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Sri Lankan church people back fishing community

Port project will displace families, adversely impact fish breeding areas, they say
Sri Lankan church people back fishing community

Sister Noel Christine Fernando, left, and Father Sarath Iddamalgoda, center, march with fishermen and their families in Colombo Jan. 6 to protest the port project. (Photo by Niranjani Roland)

Published: January 08, 2016 05:53 AM GMT
Updated: January 12, 2016 03:35 AM GMT

A coalition of Catholic priests and nuns in Sri Lanka said they stand with the fishing community in their protest against a controversial port project in Colombo.

Fisherfolk are protesting the new Colombo Port City project along with civil society groups and environmentalists, who say it will adversely impact fish breeding areas, damage coral reefs, cause coastal erosion and disrupt their livelihoods.

The project was halted but is set to resume following the government's environmental impact assessment report.

Church officials and members of the fishing community said the report did not take into account their concerns and that authorities had not talked to them prior to assessment report.

More than 100 fishermen, joined by Catholic and Methodists priests and nuns, marched through Colombo to the government Central Environmental Authority office on Jan. 6 to protest. 

They complained that their livelihoods are affected due to the port city project that is located in proximity to fish breeding areas.

They want the government to allow them to fish in these same waters as they have done for generations. At present they are not allowed to enter waters that are considered a fish bank and more construction is likely to kill the fish in the future, they said.

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 of Colombo, who heads the group, said they are planning a protest walk to the Coast Conservation Department to submit their objections and comment on the report. The construction would displace about 50,000 families living on the coast. 

Different groups from Negombo, Kapungoda, Dehiwala, Moratuwa and Panadura villages had already arrived in Colombo to hand over the document drafted by them to authorities.

U. Milton Fernando, a fisherman for 48 years, said that the government should have consulted fishermen prior to its commencement as this affects their livelihood and that of the youth.

Charity Sister Noel Christine Fernando said that fishermen oppose the project as well as the recently published report.

"Fishermen objections detail how the fishing grounds would be destroyed and the reduction of water levels due to rock excavation for filling the port city areas adversely impacts biodiversity," she said.

Environmental activist Sajeewa Chamikara said the government's adamant decision to go ahead with the project despite the issues raised also is a cause for concern.

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