Environmental policy failures contributed to Sri Lanka’s people power revolution

Earlier this month, a people power movement in Sri Lanka forced the deeply unpopular president Gotabaya Rajapaksa out of office. Among those leading this movement were the country’s environmental activists.

  • Mismanagement of environmental concerns contributed to the unpopularity and eventual resignation, in the face of popular protests, of Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka’s president.
  • While Rajapaksa’s main legacy is the worst economic crisis in the country’s history, he also leaves behind a multitude of failed environmental policies, critics say.
  • Uncontrolled exploitation of natural resources, creating opportunities for land grabbing through amendments to the law, and dismissing environmental concerns have all impacted the country, with some of these policies expected to have lasting effects.
  • With Sri Lanka’s economic hardship deepening and driving the population of 22 million into “survival mode,” environmental activists are warning of even more intensive exploitation of natural resources.

For Rajapaksa, whose term in office lasted less than three years and ended with a resignation letter sent from Singapore, where he’d fled in the face of the protests, it was a far cry from how his presidency had begun. Rajapaksa’s 2019 election manifesto contained multiple promises of environmental protection and the sustainable use of natural resources. He was hailed for running the first ever “zero carbon presidential election campaign” in Sri Lanka. But 16 days after being sworn in as president, that “environment-friendly” image was shattered when he issued an order to revoke the requirement of a permit for the transportation of sand.

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