Open Dalada Veediya to reduce air pollution in Kandy


The new Government has to be congratulated for taking the right step to open the closed roads in Colombo. However, there is one road in Kandy which has been closed for traffic due to security concerns which is causing immense hardships to the people of Kandy. Continued closure of the road in front of Dalada Veediya in front of the Dalada Maligawa has created serious air pollution problems and undue hardships to people in Kandy. It inconveniences people who travel to the city from the Tennekmbura side and also school children travelling to various schools in Kandy since a number of city schools are situated along the lake round. Earlier a student travelling to Dharmaraja College in Kandy from the city only took about 10 minutes by bus and now it takes almost 45 minutes during peak traffic times.

It is not surprising to see increasing numbers of children coming down with asthma and other respiratory illnesses. According to Dr. Anoma Siribaddana, Consultant Chest physician at the Kandy General hospital, the number of children with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is on the rise. This condition normally affects middle aged and older adults and habitual smokers. This is a serious health condition for which there is no cure apart from controlling the symptoms. Hospital statistics also show an increase in the number of asthma patients who spend time in the city. Presence of COPD in children is an alarming trend which should receive the attention of the authorities.

The city of Kandy situated in a valley between the Hantane and Hunnasgiriya mountains is expected to have high degree of air pollution. In fact, a comparison of the data collected from the Colombo Fort monitoring station and also from Kandy during the period 2001-2005 show that air pollution levels in Kandy are far higher than in Colombo. Colombo is situated on a flat terrain close to the sea and that helps disperse pollution over a larger area while air pollutants get concentrated in the Kandy valley surrounded by mountains. As a result, while only about 10% of the data from Colombo exceed the gazetted air quality standards, about 40% of the data recorded for Kandy exceed the national standards.

I have written many articles about the air pollution in Kandy and in one of them I pointed out the need for reopening the closed roads. Even today, the road running adjacent to the Temple of the Tooth is closed to traffic thereby creating huge traffic snarls on other by-roads. The result is that children are exposed to severe air pollution. The Government should be mindful of the escalating costs of treating people who become sick due to air pollution.

I have monitored air pollution in the Kandy city from 2001-2005 and hence can speak with some authority on this matter. When Hon. Ranil Wickremesinghe opened this road to traffic in 2002, there was a drastic drop in the air pollution levels. The particle concentration dropped by nearly 70% and the sulphur dioxide levels, too, dropped by about 50% after the roads were reopened.

These two pollutants are the major causes of asthma and other respiratory illnesses. Vehicles caught up in traffic jams spew a large amount of black smoke with these particles. In addition, unburnt petrol emitted from motor vehicles has polyaromatic compounds which are known to cause cancer. Air pollution also triggers heart attacks and other heart related diseases.

Some studies carried out in developed countries suggest that if the particle concentration increases by about 10% then the additional deaths of elderly people with heart conditions also increases by about 10%. Sadly, such statistics are not available from Sri Lanka and there is an urgent need for the health authorities to be concerned about this since it is the government resources which have to be spent for treating a sick population.

There were some opposed to opening this road claiming that it affects the sanctity of the most venerated religious place in the country. However, it is important to stress that this is not a road which is meant for the Dalada Maligawa. For over 100 years this has been a public highway from Kandy to Mahiyanagana. It was closed only after the Dalada Maligawa bombing and now there is no terrorist problem which justifies keeping this road closed. There was some dialogue several years back for reopening this road and the most venerable Malwatte MahanayakeThera too gave his blessings. Again, the former president was not in favour of this move since he did not understand the seriousness of this issue and considered only the pilgrims who visit the temple of tooth. Kandy has only a few roads and alternate roads are unavailable for traffic. Also, other grandiose plans to build a tunnel below the Kandy Lake is extremely costly and is not a practical solution. Therefore, I wish to appeal to the new President to open up the closed road in front of the Dalada Maligawa to vehicular traffic and also take some meaningful steps to solve the traffic problem in Kandy.

O.A. Illeperuma

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