8 June, 2023


Goodbye Colombo Or Is It Hello?

By Ranil Senanayake

Ranil Senanayake

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?

Port CityA 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?

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Latest comments

  • 8

    Excellent analysis, Ranil. The questions you ask beg to be answered, but alas, for reasons best known to themselves, those in charge are either dumb, speechless, or simply don’t give a shite. This must be because of vested interests, plain ignorance or some other reason – your guess is as good as mine!

    Unfortunately ‘civil society’ are not aware of the dangers you articulate or surely there will be some sort of ‘protest’ – particularly among the Colombo residents, whose future (and those of their future generations) will be the most affected.

    Hopefully good sense will prevail (wishful thinking?)

    • 2

      Thank you Ranil for your analysis. Please keep up your good work and let’s try to lobby Colombo environmental groups and concerned citizens to block the Port city project which promises to be another China funded and Rajapaksa greed inspired environmental disaster in Sri Lanka – like the expensive white elephant so-called development projects in Hambantota.
      CT Editors pleas take note and get on board on this one, please!
      Also, the Chinese economy is in a tail spin and there will be no buyers for the high rise apartments in the Chinese port city which will be an ugly environmental disaster spoiling the beauty of Colombo.
      Ranil has got economic hit men like Arjuna Mahendran at the Central bank who will not look objectively at the financial side of the Chinese port city project either. It is DOOMED TO FAILURE in the current global financial context and will be an environmental catastrophe whose costs Colombo citizens will have to bare – like the loans on the China funded Hambantota white elephant projects.

      There are thousands of unsold apartment in China because of the economic downturn there which is affecting global markets and one of the reasons that the Lankan rupee is in free fall against the US dollar at 140LKR today.

      The already existing China funded white elephant projects like the so called Hambantota development projects – the Mattala Airport/Paddy storage dump where elephants roam and are attacking nearby villages because their habitat was taken for a non-existent airport, China funded cricket stadium and china funded port full of rocks which was built on massive loans that have indebted Sri Lanka citizens for year to come are good example of the Trojan horse that is Chinese development aid and Chinese development projects like the Colombo port city.

      Of course the Indian Sampur power plant and bridge connecting Lanka are as dangerous from an environmental standpoint especially in a country where renwable energy sources like solar power are plentiful.

  • 2

    The present government is adding 6 more months of dilly dallying to 9 months of uncertainty. What a fate for the best and the costliest project ever conceived of by Sri Lanka. What a travesty for a total foreign funded investment with not a cent of SL monetary involvement.

    A project worthy to be the foremost in a MEGALOPOLIS!

    Heeding every idiosyncracy of environmentalists, a nation can get only mired. Dr. Mahathir Mohamed kept these ever intrusive busybodies in their kennels and Malaysia is where she is.

    Prank for the child, agony for the mouse goes a Tamil proverb. This is the tragic commentary on the plight of the investor – China.

    Can Sri Lanka stall a project of this magnitude and yet dream of FDI?

  • 2

    Ranil Senanayake,

    Yes, this is very true what you say.

    It was always a choice between Rajapaksa’s Chinese based Port-city, and the UNP’s Western-Indian-moneyed Western-Megalopolis.

    Neither of them have much environmental friendliness, although the Western province megalopolis can be developed with a greater potential towards all that is clean and healthy and of heritage.

    Champika was supposed to be building an environmentally-friendly, Forex-encouraging Western-province Megalopolis. It was good to see that he was chosen, so he can use his expertise for Post-Modern environmentally-heritage-friendly enterprise (of both cultures), in the development of the Western province.

    It would have served and secured the rest of the Nation very well, maintaining a continuum of ancient heritage in the other provinces (of both races) with a post-modern type in the Western Province.

    But it seems that the Indian-Western-inspired, Western-Province-Megalopolis- Development, replete with a Rama’s land-bridge to Ramanathapuram, is very much against the security of our unique Nation.

    So, Champika has opted for the China project which has no potential towards Post-Modernism.

    All Champika has to do, is ask the Chinese, and not the Indians-Westerners, to build up the Western Megalopolis within all of the environmental-heritage-honor he can muster, with plenty of trees, shrubs, pools and fountains, and bird sanctuaries, in-between environmentally friendly buildings. This will bring in foreign-exchange from all powers, whilst yet keeping India and the West at friendly distances.

    It will be a lesser amount that will be brought in of course, compared to the Port-City. But it will be so much more sustainable, and will shelter our fragile island from the instability of global capitalistic volatility that currently benefits only the super-powers. It will keep Sri Lanka honorable for many centuries to come.


    • 5

      ramona grandmother therese fernando

      “All Champika has to do, is ask the Chinese, and not the Indians-Westerners, to build up the Western Megalopolis ……. This will bring in foreign-exchange from all powers, whilst yet keeping India and the West at friendly distances.”

      Read the following:

      The Cracks in China’s Shiny Buildings
      By Christina Larson September 27, 2012

      On a Saturday morning in September, prospective homebuyers thronged the sales office for Fun City, a community of high-rises under construction on Beijing’s outskirts. Whether the buildings will still be standing a half-century from now is anybody’s guess. In July, massive flooding raised questions about the fitness of this low-lying stretch of land for dense development. Local media reported that properties adjacent to Fun City experienced water-logged basements, while parts of the nearby G-4 superhighway were submerged. At least 77 people died—many of them drowned in their cars—in part because of inadequate or clogged drainage systems.

      Nearly every month brings news of an infrastructure failure, dramatic or mundane. In August a new $300 million eight-lane suspension bridge in Harbin collapsed, sending four trucks tumbling and leaving three dead. In 2009 a nearly completed building in Shanghai toppled like a domino because its foundation was inadequate. The U.K.’s Telegraph reported that within months of opening last year, the $210 million Guangzhou Opera House began to shed its glass window panels and developed large cracks in its ceiling. Last year writer Evan Osnos chronicled on his New Yorker blog the premature decline of his courtyard house: “When the rainy season hit Beijing, our house began to show its age. About four years old, to be precise.”

      All of this is at odds with the image overseas of China winning the “infrastructure race,” as the headline of an Aug. 24 online story from Foreign Policy put it. China’s structural woes stem in part from the government’s focus on quantity of growth over quality. The idea is to employ as many workers as possible. Wang Mengshu, deputy chief engineer at China Railway Tunnel Group, says that rather than use advanced technology to carve out railroad tunnels, the group often prefers to hire millions of pairs of hands “to solve the national employment problem.”

      Officials admit there are challenges. At a forum on green building in 2010, Deputy Minister of Construction Qiu Baoxing said, “Every year, new buildings in China total up to 2 billion square meters and use up to 40 percent of the world’s cement and steel, but our buildings can only stand 25 to 30 years on average.” U.S. commercial buildings are expected to stand for 70 to 75 years, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

      For residential and commercial developments, architectural design and construction phases are typically allotted half the time as in the U.S., says Beijing-based landscape architect Paul Maksy. “With such a rapid pace of construction, there’s often relatively little monitoring of standards,” says Stephen Hammer, a lecturer in energy planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who has worked in China.

      Poor materials can cause problems: The collapse of school buildings in the wake of the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake was due in part to the use of low-quality cement, resulting in so-called tofu buildings. “When cement is mixed inadequately or when other materials are mixed in, it’s not very strong, so any major storm or stress on a building could make it fall down,” says Francis Cheung, author of brokerage firm CLSA’s 2012 report, China’s Infrastructure Bubble. In 2011 the government issued guidelines on materials. “There is a movement toward compliance with international building codes and standards,” says MIT’s Hammer. “But implementation and oversight remain extremely variable.”

      Cutting corners won’t be a sound long-term economic strategy for China if its buildings, bridges, and roads degrade rapidly and require fairly frequent replacement. Says Patrick Chovanec, an associate professor at Tsinghua University’s School of Economics and Management: “If you have an asset that lasts for 20 or 30 years instead of twice as long, it has a much shorter earning life before you have to refurbish or tear it down.” Robert Blohm, an economist and consultant for Keen Resources Asia in Beijing, says China could get “stuck”: “Will China still be able to pay for another round of infrastructure development—or will its cities become landscapes of dilapidated buildings?” he asks.

      For now, the cash spigot is open. In early September, China announced plans to build more than 1,200 miles of roads, nine sewage-treatment plants, five ports, and 25 subway and intercity rail projects. “In an economic slowdown, the government has to take some countercyclical measures,” Xu Lin, head of the planning department at the National Development and Reform Commissions, told reporters.

      The bottom line: Chinese buildings last 25 to 30 years, while U.S. commercial buildings are expected to stand for 70 to 75 years.


      • 1

        Native Vedda, Sir!

        Nooo! We are not going to get Chinese and Indians come to our shores to build obsolete, temporary structures to fulfill their employment quotas.

        No, old Champika and the Troika are going to put their heads together and decide on Post-Modernism!

        This Post-Modernism is going to be specially tailor-made for Sri Lanka, with Lankan brains.

        This will entail borrowing fiat-money from China to build our own Environmentally-Heritagal-friendly Western-Megalopolis.

        Sri Lanka will be a balancer on US and China printing money and going mad, trying to outdo each other.

        Western-Province Megalopolis is already in existence. All that needs to be done is beautify it and cleanse it, and improvise upon it.

        Extra money, besides creating fiat money from China (and also India and US), can be collected from moneyed-Elite who love the UNP (because they speak better English).They will trust UNP to collect taxes from them, and keep their priveledge in-country.

        They will be given jobs working within the Post-Modernity of our own unique Megalopolis. JVP will be there to implement the mechanisms.

        (if they had kept Rajapaksa, there would have been enough money for all the Elite to the West all they wanted…..but of course they knew that Rajapaksa’s Chinese plan boded poorly for Western interests, and West would kill our Lion at the door with one sling-shot).

        Yep, it’s going to be austerity time for Lankan-Elite with the UNP. But as that is for Sri Lanka sustenance, then I say : Go for it, UNP! Go for it Sri Lanka! Jayaweva!

        ps. …you’re calling me names again :(

  • 1

    These leaders are all subservient to the IMF/World Bank and money. They are not interested in the people nor the country as long as they are in power. They attack people who express legitimate grievances and are like dogs with their tail between their legs when it comes to India or the west. They are selling our rights of the people to remain in power. Disgusting !

  • 2

    ”shallow aquifer”?

    tut, tut, tut,….. that reminds me of:

    ”This study is centered on quantitative estimation of groundwater resources of a selected study area in a limestone aquifer, which is the main resource for agriculture, domestic use and water supply in Jaffna Peninsula. Inflow to the system includes groundwater recharge from precipitation and irrigation and outflow to the system includes lateral groundwater outflow and groundwater extraction. Results showed that the total average annual withdrawal from the study area (0.66 MCM) exceeded the total average annual recharge (0.57 MCM), implying that the system is in deficiency indicating unsustainable water withdrawal. A further recommendation is the establishment of an institution for a groundwater regulatory frame work to optimize the usage of groundwater and to arrest negative groundwater balance.” – Assessment of Groundwater Resources in Jaffna Limestone Aquifer, M. Thushyanthy( Department of Agricultural Engineering University of Jaffna, Jaffna Sri Lanka) and C.S. de Silva (Faculty of Engineering Technology, The Open University of Sri Lanka, Sri Lanka ). Tropical Agricultural Research Vol. 23 (2): 177 – 185 (2012), file:///C:/Users/PS/Downloads/ 4649-16553-1-PB%20(2).pdf

    (Reports of this nature about the peninsula water table have been there for more than 6/7 decades.)

    So, it seems we need to have a policy for maintaining a healthy level of healthy water throughout the country.

    In the case of the hyper-militarised dry zone North it should be double precaution:

    While a large section of the population in the peninsula carry pots of potable water on their heads, sometimes from a mile or two away, the armed forces use
    water pumps and water bowsers. All hands on deck to solve the dire situation in the peninsula.

  • 0

    There has been a lot of discussion regarding the environmental impact on coastal erosion north and south of Colombo. However if you look at the picture above it is evident that the landfill does not extend beyond the edge of the new south breakwater before it curves northward. Were environmental studies performed before the new south breakwater was constructed? Isn’t the country hugely benefitting from the construction of the now completed new southern breakwater?

    There are a lot of countries that have reclaimed land from the sea for construction of Airports, etc., and in a nutshell, haven’t these projects benefited them in vast improvements to their local economy. In today’s world there is a wealth technologies available to address any adverse issues as against the economic benefits that can be reaped with such projects.

    We are a poor nation and for a small country we have to race forward to create opportunities for a burgeoning population to prosper.

    • 3

      You only have to drive toward Mount Lavinia to find out what the effects of the construction so far have been. A great deal of beach has disappeared

      Yes, we need economic progress but not at the cost of our future well-being. Do we cut down all our trees saying ‘economic benefits’ and then once they are all gone, sit down and moan about it ? We did that with mangroves and shrimp farms to great devastation. The effects of the tsunami proved that

      Do we continue ?

  • 0

    On air pollution in any coastal city in the Island, one must compare the huge volume of fresh air which is constantly blown in to the land from the Indian Ocean and the tiny volume of air polluted in a small strip of land. Anybody who stays by the sea side at any time of the day and enjoy the sea breeze will know the difference. The Monsoon winds bring not only a huge volume of fresh air but also rain that dilute and wash away the pollutants. When the Monsoons are not active the diurnal wind pattern will not only bring in fresh air but also push out in to the Indian Ocean any remaining polluted air.
    This reminds me of another scientist claiming that the hot water discharged from the Norochcholai Power plant will kill the marine life in the Indian Ocean and also the claims made that the toxins which were brought inland by the Tsunami will prevent any agriculture in the affected coastal belt for 50 years.
    The Chief of the WHO stated that there will be more deaths due to the spread of diseases in the Tsunami affected areas than caused by the Tsunami.
    Development decisions have to be taken with due regard to a balance of quantified economic and social cost-benefits.

  • 4

    Chanakyan, do let us know what exactly you find to be “idiosyncratic” in Dr. Senanayake’s quite detailed analysis (for such a brief paper), instead of your vague and unsubstantiated generalisation and comparison to Malaysia, which has neither an Island ecology with limited land and resources nor the population density of Colombo city.

    Your Tamil proverb has no significance or relevance to the subject under discussion. If it does, please enlighten us.

    Give us your reasons to dismiss Dr. Senanayake’s objections, particularly in the absence of a comprehensive EIA and the GOSL not providing more details to us the citizens who will have to bear the brunt of any future disasters and their irreversible effects should this project be passed without the legal due process.

    You must be one of those who are also sceptical of Global Warming and who try to find rationale for the effects that are already in evidence.

    Thanks in anticipation of your revelatory response, but if you are unable to do so, please don’t waste our time with your nonsense.

  • 5

    This company should get no sympathy for this project has hidden costs which the Chinese will not pay for. The tax payers of Colombo will foot the bill for the utilities that will need to be provided. Just try to understand where the extra water, electricity and sewerage treatment is going to come from. Is a magic genie going to wave abracadabra and make these things appear from nowhere? Colombo’s sewers were built in the colonial days and can barely cope as it is. Water supply is also maxed out. No feasibility on these issues was ever done by the Rajapkashes morons. This contract is also an unsolicited one offered by these crooks to a bunch of idiots. The reason I call them crooks is because the very important environmental issues as well as the infrastructure issues were all ignored by this company because they knew the greedy Rajapkashes will close their eyes and sign away our treasure. These are deceptive and unethical practices with serious repercussions for the citizens of the entire western province. The money this company has invested into this project is peanuts when compared to the costs to the city and the profits they stand to earn from this project. Also, when is Sri Lanka going to educate itself about the looming threats posed by rising sea levels, Climate catastrophes etc, caused by the elephant in the room. Most of these coming challenges are accelerating faster then any scientist or model has been able to predict while we an island nation live in blissful ignorance wondering why we can’t get on with this project for a few short sighted bucks.

  • 6

    Sri Lanka does not need more ‘Mega Projects’ in the Western Province, at the moment.

    These are Projects, intended to massage the Massive Egos of Politicians, who are trying to imitate Countries like Dubai, who have nothing else on offer!

    We Just need to Improve the Infrastructure and Water Conservation Projects in the Dry Zone Areas of the North, North Western and Eastern Provinces of Sri Lanka, where unmonitored Development of Tourism is playing Havoc with the Water Supply of the citizens of those Areas.

    Our Ancient Rulers were able to Think in a Creative and Environmentally Friendly Manner about Development of the Whole Country ‘By the People, For the People’.

  • 7

    Mr. Ranil Senanayake:

    The Port City Project is dead and burried and it has been replaced by the following. I am sorry to add salt to the wound but your deposed King flirted with China too much threatening the very existence of India and the following is India”s answer. But can you blame India.

    Port City becomes a Museum with debris strewn across like Nanthikadal as a lasting memory of what could have been and what should not have been.

    NEW DELHI: Keen on fostering ties with neighbours, India is set to engage in high-level talks with Sri Lanka by October for an ambitious $5.19 billion road project to connect both the nations through a sea-bridge and an under water tunnel.

    The development follows Road Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari meeting Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe last week with plans to expand the existing motor pact with Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal to other neighbouring countries.

    Secretary-level talks between India and Sri Lanka have been decided by October in the island nation to take forward the project involving construction of a sea bridge and under-water tunnel linking 22 km stretch between Talaimannar, Sri Lanka and Dhanushkodi, India, official sources said.

    Multilateral funding agency ADB has already shown interest to finance the $5.19 billion project, sources said adding, the bank has already agreed to finance infrastructure projects worth $8billion.

    • 1

      Underwater Tunnels are the best way to encourage Illegal Immigrants.

      If the SL Government cannot monitor Sri Lanka’s Sea Limits, how on Earth are they going to Safeguard a Tunnel, which would be an open Invitation for Illegal Refugees, in both Directions!

      • 0

        Copied from the Daily News:-
        ” Voicing concern over the arrest of Indian fishermen by Lankan Navy in the ‘vicinity’ of Katchatheevu, the Tamil Nadu government has once again raised the demand that India “retrieve” the islet from Sri Lanka.”

        See what I mean in previous Comment?

  • 1

    if the authors of this piece is the same one who signed a recent statement that includes Rajiva, Dayan, H.L.D. Mahindapala and Tamara then the author’s credibility is shot !

  • 1

    Exzellent article, very well researched. Brimmed with a lot of heavy weight questions that need answers.
    A brilliant example of the kind of journalism, one would like to read at https://www.colombotelegraph.com more often. The readers deserve this.. imho

  • 1

    Dr Senanayake – Please send a copy of your article to the Daily News and Sinhala version to the Sinhala press.

  • 0

    Today almost all major cities are highly polluted and are in grave danger of bringing ill-health to its inhabitants. Substandard construction and design , due to corruption and political interference and minimum maintenance , ect.m are all contributing to this. The very people who pollute the environment are making it a point to appear on tv and interviewed complaining and commenting.

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