The war drums are presently being sounded increasingly more stridently against Iran, just as they were in the months preceding the attack a few years ago on Iraq, which was falsely accused of having developed weapons of mass destruction. It is reported that, to date, more than a million Iraqis have been killed, over four million displaced, and that the direct costs of the war to the US alone exceeds US$453 Billion. However, as far as Sri Lanka is concerned, the main effects of the Iraq war are the accompanying increase in the cost of oil, the decrease in the exports of tea to Iraq, and the loss of employment to thousands of Sri Lankans, who would otherwise have gone to work there.
This time Iran has become the target of the US, France and Israel, in particular. If things turn violent, which seems to be very much on the cards, there is no doubt that the consequences for Sri Lanka would, in this instance, be far more serious than in the case of Iraq. If, as is strongly suspected, Israel is encouraged and assisted to attack Iran on the grounds that the latter poses an imminent, high-level threat to the global nuclear weapons balance and international stability, and the estimated 2,000 identified, critical targets within Iran are hit, the general expectation is that Iran would retaliate, inter alia, by blocking the shipping lanes through which a huge proportion of the world’s oil is transported. If this happens, we believe that Sri Lanka would be cut off almost completely, if not altogether, from our present supplies of oil. Can Sri Lanka survive such a calamitous turn of events or will we be shoved back to the Stone Age?
Has the government appointed any experts to study this not-to-be-ignored scenario and how does it propose to deal with the chaos that is bound to follow? What risk assessment has the Foreign Ministry made in this regard? Will the almost insolvent Ceylon Petroleum Corporation be given access to enough resources to purchase extra oil to form a buffer stock before hostilities commence? Can this oil be stored in the Tank Farm at Trincomalee or even somewhere overseas where there is excess storage capacity? The public is entitled to know how the government proposes to deal with the eventuality that we foresee. The authorities must take the public into their confidence on this grave issue.
It will be some years before coal-burning Norochcholai comes on stream. There will be increasing international pressure on developing countries to abandon recourse to any more coal power plants whilst the developed countries continue to pollute the atmosphere on the present colossal scale with their existing plants. Developed countries will try to push us towards natural gas and nuclear power, where we will become dependent yet again on someone else to supply us with the raw fuel and single-source equipment and spares. Therefore, even though the unit cost of electricity generated by alternative sources may well be much higher in the short term, there is a strong case for developing these sources, which will not require the import of any raw fuel and save us from commercial blackmail by the sole suppliers to whom we would be tied technically and contractually.
In our considered view, the government should immediately set up several permanent specialised expert technical committees to study in detail such alternative energy sources as micro-hydro, wind, photovoltaic, hydrogen from solar, direct thermal solar, dendro, wave power and hot dry rocks, none of which requires the import of fuel. These technical committees should have members from academia, the relevant government departments, industry, banks and the professional institutions. Most importantly, the Ceylon Electricity Board and the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation must be strongly encouraged to Athink outside the box, not concentrating solely on the price per unit of energy or only on those sources with which they are currently familiar but also at the many other important factors which will, in the long term, ensure that Sri Lanka will not be buffeted uncontrollably by events outside our shores.