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.