By Ranil Senanayake –
The recent statement from the cabinet spokesman on the ‘Port City’ project is a slap in the face of the many Sri Lankans, who lobbied and protested this project on legal as well as health and safety grounds. According to him, it was not Sri Lankans who pointed out the vexing issues behind the land ownership questions under the original agreement, it was Indians ! He is reported to have stated that: “the Chinese funded ‘Port City Project’ (PCP) initiated by the Mahinda Rajapaksa government had to be suspended and re-visited under pressure from India. It was the Indian government that forewarned Sri Lanka of the negatives in the event Sri Lanka went ahead. India said once completed, the project will not come under the jurisdiction of Sri Lanka with a big question mark on Sri Lanka’s sovereignty”
Pressure from India ? If this is the voice of our cabinet, I wonder where are the ears ? Did they not see or hear of the press articles, public presentations, public protests seeking to inform the government of the social, health environmental costs of this project that has not been considered in the original EIA. Proceeding without an valid EIA is illegal, no supplementary EIA as requested has not yet been submitted. I am sure most of the informed public would have been aware of the public protests during the last year and a half of. But the cabinet seems to have been unaware. We wrote, researched, organized, protested etc, we thought that our voices were heard by the government, but the cabinet spokesman says no ! our voices are unheard , the cabinet hears only the voice of India.
The shortcomings of the EIA have been pointed out and it seems impossible for a democratic, responsible government to permit this project to proceed until a comprehensive EIA has been filed. A comprehensive EIA will be one that includes the concerns listed below.
- Air Quality. The pollution from the new city will be swept into Colombo city by the prevailing sea breeze. Will there be controls of the air quality in the new city, so that the residents of Colombo will not have to suffer increased rates of emphysema, lung cancer and related illnesses? How will be the standards for air quality from the new city be set and monitored?
- Water Quality. The new city will need huge quantities of fresh water for its use. Where will this water come from? There is not enough surface water in the Kelani basin to supply such a quantity. Will the citizens of this nation have to compete with the new city for its fresh water? Will we loose our water rights,?
- Energy. Where will the energy to operate the new city come from? At the moment we are promoting dangerous coal fired power plants that have been demonstrated to bring ill health to our citizens, destroy our agriculture, poison our fishery and ruin our heritage. At the moment over 50% of the energy needs of the country is generated from fossil fuels. Will these new energy needs be met with more such polluting power generation being foisted on our nation?
- Garbage and pollution. Who will deal with the garbage and toxic effluents that will be generated by the new city? Will Sri Lanka be used as the dumping ground for the new city? What waste treatments plans are in place, recognized by the current EIA? If the citizens of the new city are expected to generate waste at similar levels like in the new cities in the UAE, each person will generate around 2.5kg of waste per day, which at over 900kg an year, will see a garbage mountain from the Port City exceeding 180,000 tons per annum Where will this go?
- Carbon Footprint. As cement generates 16 times the heating effect that CO2 does in terms of global warming and a massive input of fossil energy will go to construct and maintain the infrastructure, the Carbon footprint of this city must be calculated and determined if it will be a part of the ‘National Footprint’ for Climate Change deliberations. The garbage mountain will also figure in this calculation as Landfills are one of the the largest anthropogenic emitters of the greenhouse gas (GHG) methane (CH4). For instance, in 2006, landfills in the U.S. emitted 6,211 tons—34% of the total U.S. methane emissions (equivalent to 130.4 million tons of CO2), Methane as a greenhouse gas has 20 times the potency of carbon dioxide (CO2).
- Destruction of the land environment. The massive amount of rocks that will be used in filling up the sea has to come from our land. What will be the effects of this blasting and quarrying? We have already witnessed the earth slips and erosion at Koslanda and elsewhere through bad land use practices.
There are many other considerations including offshore sand transport, marine biodiversity and climate change impacts that should appear in a reasonable EIA. Thus it is clear that any ‘comprehensive review’ will have to address these issues.
These are the real issues , not attempting to please one country or another at the cost to Sri Lanka. If the cabinet is deaf to the voices of the people and hear only the voices of other countries to negotiate our land; If this nation is treated as a negotiating chip for the economic benefit others , ignoring the concerns and well being of the people, the government will loose their credibility and we are heading into difficult times indeed !