Monday, September 04, 2017

Oxo-biodegradable plastic is not an environmental friendly solution


4th September 2017, Colombo- Centre for Environmental Justice welcome the move of the Hon. President and Minister of Mahaweli Development & Environment Maithripala Sirisena to ban High density Polyethylene(HDPE) bags, Lunch sheets and Polystyrene boxes, cups etc., which is a long delayed action in Sri Lanka. We also thank the relevant agencies for making this regulation.

Sri Lanka is the only place on earth that lay a toxic lunch sheet on the ceramic plate for eating. The use of 20 million lunch sheets and 15 million shopping bags by 21milion Sri Lankans in a single day is a collective environmental crime against the nature and the future generation. Both consumers and the plastic manufacturers are equally responsible for this crime. This has to stop now before we destroy our soil, beautiful landscapes such as rivers, beaches and mountains.

“We know that there are plenty traditional alternatives and modern natural biodegradable plastics to meet the national requirement. However, we have learned that certain plastic manufacturers are trying to mislead the authorities and the political leadership for promoting so-called OXO-BIODEGRADABLE plastic sheets and bags” said Hemantha Withanage, Executive Director of the Centre for Environmental Justice.

According to the research findings in Europe and other countries Oxo-biodegrable are equally or more harmful than the conventional High-Density Polyethylene sheets. According to the scientists Oxo-fragmentable plastics are conventional plastic materials with artificial additives that do not biodegrade but merely fragment into small pieces that remain in and potentially harm the environment and endanger recycling and composting. They add salts of heavy metals such as Cobault and Nickel to initiate this fragmentation. These additives are supposed to enable the biodegradation of apparently non-biodegradable plastics.  

It is assumed that oxo-degradable materials only disintegrate and finally visibly disappear under the influence of light (UV radiation) and oxygen. If no real biodegradation takes place the formation of invisible plastic fragments, contributing to the environmental and health hazard of micro plastics in the environment. Such plastics will break into small pieces but will not degrade to produce CO2, water and Humus which is the result of real biodegradation. This UV radiation initiated fragmentation can happen in very dry countries and not in the garbage with heavy moisture which is the case in Sri Lanka.

Other than hazard of microplastics, adding heavy metals such as Cobalt and Nickle will make unknown health impacts and will destroy the soil quality. These toxic contaminated composts/ soil cannot be used in organic cultivation.

Therefore, we advise Ministry of Industries, Ministry of Environment and the Central Environmental Authority to defeat this move to accept Oxo-biodegradable plastics as biodegradable plastics. We caution that this will only result in reversing the ban imposed on the shopping bags and lunch sheets. 

“We can only accept true biodegradable plastics as an alternative and it is the common responsibility of the authorities and the manufacturers to introduce real alternative to non-degradable HDPE bags and sheets rather than introducing fake solution such as Oxo-biodegradable plastics” said Hemantha Withanage.  

 For more information:

Hemantha Withanage: 0777600503

Ranjan Karunanayaka:0717488286

Wednesday, November 23, 2016


Hemantha Withanage
Executive Director, 
Centre for Environmental Justice

Thirty five year old Central Environmental Authority (CEA) is one of the agencies in Sri Lanka that always subject to criticism as a failed institution. Sri Lankans have lost the faith on the CEA over the last decade since it has not been able to control natural resource  destruction or control pollution as expected when establishing this agency in 1980. It is now an agency demonstrating its nickname ‘Can’t Enforce Anything’.

CEA’s problem starts with putting politically appointed Board of Directors who are not sharing the vision on environmental conservation. I believe the CEA management in the past decade has misunderstood its mission and has taken development mandate from political leadership forgetting that CEA’s role is to protect the environment. The National Environmental Act has not given powers to the CEA to compromise the environment with the development but the “management and conservation of the country’s natural resources in order to obtain the optimum benefits therefrom and to preserve the same for future generations ...(Section 17 of the NEA No 47 0f 1980).

CEA does not know its limits. It has taken roles on the waste management, public awareness, and even managing the waste landfills rather than ensuring the environmental quality in the country, environmental law enforcement, management of natural resources and guiding the rest of the government agencies by providing standards, guidelines etc. CEA has not developed its staff capacity, skills and even the mindset of the employees to play a more leading role in the conservation.

There are plenty of examples to show that it has failed to manage the Environmental Assessment procedure and the Environmental Protection License procedure. Our rivers, soil and air have become more polluted; the forest and wetlands have been more destroyed and encroached while CEA is sitting on the National Environmental Act.

The most recent example is that approval of the 1 MW mini hydro-power project in Morapitiya- Athwelthota waterfall where National Aquatic Resource and Research Agency found that 15 fish species out of 25 species found during their visit are Critically endangered (1) Endangered (9) Vulnerable (1) and near threatened (4).  In fact two point endemic fish species i.e Martenstyne’s Goby and  Rasboroides nigomarginatus have been recorded only in this location. It is a living laboratory for the scientist and national pride for the Sri Lankans.

As mentioned in the Eppawela Jusdgement "The capitalist economy" [as distinguished from Adam Smith`s concept of a market economy] "has a potentially fatal ignorance of two subjects. One is the nature of money. The other is the nature of life. This ignorance leads us to trade away life for money, which is a bad bargain indeed. "

CEA Chairman’s decision to destroy this nationally and internationally important habitat in public trust clearly shows that in his thinking life has no value compared to making money by converting water pressure into electricity. I wonder whether he can tell his children and grand children the he decided to destroy this habitat for just 1 MW hydropower project which is insignificant where more environmental friendly alternatives are available in this era of climate change.

Fifty-five years ago, a famous author, Wallace Stegner wrote "Something will have gone out of us as a people if we ever let the remaining wilderness be destroyed; if we permit the last virgin forests to be turned into comic books and plastic cigarette cases; if we drive the few remaining members of the wild species into zoos or to extinction; if we pollute the last clear air and dirty the last clean streams and push our paved roads through the last of the silence,....and "We simply need that wild country available to us, even if we never do more than drive to its edge and look in. For it can be a means of reassuring ourselves of our sanity as creatures, a part of the geography of hope.”

Soon Athwelthota waterfall will start pumping money for the Sakura Energy, a company owned by a political dynasty. People will have no choice rather naming and shaming the government and the CEA. Is this the public interest we can expect from the public bodies such as CEA?

The report produced by Dr. Kularathne in the University of Kelaniya at the request of CEA argue that people agree to destroy of the Athwelthota waterfall just because 22 people died over the past 5 decades in this fall. I wonder why they do not understand that in a country where about 2700 people have died only in 2015 by road accidents, where more than 150 people die annually due to elephant attacks, where over 2500 people commit suicide annually and almost 1 million people are at earth slide risks, the destruction of this important habitat cannot be justified in this way. I was also shocked to hear that he justify the destruction of waterfall that because some people use this location for drinking alcohol when even Sripada and Kataragama also have found drunken pilgrims.

It is unfortunate CEA has no conservation mindset, competent experts or adequate staff to save the environment.  So far CEA has approved over hundred Mini Hydro power project with Fish ladders and environmental flow has given as an important conditions. But non of these dams are operating the fish ladders or adequate the environmental flow. The truth is that CEA doesn’t monitor these projects and they have no idea what these dams done to our river network. Over 143 dams operating in the country has already killed more than 200 kilometers of the rivers and streams in Sri Lanka. 

Half of the politicians in Sri Lanka and the rich families continue to destroy the environment disregarding the value of nature. It is the practice of the CEA, Forest Department, Wild life Department, Geological Survey and Mines Bureau or NARA to provide conditions and approve the project just to manage the political pressure on the staff, the management and make developers happy. GSMB even has own technical service to provide reports in favor of the developers, which is a clear conflict of interest.  These agencies are not concern on the environmental damage to these microhabitats. Although they are on public pay role very rarely a Sri Lankan citizen question the quality of their work and validity of those conditions or even the role of project monitoring. It is unfortunate that some corrupted officials in these institutions use this weakness to make money out of destruction.

The Central Environmental Authority was set up “for the protection of any portion of the environment with respect to the uses and values, whether tangible or intangible, to be protected, the quality to be maintained, the extent to which the discharge of wastes may be permitted without detriment to the quality of the environment and long range development used and planning and any other factors relating to the protection and management of the environment”(Section 10 a). 

CEA was also set up to preserve the nature for future generations. It is clear that CEA has no powers to compromise the environment with the development but the “management and conservation of the country’s natural resources in order to obtain the optimum benefits therefrom and to preserve the same for future generations and the general measures through which such policy may be carried out effectively”(Section 17 of the NEA No 47 0f 1980).

His Excellency the president claims that he is much committed for environmental protection. In fact his manifesto says “I will prepare the background for preventing  the destruction of forestation and conserving sensitive ecological systems in order to protect forests and forest animals. All environmental laws will be implemented without reservation and in doing so offenders will be punished irrespective of their standing in society. A clear policy on forest cultivation will be formulated and implemented without prejudice to the traditional livelihoods of the rural community.  
President Manifesto also states that  “Zones that are environmentally sensitive and under threat of destruction at present will be identified and protected. Environmentally vital zones already destroyed or facing extinction will be restored using the latest scientific knowledge available in the world.”

As a public body CEA manages the environment and nature in public trust, but has no authority to allow destruction in accordance with the legal principles established under the Bulankulama v. Min. of Industrial Development (Eppawala case), S.C. Application No. 884/99 (F/R) also knows as Eppawela case.

In the Eppawela Judgment referring to Jaya Ganga judgment states “The Jaya Ganga, which the petitioners, as well as the National Academy of Sciences and the National Science Foundation, have drawn attention to, is not merely a water course or transportation canal corridor, or even ` an amazing technological feat",......, Its preservation is therefore not only of interest to the literati at a higher plane, ads a matter concerning the heritage of humankind that must be preserved, but also, at the more mundane level of the petitioners and thousands of others like them who depend on the continued and efficient functioning of that ecosystem for the pursuit of their occupations and indeed for sustaining their very lives, matter of grave and immediate personal concern.”

When compared Jaya Ganga to the Palan Ganga which is flowing down from Sinharaja rain forest has more natural value than the manmade structure such as Jaya ganga. In this context Athwelthota Waterfall is a natural heritage which public in Sri Lanka have a collective rights to this ecosystem. Therefore it should be protected for present and future generations. 

Government of Sri Lanka committed to the achieving of Sustainable Development Goal by 2030. The Goal 15 states “Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss” .

The Central Environmental Authority is totally out of touch on these legal principles, national and internationals commitments made since it is highly politicized agency. It now only services rich and oligarchy but not beneficial to the environment or public at large. Its time to reform this institution to serve the country.  If CEA is ready, then they can start with reversing the decision on Athwelthota waterfall ecosystem.

It is a known fact that environmental controversies in the country are due to the malpractices, ignorance and the falseness of the environmental agencies.  H.E the President has to listen to the conservation community as he agreed during his election campaign to reverse the situation before these agencies destroy the nature we have burrowed from our future generations.



Hemantha Withanage
Executive Director, Centre for Environmental Justice

ONE BELT ONE ROAD is the new strategy of China. It is a massive plan linking China along the maritime silk route connecting to Europe. It is a military plan and economic plan for them. Colombo port city is a strategic location of this plan. The port city project is no way can be separated from the proposed Thalai Mannar (Sri Lanka)- Danushkodi (India) 22 km bride and the tunnel. Therefore Port city is undoubtedly a very feasible project for China and Sri Lanka is only helping realizing Chinese dream.

No Sri Lankan has ever studied whether this project is feasible for Sri Lanka. We have only seen the uncompleted Environmental Impacts Assessment, which is the case for elected representatives in the past and current regimes too. Surprisingly, smaller political parties or many of the media also not in the public side.

On 16th December 2014, then opposition United National Party (UNP) Leader Ranil Wickramasinghe announced that “the new government, which would be formed by the joint opposition after the current regime was defeated at the January 8 elections, would scrap the Colombo Port City Project, because it would end up destroying the coastal belt from Negombo to Beruwala.” The same project he justified as a “unique financial and business district” under the new regime. This turnaround shows that the bankrupt Sri Lankan government has no other alternative other than getting deeper into the Chinese trap. Undoubtedly, white elephants such as Hambantota Harbour and Mattala airport [which we opposed on the environmental grounds] make Sri Lanka more economically vulnerable.  Looking for 15,000 acres land in Hambantota for relocating Chinese dirty industries and expecting few million people in Hambantota is the other side of the coin.

The EIA process conducted by the Coast Conservation Department under both regimes are flawed process. They violated the principles of the EIA process and the public commenting and participation was a mere white washing process. 

The project under the previous regime was planning to fill an area of 235 Ha, however become 269 under the new proposal, which is 36 Ha more than the previous proposal. However the total area of filling will be more than 300 hectare including the 2 canals in the project area and the total “footprint” could be approximately 485 hectares or 1200 acre of the sea.

Environmental, social and economic Impacts

Although the Catholic Church only worries about dredging of sea sand from the area between Colombo and Negombo off Kapuhenwala and Basiawatta, there are plenty of other reasons to worry. According to the supplementary Environmental impact Assessment, 65 million m3 of dredged sea sand will be required. It may be minimum 75 million according to experts. However, considering the 15-20% wastage during suction dredging [which will wash away and deposited on the coral reefs in the area destroying the fishing grounds] the total sand mining requirement will be more than 90 million m3. Further to this, once the project completes it still will require sea sand to maintain the proposed beachfront and the marina, which will be amount to 300,000 m3 annually. This is not shown in the above figures including where this sand will be mined.

This location currently provides livelihood for 15,000 fishermen. This area is home to rich biodiversity including, coral reefs, fish and other marine species. The sand mining area is approximately 150 sq. km protected by three weathered sandy rocks protecting beach from Colombo to Negombo, which are already slipping due to the previous dredging according to the fishermen.

Coastal erosion was experienced during the dredging in the past in this location. It is assumed that this project will destroy the beaches in the Western province from Mount Lavinia to Negombo due to the coastal erosion. It will also destroy the coral habitats, nesting grounds and the fish resources in these areas.

3.45 million m3 of rock material will be mined from 11 quarry sites in Kaduwela, Korathota, Divulapitiya and will be transported damaging the road and crating nuisance. They will use 300 tipper lories twice a day. This will add 1200 times of trips up and down which all will cross at Kaduwela town daily.

According to the project design the port city could block drainage from Baire lake outfall and this would cause the accumulation of water on land, increasing the risk of flooding. We should not forget that Baire remains a polluted water body within the city.

It is already evident that climate change has resulted 0.8 Centigrade temperature rise and as a result experiencing 40 cm sea level rise. Therefore, a serious climate impact assessment is vital for this project.  This was not even considering in this development.
According to the Eppawela Judgment, the natural resources are own by the public of Sri Lanka. The Port City project will use sea sand worth USD 3.2 billion [Rs. 7000/m3].  Similarly 3.45 m3 million of rock material will worth USD 1 billion [ Rs. 4000/m3]. There is no equivalent equity for Sri Lanka in this project. Therefore, it is not correct to consider USD 1.35 billion Chinese investment in the Colombo port city as a major investment in Sri Lanka. The marina was the only component of this investment, which Sri Lanka Ports Authority would have operated for making profits. But this has already given to the Chinese company and no profitable operation is now available for Sri Lanka.

The operation of the Sri Lankan own Jaya Container Terminal which is the only revenue making entity in the Colombo harbor will be given to the other terminals and the land will be sold to the private corporations. It is unfortunate the trade unions are still silent on this fact. The EIA is silent on the newly constructed Dikovita fishery harbor. It is Rs.8580 million (Euro 53 million) project. The impact to this harbor is necessary to study.

Sri Lankan sovereignty is under serious risk due to the Chinese own landmass within the Sri Lankan territories with access to the international oceans. Whether it is fully own or 99 year lease is irrelevant when the country loose its control once. Minister Champika Ranawaka was once very concern about this fact, however ironically he has to implement the project now.

No alternatives studied  

If the project is for development of Sri Lanka, there are plenty of other acts that the government can propose development projects. Rather, the EIA is for a specific development project is not addressing the issue of local development, but providing business space for the china’s strategy. The same reason the EIA is lacking alternatives related to the locations, technologies including alternative development model for Sri Lanka. The EIA has not identified less environmentally, socially and economically destructive alternative to the country. The project Magapolis once considered filling and area of 80 Ha and keeping it for public beach as there is no public beach in Colombo. We could assume that the pro Chinese advisors of the current regime defeated this proposal.

This Colombo Port City project has multiple negative impacts. The Port City project not even consider the negative impacts ate the construction stage and the operation stage which could include, water supply, waste management, energy supply etc. The so-called Supplementary EIA is not adequate and it has failed to address all those issues correctly and in unbiased manner. Coast Conservation and Coastal Resource Management Department is already bias towards this decision. They have a conflict of interest on this project, which is also violation of the law of the natural justice. According to our analysis and information the Colombo port city project has too many negative, social, environmental, economical and political impacts. The project is burdening the country by committing natural resource beyond the level of replenishment. Use of the main materials i.e. sand and metal will create unnecessary demand for the local construction industry beyond the economic and social benefits of the proposed Port city.


Saturday, June 11, 2016

Sampur Coal Power plant, Energy Crisis and Climate Change

Hemantha Withanage
Centre for Environmental Justice/FoE Sri Lanka

It is hard to believe a country with 2932 MW installed capacity and gross generation almost 12,000 GWh is having blackouts when the peak demand is approximately 2000 MW. The current problems is therefore part of the conspiracy to build more and more coal power plant specially the Sampur project by India  and the proposed transmission line between Anuradhapura and Madurai in India.

Norochcholai plant stage one is a failure since it was a hybrid of used parts of an obsolete Chinese coal power plant with some new parts. The environmental community has been raising this issue from the very beginning and both CEA and the Government of Sri Lanka failed to investigate this matter. 

Research report produced by the Centre for Environmental Justice and the Sri Lanka Environment Congress entitled “Coal Matters in Sri Lanka” in late 2014 shows that people living around Norochcholai are suffering from air pollution due to fine coal dust, Fly ash and obnoxious gases. People complain headache, and other health symptoms. We found that no implementation of the Environmental Management Plan. Dropping coal into the ocean has reduced the fish stocks in Norochcholai area. It has brought severe restriction to the fishermen and some time their boats have been destroyed. The ground water in the Norochcholai area has become highly saline, mostly due to the construction impacts. Voltage drops are common in the area. Unbearable noise and the smoke emit from the coal power plant time to time is a severe environmental and health crisis to the people.

Sampur site will have two power plants one by the National Thermal Power Corporation on India and another one funded by Japan International Cooperation Agency(JICA). Each of them will have the installed capacity on 500 MW initially.

Sampur was a highly populated area before the civil conflicts, mainly the Tamil community. These lands should have been returned to the people, instead of grabbing for coal plant and the industrial area earmarked for some Indian polluting industries. The social issues related to the Sampur site are very high.

Meantime, it will be constructed in a more sensitive location and we have to expect more severe impacts to the lagoon due to the release of hot water, dropping coal and disturbing the ground water table. Total number of 285 faunal species was recorded in the project area representing, snails, butterflies, dragonflies, inland fishes, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals. It further states that 14 species that are endemic to Sri Lanka and 13 species that are listed as Nationally Threatened species including three Nationally Critically Endangered species. EIA also state the faunal assemblage also included three species that are listed as Globally Near Threatened and the project area also included two exotic fish species. The alteration and degradation of these wetlands can impact these species significantly. 

According to the research Article entitled “Cetacean Presence in the Trincomalee Bay and Adjacent Waters” shows the  appearance of whales and dolphins in both Koddiyar bay and Shell bay where the warm water will be released.

Dolphins and Whales are a great tourist attraction to Sri Lanka. Meanwhile the fish resources are the livelihood for the people living around the bay areas. Therefore Sampur project will create a greater economic risk to the people engage in the fishing and tourism while it will destroy the biodiversity and the natural ecosystem in the area.

Near field modelling indicate that near field influence zone with excess temperatures +7 Centigrade at point of discharge to +2 Centigrade to +4 Centigrade at outer boundary of influence zone.  

Due to the technology use in Sampur power plant, it will add Sulphur Dioxide (SO2) to the discharged water as a result of using Flue Gas Desulphurization (FGD) process which will produce Sulphuric Acid( H2SO4). The dispersion of SO2 is lower in the location and it will  increase the acidity in the lagoon and have negative impact on the corals and similar species. There are restrictions on releasing SO2 into the waters in other countries.

A large volume of cooling water used by coastal power plants. The research conducted in California shows that 21 coastal power plants potentially withdraw up to 17 billion gallons of seawater per day. This process results in the loss of billions of aquatic organisms, including fishes, fish larvae and eggs, crustaceans, shellfish, and many other forms of aquatic life from California’s coastal ecosystem each year. There has been increased focus on the effects of power plant cooling water intake systems because the biological resources of the world’s oceans are in serious decline.

Sea water for the Sampur Power plant shall be drawn from Koddiyar Bay through an intake well, proposed to be located at 700 m inside the Bay from a drawl level of 7 meters below mean sea level (MSL). Total sea water requirement is estimated to be about 93,120 m3/hr, out of which 92,000 m3/hr shall be used for condenser and auxiliary cooling and flue gas desulphurization while 1120 m3/hr shall be used in desalination plant for generation of fresh water. The total fresh water requirement is estimated to be 440 m3/hr. This estimate only for the Indian power plant along. The amount ill be doubled when the JICA supported power plant also established in the same location. Further, there is no serious analysis of losses to aquatic life due to entrainment and impingement because of the marine water intake, and no analysis of brine discharges from the diesel plant.

Fly ash will be a major problem which is also an issue in Norochcholai. Coal ash contains heavy metals such as lead, Chromium, Nickel, Mercury, Cadmium and arsenic. Putting coal ash into the cement production is distribution of toxic heavy metals to households. We strongly believe that this is a wrong practice by both coal plants and the cement factories. Meantime, wrong management of the Ash piles can lead to heavy metal pollution in the surrounding water bodies. This aspect has not been studies in this EIA. Some coal contains radioactive material such as uranium and thorium as trace material. If the content is high, when coal is burned into fly ash, uranium and thorium are concentrated at up to 10 times their original levels. Fly ash uranium sometimes leaches into the soil and water surrounding a coal plant and seawater. People living within a “stack shadow”—the area within a half- to one-mile (0.8- to 1.6-kilometer) radius of a coal plant’s smokestacks—might then ingest small amounts of radiation. Fly ash is also disposed of in landfills and abandoned mines and quarries, posing a potential risk to people living around those areas. This matter depending on the coal quality. The EIA is not clear on this issue.

According to the IUCN, number of  archeological sites found in the Sampur area. This aspect has not being adequately studied in the EIA.

The baseline air quality data shows that the project area already has poor air quality, that there are no proposed technology for control of mercury emissions.  As we are already facing climate crisis we should be aware that coal is the main fossil fuel responsible for the climate change. Therefore adding coal power to the national grid is an irresponsible act of the decision makers, which will increase the Sri Lanka’s contribution to global climate change. Sri Lanka as an island nation, which has been facing severe climate impact must promote climate friendly alternatives to meets its electricity demand rather that getting into the traps of coal promoters.

Sri Lanka INDC agreed to cut the carbon emission related to the energy by 4%. It intends to reduce the GHG emissions against Business-As-Usual scenario unconditionally by 7% (Energy sector 4%, and 3% from other sectors) and conditionally 23% (Energy sector 16% and 7% from other sectors) by 2030.

“Sri Lanka’s contribution to the emission of green house gases is negligible as compared to the rest of the world. However, being an island country, the adverse impacts of the anticipated changes arising out of global warming due to the rest of the world are likely to be significant.  Sampur 500 MW plant would alone emit 4135.4 GgCO2 per annum. The central value for the social cost of carbon is now estimated at $39 per metric ton. This would translate to social costs associated with the project’s CO2 emissions of: 4135.4 GgCO2 per annum x 1000 metric tons/GgCO2 x $39 = $161 million per annum. These social costs are not considered in the Conclusions and Recommendations section of the EIA. These social cost will be doubled when both Indian and JICA supported power plants installed in the Sampur area.

I strongly believe that national policy on meeting the energy and the Long Term Generation Expansion plan of the CEB should be reviewed and remove all climate unfriendly projects such as Sampur to provide space for the climate friendly alternatives including steps to reduce demand. It is becoming more widely understood that investment in demand-side management is a more cost-effective means of bridging the gap between energy supply and energy demand. 

The construction cost of the project is estimated at $350 million. The construction cost of the project is money that the Government of Sri Lanka would therefore not have to invest in Demand-Side Management. If the government invest in demand side management it would cost less. 

The EIA is a very short sighted document to bring this dialogue. It will require a better visionary  planning to manage energy in this  climate  crisis era.(Haritha Esa[ Green Eye] Issue 2)


Hemantha Withanage
Centre for Environmental Justice/FoE Sri Lanka

If you want to kill your river, asked  the Sustainable Energy Authority. They will send a river killers with a  permit to build a dam across the river. It will add few more megawatts to the  National electricity grid to make happy energy hungry people.

To enable this Minister John Senevirathne has issues a gazette notification 1538/22 on 26th February 2008 earmarking 500 meters of the river banks for mini hydro development.

Sri Lanka  is a proud island nation with 103 rivers and tributaries  with over 5000 km length. These rivers flourish the country with 65,610 sq kilometers which is home to thousands of life forms. 

These rivers also meets the water needs of 21 million people. River  floods make the soil fertile. Over 30,000  functioning tanks in Sri Lanka plays a major role in this life support system. These rivers produced over 500 waterfalls which are one of the tourist attractions and plays a major role of the aesthetic beauty of the island.

Rivers can produce energy too. Sri Lanka has 14 major dams  with 1400 MW installed capacity. On the Non-conventional hydro i.e small scale, grid-connected hydro resources developed in the past 15 years with capacity additions surpassing 180 MW of grid power, generating about 4% of the total capacity.  Some studies have estimated the total potential to be around 500MW.
But they are deadly for the rivers.

So- called Sustainable Energy Authority  is responsible for killing more than 200 kilometers of the Sri Lankan rivers so far. One hundred and forty three(143) micro dams have already build across river tributaries.  Over 50  dams are under construction.  They have already destroyed more than 65 waterfalls in Sri Lanka. Seven water falls, Handagiriya Ella, Anda Dola, Pandi Dola, Athwelthota Ella, Broadlands,  Alupotha and many other waterfalls  are in the edge of destruction.

Mini hydro was started and village hydro about 15 years ago with no grid connections. It serves people who are living away from the electricity grid. Once the mini hydro become connecting to the national grid and pay high tariff, it became a big business of the corporate sector and started tapping all tributaries under the so-called vision to generate non-convensional  hydro. 

We are not anymore living in an era to make business as usual. Climate change is already showing why we need to protect the water bodies.

It also has resulted alternative energy generation which includes Solar, Wind, Tidal, Geo thermal. It is unfortunate Sri Lanka still not promoting such technologies adequately. Sri Lanka has a very high potential for producing energy from wind, solar and wave power. However, we still have  little more than 100 MW installed capacity of renewable sources. Solar is less than 2 MW.

According to an study carried out by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) of USA the potential for wind power in Sri Lanka is 20,740 MW’s. Similarly solar capacity  has the range from  4.5 to 6.0 kWh/m2/day for Sri Lanka.

This means right policies can make Sri Lanka energy secure while saving our pristine rivers and environment.( Haritha Esa[ Green Eye] Issue 2)