Sunday July 22, 2018

Mitigation begins at Sri Lanka's Iranian-built Uma Oya hydropower tunnel disaster

Jul 20, 2017 22:22 PM GMT+0530 | 0 Comment(s)


ECONOMYNEXT - Work on mitigating an environmental disaster from a tunneling by a turnkey Iranian contractor on a hydro-electric project in Sri Lanka's Uma Oya river has begun, a government ministry said.

Sri Lanka's ministry of Mahaweli Development and Environment said, sealing an acquifer breached by a tunnel has begun under the advice of a Norwegian expert.

Iran's FARAB Energy and Water Project Company, which was given the turnkey contract during the ousted Mahinda Rajapaksa administration has been unable to seal the water pouring into the tunnel, resulting in ground water in the area drying up and houses collapsing.

The tunnel boring machine, from Germany's Herrenknecht, used by FARAB had lacked the necessary accessories to safely bore and seal the tunnel wall.

Following advice from a Swiss expert, Herrenknecht is flying the parts to Sri Lanka and they are expected to reach the dam site within the next two days, the statement said.

More than 600 houses have been damaged and entire villages left without water. However, Sri Lanka is in the grip of a severe drought and it is not clear to what extent the drought is contributing to the problem.

Each day 120,000 litres of water was being transported by tankers from four kilometres inside the tunnel and distributed to water less villages.

Major protests have erupted in the area and there have been calls to abandon the project, which is a multipurpose project involving irrigation and power generation.

Reports said the project originally envisaged diversion of water to Hambantota, the home constituency of ex-President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

The project was originally expected to be a 520 million dollar project with 85 percent financed with a 450 million dollar loan from the Export Development Bank of Iran.

State Minister of Mahaweli Development, Mahinda Amaraweera was quoted by state-run Daily News as saying that Iran had provided a 50 million loan in 2008 but funding had later dried up and Sri Lanka's government had provided the balance.

The project was now estimated to cost 80 billion rupees and 67 billion rupees had already been spent.

There have been charges that feasibility and environmental impact assessments and monitoring was sub-optimal or that the contractor had not taken sufficient care to safely bore the tunnel considering the geological conditions in the area.

Some of the consultancy work was done by the Central Engineering Consultancy Bureau, a Sri Lanka state-run company.

Environmental activists have claimed that problems from the projects and tunnel collapses and water leakages were evident as far back as 2014 but early action was not taken.

During the ousted Rajapaksa administration public protests were not common, and the military and other methods were used to put down protests according to critics. (Colombo/July20/2017)


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