Upshot of mega development projects SPECTRE OF FLOODS AND LANDSLIDES

By Raveendra Kariyawasam
( Ecologist )

According to government reports, recent floods and landslides in Sri Lanka have caused widespread disruptions across the country. At least 200,000 people have been displaced by the floods, many casualties have been reported and dozens are feared missing. The government attributes them to climate change. However, climate change is like a God who does not take any responsibility. He doesn’t have to do anything to conserve people or nature.This is not a normal situation for Sri Lanka. We have been discussing similar disasters since 2010. Our previous reports explained the situation before the disasters came and we handed them over to the President and the Environment Ministry.

Through the reports and campaigns time and again we appealed to the authorities to stop destroying the environment through mega development projects. But government did not listen to us. This is quite understandable because the capitalist system wants to increase the profits paying no heed to the quality of life.
Unsustainable
development projects
The government is implementing mega unsustainable development projects in areas which are environmentally sensitive.
The government has a National Physical Plan (NPP) to be implemented from 2011 – 2030 with the aim of developing the country following the easy paths open under globalization. It is important to analyze the NPP and its impact on the environment and socio-economic aspects of the country.

The plan intends to develop the country as a centre of sea and air travel, trading, power and education but not as a centre of environmental protection or farming.

The government signed an agreement with 36 countries including India and China on 4 July 2005 to build highways and link them with the Asian Highway Network. According to the agreement, highways will be built between Matara and Hambantota, Kandy and Colombo, Hambantota and Ampara. Finally they will be connected to the Asian Highway Network via Mannar and Dhanuskody in India.
Highway network

In addition the other main towns will also be linked through a similar highway network. The length of the road network will be around 11,697 km and they will be built by sand and earth filling as in the case of Kottawa – Pinnaduwa Highway.
An island-wide railway network will also be built and linked to the Indian Railway Network through Adam’s Bridge at Mannar via Dhanuskody in India. It has also been planned to charge exorbitant fees from those who use the network.

The tourist industry will be a priority in the development plan. There will be tourist hotels built along the coastal belt, lagoons and at ecologically important places to promote tourism. The proposed hotels will come up in areas from Chilaw to the South and North in the country cutting across ancient cities such as Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa and also forest areas in Bibile and Nilgala.

Centre of air travel
The United States, China and India will develop Sri Lanka as a centre of air travel. For this purpose, the Katunayaka International Airport will be expanded and improved. Two new airports are to be built at Mattala and Hingurakgoda. It has also been planned to develop the existing airports at Palali, Trincomalee, Puttalam, Batticaloa, Kalutara, Ampara, Vauniya, Anuradhapura, Galle and Ratmalana. From 2013 onwards, the new airports will be built at Kandy, Nuwara Eliya and Dambulla. By 2030 there will be 19 airports in Sri Lanka.
The NPP proposes to develop areas such as Anuradhapura and several other places in the North and Moneragala for the production of export oriented crops such as vegetables, groundnuts, sugar cane, palm oil and timber. Investors will be allowed to start new industries. Municipal council zones, special towns and district capitals will be established in agriculture based areas such as Mannar, which have now been earmarked for development of industrial zones, investment zones, information technology centres and commercial centres and not as centres of agriculture.

Municipal Zones
The areas from the Gampha District to Kalutara, from Matara and Hambantota up to Tanamalwila are going to be declared as Municipal Zones. Similarly, the areas between Ampara and Batticaloa will be renamed as Eastern Municipal Council Zone while Trincomalee, Polonnaruwa, Dambulla and Anuradhapura areas will come under the North Central Municipal Council area. Mannar, Kilinochchi and up to Point Pedro will be renamed as the Northern Municipal Council Zone.

The other development activities proposed are mining of minerals in the coastal areas, different types of hydropower generation activities, nuclear power and coal power generation and development of 40 fisheries harbours and increasing the number of fishing craft in use up to 40,000. Development of fiber optic information network from Batticaloa up to Hambantota connecting Lahugala, Yala, Udawalawe Wildlife sanctuaries will also be included in the plan.

The NPP is to be implemented from 2011 – 2030 creating serious negative impacts on the eco-systems which have not so far been disturbed by development interventions. The proposed municipal zones, highways, coal power and nuclear power generation projects and commercial crop cultivation activities will impact on the environment adversely.

Sinharaja forest
As a result of the Colombo – Matara Highway, Sinharaja Forest which has been declared a World Heritage site, will be fragmented twice and 39 forests including Sinharaja will be destroyed due to the proposed development activities. The Udawalawa Wildlife Sanctuary, Wetahirakanda, Lunugamwehera, Madunagala, Weerawila, Nimalawa, Bundala, Ussangoda, Kataragama, Katagamuwa, RuhunuYala, Sagama, Buddangala, Ulpassa, Egodayaya, Mahakanadarawa, Anuradhapura, Mihintale, Ritigala, Kahalla, Pallekele, Sigiriya, Mnneriya, Giritale, Elehara, Bakamuna, Kavudulla, Somawathiya, Neval headwork, Chundikulama, Wilpattu, Yodawewa, Wenkaladi, Madu Reservation, Muthurajawela, Kalametiya, Priyakachchi Wildlife Sanctuaries and forest reservation will be highly disturbed due to highways. The Bibile and Nilgala areas would have tremendous repercussions as a result of the proposed hotel complexes. Land grabbing for hotel projects will continue on a large scale in the future.

Soil erosion
Forests are barriers to prevent soil erosion and at the same time they prevent debris making in wet areas and hill country. Roots of trees hold the soil layer and protect the earth from landslides. The destruction of forest cover increases soil erosion, debris making and landslides in the country.

The available forest area in 2012 was around 16.5 per cent and by 2030 it will be further reduced from 13 per cent to 10 per cent due to the implementation of the NPP.

In 2011 around 65,000 acres of land were given to the Dole Multinational Company and CIC Company from the reserved forest areas in the country for banana cultivation. If this trend in granting lands to private companies continues along with the proposed development activities in the NPP, the percentage value of the existing forest areas will reduce below 10 per cent.
Crop cultivations

At present, out of the land area of 65,525 sq. km in the country, 83.5 per cent is already in use for tea, coconut and rubber cultivation, construction of towns, human settlements and other crop cultivations. The remaining land area under forest cover is 16.55 per cent only.
As result of the deforestation activities, Sri Lanka is now in the fourth place among the countries destroying primary forest. In the future it is likely to become the first. This will lead to the extinction of the biodiversity in the country threatening the flora and fauna species.
The unsustainable development activities planned to be implemented up to 2030 will lead to the extinction of valuable flora and fauna species in the country. Even at present Sri Lanka is considered as one out of 24 biodiversity hotspots in the world threatened with extinction.

Deforestation
With the continuing large scale deforestation, the forest areas in the country will be reduced from 13 per cent to 10 per cent and the ground water levels in the forests will deplete and the rivers will suffer from acute water shortage and go dry. It has been identified that 103 rivers will become dead rivers as in the case of Maguru Oya which is almost dead by now.
There are pools in every river. According to research, they have been covered with concrete buildings, roads, micro hydro projects and mega development projects. People also have blocked water feeding channels, for example in the Kelani River. Pools are located in Kaluaggala, Awisswella, Waga and Hanwella. Colombo Awissawella Road and many other structures were built blocking and destroying the pools. It creates floods and landslides in many areas in Sri Lanka.

The flow of water should be natural. The river beds downstream are filled with sediments. As a result, they do not get a natural flow of water.
Sediments in rivers come from floods, erosions and constructions around rivers. For example, due to construction of Pico Hydro Power Plant on the top of Laxapana Waterfalls and Kitulgala, the Kelani River receives tons of sediments. And it has increased floods in Hanwella and Colombo area. Most of the rivers receive lots of sediments from the concrete jungle of construction of mega highway and other mega development sites.

In the process of building of large cities, highways, airports, tourist hotels and roads, a large number of minor tanks will disappear and tank cascades will be blocked disturbing the natural water flow. As a result, droughts and floods will become a recurrent feature in Anuradapura, Polonnaruwa, Trincomalee and Kurunegala.
Many floodplains have been destroyed by mega development projects. For example, a highway was built destroying Muthurajawela and other wetlands. In the past there were no floods in Kaduwela and Ja–Ela. The encroachment of floodplains has caused massive disasters.
Many river floodplains have become building sites in urban development.
During the rainy season, the water level of the Kelani River rises and flood occur. This results in human settlements getting submerged by flood water.

The Mahaweli Development Project has caused ecological disasters, such as landslides, floods, human- elephant conflicts, land fragmentation and commercialization of agriculture and the pauperization of peasantry and loss of bio diversity. The country is still paying the huge debts to international funding agencies that provided funds for the Mahaweli Accelerated Development Programme. This trend continues with the development activities proposed under the NPP.

The recent landslide in Meeriaybedda was the result of the Uma Oya Project in which large scale grilling and blasting methods were used. The landslide in Aranayaka is also a result of mega development and destruction of nature.
We have more than enough environment laws to protect nature and prevent disasters but all of them are subjugated by political power and money. The government does not seem to care for the people or nature.
Funds for the destructive NPP are provided by the World Bank and Asian Development Bank. John Parkinson who wrote Confessions of an Economic Hitman says, “Countries like America believed in a rapid and tremendous development through their development interventions and when they found them fail one by one, they made efforts to maintain their economy strong, exploiting other countries by way of high interest rates and conspiracies to topple governments acting against their policies and the so-called development programmes.
In Parkinson’s view, capitalist countries build hopes in the minds of leaders in poor countries through their imaginary models for rapid economic development. One such example is Norochcholai Coal Power Project. The project has failed to provide any benefits promised at the inception. It is finally at a loss and we have lost not only the anticipated profit but also the land provided for the project.
Parkinson further says people like him serving foreign companies are trying to convince other developing countries of their development strategies and provide loans through which those countries can be caught in an everlasting debt trap. The capitalist countries make huge profits through interest charged for loans and exploitation of natural resources of the countries concerned. They are also concerned with appointing people who obey their policies and commands as the leaders of these countries and also changing leaders who work against their interests.
The development policy is now being implemented in the country through the proposed National Development Plan. Life of the people , sustainability of fauna and flora, lands and water are less important to them in their development. Any country pursuing development goals with due regard for the environment, especially its sustainability has not been able to achieve the desired economic and political developments. Mega development does not sustain the world. The government is accelerating environment destruction. It has created floods and landslides. This is not the last incident, if the continues to destroy the environment, people will face many disasters in the future.
Luxury apartments, highways, airports, megacities and supermarkets are not socio-economic indicators of a country. Happiness of every citizen should be the vital fact of a society. Capitalist regimes unconditionally stand for a National Physical Plan while the World Bank and Asian Development Bank do not care for the welfare of poor countries.

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