Monday, 20 December 2010

Stop Sea Plane Project in Negombo Lagoon

Hotline Asia Urgent Appeals -- UA101220(8)

Stop Sea Plane Project in Negombo Lagoon

20 December 2010

Action Requested || Sample Letter || Background
Please respond before 20 January 2010

Negombo Lagoon (on west coast of Sri Lanka, approximately 37 km from the capital, Colombo) is being dredged and excavated for the Sea Plane Project which endangers the livelihood of about 15,000 local people and the maritime ecology.

Although the Minister of Port and Aviation claimed that the Sea Plane Project would bring no destruction to Negombo Lagoon, dredging process of the Lagoon started at the end of November, without proper procedure such as Environmental Impact Assessment and consultation with the affected people.

On 17 November 2010, fishermen association and human rights activists organized a protest against the damage of Negombo Lagoon, with participation of around 1,000 protestors, including fishermen, religious leaders and human rights workers. Although the construction of the sea plane landing port has been halted, it is temporary only.

On 18 November 2010, Defence Minister Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the president's younger brother, expressed that he could have ordered Navy to disperse the crowd. He added that the government would continue the construction “at any cost”.

The project, as part of the Mahinda Chinthanaya development programme, is expected to provide sea planes to promote tourism in areas which are difficult to reach (AsiaNews). Hence, the Sea Plane Project is likely to introduce construction of other tourist facilities which will imperil the Lagoon further by waste, noise and water pollution, affecting the valuable ecological system as well as livelihood of the fisherfolks and fishing-related economy in Negombo Lagoon area.

Action Requested
Please write polite letters expressing your concern about the imminent destruction of environment of Negombo Lagoon and the livelihood of local people in Negombo. Urge the authorities to terminate the Sea Plane Project in Negombo Lagoon and withdraw all machines from the Lagoon area.
Send letters to:
  1. President Mahinda Rajapaksa
    Presidential Secretariat,
    Colombo 1, SRI LANKA
Fax: +94-11-2446657
  1. Hon. Dayasritha Thisera
    Deputy Minister of Port & Aviation
    No.19, Chaithya Road, Colombo 1, SRI LANKA
Fax: +94-11-2435142
  1. 3. Dr. Nalaka Godahewa
    Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority,
    No.80, Galle Road, Colombo 3, SRI LANKA
Fax: +94-11-2382209
Send copies to:
  1. Central Environment Authority
    104, Denzil Kobbekaduwa Mawatha,
    Battaramulla, SRI LANKA
  1. Ministry of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources
    Department of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources
    3rd Floor, New Secretariat, Maligawatta,
    Colombo 10, SRI LANKA
Fax: +94-11-2449170
  1. Hon. Anura Priyadarshana Yapa
    Ministry for the Environment
    82 Rajamalwatta, Road Battaramulla, SRI LANKA
Fax: +94-11-2877288
  1. Diplomatic representatives of Sri Lanka in your countries.

Sample Letter

We are writing with grave concern about the local people living in the area of Negombo Lagoon area.

We learnt that Sri Lanka government is constructing a sea plane landing port in Negombo Lagoon, in attempt to boost tourism. We are deeply worried that the landing port is only a starting point of deterioration of people's livelihood as well as the ecology of the Lagoon, as the Sea Plane Project is likely to be followed by much more entertainment and luxury facilities for tourists.

Negombo Lagoon has been declared as a special management area under Articles 28 & 29 of Fisheries Management Act 1996 No.2. The Lagoon provides not only livelihood to 15,000 people, but also abundant maritime resources to the world.

We are worried that further human rights violation will be caused by the forceful implementation of the Sea Plane Project, especially when Defence Secretary, Gotabaya Rajapakse, said to protestors against the Project on 18 November that, the Sea Plane Project would continue at any cost, and asked the protestors to disperse from the site immediately or face consequences. He added that orders have been given to the Navy. Moreover, we are aware that leaders of the protestors, Mr. Aruna Roshantha and Mr. Marcus Anthony Fernando, have once been arrested by police merely for distributing leaflets which explained impacts of the Project.

We appreciate more chance to visit your beautiful country, but, as visitors, we hope to see the beautiful landscape and to experience authentic lifestyle of local people rather than people suffering from tourism development. The current Sea Plane Project will only eliminate attractiveness of the country. Thus, we urge your government to immediately terminate the Sea Plane Project and withdraw all the machines from the Lagoon area.

Negombo Lagoon

Negombo Lagoon, one of the most resourceful marshy lands in Asia, has been providing livelihood to about 15,000 fishing population who are small-scale fishermen and fishing-craftsman. Reciprocally, the inhabitants of the area have protected this precious environment with their thorough knowledge of the natural environment.

Deputy Minister had promised fishermen that he would never agree to dig the Lagoon to implement the Sea Plane Project as it would destroy even fish breeding in the lagoon. However, without notification to the fishermen, the project has started with dredging the most productive area of the Lagoon.

Impacts of the Sea Plane Project

The Sea Plane Project, which is likely to be followed by construction of other facilities such as tourist resorts, beach gardens, beer pubs and massage centers, will jeopardize fishing activities and contaminate the maritime ecology.

Deputy Minister Sarath Gunarathne said at a public meeting that, there will be a ban on fishing at the time when sea planes land and take off. The authority planed to have 20 sea planes landing and taking- off a day. Moreover, for tourism purpose, surrounding of Negombo Lagoon may be declared as a high security zone which will further restrict fishermen¡¦s activities.

Sea Plane Project as a Tourism Development Plan

The Sea Plane Project is part of the Mahinda Chinthanaya development program, which follows the plan of "Regaining Sri Lanka" imposed by regime of the United National Party in 2002. The same plan continued after 2005, under Mahinda Rajapakse regime. After the 2010 victory, Mahinda Rajapakse regime has accelerated the plan into a tourism master plan which proposed 14 tourism zones in the country, mainly around the coastal areas. The Sri Lanka¡¦s Ports and Aviation Ministry are planning to build a few more landing ports of sea planes in 12 inland lakes and waterway, such as Parakrama Samudra, Thisawewa, Victoria Lake and Beira Lake.

Development for Whom ?

Although the chairman of the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority, Nalaka Godahewa, said that sustainable tourism is a key principle of the development of Sri Lanka, the name of development has been abused for the vested-interested group, instead of advancing the well-being for all. In the development or redevelopment project, poor people have been displaced from their inhabited land, such as the slum dwellers in Slave Island and 2007-Tsunami- affected- people in Blumandhal. The so-called development project never improves the displaced people's living standard but benefits the investors only.

Godahewa also stated that the tourism would create 500,000 direct and indirect employments. However, development does not only refer to employment and income. Currently, the dwellers in Negombo Lagoon have been depending on various natural resources, which give a yield of Rs 150 million (approx USD 1.36 million) worth of fish annually, to live a simple but self-sufficient life.

"If we lose the lagoon, we¡¦re ready to die...... [The Lagoon is] already so overcrowded and hard to work," a fisherman said. Garment factories cluster around the lagoon is already polluting the water and the authorities have not addressed the problem so far. The Sea Plane Project will further contaminate the river. The fisherman added that if the project led to eviction of fishermen from the lagoon, they would be left with no livelihood.

According to Lankapuvath, a local newspaper, the chairman of the Tourism Development Authority, Dr. Nalaka Godahewa, said they will not relocate anybody for tourism purposes.

Moreover, altering Negombo Lagoon will irreversibly change the social and cultural environment. Once the Sea Plane Project as well as the tourism development project accomplished, local people would have to adapt new working skills, and give up the land they have been living on for centuries. Also, they will not be able to bare the cost of living in the tourist area.

Local Source,
Lanka Web,
Live Lanka Net,
Ada Derana and
National Fisheries Solidarity Movement.

News Source: