Sinharaja to lose UNESCO status?


5. Jan 2014

Sinharaja to lose UNESCO status?​

  • 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.
Source: The Morning


5. Jan 2014

Is China planning ‘Water Blackmail’ in Sri Lanka?​

Written by Staff Writer
23 Mar, 2021 | 3:40 Colombo (News 1st); All hell broke loose recently with Min. Chamal Rajapakse recently announcing that the government was seriously considering a proposal to construct ‘reservoirs’ inside the UNESCO World Heritage ‘Sinharaja’ Rain Forest as part of the Gin-Nilwala Diversion Project.
The furore caused by the Ministers comments resulted in a press statement issued via the Department of Government Information late on Monday (22) night, in which the Ministry of Irrigation affirmed the government will act responsibly towards addressing the drinking water crisis as well as protecting rainforests which are home to national water resources.
On Saturday (22), Irrigation Minister Chamal Rajapaksa said the government has planned on a project to construct two irrigation tanks inside the Sinharaja Rainforest to provide clean water to Hambantota in the far south. Each irrigation tank will span five acres inside the rainforest, said the Minister adding for the five acres lost in Sinharaja a 100-acre forest will be grown at a separate location, he said while admitting that the Sinharaja Rainforest is a protected area.
The Chinese ‘Water Card’
The interesting aspect of this is the fact that this project, according to the Minister, has been handed to a Chinese company. The Geo-politics of Water is a modern reality that must be understood by Sri Lanka in order to make prudent decisions and protect access to our own resources in the future. An example of this is China’s control over the Tibetan Plateau and the sources of several rivers in the region, with numerous dams built on the Brahmaputra, Irrawaddy, and Mekong rivers, enabling it to store or divert water in a way that might lead to the drying out of vast territories downstream. The diversion of this water could have serious implications for the livelihoods of almost half of the world’s population in South and Southeast Asia.
A recent report published in the Harvard International Review by Dr. Patrick Mendis and Dr. Antonina Luszczykiewicz on this subject recognizes the need for the global community, and particularly nations in South and South East Asia to seriously consider the emerging geopolitics of water and the power Beijing can potentially wield by being able to unilaterally “turn off” the taps.
“China’s power was on full display in early 2021: China cut the water flow of the Mekong River by 50 percent without a word of warning, ostensibly for a three-week power-line maintenance project.
  • The decision affected the lives of millions of people along the waterways in the Southeast Asian countries of Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam.
  • The decision did so by disrupting their fishing and farming livelihoods as well as floating markets and coastal houseboat communities that relied on river transportation.
  • The ill-effects of Beijing’s decision were amplified as the water level continued to drop significantly”.
End Quote.
Cutting out access to Water
IN their review, Mendis & Luszcykeiwicz point out that the “smaller nations of Southeast Asia are not the only victims of China’s water blackmail practice”. It adds that Beijing has also historically shown no hesitance to play the “water card” in its game even toward India. “For example, in 2017, China did not share crucial river data with India despite their existing agreement, making it impossible for the Indian government and ordinary people to prepare for the Brahmaputra river flood. China’s decision not to share data has been viewed as retaliation for the two-month-long Doklam standoff, where Chinese and Indian troops threatened each other by the Bhutan-China-India border”.
Sri Lankan decision-makers will need to walk into this project with their eyes wide open, knowing that two ‘reservoirs’ being planned inside Sinharaja Reserve, will effectively provide control to the Chinese construction company to potentially three major rivers that have their sources within the Sinharaja National Forest.
First ‘Power Blackmail’, now Water?
If the reader needs to be reminded of a similar strategy already in existence, then one might do well to study the Norochcholai Power Plant, again, built by the Chinese. The numerous times it has broken down, the millions of dollars spent to repair it, the environmental damage it has caused and the resultant impact on Sri Lanka and her economy should be an ample example of ‘Power Blackmail’, and the need to be aware of the far more dangerous consequences of ‘Water Blackmail’.
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