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Sri Lanka deforestation: Irrigation reservoirs to be built in Sinharaja

Sinharaja forest/Rainforest Protectors Trust

ECONOMYNEXT – The Sri Lankan government is proposing to build reservoirs and an irrigation scheme in the Sinharaja rainforest which is protected as a UNESCO Heritage site and scientists believe contains flora and fauna from the Jurassic period.

The country’s Irrigation Minister Chamal Rajapaksa said Saturday that two irrigation reservoirs would be constructed inside the Sinharaja rainforest to provide clean water to his home district of Hambantota enraging environmentalists.

The news comes as controversy rages around whether the island’s fragile environment has been damaged by rampant deforestation that has taken place since President Gotabaya Rajapaksa took power around one-and-a-half years ago.

The President yesterday hotly denied the allegation that environmental degradation has increased on his watch.

The Irrigation Minister, one of the elder brothers of the President, said that two irrigation tanks each spanning 5-acres will be constructed inside the Sinharaja rainforest.

He made these statements, speaking in Weeraketiya, in the Hambantota District on March 20, 2021, NewsFirst reported.

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.

Noting that Sinharaja is a protected forest he promised that reforestation would be carried out on a 100-acre land to compensate for the 10-acres lost in the Sinharaja forest on another site.

He proposes rubber cultivation, a monoculture, to increase Sri Lanka’s forest cover adding that income could be generated by contributing to tire production.

Senior Environmental Scientist Hemantha Withanage says the proposal to construct two reservoirs in the Sinharaja Rainforest area will seriously affect the biodiversity of this fragile area even at the smallest level.

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Withanage says the creation of two stagnant bodies of water and the planned 22 kms of road that will be built will “change the flow of water in the region.”

This he says will affect aquatic life at the lowest level.

He told EconomyNext that the first time this idea was proposed was in the 1950s to divert the water of the Nilwala and Gin rivers to take water to Hambantota.

The project was revived during the last Rajapaksa regime by Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva and some LKR400 million was passed for it and a contract signed with a Chinese company.

However, the project did not go through at the time and an Environment Impact Assessment was not carried out by the Central Environmental Authority at the time.

“We cannot say what exactly would happen without an environmental impact assessment,” Withanage said.

He added that the original plan seems to have been modified somewhat and the reservoirs have been moved further up the hill to avoid damage to the existing Lankagama area.

He also predicts that a land area of around 15 hectares will be denuded of the forest because of the construction “which is a significant part of the Sinharaja forest.”

Sri Lanka has only 17 per cent of its forest cover remaining. Sinharaja rainforest isn’t unlike the other secondary forests.

According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) which has identified the rainforest as one of the world’s heritage sites, Sinharaja is the island’s last viable area of primary tropical rainforest and the flora found in the forest dates back to the Gondwanaland period.

Gondwanaland is a supercontinent that existed almost 550 million years ago and broke up during the Jurassic period about 180 million years ago.

“The property’s flora is a relic of Gondwanaland and provides an important component to our scientific understanding of continental drift and an outstanding site for the study of the processes of biological evolution,” UNESCO says in its blog.
https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/405/
It records that more than 60% of the trees are endemic and many of them are considered rare.

“There is much endemic wildlife, especially birds, but the reserve is also home to over 50% of Sri Lanka’s endemic species of mammals and butterflies, as well as many kinds of insects, reptiles and rare amphibians.” (Colombo/Mar22/21)

Edited by Arjuna Ranawana

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