Friday, January 26, 2018


Hemantha Withanage
Executive Director, Centre for Environmental Justice

Centre for Environmnetal Justice is a public interest environmnetal organisation based in Sri Lanka established in 2004. CEJ fied legal action against the Colombo port city in 2015 since it has violated the EIA process in Sri Lanka. This article was produced based on the comments made by Mr. Hemantha Withanage, CEJ  Dr. Mrs. Heidi W. Weiskel, ELAW, and Mr. Indika Rajapaksha,CEJ to be distributed at the symposium organized by the Alliance against the Colombo Port city held on 27th January 2018 in Negombo.


Colombo port city is a major infrastructure facility in the BELT ROAD PROJECT of China. It is considered as the third strategic point since Sri Lanka is located along the east-west shipping line. It would have been beneficial for the Sri Lanka, if we could   enter into a better deal understanding our significance in this strategy. However, Sri Lanka entered into this deal as a highly indebted nation and therefore Sri Lanka does not have much leverage.

The dream annexed city called Colombo Port City will have a major administrative and benefit sharing issues. It is proposed to run under new regulations and as a financial hub which details are not yet publicly available. Both Rajapasksha regime and Maithree-

Ranil regime have so far failed to become accountable to the public on this annexed city. Despite its legal economic and social impacts, the environmental impacts have not been addressed under the prevailing laws in the country. Infact it is a highly greenwashed project by the respective agencies including the CCD, CEA, UDA, GSMB, and the academic community specially from the university of Moratuwa. This project was highly politicized during the Rajapaksha regime due to the China bias foreign policy in related to the historical relationship during the war period and therefore there was no space for the government agencies or academics to make an independent opinion.

On 16th December 2014  Prime Minister, Ranil Wickramasinghe, announced that “the new government,  would scrap the Colombo Port City Project, because it would end up destroying the coastal belt from Negombo to Beruwala.” Therefore, he himself aware of the environmental impacts. However, he twisted the situation due to the circumstances.

The project under the previous regime planned to fill an area of 235 Ha, however become 269 under the new 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.


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 will still 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. The sand mining area is approximately 150 sq. km protected by three weathered sandy rocks protecting beach from Colombo to Negombo.  According to the previous studies, the area has four reefs, whose species are generally of low diversity and abundance. All are significantly influenced by sediments from the Kelani River, with high turbidity as well as accumulated sediments on the reef surface. The density and diversity of colonization by corals is generally very low, typically 85% uncolonized. Only one species (damselfish) Pomacentrus proteus is endemic. A total of 53 fish species and 4 shrimp and crab species were identified in commercial catches landed at Modera Fish Harbour.     

EIA report on the building construction produced in October 2017, states that Palagala, Vatiyagala has been recently recovered completely.” However, according to the fishermen in the area this is not true. Further, coral reefs from Colombo to Negombo area has been severely destroyed by the port city project due to sand mining.  

The heavy reliance on reef balls to replace the habitats that will be lost as a result of this massive dredge/fill/build project is concerning. There is not a lot of evidence in the literature that artificial reefs are successful, let alone a successful substitute for a functioning nearshore reef, which is what will be destroyed in this project.
It is evident that no pilot tests were conducted to determine whether and how artificial reefs would perform in this area. The entire section about the usefulness of artificial reefs is pure speculation, which seems irresponsible when the proponents know the high productivity and value of the existing reef.  

 Coastal erosion has been experienced during the dredging in this area. 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. These projects have already created many environmental impact and public nuisance.


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. The EIA document has no mention to the sea level rise due to climate change. The recent ADB report suggested that over 6-degree centigrade temperature rise is unavoidable by the end of this century due to climate change. This will result significant sea level rise, strong waves and coastal erosion. Almost one meter sea level rise is evident in some parts of the world. Therefore, all new EIA reports around the world cover a significant assessment of climate change. They also have climate proofing in order to mitigate negative impacts. However, this report has no such study.  Therefore, a serious climate impact assessment is vital for this project.


The Port City project will use sea sand worth USD 3.2 billion [Rs. 7000/m3].  Similarly, 3.45 m3 millions 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.  


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.


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 as 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.


EIA report estimates that daily public transport trips in the Port City will be increased by about 300,000 which will add more vehicular emissions to the air than the existing. Even though emission free modes of transportation are promoted within the port city, still there would be a considerable increase in emission in the others areas. It further states,

“Study carried out by CEA projected that level of various air pollutants viz. SO2, NO2, CO, O3 and VOC have been less than the maximum permissible levels stipulated by the World Health Organization (WHO). However, a comparative analysis on PM10 reveals that the pollutant level has relatively been stable within 70-80 μg/m3. This was found to be much higher compared to WHO guidelines for which the maximum permissible level is 50 μg/m3.”

According to Ambient Air Quality measurements at Fort Railway Station in 2014 even though NO2 and CO maximum concentrations were within local AAQ standard, while that of SO2 and PM10 were occasionally observed to exceed the respective standard. (Table 4.1)

The traffic generated due to the project would make the situation worse, if not properly addressed, this conditions can create photochemical smog which is hazardous to human health. Colombo could even become another New Delhi.

Phase 1 of the project which consists of high rise buildings are close to the land side. Therefore, within the first few years there will be a considerable noise and vibration. According to table 5.6 of the EIA report, the noise level around this area has already exceeded the permissible level (for medium noise area day time: - 63db night time 50 db) in areas around the project site. Construction activities, noise of machineries and extra traffic would add more noise.  

Vibration was already a major issue during the last few months. Even the H.E. President raised this issue during one of the meeting held in the presidential secretariat.  The EIA suggest that “Interim standards for noise and vibration limits have been implemented.  


The estimated production of solid waste in Port City is around 375MT/Day at the year 2040 and at present generation of solid waste in CBD of Colombo is 850MT/Day. Waste separation,3R concept suggested in the EIA are good approaches. EIA states that the collected solid waste (disposable) during operational period will be directed to Solid Waste Treatment Plants at Karadiyana, Muthurajawela, and Aruwakkaru which will be in operation in three years from now. However, Muthurajawela is an ecologically important wetland and disposing waste in the area would destroy the ecosystem and associated biodiversity.  


Fort is considered as one of the major economic center in Colombo. With the creation of port city these economic activities could be diverted into port city area resulting socio economic issues. Small scale Vendors can be affected. This has not been addressed in the EIA report.


The responsibility of maintaining the sewerage infrastructure within the Port City will fall on the CMC, once the internal sewer network of the Port City will be laid by the developer. The Estate Management Company of the Port City needs to discuss on this regard and agree with the GOSL and the CMC in the future. Mixing of waste water with storm water should be avoided.

During the construction period, there is a high potential to generate sediments and other pollutants which can destroy the nearby reefs and aquatic life. Proposed Marina is a non-point source of pollution. It is important that measures suggested in the EIA (table 5.7) to prevent water pollution are implemented. During construction activities; dredging, mining, piling, as well as during construction period; storm water, land runoff and waste disposal can collectively contribute to general degradation of marine area both within and surrounding areas of Port City through a number of impact vectors (e.g. salinity changes, turbid plumes, sedimentation, resuspension, release of contaminants, and bathymetric changes).

Storm water runoff which contains suspended solids, petroleum hydrocarbons and other pollutants can contaminate the lagoon area within Port City and in adjacent waters would resultant salinity change, increase turbidity, sedimentation and in long run bathymetric change. Reefs in adjacent sea area get smothered and burial of macro-benthos as they silted caused by enhanced sedimentation. Sedimentation also results in the formation of sand bars across the sea outlets of Port City (lagoon and canals), reducing water exchange with the sea and leading to an accumulation of pollutants.

Shrimp and fish recruitment and ecosystem productivity may also affect due to reduce light penetration, increase turbidity and siltation as fish eggs, larvae, and early juveniles are more sensitive to pollution than adult fish.” The measures are presented in enough detail that they can be successfully followed.

 For marine water quality impacts, however, the mitigation measures are considerably less detailed (Ch. 5, p. 39): Site runoff during construction stage might affect the salinity, turbidity and sedimentation of the adjacent seawater. Poor water quality impacts on benthos and other sessile or mobile organisms would be short-termed and localized, and would be self-correcting after rectifying the ill. Mobile organisms affected could return to the area while the nearby benthos and sessile organisms could disperse their offspring through water currents and recolonize the area after water quality gets improved. The following mitigation and compensation measures are recommended in the EIA.
Ø  Erection of silt curtains around the point of impact;
Ø  Timing restrictions/phase of construction;
Ø  Designate specific enclosed area for maintenance activities;
Ø  Introduce conservation measures like rainwater harvesting, use of tap with sensors;
Ø  Restricted corridors of working;
Ø  Proper management of waste water;
Ø  Flood control, clogging of waterways and pollution of beaches;
Ø  Construction of revetments and seawalls;
Ø  Design storm water management plan;
Ø  Optimizing construction methods to minimize the overall construction period.”

These briefly listed measures are unlikely to be effective in reducing impacts for at least two reasons. First, unlike the freshwater recommendations, there is insufficient detail included for practitioners to be able to take the necessary steps to carry out the measures. Simply stating “timing restrictions/phase of construction” and “restricted corridors of working” does not provide instructions for anyone hoping to prevent impacts. Second, in some cases the reasoning is not biologically sound.
Sessile organisms like corals and sponges that are harmed by construction activities are unlikely to reproduce, and more unlikely still to time that spawning and dispersal to precisely coincide with the moment when their offspring might be able to drift back into the area to find conditions improved.
EIA state that “Mobile organisms affected could return to the area while the nearby benthos and sessile organisms could disperse their offspring through water currents and recolonize the area after water quality gets improved.” However, this kind of reasoning shows either ignorance or disregard for the biological considerations of these systems by the consultants. The authors have not adequately addressed the potential impacts on nearshore habitats, which is all the more concerning because the area is known to be a lobster reserve.


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, economic 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.

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