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Port project jeopardizes Sri Lanka's fishing community

Construction could displace about 50,000 families, adversely affect environment
Port project jeopardizes Sri Lanka's fishing community

Fishermen in Negambo haul in their fishing net in this file photo. Thousands on the west coast from Moratuwa to Negombo may have their livelihood restricted. (Photo by Quintus Colombage)

Published: December 15, 2015 07:41 AM GMT
Updated: December 14, 2015 08:59 PM GMT

Aruna Roshan is a fisherman in Sri Lanka but in all likelihood will not be able to fish, the only profession he and his family have known for generations.

But Roshan is not alone. There are thousands like him living on the west coast from Moratuwa to Negombo who are facing imminent danger of being asked to leave their existing homes and have their livelihood restricted — if work should recommence on the new Colombo Port City project.

Most of the fish breeding areas already have been affected, Roshan, the All Ceylon Fishermen's Association president, told ucanews.com adding that the fisherfolk community was today facing a bleak future.

Lal Nissanaka, a fisherman who owned four boats complained that he had to sell off all four since there is a decrease in the amount of fish as the breeding areas have been adversely affected because of the project.

The Colombo Port City project was part of the previous government's plan to expand on the existing Colombo port and had entered into an agreement with the China Communication Construction Co. Ltd. to invest in the construction.

However, wide protests brought on by civil society groups and environmentalists highlighting issues fisherfolk faced, as well as its adverse impact on fish breeding areas, damage to coral reefs and coastal erosion halted the project.

But now media is reporting that the Colombo Port City project is to resume in February.

Roshan, who had opposed the move by state authorities to implement the construction of the port city project, insisted that the government's environmental impact assessment report had not taken into account their concerns and had not talked to them prior to its documentation.


Church workers champion fisherfolk 

The Catholic Church has a group of priests and nuns working against this project and is representing the fisherfolk who are mostly Catholic, owing to the church's focus on marginalized communities.

Father Sarath Iddamalgoda, who heads this group, told ucanews.com they would oppose moves by the state and was awaiting an appointment with President Maithripala Sirisena to discuss the matter.


Father Sarath Iddamalgoda told ucanews.com that the church opposes construction moves by the state as this project would displace about 50,000 families. (Photo by Niranjani Roland)


He said that although Sirisena, who assumed office in January, had opposed the project during the presidential election he later conceded to go ahead with it as "this government also wants to establish better support from the Chinese government." But proposed construction would displace about 50,000 families, he says.

Currently, there are two cases filed against the construction of the Colombo port city project — one in the Supreme Court by the Ceylon Fisher Folk Trade Union and the other in the Court of Appeal by the Center for Environmental Justice (Guarantee) Ltd.


Development vs people's welfare

Patali Champika Ranawaka of the Ministry of Megapolis and Western Development, a key government minister in charge of the construction, told ucanews.com that the Board of Investment and the Development Ministry had conceptually cleared the project.

He explained that the port city project is one of three that would be part of the megapolis plan to develop the Western Province.

He said his ministry would obtain inputs from professional bodies and present the project plan to parliament and investors.

Ranawaka noted that his ministry had agreed to proceed with the port city project on the condition that all legal and environmental issues would be addressed and come under local laws.

However, Environmentalist and Environment Conservation Trust Chairman Sajeewa Chamikara insists that there could be an adverse climate change impact on the country arising from this project, including the rising of sea levels.

He told ucanews.com that the environmental impact assessment had not studied these consequences and explained that the rise in sea levels could affect the port city itself in addition to other areas of the country.

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