Fr Sarath Iddamalgoda, a member of the Christian Solidarity Movement and one of the coordinators of the People's Movement against the Port City, is against the 269-ha project in Colombo. As he analyses the plans in light of the teachings of Laudato si’, he focuses on crucial issues like drinking water, rock extraction, unsustainable development, the throwaway culture, and the role of the church.
Colombo (AsiaNews) – For Fr Sarath Iddamalgoda, a member of the Christian Solidarity Movement (CSM), plans to build a new port city in Colombo with Chinese capital goes against all the principles of respect for the environment and creation underlined by Pope Francis in Laudato si’.
The clergyman, who is one of the coordinators of the People's Movement against the Port City, spoke to AsiaNews about his opposition to the 269-ha offshore city in Colombo. In his view, such a project is one "the most critical issue of modern times. Loss of essential resources is one of the negative effects of such human activities done in the name of development." As Pope Francis said in his encyclical, “the harm we have inflicted on her [nature] by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her.”
What follows are some of Fr Iddamalgoda’s thoughts on the environmental effects of the Port City Project in light of Laudato si’. Although construction was halted following protests by environmentalists, the Catholic Church and fishermen, opponents are increasingly concerned about the possibility that the project might resume against the wishes of most Sri Lankans.
Construction of Colombo Port City is a major development project in Sri Lanka, causing immeasurable damage to the environment. It is to be constructed with Chinese aid by reclaiming 269 hectares from the sea. The 'Colombo Port City project' will include shopping complexes, luxury flats, recreational facilities such as water sports, golf courses, casinos and so on.
Does such a project have any relevance for Sri Lanka, a country where more than 80 per cent of the population are peasants, fishermen or plantation workers.
The loss of drinking water is a perilous effect of such lopsided development, which Pope Francis mentions. According to him, "Fresh drinking water is an issue of primary importance, since it is indispensable for human life and for supporting terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems˝ (No.28) ˝We know that water is a scarce and indispensable resource and a fundamental right" (No. 185). He goes on to say that one aspect of the issue is access to water and the other is water quality.
Indeed, people in Sri Lanka already face the problem of safe drinking water due to the use of chemicals in agricultural activities in the country’s dry zones. This situation is expected to deteriorate further, more particularly in wet zones such as Colombo Gampaha and Kalutara where rock material is extracted in large quantities to reclaim the sea for the construction of Colombo Port City. The total quantity of rock materials to be extracted is estimated to be around 3.45 million. The extraction of such a huge quantity of rocks will cause a severe drop in water level in those areas. We have already begun to see this.
Loss of Biodiversity
Water loss is not the only problem. Another effect of rock extraction is the loss in local fauna and flora. Often we human do not pay attention to the tiny creatures found on earth. According to the papal document, protecting even the tiniest creature is an important aspect of our responsibility because it has its own purpose.
"The good functioning of ecosystems requires fungi, algae, worms, insects, reptiles and an innumerable variety of microorganisms. Some less numerous species, although generally unseen, nonetheless play a critical role in maintaining the equilibrium of a particular place" (34).
Impact on Livelihoods
The project has already begun to threaten the livelihoods of the indigenous fishing community due to the extraction of large quantity of sands to reclaim the sea. Sand mining will destroy the natural fishing and fish breeding grounds. The disturbances that will occur at the sand extraction and then the construction stages will destroy the food of the fish population and drive the fish far away. People will be left with hunger and starvation. Who cares for what Pope Francis says in the encyclical that "it is essential to show special care for the indigenous communities and their cultural traditions". (146)
An Essential Aspect of Development
When large projects affect the land of the people, the correct approach that the pope proposes is to have special dialogue as an essential aspect of development, especially with the people affected. This is so because the land for them is not a commodity but rather a gift from God. In the case of the Colombo Port City Project, there has been no such consultation whatsoever with the affected communities.
The Colombo Port City Project is a reflection of a larger problem, namely the particular economic policy and model of development, which has no other considerations than seeking and maximising profits. Such a model, the pope insists is not sustainable. It creates a situation that allows a few to "consume and destroy while others are not yet able to live in a way worthy of their human dignity. That is why the time has come to accept decreased growth".
The victims of such development activities are the poor. The Church's concern for the poor is a "necessary option". Quoting US bishops, the pope said that greater attention must be given to "the needs of the poor, the weak and the vulnerable". The pope tells us that "we need only take a frank look at the facts to see that our common home is falling into serious disrepair."
In the light of what the pope says, we cannot fail to consider the effects of environmental deterioration, current models of development and the throwaway culture on people's lives. Sadly, we have to acknowledge that the Church hierarchy has turned a blind to the plight of these communities who have already begun to suffer from the impact of this project.
Therefore, when both political and Church hierarchies fail to look after the interests of the poor, it is time that ordinary citizens and the victims of development themselves act to put pressure on political authorities. This can happen only if the affected people are awakened. Until they take upon themselves such responsibility, it will not be possible to control the damage inflicted on the environment by growth oriented development activities.