The Arahat Mahinda in 307 BC advised the famed deer hunter king of Sri Lanka, Devanampiyatissa: ‘O Great King, the birds of the air and beasts have an equal right to live And move about any part of this island as thou. The island belongs to the people and all other beings and thou art [...]

Sunday Times 2

Rape of this my own, my native land


The Arahat Mahinda in 307 BC advised the famed deer hunter king of Sri Lanka, Devanampiyatissa:

The Port City: An environment disaster waiting to happen?

‘O Great King, the birds of the air and beasts have an equal right to live
And move about any part of this island as thou. The island belongs to the people and all other beings and thou art only the guardian of it.’
This king accepted his wise counsel, protected the flora, fauna and environment and made the country into the pearl of the Indian Ocean.
Sadly this island is now a biodiversity hotspot in Asia. Realising clean water was essential for sustaining life, our ancestors built and maintained more than 20,000 tanks and reservoirs to harvest rain water. This island flourished as one of the finest hydraulic civilisations in the world before it was subjected to colonisation for some 450 years.

Since Independence in 1948, shortsighted policies have led to the overexploitation of resources and done much damage to the country’s environment.

Despite warnings from academics and patriotic citizens, the 575 acre land reclamation from the sea adjacent to Colombo is now underway for an unsolicited project renamed as the Colombo International Financial City (CIFC).

Academics and experts pointed out that this project was a health hazard to the people and an environmental disaster waiting to happen.
Air pollution
They expressed concern that the toxic PM2.5 particulate matter emitted due to the Port City construction over the stated 15 -20 year period is a serious health hazard and it may dissuade investors from coming to Colombo.

Dr. Ranil Senanayake at a public seminar on February 28 in Colombo said, “The level of PM2.5 toxic particulate matter in the city of Colombo is three times higher than what is safe for humans. These toxic particles are produced by construction activities, vehicle pollution and industrial pollution.”

The Port City (CIFC) construction of high-rise buildings, over the stated period of 15-20 years will continuously produce PM2.5 particles that will be blown over Colombo by the sea breeze. It is estimated that the toxin levels could reach 25 to 30 times the safety levels for humans. WHO reports state that these toxic particles could cause respiratory diseases including lung cancer, and cardiovascular diseases. The reports state that children and old people are particularly vulnerable.

In response to this health hazard posed by the Port City construction, Nihal Fernando, the Port City Project Director, stated in the Sunday Times (10-12-2017), “Good site practices minimise particle pollution … the wind is an important factor which determines the dilution and distribution of pollutants. Since Colombo is situated on a flat terrain close to the sea it helps disperse pollution over a large area and this is well established…”

The basic flaw in his argument is that he has not taken into consideration the changing topography of the city with high-rise buildings. These buildings will trap toxic particles in between them, creating toxic pockets and posing a health hazard to city residents.
We request the Environment Minister, who is also the President of Sri Lanka, to investigate this looming health hazard.

Impact on ground water levels
Addressing a public lecture, Dr. G. P. Karunaratne, an international land reclamation expert who has done research on the subject, said large-scale land reclamation adjacent to the mainland was causing the water table to rise in the Fort area, destabilising the foundations of old and historic buildings. These buildings would need stabilisation to avoid their collapse. President Sirisena commented on TV that he had witnessed this destabilisation effect.

Archaeologically valuable old buildings and heritage sites will be endangered if this destructive land reclamation project continues. This important detrimental aspect was not mentioned in the Environmental Impact Report or the Special Environmental Impact Report carried out for the project.

A few issues need to be highlighted:
(a) Loss of livelihood
It is also said large-scale sand dredging for the Port City project is causing loss of livelihood of fisherman
Fisher community leaders Anura Fernando and Herman Kumara have said that massive scale sand dredging for the Port City has stirred up sediment and destroyed the coastal feeding and spawning grounds of fish.

These fishing communities, who for generation have depended on the sea, have now lost their livelihood as a result of this project. This is a clear Human Rights violation.

The coastal fishing industry provides cheap fresh fish for the people of this country where 17% of the population suffer from malnutrition.
The majority of the poor people in this country cannot afford to purchase expensive deep water fresh fish and will thus suffer further malnutrition.

The National Aquatic Resources Research and Development Agency (NARA) Chairman, Dr. Anil Premaratne, reported to the Ocean Conference (06-06-2017) that coastal fishing in Sri Lanka amounted to 51.6% of marine fish caught and 27,578 boats were used by coastal fisherman.

This clearly establishes the importance of the coastal fishing industry in Sri Lanka.
Exploitation of Independent Fisherman
The Government has now advised fishermen that they should not use their normal 30ft boats (a boat costs about Rs 500,000), for coastal fishing and should instead buy refrigerated deep sea vessels. The Government is offering a vessel for Rs. 7.5 million though it costs Rs15 million. The Government has also stated that fishing should be done at a depth of 55ft or more in the ocean, thus prohibiting coastal fishing.

Fisher community leaders say they are poor, but independent fishermen. They say they cannot afford such expensive vessels for deep sea fishing. They believe the Government policy is favouring rich businessmen who could buy the Rs. 15 million vessel at the subsidised price of Rs. 7.5 million and then employ jobless fishermen for a pittance in their trade.

The coastal fishing community is deeply distressed by this unfair Government policy, which enables the exploitation of a vulnerable community.

(b) Serious environmental destruction
Sand dredged and dumped in the sea – around 100 million cubic metres of it — forms clouds of particles which are transported by sea currents. They smother delicate corals destroying them.

Turbid waters caused by large scale dredging reduce essential light for corals and marine flora and fauna.
Coral reefs are an important component of the marine ecosystem and spawning and nursery grounds for economic fish. They directly or indirectly provide edible sea life for human nutrition and also a source of medicine.

Coral reefs are nature’s filtration system providing clear water for beautiful beaches vital for this country’s foreign income generating tourism industry.

(c) Marine pollution destroys corals
Dr, Stephanie Wear, Nature Conservancy (USA) lead scientist for coral conservation stated: “…Climate change and over fishing are the more familiar hazards, but untreated sewage is a serious threat to reefs ….. greatest sewage pollution in the world occurs in developing countries, where coral reefs exist.”

Port City Project Director Nihal Fernando stated in the Sunday Times (19-06-2016), ” Thousands of metric tonnes of raw sewage are annually discharged to the sea … the situation will continue for the next 5 to 7 years.”
Raw sewage from Colombo and suburbs including the National Hospital is pumped daily through two 1.2 km long pipes at Modera and Wellawatta.

(d) Need to protect coral reefs
Professor Harendra Fernando and his team from the University of Notre Dame, Illinois, US, researched tsunami-affected areas in Sri Lanka. At Peraliya 30ft high tsunami waves surged inland about a mile, causing extensive damage and massive loss of life.
However, the tsunami wave at Hikkaduwa was about 9ft and barely grazed the beach.

Underwater research indicated that coral reefs buffer this island from devastating storms and tsunami.
It is thus essential that coral reefs are protected from sand smothering and sewage. The coral reefs are proven protectors of this island’s marine environment and coast line.

Granite for Port City
It is estimated the construction will extract more than 3.45 million cubic metres of granite from the central hills. According to Professor Jinadasa Katupotha it is equivalent to two thirds of the Sirigiriya rock and two thirds of the Piduruthalagala Mountain; this volume of granite is obtained using explosives and then transported and dumped in the ocean opposite the Galle Face Green.

Dr. Gamini Jayatissa (NBRO) in the Sunday Times (02-11-2014) stated, “Brace for more landslides with climate change. The risk of landslides must be taken very seriously and all projects need Environmental Assessment. About 20% of Sri Lanka is mountainous or rocky and one third of our population lives in these areas.”

The current situation
Landslides are occurring in water catchment areas affected by large scale granite quarrying, while flora and fauna habitats are destroyed, with drinking water catchment areas destroyed or altered, causing water shortage.

Artificial rain
The Government is now planning, at considerable cost to the taxpayer, to create artificial rain using chemicals.
It is reported that the Government has signed the Paris Environmental Accord to cut down carbon emissions. In view of this agreement, can the Government now in honesty, spray carbon dioxide into the atmosphere to create artificial rain? After careful research some countries use safer alternatives to obtain water.

Constructive suggestions
1. Stop the destructive sand and granite mining immediately for the Port City project and save the environment from further destruction.
2. Convert the reclaimed land into an attractive park, an essential air lung for the congested expanding City of Colombo.
3. If off-shore banking is required, establish the banks on the island of Mannar, 15 minutes flying time from Colombo which has been also an offshore trading city since 1987

4. Establish and invest in a national water conservation policy (not investing in the expensive activity of artificial rain pollution)
(a) Introduce countrywide rainwater harvesting
(b) Invest in sewage processing, thus saving water and producing fertilizer and not polluting the sea and destroying coral reefs.
5. Invest in desilting our ancient tanks and use them for water storage and flood control.
Addressing the 9th Annual Summit of the Institute of Environmental Professionals of Sri Lanka in October 2015, President Sirisena said, “The Government will take legal action against those who destroy the environment irrespective of their status.” We trust President Sirisena will stand by his assurance.

(The writer is is a Honours Graduate in Marine Zoology from Queen Mary College, University of London)

Share This Post


Advertising Rates

Please contact the advertising office on 011 - 2479521 for the advertising rates.