By Ranil Senanayake –
The media informs us that the port city agreement has been extended for another six months. What does this mean? What will happen during this time period? Will it be to correct the shortcomings and produce a credible Impact Report or will it entail the restarting of physical work? If it is the former we can have some hope of justice, if it is latter it will be an act of great betrayal.
In a sense the so-called Port City project serves as a litmus test of the new government. There was an inquiry set up to report on the impact of the ‘Port City’ but that has gone silent, there has been no discussion or release of their ‘report’ to the public. When will the government begin to institute open transparent processes, especially when dealing with matters of national importance, are we still in that dark era of closed door deals or will we insist on a scientific, credible, environmental impact reports. The current pathetic excuse for an impact report needs no further comment.
While we await unilateral decisions of our so-called ‘democratic’ leaders. It is useful to reflect on the price that we Sri Lankans will have to pay for any ill informed decisions on their part. Let us consider one of the most basic of human needs, in fact, a need that should be enshrined as a fundamental human right, the right to breathable air. The medical studies on the city of Colombo indicate at about 60% of the citizens living there suffer some degree of respiratory problems currently. This statistic is a consequence of the quality of air that we have to breathe. Can we expect the same forces that allowed such a situation to arise, thinking about the impact the proposed ‘Port City’ will have on the population of Colombo?
A multi story barrier to the clean ocean breeze that Colombo currently enjoys, will be shut off forever. In its place the Carbon monoxide, Ozone, dust and PM2.4 will increase. There is no reference at all in the port city project documents available to us that addresses, blocking the inflow of fresh air into Colombo. There is nothing in the documents that indicate the levels of Carbon monoxide, PM2.4, Oxides of Sulfur and Nitrogen that will be produced by the port city. There are no studies to indicate how these pollutants will flow and if they will affect the citizens of Colombo. Does the agreement extension for six months cover any of these aspects? Or will these concerns be ignored and the rate of respiratory diseases in Colombo go up to 90% or even higher?
In their desire not to have a comprehensive EIA, we are reminded again that brokers of the Port City cannot be trusted, that they do not care for any for the wellbeing of the citizens who they claim to protect. The citizens living in what is now the city of Colombo will pay dearly for the treacherous actions of these brokers. The national tragedy is that we all remember the statements made by the current Prime Minister, commenting on the lack of transparency of this project and his very pubic promise to stop the ‘Port City Project’ if he came into power. The citizens of this nation, concerned of the lack of any environmental or social impact study, applauded. But alas, the current vacillation has created a climate of insecurity, have we been betrayed?
A comprehensive EIA must be filed before any work can proceed not only because law requires it, it is also a fundamental right of those who may be affected. It is a statement on the nations responsibility to its citizens. Consider the question of water.
With the recent scare on the polluting of our drinking water by Coca Cola, we have come face to face with the fact that the water supply for the city of Colombo is very limited and restricted. We have also learnt than very stringent EIA’s are required to be enacted if there is to be responsibility by the nation. An example of irresponsible neglect is the degradation of the quality of surface waters that have rendered much of the shallow aquifer polluted. Does the EIA for the Port City suggest where the water to run this city will come from? If there is a competitive demand for water, it is not hard to guess who will get it, Colombo will have to get used to having fewer baths.
Then there is the question of power; will Sri Lanka have to suffer the health ill effects of coal -fired power plants to supply the new city with its needs? And the garbage, already we are coking in our garbage, will Colombo be the repository of garbage for the new city? None of this is addressed in the EIA for a new city. Must we say goodbye to the old city destined to come a slum of the new city?
Or is there another way? Can we look to modern needs and plan for a future city of Colombo that will be healthy, clean and become the urban development model for this millennium? Could we think of using the landfill created to develop a visitor center with attractions that become the ‘must see’ site for this region? We have filled land, a blank slate, that can be used to showcase Colombo and a create a source of sustainable income and national pride or we can let the financial dreams of some property developers degrade our city. Cannot the new thinkers and designers of today come up with alternate designs to showcase Colombo rather the degrade it?