in relation to its supply, as a way to help curb water wastage.

Desalination is also a popular method used to free up more water, using seawater to increase supply. Saudi Arabia, for instance, uses desalination to supply the country with at least 50 percent of its water supply. Water recycling, known as “gray” water is another low-cost alternative used by farmers to offset the impact of drought.

As water scarcity continues to become more commonplace, so too will these mitigation and adaptation strategies. The question is, will they be enough?

Ceylon Chamber makes clarion call for independence of Central Bank

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1 min read

The Ceylon Chamber of Commerce is firmly of the view that institutions like the Central Bank of Sri Lanka should be allowed to function independently in performing its mandate as in most other countries, particularly at this stage when the country is grappling with a major economic crisis. We emphasize the need to reintroduce the Central Bank Act which was proposed in 2018 when the current President was Prime Minister to enable an independent Central Bank, prioritize price stability and limit the monetization of the fiscal deficit.

The Ceylon Chamber reiterates the need for a strong and independent Central Bank which is paramount in driving Sri Lanka’s economic revival. Over the decades, Sri Lanka has been hampered by weak institutions and poor governance that has deteriorated the efficiency of the public sector and led to sub-optimal policymaking on the economic front. The present plight of the country has been attributed by many experts to weak institutions that have not been able to perform their role in line with expectations due to excessive political interference. The success of the journey taken on by the Government to move out of the current debacle with the support of development partners and the international community will undoubtedly rest on the commitment it demonstrates towards better governance and adoption of best practice.

The Chamber recently published a set of proposals to ensure an independent, productive and efficient public service. These proposals are aimed to ensure formal checks and balances within the public sector, and improve efficiency in order to transformthe public sector into a people centric arm of the state.It is vital that proposals such as these are implemented so that national development can be accelerated through efficient and independent service delivery by the Government.

Sri Lanka: Nutrition and Social Safety Net – Field Note 4

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2 mins read

This series is based on the excerpts of the first report of the Sub-Committee in identifying short and medium-term programmes related Economic Stabilization of the National Council tabled in the Parliament by Patali Champika Ranawaka as the Chair.  Composition of the Sub-Committee in identifying short and medium-term programmes related Economic Stabilization of the National Council,  Patali Champika Ranawaka (Chair), Naseer Ahamed, Tiran Alles, Sisira Jayakody, Sivanesathurai Santhirakanthan, Wajira Abeywardana, A. L. M. Athaullah, Rishad Bathiudeen, Palani Thigambaram, Mano Ganesan, M. Rameshwaran; all are members of the house representing various political parties – editors

Background

  • It was reported that malnutrition remained at a higher level such as 20%, for a period of 10 years for various reasons (poverty and some others).
  • It has been revealed by the FAO survey that in June 2022, 28% of the population (June 2022) suffers from food insecurity and people usually spend 75% of their income on food. It has been observed that this is an alarming situation in comparison with the percentage of 32% reported in the year 2019.
  • In terms of food, two major factors were considered: obtaining the minimum necessary energy (in kcal) and obtaining the necessary supplementary nutrients (proteins, vitamins, and others). According to the current World Bank poverty observations, the poverty in poor countries has risen to 6.1% in year 2022 (6.8% in year 2023), based on the poverty criteria of poor countries (US $ 1 per day), while poverty in middle income countries has risen to 25.6% in year 2022 (28.2% in year 2023), based on the poverty criteria of middle income countries (US $ 3.65 per day). Similarly, the unemployment rate also doubled during the period 2020–2022 while the annual average variance of inflation has gone up to a level of 34% and the variance between years remains at a higher level such as 66%.
  • All these facts indicate that there is a rapid increase in loss of income, loss of employment, and poverty (relative and absolute).

Short-term solutions and proposals

  • The social protection laws should be formulated with immediate effect for the benefit of the victims of poverty and unemployment
  • The Department of Census and Statistics should conduct systematic sample surveys on household expenses and income, poverty, and unemployment at least once every 3 months and accordingly the relief programs and economic programs of the government should be formulated in a manner in which social pressure is minimized. It has been reported that only 20% of the population consumes nutritious food of the correct composition. This indicates the fact that 80% of the population does not get proper nutrition as far as both nutrition and energy are concerned.
  • As the nutrition during the infant stage and the first 8000 days (up to the age of 20) decides the nutrition of the human being, the nutrition targets should be formulated in accordance with that. As the nutrition of adults has been given second place in a cultural perspective, the attention has to be paid to that matter.
  • It is suggested that it is essential to have correct data and give publicity on food and nutrition.
  • The varieties of yams, green leaves, and fruits that are not popular but give immediate results should be promoted having identified traditional knowledge and biodiversity. Even though food and other relief are provided by various institutions, there is no coordination among them. Similarly, there are accusations to the effect that the aid provided by the government is used for obtaining political gains. For that reason, a digital data platform and a benefit platform should be prepared for the creation of a systematic social protection net, and the relationship among international, private, and public institutions should be confirmed through it. It should be an open process with transparency and it is suggested that an electronic card or a mobile phone should be used for that.

Source: Sri Lanka Parliament

Are COP27 and G20 Mere Talk Shows?

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2 mins read

COP 27 in Egypt was organized with much fanfare and expectations, similar to  COP 26 at Glasgow that was organised in 2021. While nothing significant was achieved in combating the climate crisis subsequent to the  Glasgow Meet, one thought that COP 27 would be more productive and would find some real solutions to overcome the climate crisis.

Leaders and representatives from most countries participated in COP 27 including the President of USA, Prime Minister of UK and so many others.  Cosmetic speeches were made by the leaders, committing themselves to save the world from global warming and noxious emissions. Finally, resolutions would be adopted after representatives of all countries put their heads together. With no tangible agreement about the fundamental issues, the resolutions would inevitably end up as face-saving documents.

During COP 27, the UAE President clearly said that the UAE would not reduce the production of crude oil and natural gas. In the wake of the Ukraine war, a number of countries in Europe are increasing their usage level of coal as fuel, in spite of the fact that burning of coal as fuel will lead to the production of carbon dioxide and other emissions causing global warming. Countries like India, China and others that are import dependent on crude oil and natural gas, are planning to increase the production and use of coal and they have not concealed this in their speeches. There were further discussions about providing fund support by rich countries to developing countries for reducing emissions. But, there has been no clear agreement or commitment on this.

The net result of COP 27 would be that there would be no appreciable change in the ground realities with regard to climate issues. As usual, activists have been protesting about the cosmetic discussions during COP 27 Meet, and they all seem to be part of all the climate meetings, of course from outside!

If this is the case with regard to COP 27, the G 20 meeting also seems to have taken place in a routine manner which ultimately looks like only a get-together of leaders from twenty countries.

The Ukraine-Russia war has destabilized the world economy but there is no real effort to stop the war by the G 20 leaders, Resolution was passed condemning Russia for the Ukraine war, with Russia opposing the resolution. There are a few other countries which have taken a neutral stand, as they do not want to displease either Russia or USA and NATO countries.

Again, in the present conflict-ridden world with an active war going on between Russia and Ukraine and with Ukraine being supported actively by NATO countries and USA, how can there be an agreement on any issue in the G 20 meeting?

Obviously, COP 27 and G 20 take place at regular intervals and they seem to have become mere periodical calendar events.

While this is the scenario with regard to COP 27 and G-20, even U N Security council meetings have become talk shows in a discussion forum, with countries disagreeing and leaving the meetings after agreeing to disagree.

There are many peace and climate activists in the world who constantly speak and write about restoring peace in the world and solving climate issue problems.  They fill media space but the sane voices of these activists are not treated with any respect by the leadership of various countries, whose priority is self-interest rather than the world interest.

Ultimately, COP 27 and G 20 appear to have become mere diversions and a sort of entertainment for people around the world who look at these events with amusement and misgivings.

Ultimately, COP 27 and G 20 appear to have become mere diversions and a sort of entertainment for people around the world who look at these events with amusement and misgivings.

Sri Lanka: Medicinal drugs crisis and Health – Field Note 2

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5 mins read

This series is based on the excerpts of the first report of the Sub-Committee in identifying short and medium-term programmes related Economic Stabilization of the National Council tabled in the Parliament by Patali Champika Ranawaka as the Chair of the Sub-Committee.  Composition of the Sub-Committee in identifying short and medium-term programmes related Economic Stabilization of the National Council,  Patali Champika Ranawaka (Chair), Naseer Ahamed, Tiran Alles, Sisira Jayakody, Sivanesathurai Santhirakanthan, Wajira Abeywardana, A. L. M. Athaullah, Rishad Bathiudeen, Palani Thigambaram, Mano Ganesan, M. Rameshwaran;  all are members of the house representing various political parties – editors

Background

  • There have been reports of the physical resources challenge of maintaining a proper health service owing to the dearth of medicine, equipment and accessories.
  • A human resource crisis is emerging with the professionals at different levels of the medical fraternity leaving the service or migrating.
  • It is also reported that the opportunity for the public to receive a continuous health service is getting limited owing to the deficiencies found in the supply of food, fuel and electricity.
  • It is the opinion of many experts that we are faced with the long-term risk of losing the relatively high health indices that we have achieved as a middle-income country.
  • This shows that a health crisis that is intertwined with the shortage of foreign exchange, financial crisis and the energy crisis is looming large.
  • It was the opinion of the Expert Committee that the current cost on medicine can be significantly reduced through the adoption of a practical scientific methodology. A programme that ensures medicinal drugs security should be implemented with the participation of the public and private sectors and the pharmaceutical manufacturers.

Solutions and Proposals

  • The preparation of a “Common Programme” with the concurrence of both the public and private sectors is proposed upon declaring an emergency situation similar to the one during the Covid-19 period, in the face of the current economic breakdown.
  • Further, considering the following facts;
  • It is reported that a sum of approximately Rs. 160 billion is spent on importing pharmaceuticals annually and 85% of that is spent on imports (US $ 380 million). Out of that nearly 45% is public expenditure and 55% is private expenditure (WHO Report – 2016). There are 15 local manufacturers of pharmaceuticals (including the State Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Corporation (SPMC)) and they manufacture 15 % of the total value of medicines thus providing 35 % of the medicine requirement of the country. The local medicine sale through private pharmacies is 4% (96% is imported). In government hospitals, it is 24% (76% is imported).
  • The import cost on the manufacturing of pharmaceuticals locally accounts for 70% of the total value on imports (An expenditure of US $ 45-50 million) The added value is 30%.
  • The private manufacturers are faced with the problems of the government not making payments to suppliers (Rs.28 billion), issues relating to issuing letters of credit and taxes on raw materials for medicines.

Therefore, it is proposed to increase the manufacture of those medicines to the level of at least 30% within the next three years, after identifying the problems faced by the local pharmaceutical manufacturers upon the constitution of a High Level Steering Committee in which the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Finance and the local pharmaceutical manufacturers are included.

  • It is reported that the National Medicine Regulatory Authority (NMRA) regulates 14000 different medicines. An Independent Expert Committee should analyze these approved medicines and make arrangements to reduce their quantity. The importation of different varieties of medicines belonging to the same brand should be limited on the recommendations of an Expert Committee. The recommendations of the World Health Organization can be used in this regard (WHO Anatomical Therapeutic Chemical (ATC) classification system). It is emphasized that the current standard tests should not be limited to approval steps but also the samples should be tested at distribution of goods (the standard is tested only in relation a very few medicines issued at present)
  • It is proposed to appoint an Independent Board of Experts as a matter of urgency and make the National Medicine Regulatory Authority more independent. It is also proposed to correctly identify the vital, essential and non- essential drugs and prepare a priority list with the focus on their results, quality and price.
  • It is proposed to prepare a new methodology by making a formal investigation on the supplementary food and supplementary drugs based on their quality, market factors and health implications in order to limit them.
  • It is proposed to issue guidelines on emergency procurements by bringing the government procurement to 2-4 weeks. The aforesaid guidelines should be rescheduled to fall in line with the standards of various international institutions such as the Indian Line of Credit by which the provisions have been received, World Bank and the Asian Development Bank.
  • It is proposed that a large amount of foreign exchange is spent on the importation on non- medicinal equipment and accessories (US $135 million per year). A management that is based on a proper audit of equipment is proposed for controlling such expenses.
  • Even though it is reported that proper data is available about stocks of pharmaceuticals, it was reported that a huge amount (Rs.15 billion) is spent on local purchases done by hospitals at certain times. It is essential to take steps to prevent such purchases as much as possible. The action taken by the directors of hospital should be recognized.
  • Considering the wide gap between the prices of generic drugs and brand name drugs, a management audit should be conducted regarding the amount of brand name drugs and with the approval obtained for that from the said Panel of Experts, a methodology should be developed for every doctor and pharmacist to abide by that. The cost effective treatment guidelines should be developed for the common diseases and pharmaceuticals should be imported accordingly.
  • Considering that stocks of various drugs and equipment are donated by certain organizations, it is proposed that guidelines focused on their standards should be developed by the Ministry of Health. The donation of substandard drugs should be discouraged.
  • It is proposed that a new mechanism is required for proper coordination between the State Pharmaceuticals Corporation and Medical Supplies Division (MSD) of the Ministry of Health.
  • It is proposed that the establishment of joint ventures of State Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Corporation (SPMC) and local private manufactures is the most suitable strategy. The money could be saved by facilitating private pharmaceutical manufacturers to function as direct suppliers instead of supplying through SPMC.
  • It is proposed to establish a trade zone for pharmaceutical manufacturing in a semi urban environment. (It was reported that the proposed Anuradhapura Zone was not suitable for that.)
  • It is proposed to increase the number of tests through a joint mechanism involving the laboratories of the Ministry of Health, laboratories of universities and private laboratories. An additional practical education will be incorporated into educational institutions through that.
  • It was observed that a certain amount of foreign exchange is spent annually for indigenous medicine as well. A methodology of joint public and private herb gardens and medicine manufacturing facilities is proposed for the manufacturing of indigenous medicine. The direct contacts should be maintained by Ayurveda Drugs Corporation with Ayurveda hospitals to alleviate the existing drug shortage.
  • It is proposed that laboratory facilities should be improved and that public private joint research should be conducted to ensure the quality and efficiency of indigenous drugs. The Ayurveda Formulary Committee and the Department of Ayurveda too should be strengthened for that.
  • It was observed that food and life styles to prevent non-communicable diseases should be promoted as drugs for such diseases in the top of the list of the most used drugs. A joint programme of western and indigenous medical systems is proposed for that.

Source: Sri Lanka Parliament

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