Lanka seeking to pick up more world heritage site tags

By Rohan Abeywardena

A proposal made this year by the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage to the UNESCO World Heritage Centre to have the historic Seruwawila Temple in Trincomalee declared a world heritage site has been favourably received by the Paris-based UN body. Several Sri Lanka sites, including Sigiriya, are already listed as world heritage sites.

Prithi Perera, Secretary-General, Sri Lanka National Commission for UNESCO, said the proposal was taken up by the World Heritage Committee, which met in Quebec on July 13.

An expert attached to the International Committee for Monuments and Sites arrives in Sri Lanka tomorrow to conduct a week-long study of the temple and make recommendations to the World Heritage Committee to consider the site for world heritage status.

“I am positive the temple will be accepted as a World Heritage Site – it is already well on its way in that direction,” said Mr. Perera, adding that the ancient Somawathiya Chaitiya, in the vicinity of the Seruwawila Temple, would be the next site for consideration for world heritage status.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources is awaiting a response from UNESCO to its proposal to have the Knuckles Range, Horton Plains and the Sripada Peak Wilderness, all rich in biodiversity and cultural significance, included on the list of mixed world heritage sites. There has been a delay, as UNESCO has called for more information and modifications to the 230-page proposal submitted by the ministry.

Mr. Prithi Perera expected the proposal to be taken up by the World Heritage Committee when it meets in June 2009, adding that UNESCO recognition would give a big boost to eco-tourism in Sri Lanka.

Conservator General of Forests Sarath Fernando said the state-owned Knuckles Range has been gazetted as a conservation area, and some 2,000 hectares surrounding the range, including privately owned land, were declared “environmentally sensitive”, under the National Environment Act. The act prohibits further development of the area.

The government has acquired about 10 per cent of the required private lands. The big plan is to acquire all the surrounding privately owned buffer zone lands and annex it to the Knuckles Range.

At present, the department is facing problems raising the required money to acquire the lands. The new government policy is to pay market prices for lands acquired by the state. The department needs an estimated Rs. 400 million to buy up remaining lands.

According to sources, making the Knuckles Range surrounding areas “environmentally sensitive” became a priority for the department last year when a senior state legal officer was found to be involved in an unauthorised project to cut a road through the area. The road was to lead to a property that the legal officer was preparing to buy. The matter received wide coverage in the media, and the legal officer eventually abandoned her personal project.

The Department of Wild Life plans to upgrade Horton Plains from a national park to a “strict nature reserve. In the Sripada Peak Wilderness, the three areas coming under the Forest Department –the Walawe River Basin, the Morahela Conservation Forest, and the Peak Wilderness – will be designated Conservation Reserve Forests. The balance area in Sripada coming under the Department of Wild Life will be declared a Strict Nature Reserve.

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