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Sri Lanka

Fisherfolk protest financial city project in Colombo

Sri Lankan government has done a secret deal with Chinese companies to develop the coast but locals are opposed

ucanews.com reporter, Negombo

ucanews.com reporter, Negombo

Published: October 05, 2016 09:47 AM GMT

Updated: October 05, 2016 09:56 AM GMT

Fisherfolk protest financial city project in Colombo

A Catholic nun distributes leaflets on the environmental damage threat from the "Financial City" project on Sept. 29 in Colombo. (Photo by Aruna Shantha).

Members of Colombo’s fishing community have protested against a development that they say will devastate the coastal areas they depend on but the Sri Lankan government said the project will create jobs.

The fisherfolk were joined by environmental activists and Christian priests as they stood along a road linking Hekiththa to Poruthota wearing black on Oct. 1, the start of their protest.

Namal Jude, a protest leader, said that people living along the coast from Colombo to Chilaw will be severely affected when contractors dredge thousands of tons of sand from the sea.

"When they take sand it will lead towards huge sea erosion in our area," he said. "Fishing villages may collapse and we will have to flee."

Hoping to turn Colombo into Asia's next financial hub, the Sri Lankan government signed an agreement with a Chinese company on Aug. 12 to construct a multibillion port city in Colombo. They said over 80,000 new jobs will be created.


Members of the fishing community protest on Oct. 1 in Colombo. (Photo by Lal Lakshman)


The Environmental Impact Assessment said fishermen and women would lose their livelihoods and fish breeding and feeding grounds would not recover for 30 years due to dredging damage.

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Removing the planned 60 million cubic meters of sand would also leave the country unprotected from large waves and storms, according to environmentalists.

"The government is unable to guarantee the effects on the environment," said Herman Kumar, a leading member of the campaign against the project. "Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe strongly opposed this project when he was the leader of the opposition and he pointed out that it would directly affect the sovereignty of our country."

Father Wickrama Fonseka, a Catholic priest who was distributing leaflets for the campaign, said he would do anything possible to save the fishing community and stop the project.

"There are many lapses in the approaches of government in this project," he said. "Nobody knows what are the terms and conditions of the agreement signed between the Sri Lankan and Chinese governments. But it is clear that very few will benefit while the majority will suffer."


Members of the fishing community waving black flags protest on Oct. 1 in Colombo, saying that the government's developmental project will devastate the coastal areas. (Photo by Lal Lakshman)


Father Sarath Iddamalgoda, joint coordinator of the People's Movement Against the Port City said no measures have been taken to prevent the destruction of the environment.

"The prime minister has not made public the agreement that he has signed with China. Why does he keep it a secret?" he said.

"The more we delay the greater will be the damage done to all living beings. It is a good opportunity to express our readiness to respond to the invitation of the Holy Father in Laudato si.'"

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