Contributing to waste management and sustainable development in Sri Lanka

Saravanapavan Gowripalan
March 14, 2022

Australia Awards alumnus Saravanapavan Gowripalan is contributing to waste management  and sustainable development in Sri Lanka. Mr Gowripalan works with the Department of Local Government as the Provincial Engineer for the Eastern  Province where he oversees the design and construction of all types of engineering work, including waste management, water treatment, roads, construction of  buildings and work in public areas such as parks. He also oversees the  monitoring of all technical work in the province.

Gowripalan  completed a Master of Environmental Engineering at Western Sydney University in 2017 with the support of an Australia Awards Scholarship. “My Australian  exposure added greater value to my existing engineering knowledge,” he says  of his study experience.

“More  than just the theories we were taught, I could learn more about practical  engineering by observing and acquiring Australian architectural concepts. Although the Sri Lankan education system provides students with knowledge and theories, the difference in Australia is they are more practical based,  especially in the field of structural engineering”, says Gowripalan. 

Mr Gowripalan is a passionate advocate of lifelong learning. Before receiving his Australia Awards Scholarship, he had already gained undergraduate qualifications in civil engineering, and postgraduate qualifications in geotechnical engineering, sociology and public administration. He applied for  an Australia Awards Scholarship because he was unable to identify appropriate postgraduate courses in environmental engineering in Sri Lanka.

As  well as being drawn to the course subject matter, Gowripalan was eager to live in a multicultural country such as Australia. He was accompanied to Australia by his wife and two children, aged 12 and 10 at the time. He wanted his family to experience life in Australia to expand their knowledge about the world.

Mr Gowripalan says that his Australian education not only broadened his  knowledge, but also made him more confident. “My self-confidence was low  before my Australia Awards Scholarship, mainly because of the way I had been  brought up in the local context. Now, I am confident enough to talk with  other development professionals working in the area and can convince them of  the best solutions for addressing existing development issues in the province,”  he says.

Recalling  his time spent in Australia, Gowripalan values the opportunity he received to  network with people from different countries, including other professionals  in his field. He also enjoyed experiencing all four seasons of the year in the  southern hemisphere and visiting tourist attractions with his family.

Now working as a Project Engineer on two projects - the Rural Bridge Project and  the Local Government Support Project, Mr Gowripalan says the knowledge he  gained from his Australian and Sri Lankan education enabled him to introduce  several innovative solutions to local environmental challenges.

“I studied areas such as waste management, waste segregation and water purification when I was in Australia, and I am now applying the knowledge  from these courses in my day-to-day work in the three districts that I am  supervising,” he says.

He  explains that pesticides have contaminated groundwater in Sri Lanka for many  years, and he developed a solution to treat a polluted water source near a  paddy field in the Ampara District by using activated carbon to remove  pesticides. As a result, water that was previously unfit for drinking is now  suitable for human consumption. In addressing this challenge, Mr Gowripalan  sought the advice of his previous supervisor at Western Sydney University,  Professor Satha Sathasivam, to ensure that the solution would be effective. 

To address pollution and waste issues in the province, Mr Gowripalan is  currently working on a project to construct roads using plastic waste. He has  identified the necessary technology and is planning to implement this  solution in Trincomalee District. He is also working on an innovative process  involving pyrolysis, the thermal decomposition of materials at high  temperatures in an inert atmosphere. It involves a change of the materials’  chemical composition.

“You can burn plastic without oxygen and produce bio-diesel and carbon monoxide.  When the Asian Development Bank called for experts in the Eastern Province to suggest ideas to promote renewable energy for one of their projects, I proposed this idea, and they accepted my proposal,” he says.

Mr Gowripalan feels a responsibility to use the skills and knowledge he has  gained from Australia Awards for the benefit of all Sri Lankans in order to ‘repay’ his country and Australia for the extensive education he has  received. To this end, he applies his expertise widely. In addition to his  role as Provincial Engineer, he has identified and implemented a number of  environmentally impactful projects. For example, he secured World Bank  funding to undertake a drinking water project and solid waste management  project in the eastern districts. He has also implemented a range of water  supply projects and waste management projects—such as compost centres, night  soil treatment plants, waste centres and biogas plants-with funding from  donors. In addition, Gowripalan has established his own blog to share his  knowledge on a diverse range of subjects.

Mr Gowripalan is an advocate for green development and is working to promote its  widespread adoption in the Eastern Province. Looking to the future, he says  he would like to implement zero-waste projects and ensure potable water is available to all citizens in the Eastern Province.