- 5. Jan 2014
Source: The Morning
Sinharaja to lose UNESCO status?MARCH 23, 2021 BY PAMODI WARAVITA 1 COMMENT
Environmentalists sound the alarm
Planned reservoirs cause for concern
Chamal meets World Heritage Committee today
Following Minister of Irrigation Chamal Rajapaksa’s revelations about a plan to revive the “Gin-Nilwala Diversion Project”, which would involve constructing two reservoirs inside the Sinharaja Forest Reserve, environmentalists have warned the site could lose its United Nations Educational, Cultural, and Scientific Organisation (UNESCO) World Heritage Site status.
“The Sinharaja Forest Reserve is in danger of losing its UNESCO World Heritage Site status if the development proceeds, as prior approval from UNESCO would be needed for the construction,” Rainforest Protectors of Sri Lanka Convenor Jayantha Wijesinghe told The Morning yesterday (22).
Speaking in Weeraketiya on 20 March, Minister Rajapaksa stated that the “Gin-Nilwala Diversion Project” would require the construction of two irrigation tanks inside the forest reserve, each spanning an area of five acres so as to provide fresh water to Tangalle, Beliatta, Weeraketiya, Walasmulla, Dambarella, and other areas in the South.
Environmental lawyer Jagath Gunawardana expressed sentiments similar to that of Wijesinghe to The Morning, adding that the ninth and 10th guidelines of the “Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of the World Heritage Convention” would likely go unfulfilled with this development.
The ninth and 10th operational guidelines state that the sites “need to be outstanding examples representing significant ongoing ecological and biological processes in the evolution and development of terrestrial, fresh water, coastal, and marine ecosystems and communities of plants and animals” and that they have to “contain the most important and significant natural habitats for the in situ conservation of biological diversity, including those containing threatened species of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science or conservation”.
Speaking to The Morning yesterday, Sri Lanka National Commission for UNESCO (SLNCU) Secretary General Dr. Punchinilame Meegaswatte said that for development to commence, the Ministry of Irrigation would have to obtain the World Heritage Committee’s permission through the Commission.
“We are to meet Minister Rajapaksa regarding the matter today (23). We would have to request for the Operational Guidelines from the Committee for the project. If we do violate their guidelines on this matter, we could lose that status,” added Dr. Meegaswatte.
Meanwhile, Wijesinghe also raised concerns regarding other social and environmental implications of the project.
“As far as we know, a 30-kilometre water tunnel would be constructed under the Deniyaya-Neluwa Road to Embilipitiya which could affect the groundwater and also in the long run, lead to earthquakes,” said Wijesinghe.
Wijesinghe further said that this would also likely lead to the displacement of approximately thousands of families living along the route, a destruction he claimed to be “worse than the Uma Oya project”.
According to Wijesinghe, environmentalists are also concerned about how this would affect the annual flooding season of the Gin and Nilwala Rivers, as the floods also serve their own environmental purposes.
“This would ultimately have significant impacts on Sinharaja; this water-generating ecosystem. Permission from the Central Environmental Authority (CEA) and the Department of Forest Conservation would be needed for this development,” said Wijesinghe.
When contacted by The Morning regarding the matter, CEA Chairman Siripala Amarasinghe confirmed that an environmental impact assessment (EIA) is needed and that the CEA is ready to conduct the assessment once the proposal is submitted to the Authority.
Deputy Conservator General of Forests Nishantha Edirisinghe told The Morning that the Department is currently having discussions regarding the matter.
All attempts to contact the Ministry of Irrigation regarding the matter proved futile.
The UNESCO aims to contribute to peace building, poverty eradication, sustainable development, and intercultural dialogue. One manner of implementing this vision is through the protection of sites in the “World Heritage List” which are judged to add value to humanity in cultural and natural ways. Sri Lanka currently has eight World Heritage Sites, namely the Ancient City of Polonnaruwa, the Ancient City of Sigiriya, the Old Town of Galle and its Fortifications, the Rangiri Dambulla Cave Temple, the Sacred City of Anuradhapura, the Sacred City of Kandy, the Central Highlands, and the Sinharaja Forest Reserve.
The Sinharaja Rainforest, located in the Sabaragamuwa and Southern Provinces, covers an area of 18,900 acres and is home to over 50% of the country’s endemic species. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988.