01/04/2007, 00.00
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Inter-faith mobilization against coal-fired plants

by Melani Manel Perera
Joint ventures of Colombo with China and India will see the construction of two coal-fired power plants in areas where people live off fishing and farming. Coal combustion is the biggest artificial source of carbon dioxide and causes acid rain in many countries.

Colombo (AsiaNews) – Sri Lanka’s religious communities have joined forces in a campaign against the construction of the country’s first coal power plant and the disastrous impact it could have on the environment and the people. The protest took place on 29 December, starting with a peaceful march of more than 2,000 people in Puttalam, north-west Sri Lanka. The protest was promoted by leaders of the inter-religious Co-group who believe that once the plant is operating at full steam, it will cause acid rain and environmental degeneration.


The construction of a coal power plant in Norochcholai north of Colombo is a joint venture between the Sinhalese government and a Chinese company. Realisation of the project is set to cost 0 million. The 300 MW plant will be the country’s first coal station. Burning coal produces carbon dioxide and variable quantities of sulphur dioxide. Sulphur dioxide reacts with water to form sulphur rain. If sulphur dioxide is released in the atmosphere, it reacts with water vapour and eventually returns to land as acid rain. Coal combustion emissions in power plants are the biggest artificial source of carbon dioxide which, according to climate experts, is the main cause of global warming. An operational coal power plant emits more radioactivity than a nuclear power station of equal power.


Peter Fernando, 55 years, has lived in Norochcholai for some time. The Catholic man was among the protesters and he told AsiaNews: “We don’t need this power plant and we don’t want it to be built because it will ruin our lifestyle completely.” The biggest concern is the environmental impact the power plant would have. “We are all fishermen and farmers,” continued Peter. “We send 40% of our produce to the national market of Puttalam, we cannot risk ecological damage.”


During the meeting that followed the march at the end of December, Fr Anthony Wyman, parish priest of Mampuri, Puttalam district, accused the president of Sri Lanka, Mahinda Rajapakse, of not keeping promises he made during his electoral campaign. He said: “The president had guaranteed there would be no power plant built here. I ask today what happened to those words. They have misled innocent people but we must continue our protest.”  


Representatives of the country’s main religions signed an appeal to the president, urging him to stop construction of the power plant. Signatories included: Hanchapola Seelawansa of the community of Buddhist monks; Fr Edward Karunanayake, diocesan director of Caritas Chilaw, Fr Wyman, and Abdullah Maulavi from the Muslim community.


While the protest at Puttalam was under way, Colombo signed an agreement with India on 29 December for a second coal power plant of 500MW in Sampur, Trincomalee district in the east of the country.


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