Time for Sri Lanka to focus on non-traditional security issues
By Satheesan Kumaaran
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
Sri Lanka is facing enormous problems with non-traditional security (NTS) issues such as human, water, energy and environmental security. NTS issues are taking centre-stage in a globalized world, especially after end of the Cold War in the 1990s, and are prevalent in developing countries. Although Sri Lanka is better off in some of these respects when compared to other developing countries, she is still vulnerable. It's time Sri Lankans took take charge of these non-traditional, but very important security issues.

Human Security
Human security has been severely threatened in Sri Lanka with the escalation of the ethnic conflict between the Sinhalese and Tamils into an unstable political atmosphere and armed paramilitaries patrolling the streets. The Sinhalese live in fear of the possibility of any LTTE aerial attacks or bombings of Sri Lankan government establishments or high-profile government and security officials. The Sinhalese also fear Sri Lankan army deserters who have escaped along with weapons from the armed forces and are now part of the underworld involved in heinous illegal activities. On many occasions, these deserters have broken into houses and stolen valuable goods and money.

Sri Lanka's northeastern inhabitants spend their days in fear and anxiety because of the ongoing three-decade-old ethnic conflict. Younger generations grow up with psychological fear and physical disadvantages that last a lifetime. If children in western countries are teased and bullied, they can fall back on the legal system for justice against their attackers. Not so in Sri Lanka. In fact, in Sri Lanka, violence is a fact of life for children, seniors and women in particular. It is a vicious cycle. Parents and teachers abuse their children verbally or physically while elders treat the younger ones as inferior to them. Although, children are the country's future, they often fall victim to parental and societal misguidance destroying all sense of creativity, pride and hope, and, in turn they become the abusers of the next generation.

Unless the Sri Lankan government takes initiatives to make such actions illegal, human security will plague the next generation of Sri Lankans for decades to come. The international community has the obligation to take a lead role in countering these events. Human security will prevail only if the people are able to live free from security threats of the state or any other force.


Water security is another concern and affects mammals, birds, reptiles or any other Eukaryotic species. When U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon addressed the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland last January, he emphasized the world's growing water crisis. He said, "A shortage of water resources could spell increased conflicts in the future. Population growth will make the problem worse. So will climate change. As the global economy grows, so will its thirst. Many more conflicts lie just over the horizon."

Sri Lanka is one of many countries that do not educate their people about water sanitation. If unsanitary practices continue to go unchecked, the consumption and use of contaminated water will have long-running health implications as Prokaryote and some infection-causing Eukaryote bacteria destroy bodily organs. Sri Lanka can address this and other water-related illnesses by educating its people about water management and sanitation. This requires government investment of money and people to educate the locals. Sri Lanka also needs better research facilities allowing researchers to study and provide solutions. It is necessary to find better ways to manage water resources and to adequately understand the need for sanitation and good hygiene at the local level. Environmentally friendly technologies should be introduced to address such problems.

The water situation does not only threaten people directly by drinking contaminated water, but also Sri Lanka's farming lands and central highlands which have suffered severe erosion from chemical contaminated substances. In the early 19th century, tea and coffee plantations in the central highlands prompted severe erosion. Today, tons of soil nutrients are still lost annually, and a sizeable percent of agricultural holdings have been left unproductive as a result of soil erosion and flooding. Land degradation in return contributes to improper use of agro-chemicals, and over-use of landholdings that are, at the outset, too small to provide most households with sufficient food.

The government fails to address these problems. Not only are their attentions elsewhere, but implementation of resolving policies are hampered by, of all things, politics, lack of funding and insufficient understanding of rural area eco-systems. The government in Colombo has little knowledge of the issues facing local communities because it relies on local government officers, but, often, many of these officers give in to ransoms and bribes.

The dwindling global supply of water should engage the attention of the powers that be. The kings in ancient times realised the importance of conserving water and the dams they built stand as a testimony to this. Political analysts and thinkers have predicted that wars in the near future would be fought for the control of the sources of water like in the case of oil.

Food Supply

Energy sources are insufficient to meet the needs of Sri Lankans. Although, Sri Lanka has its own natural gas and other energy sources, it often relies on other countries to fulfill the need of their consumers. Since state-owned and privately owned plants produce much less than demand, the rest of the supply is imported from other countries. Rather than encouraging and supporting the technology that already exists in the private sectors, the Sri Lankan government negotiates with foreign governments and private sectors - often India.

The government is negotiating with Indian government to get energy from the grids in southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu using water. Several other countries have proposed to set up thermal power plants in Sri Lanka, only to be turned down because the government feels that the energy from India will be much cheaper. Observers in Colombo say the Sri Lankan government is putting Sri Lankans at risk by not coming up with its own solutions and continuing to rely on someone else. Sri Lanka is leaving this internal matter in the hands of foreigners, without acknowledging how negatively this will impact Sri Lankans.

In contrast, India produces diesel, which is technically Bio-Diesel, using castor seeds. The castor crop provides the energy requirements of Indians. Further, India uses wind-power as an energy source successfully and wind mills produce clean energy. Sri Lanka lags behind in these technologies and innovations.

Sri Lankans need to develop and install their own environmentally friendly technologies to meet the energy demands of the people. The government should encourage students and researchers to study the subject.

Other Issues

Other environmental security issues of concern are: soil erosion; deforestation; the threat to the wildlife population by poaching and urbanization; coastal degradation from mining activities and increased pollution; and, the pollution of freshwater resources by industrial waste, sewage runoff and waste disposal. Sri Lankan farmers have adopted western-style farming techniques using chemicals to protect their crops from insects and other species that destroy the crops without realizing the danger of these chemicals. These chemicals not only wipe out all the bad species, they also weed out all the species that contribute to good organic soil, while playing a vital factor in soil erosion.

Deforestation due to industrialization is taking place rapidly on the island, degrading the environment and reducing biodiversity. Massive deforestation is re shaping climate and geography, but those responsible show no concern about the consequences. And, the government could care less about playing a meaningful role to stop these activities. Not only does this result in the decline in habitats, but it also affects the supply of wood for fuel and industrial use. The locals cut down wood for their own domestic use and to sell them in local markets to make a living. However, no one - not even the government - seems to recognize that because Sri Lanka is an island, it needs the trees to protect it from massive natural disasters. The government, NGOs and INGOs need to jump into action educate the locals on the importance of trees.


NTS issues have emerged in the aftermath of the Cold War and are important to survival in the contemporary world. Sri Lanka, as well as many other developing countries, has not taken these issues seriously. Political, military, economic and social issues keep Sri Lanka from being able to move forward on these issues. Independent international environmental bodies must come forth to help Sri Lanka ensure that NTS issues are addressed by the locals. Governing and solving NTS issues is integral to the establishment and sustainability of a country's internal strength.

(The author can be reached at: satheessan_kumaaran@yahoo.com)