The Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka co-hosted a side event entitled 'Massive obstacle to development - Alcohol Harm' along with IOGT International, which was held on 11th July 2017 on the sidelines of the 2017 High Level Political Forum in the United Nations Headquarters. H.E. Dr. Rohan Perera, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka delivered the welcome address, in which he noted the impact alcohol abuse has in achieving the 2030 Agenda of Sustainable Development, particularly in the context of "SDG 3.5 specifically underlines the harmful use of alcohol and underlines the need to ‘strengthen prevention and treatment of substance abuse, including narcotic drug abuse and harmful use of alcohol’. This directly applies to overarching SDG goal of ‘Ensuring healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages’ ". His full remarks can be found below. Panelists included Ms. Kristina Sperkova of IOGT International, Dr. Samanatha Kumara Kithalawaarachchi from Sri Lanka, and speakers from the Thai Health Promotion Foundation, UNDP, and Friends of Recovery, USA.
Massive obstacle to development – Alcohol harm, the Sustainable Development Goals and the role of alcohol policy in the Agenda 2030’
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let me first extend my sincere appreciation to the co-host of this event, the IOGT International for the initiative taken to organize this event which addresses a very current and an extremely important topic on the role of alcohol policy in the context of achieving the SDGs. Sri Lanka is extremely pleased to partner with IOGT International in this initiative.
We all are well aware of the harmful effects of alcohol usage. Today, it is the leading risk factor of death and disability among people aged 15-49, worldwide. In terms of demography, this is the most productive age, in any country. It is also a major cause as well as a consequence of poverty. However, what is alarming is that, as reported in the media recently, as many as half of all alcohol users are persons who are engaged in professional fields. Alcohol consumption for many is driven strongly by ritualistic and symbolic pressures and not just by the desire for intoxication. This attractive and symbolically desirable image of alcohol has made alcohol abuse cut across all social strata. The harmful impact of alcohol on human development, therefore, is not only on health and economic aspects, but also on the general wellbeing, in any society.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Alcohol abuse impacts a cross-cutting issue over 12 of 17 SDGs. The SDG 3.5 specifically underlines the harmful use of alcohol and underlines the need to ‘strengthen prevention and treatment of substance abuse, including narcotic drug abuse and harmful use of alcohol’. This directly applies to overarching SDG goal of ‘Ensuring healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages’ Therefore, it remains one of the most important issues that need to be addressed in the context of the 2030 agenda.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Sri Lanka considers that addressing the issue of alcoholism is an extremely vital issue, given the public health, social and economic harm that it causes.
Statistics indicate that there is a high prevalence of liquor consumption in Sri Lanka. The per capita consumption of liquor is said to be at 3.5 litres, which is considered to be high. Alcoholism could be seen across the social strata in Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka has legally binding regulations on prevention mainly in the areas of alcohol advertising, product placement, alcohol sponsorship and sales promotion. It has strong alcohol laws regulating the usage and an action plan for its implementation. President of Sri Lanka, H.E. Maithreepala Sirisena, while addressing the UN General Assembly, last year, made it clear that Sri Lanka is “totally committed to eradicate drugs” in Sri Lanka and has established a Presidential Task Force on Drug Prevention and this Task Force is implementing a multifaceted programme titled ‘a country free of Intoxicants’ in collaboration with the Governmental and Non –Governmental Agencies. This underlines the highest level of political commitment in Sri Lanka to deal with the problem of alcoholism.
However, Ladies and Gentlemen, as in many countries, drinking customs and habits are deeply rooted in culture. Therefore, effective policies and action to prevent or reduce harm caused by alcohol requires the application of evidence based recommendations.
As we have seen in the global scene, the cautionary policies regarding alcohol have brought out some positive results mainly through altering the patterns of drinking. Specifically through making shifts from hard to soft liquor.
The Government of Sri Lanka has embarked on an ambitious process of making this shift, by direct measures, such as imposing high taxes on hard liquor and indirect measures such as creating awareness among current and potential users.
The Government hospitals around the country in Sri Lanka are providing healthcare services for alcohol addiction, which includes long term residential rehabilitation. Primary healthcare workers are specially trained to deal with alcohol related medical problems.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The SDG goal 3.5 specifically calls for prevention and treatment of harmful use of alcohol. To achieve this goal, in the broader context, countries require multi faceted and long term approaches which focus on social values and norms, along with a mix of social marketing, community information, regulation and enforcement activities.
However, we also need to understand that production and sale of alcoholic beverages, together with other ancillary industries are also important parts of the economy in many countries. It provides employment and important tax revenue for Governments. These economic and fiscal interests are the other side of the scale of social well being and health of citizens. Therefore these contending interests require very careful and delicate balancing, in addressing the issue of alcohol harm as an obstacle to development.
During this discussion we look forward to the experts who will detail their experience in addressing alcohol as an obstacle to development as well as how to deal with it with culturally sensitive and integrated approaches.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The usage of alcohol by humans dates back over 10,000 years. 2600 years ago, Lord Buddha realized the evil of alcohol and advised all his disciples to refrain from drinking it. Many other spiritual leaders have also advocated the same. However, alcohol abuse has continued. Therefore, we are dealing with an issue which is old as the history of our civilization which has become an intricate part of all our societies. This underlines all the more the enormity of the challenge that we have to deal with.
[ Let me conclude my remarks with a centuries old Irish proverb which aptly indicates the end result of alcoholism;
‘A man takes a drink, and the drink takes a drink, and the drink takes the man!’
Once man takes one alcoholic drink, he is led to take another, and eventually this drinking consumes his life. ]
I thank you.