The National Academy of Sciences Sri Lanka (NASSL) is the premier academic body of senior scientists in Sri Lanka incorporated by Act of Parliament No. 66 of 1988. The Academy acts as an independent consultative body on applications of science and technology in national development, and promotes the utilization of worldwide scientific achievements for the development of Sri Lanka. It also reports on the management and the rational utilization of the national resources of Sri Lanka.
The NASSL has been evaluating the available scientific evidence on the aetiology of Chronic Kidney Disease of Uncertain Etiology (CKDu) and is of the opinion that there is still no evidence to pinpoint any particular causative agent. Agrochemicals including glyphosate, flouride, arsenic, cadmium, hardness of water and high ionicity have been suggested but at present all these are hypotheses and research is still not conclusive.
It has been reported that the use of the weed killer, glyphosate has been banned as a precaution against the spread of CKDu. The decision appears to have been triggered by the recent announcement of the World Health Organization (WHO) that it had reclassified glyphosate into Group 2A for carcinogenicity as it was “probably carcinogenic to humans.” WHO has further included Diazinon and Malathion to Group 2A. It is important to note that CKDu patients do not show signs of cancer.
We are not aware of any scientific evidence from studies in Sri Lanka or abroad showing that CKDu is caused by glyphosate. The very limited information available on glyphosate in Sri Lanka do not show that levels of glyphosate in drinking water in CKDu affected areas (North Central Province) are above the international standards set for safety. Further, CKDu is rarely reported among farmers in neighbouring areas such as Ampare, Puttalam and Jaffna or even the wet zone, where glyphosate is used to similar extent. It has also not been reported in tea growing areas where glyphosate is far more intensively used. Therefore the scientific data is lacking to support the contention that glyphosate is the cause of CKDu in the NCP.
The NASSL believes that the available evidence suggests the need for immediate action in three areas to prevent the spread of CKDu. Firstly, a scheme to ensure that good quality water is freely available for consumption to all persons in the affected area. Secondly, a programme through the agricultural extension service aimed at educating farmers on the dangers of indiscriminate use of agrochemicals, especially pesticides and training them on their judicious and protective use. Thirdly, a stringent screening mechanism to prevent the import of sub-standard pesticides into the country. NASSL believes and advocate these three approaches being good practices need to be actively set in motion. NASSL further emphasizes the need to strengthen medical and other support to the population currently affected.
Our inability to deal with such crises is symptomatic of the failure of successive governments to invest on science. We hope the ban on glyphosate would not make the authorities even more complacent on the funding and strengthening of quality scientific research which could help identify the true aetiology of CKDu
On behalf of National Academy of Sciences of Sri Lanka
June 8, 2015