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Sinharaja reservoir project: UNP writes to UN Secy Gen

Sinharaja forest/Rainforest Protectors Trust

ECONOMYNEXT – The United National Party (UNP) has requested United Nations Secretary General António Guterres to ensure that Sri Lanka does not go ahead with a controversial proposal to construct two reservoirs inside the Sinharaja rainforest reserve.

Writing to Guterres yesterday, UNP deputy leader Ruwan Wijewardena said: “Plans are afoot to build two reservoirs within the Sinharaja rainforest area, which is a protected area under both the local laws and the international obligations. A breach will amount to a criminal offence and a contravention of the international undertaking.”

“We request you to use to your good offices to ensure that you and your agencies will not permit such a breach,” he said.

On March 20 , Irrigation Minister Chamal Rajapaksa said that two irrigation tanks each spanning five acres would be constructed inside the rainforest to provide clean water to his home district of Hambantota. Sinharaja is protected as a UNESCO Heritage site and, according to scientists, likely formed in the Jurassic period from 200 million to 145 million years ago.

According to Rajapaksa, the proposed project would move water from Gin and Nilawala rivers to Giruwapattuwa and will provide water to Tangalle, Beliatte, Weeraketiya, Walasmulla, Dambarella and other areas.

Acknowledging that Sinharaja is a protected forest, the minister said reforestation would be carried out on a 100-acre land to compensate for the 10-acres lost as a result of the project. He proposed rubber cultivation, a monoculture, to increase Sri Lanka’s forest cover adding that income could be generated by contributing to tire production.

In his letter to the UN chief, Wijewardena noted that President J R Jayawardena’s UNP government of 1978 declared the Sinharaja as a rainforest reserve area taking into account an urgent need to protect the natural environment of Sri Lanka, while acknowledging the importance of forest cover and contributions the forest has made to the country’s natural resources.

In 1988, he said, the National Heritage Wilderness Areas Act was introduced, and the Sinharaja Rainforest, which was the original tropical rainforest, was brought under the said Act, following which 7,848.2 hectares with a further proposed area of 2,772 hectares was declared protected. By 1992 the protected areas including the adjoining forest area was increased to 11,178 hectares, said Wijewardena.

Quoting Section 4 (1) (a) of the National Heritage Wilderness Areas Act, the UNP deputy leader said “no person shall, in a National Heritage Wilderness Area, cut, mark, lop, girdle, saw, convert, collect, or remove any plant, tree or any part thereof or other forest produce”. It further provided that if anyone was found to be acting in contradiction to the above would face criminal proceedings, he said.

The binding articles of the UNESCO Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage to which Sri Lanka is a signatory, states “each State party to this convention undertakes not to take any deliberate measure which might damage directly or indirectly cultural and natural heritage.”

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“Accordingly, we see that the protection of the environment is not only covered by the laws of Sri Lanka but also guided by the principles of international agreements and undertakings,” said Wijewardena, noting that Sri Lanka has entered has entered into international agreements under the Stockholm Agreement, the Rio +20 Conference, the Kyoto Protocols, the Paris Climate Agreement, the Rio Forest Principles and the UN Forum on Forests to help further UN goals to protect the environment, reduce carbon emissions and preserve the natural resources.

“All these bodies are setup under the United Nations, in order to protect the planet and its inhabitants,” he said. (Colombo/Apr06/2021)

Related: Sri Lanka deforestation: Irrigation reservoirs to be built in Sinharaja

Chamal tries to quieten uproar over irrigation work proposal in Sinharaja

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