Activists demand FAO compensation for kidney disease

UN food body denies spreading renal disease in Sri Lanka
Activists demand FAO compensation for kidney disease

A farmer harvests rice near the village of Murusumoddai, Sri Lanka in July. reporter, Colombo
Sri Lanka
December 18, 2013
A Sri Lankan watchdog is calling on the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to compensate almost a half million people who have been affected by a chronic kidney disease. 

According to research conducted by the Swarna Hansa Foundation, a local NGO, approximately 50,000 Sri Lankans have died and as many as 500,000 have been affected by the mysterious kidney disease over the last three decades. The NGO claims the disease is caused by agrochemicals that the FAO endorsed. 

“We requested that the UN grant compensation for these kidney patients,” because “the FAO encourages the use of chemicals made by multinational companies,” said Gallage Punyawardena, chairman of Swarna Hansa Foundation. Punyawardena said the agrochemicals contain dangerous levels of cyanide, mercury and arsenic.

The FAO flatly denies that it has promoted specific agrochemicals and rejects the notion that it is to blame for chronic kidney disease.

“We have never promoted or advocated pesticides in the country. We only regulate the pesticides,” said Dr Premalal Kuruppuarachchi, assistant FAO representative. “We have never supplied and provided pesticides even directly or indirectly into the country,” he added.

“The FAO implements projects at the request of the government. If anybody requests compensation, it should come through government ministries.”

Dr Channa Sudath Jayasumana, a member of the medical faculty of Rajarata University, said that research conducted by his university found that pesticides and chemical fertilizers were responsible for the spike in kidney diseases.

“The FAO and International Rice Research Institute [IRRI] in the Philippines are responsible for introducing genetically modified rice seeds into our country without considering local traditional farming,” he said.

“The FAO and IRRI misguided local politicians and agricultural officers and advised them to avoid local traditional rice seeds and promoted their genetically modified seeds to get better harvests,” Jayasumana said.  “The result is that chemicals have mixed with farmland and water wells.

“It is true that the government banned a few pesticides," he added, "but we can still find them at the market.” 

Dr D.B.T. Wijeratne, additional secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture, said that scientific studies have prompted government restrictions on three kinds of pesticides and reduction in the use of triple super phosphate fertilizer.

“Farmers are not following safety measures when using the pesticides,” he said. “Sometimes they mix two different pesticides together or use more than the required amount.”

Joseph Senanayake, a farmer from at Kaduruwela in Polonnaruwa, said that he has been suffering from kidney disease for more than five years.

Senanayaka said that according his doctors, his ailment is caused by poisoned well water.

“I am very weak and have had to rent out my paddy fields so that I can look after my family,” he said.

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