by Tang Lu
Colombo, August 24 (Xinhua): In August, Sri Lanka is extremely hot and dry. When most people chose to stay indoors to escape the summer heat, four Sri Lankan international students had been going to different locations in the island country to collect water samples under the guidance of their Chinese tutor Professor Wei Yuansong, Director of Laboratory of Water Pollution Control Technology at the Research Center for Eco-Environmental Sciences (RCEES), Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS).
“The dry season is the season with the worst water quality in Sri Lanka. Prof. Wei asked us to collect water samples before the end of the season in order to collect basic data for our water purification research,” Suresh Indika Jayawardhana, who had just finished collecting water samples from Anuradhapura, told Xinhua recently.
While Indika was sampling, his companion, Ishanka Wimalaweera, was busy in the laboratory conducting tests on the collected samples.
At the beginning of January this year, Wimalaweera returned from China for winter vacation. He originally planned to enter the RCEES to do research after returning to Beijing and determine the subject of his doctoral thesis. Unexpectedly, the sudden COVID-19 epidemic not only disrupted all plans but also made returning to school a distant prospect.
In order not to let precious time go to waste, Prof. Wei Yuansong re-formulated the study plan for the four Sri Lankan students and guided them to conduct field research and data collection in Sri Lanka. He and his students hold regular weekly video conferences to discuss research progress.
“The weekly video is the moment I look forward to the most. Although I communicate with teachers in my daily life, the video conference is a face-to-face opportunity for me to meet the teacher and learn a lot from his guidance,” Indika, a Master’s candidate student in drinking water safety in Sri Lanka, said.
Sri Lanka has never faced a shortage of water, but the problem of “safe” drinking water has not been solved. Sri Lanka has been plagued by a Chronic Kidney Disease with unknown aetiology (CKDu) in recent years.
Due to the unremitting efforts of Chinese experts such as Prof. Wei and his Sri Lankan partners, the CAS launched the Program of China-Sri Lanka Joint Center for Water Technology Research and Demonstration in 2015. The center not only puts CKDu and drinking water safety as the core objectives of the research but also regards training water professionals for Sri Lanka as its own responsibility.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Isuru Shamika Yapabandara used to take the train from Kandy to Colombo’s Kelani River to collect water samples. “Only by understanding the water quality can we come up with practical solutions for the next step, namely, water purification,” he said.
Although it was done during the epidemic, the students’ on-site investigation went off very well. “Under the premise of ensuring epidemic prevention, Prof. Wei will inform Sri Lankan partners in advance every time about the students’ research plans so that we can help them get through all the steps,” said Dr. Sujithra K. Weragoda, Director of the China Sri Lanka Research Grant Project.
Weragoda further said: “Wei’s work is also helping Sri Lanka’s development because he is dedicated to mentoring Sri Lankan students and wants to train them to be pillars of water research in Sri Lanka.”
Wimalaweera, who specializes in industrial wastewater treatment, was delighted to tell reporters that he had been given more field trips to Sri Lanka because of the outbreak and that his doctoral thesis is taking shape with the help of Prof. Wei.
“Clean drinking water and water pollution control are major livelihood issues facing Sri Lanka. I am glad to share China’s experience and lessons in the field of water and environment with the young students of Sri Lanka, who will be the main force in building a beautiful Sri Lanka in the future”, Prof. Wei said.
(The picture at the top shows a student collecting public tap water in Anuradhapura, North Central Sri Lanka)