Right of reply By Carmel L Corea In his Right of Reply article under the headline ‘Port City Project: Megapolis Ministry Clarifies’, Nihal Fernando, Project Director (Colombo Port City) and Deputy Director General/Urban Development Authority, states, ” He is compelled to respond with the Ministry’s point of view, and adds Carmel L Corea who authored [...]

Sunday Times 2

Port City poses serious environmental questions


Right of reply
By Carmel L Corea
In his Right of Reply article under the headline ‘Port City Project: Megapolis Ministry Clarifies’, Nihal Fernando, Project Director (Colombo Port City) and Deputy Director General/Urban Development Authority, states, ” He is compelled to respond with the Ministry’s point of view, and adds Carmel L Corea who authored the article (12-06-2016) ‘Why the Port City is Bad for the Country’ has to be educated on the SEIA of December 2015″.

The Port City: More questions than answers

This is my response to his article: The information detailed below will hopefully clarify the Megapolis Ministry’s concerns. My qualifications queried by the Megapolis Ministry are given at the end of my reply.

The Supplementary Environmental Impact Assessment (SEIA) report of December 2015 was carefully analysed by a panel of experts comprising Prof. E. I. L Silva. Prof. Jinadasa Katupotha, Capt. O.L. Samaranayake and myself. The expert’s reported findings to the Supreme Court including examples of their lack of proper monitoring etc., for this Mega Project.
Aspects of the findings were reported in the Ceylon Today (23-01-2016) under the headline ‘More Studies Should Be Done – Experts’.

The expert’s analysis details
“The SEIA consultants had not even cared to consider how a series of large explosions would impact those living near the quarries and in the environment. No mention of explosion times, vibrations and its impact on the immediate and neighbouring communities, public and private properties. Its effect on flora and fauna and archaeological sites,” stated Prof. Jinadasa Katupotha (Emeritus Professor), Department of Geography, University of Sri Jayawardenepura.
Aspects of the above findings are mentioned in the article ‘Why the Port City is Bad for the Country. The purpose of my article was to inform the citizens of Sri Lanka of the possible hazards and setbacks posed by this mega Port City Project, with a minimum use of technical jargon.

Landslides now not limited to Sri Lanka’s hill country
Dr. Gamini Jayatissa, Senior Research Scientist at the National Building Research Organization (NBRO) states, “We are already experiencing intensified rainfall in concentrated periods of time; this is believed to be linked to climate change, so we are heading for a period where there will be more landslides.” (Sunday Times 02-11-2014)

Despite clear warnings of academics, including the Ministry of Disaster Management — circular 2011 –and without even consultations with NBRO, the Southern Express Highway was constructed. It is reported, a contractor dammed a stream running through the area with concrete, and this caused the Kokmaduwa landslide, resulting in the closure of the Southern Express Way for almost a week, and 30,000 people requested to evacuate. (Where?) The Road Development Authority (RDA) had to undertake remedial measures. (Sunday Times 25-10-2015). If researched academic warnings and the Government’s Safety guidelines were implemented, this landslide, which caused human misery and a massive financial loss to the country, would not have occurred.
The quarrying for large volumes of granite using explosives from this small country to dump in the sea to construct a port city, when the country requires urgent infrastructure development, needs honest and ethical evaluation.

Expansion of the port city project
At the Supreme Court (10-05- 2916 Daily Mirror ), Dr. Aventi Perera (appearing for the Attorney General) stated, the Port City Project was initiated to reclaim 120 hectares of land, the entire project now is about 485 hectare.

We understand (from the values quoted) this to be over a 200 percent expansion of the initial project. This obviously needs additional sand, granite, water and power for this expanded construction. Can Sri Lanka, a small country of area about 25,333 square miles with an increasing population of about 21 million people (same as Australia which is 100 times larger), afford to use explosives, destabilise the environment and dump a vast amount of granite, equivalent to about two Giza Pyramids in the sea, to construct a Port City? This will destabilise the marine environment and surrounding coral reefs, which protect the country. The reefs may possibly be destroyed causing a massive loss to the fishing and tourism trades.

Coastal erosion now a reality in Sri Lanka
Coastal erosion is a reality. Sri Lankan newspapers regularly publish reports on coastal erosion with supporting photographic evidence. This island’s coastal fishing communities have been seriously affected by erosion caused by sand mining. The Government has acknowledged this fact and offered Rs. 500 million as compensation for three years.

However fishing communities (over 30,000 people in Negombo) have rejected this offer of compensation. Fr. Sarath Iddamalgoda stated these fisher folk wanted their rights to their livelihood secured, which is now threatened by sand mining.
We strongly believe the Government should invest and upgrade the Coastal Fishing Industry. This industry, contributes about two thirds of our country’s protein requirements, essential for our people’s health and wellbeing, which is obtained daily from our rich coastal waters.

Scientists and navigators report that even at a depth of 15 metres the Sri Lankan coastal waters are teeming with marine life. It is the feeding and breeding ground for economic fish.

Navigators report that the coastline and sea bed have still not recovered from the effects of the 2004 tsunami that devastated Sri Lanka. To extract large volumes of sand for the construction of the Colombo Port City, in addition to the sand extracted for the country’s essential infrastructure development, on balance, we believe, this to be detrimental to the marine environment, on which the Coastal Fishing Industry survives.

Faecal pollution of coastal waters – unacceptable
We appreciate Mr. Nihal Fernando, the Dy. Director General of the UDA, disclosing to the public that – ‘thousands of metric tonnes of raw sewage annually discharged to the sea presently’. ‘This possibly continues for 5-7 years’.
His statement was confirmed by Capt. O. L Samaranayake, Master Mariner and Marine Surveyor. Capt. Samaranayake stated that the raw untreated sewage outfalls are about 1.2Km from the beach.

He further elaborated on marine environmental conditions affected by this massive sewage outfall:

  • The inshore currents are not strong enough to dilute the effects of the untreated sewage outfall.
  • The South West Monsoon winds which affect the sea currents are mostly westerly or southwesterly and this tends to drive the effluents (sewage) towards the beaches of Sri Lanka.
  • The gradual accumulation of sewage inshore will damage the beaches and marine life.
  •  As a result of Colombo’s sewage outfalls, it is clearly observed that the coastal waters remain turbid for long periods of time, even after the monsoon ends. The reduced light penetration will adversely affect the marine ecosystem destabilising it. This situation will adversely affect Sri Lanka’s income generating fishing and tourism industries.
  • The turbidity caused by metric tonnes of untreated sewage in coastal waters blocks the effective light reaching the sea bed, essential for plant growth and marine life. Under normal conditions even at 15 metre depth marine life and soft corals abound in Sri Lankan waters – their survival is now under threat due to massive untreated sewage outfalls. Can this fragile important ecosystem survive another 5-7 years under these clearly adverse environmental conditions?
  • Aesthetically the outfall is described as a disgusting sight, identified by scavenging sea birds constantly soaring over it.
  • It is suggested that if this situation continues, polluted water will even enter coastal canal systems, a health hazard to the citizens of this country.

In view of the above disclosures the Government, we believe, should take immediate action to upgrade the sewage system which is a potential health and safety hazard to the citizens of this country. We appeal to President Maithripala Sirisena, who is also our Minister of Environment, to speedily eradicate the faecal pollution of our coastal waters.

With respect to the important disclosure by Mr. Fernando, will the UDA publish the faecal coliform levels in our coastal waters to safeguard the health and safety of residents and tourists? Faecal coliform levels are stated as MPN/100. We understand the Primary Contact Level (e.g for swimming) is internationally at 150/100. For Secondary Contact (e.g boating) the International level is 1000/100. No doubt, residents and the tourism industry will look forward to this valuable information important for human health and safety.

It is hoped that the Megapolis Ministry’s concerns have been clarified and it will give adequate attention and study the issues raised in the interest of our environmentally unique and beautiful country.

*The author Carmel L Corea, is a Honours Graduate in Marine Zoology from Queen Mary College, University of London. She has a Post-Graduate Science Research Degree from Birkbeck College, University of London and a Post-Graduate Certificate in Education from Cavendish College, University of London. She is an elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Health (London).

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