Colombo Port City project debated, criticized

Controversial plan to revamp Colombo port will destroy the environment and people’s homes and livelihoods
Colombo Port City project debated, criticized

Fishermen and environmental activists including Christian priests and nuns protest the government's decision to go ahead with the controversial port city project, April 4 in Colombo. ( photo) reporter, Colombo
Sri Lanka
August 26, 2016
The Sri Lankan Catholic Church has banded together with civic groups to protest against the Colombo Financial City Project, a project that they say will trash the environment and ruin fishing communities.

Sri Lanka and China signed an agreement Aug. 12 to construct a multibillion port city project in Colombo. Originally named the Colombo Port City Development Project, it was rechristened Colombo International Financial City and aims to turn Colombo into Asia's next top financial hub, the government says.

Sri Lankan authorities say that over 80,000 new jobs will be created by the project but locals are far from sold on the idea.

Religious leaders including Buddhist monks, Catholic priests, nuns and civic activists believe that the rebranding of the project does not address the fact that it is illegal, undemocratic and environmentally reckless, they said during an Aug. 25 meeting in the capital.

"The government signed the new agreement with the Chinese government and company but they have not revealed its contents," said Father Sarath Iddamalgoda, joint coordinator of the People's Movement Against Port City. "We demand the government publish it."

"They spread misinformation," said the priest. "They say there are 9,000 fishermen in the area but the actual figure exceeds 30,000. They haven't studied the effect on sand and rock mining and the environmental assessment report is incomplete. It is an environmental debacle."

"The government is interested in neo-liberal economic policies and not in the livelihoods of poor fishermen living from Hendala to Negombo," Father Iddamalgoda added. "It is feared that this construction will displace about 50,000 families."

The project was first mooted by Sri Lanka's previous government and they entered into an agreement with China Communication Construction Co. Ltd. to begin construction. However, wide protests highlighting issues faced by fisherfolk, as well as the adverse impact on fish breeding areas, damage to coral reefs and coastal erosion, halted the project.

Kumudu Kusum Kumara, a senior university lecturer said the present government had not honored its election pledge to do away with the project.

Oblate Father Ashok Stephen, director of Center for Society and Religion said that the Catholic Church will stand against this kind of foolishness.

"No one has the right to damage the environment and therefore the church will join hands with the fishermen to fight for their rights and save them from this drastic action," he said.

After civic rights activists launched a massive protest in Colombo against the restarting of the project in April, the environmental assessment report was redone. But protests question the impartiality of the report.

"One member, who represented the report panel was also representing both the Chinese Company and the Sri Lankan government which is unacceptable," said Father Stephen. "No expert in marine engineering was included either."

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