Fishermen: Colombo’s new development projects must protect, not destroy
by Melani Manel Perera
The Sri Lankan government has rented the most beautiful and pristine natural areas for the next 99 years to build hotels, resorts, golf courses, facilities for seaplanes and aero-taxis. Mobilization of Catholics, religious and civil society against the expropriation of lands.
Colombo (AsiaNews) - "We are farmers and fishermen, we expect a development that will protect us, our lives and our livelihood. Without destroying the environment”, says Panama Chandrarathana Thero, the incumbent president of two divisions of Uva Wellassa, on the subject of numerous development projects undertaken by the Government of Sri Lanka. Representatives of civil society, priests, nuns and Catholic faithful participated in a seminar and exhibition, organized by the Land Forum, the National Fisheries Solidarity Movement (NAFSO) and the Praja Abhilasa Network.
Using as leverage one of the island’s greatest resources - an almost untouched nature in many areas - the government of Sri Lanka has rented for the next 99 years the lands of the islands Kalpitiya, Negombo, Rathgama, Vakarei, Arugambe, Panama, and Akkaraipattu to build hotels, resorts, golf courses and airstrips for seaplanes and aero-taxi services. The projects aim to promote tourism to contrast the economic impasse following the thirty-year ethnic conflict. But rather than being beneficiaries, the inhabitants of those areas are the first victims of this inhuman development. Foreclosures are now on the agenda, and the 200 thousand internally displaced persons (IDPs - Internally Displaced People) - because of the war - are bound to increase.
Suranjan Dinesh a catholic, and member of the All Ceylon Fisher Folk Trade Union, is a native of Kalpitiya: "We have lived in these islands for generations, but we are not considered citizens. In fact, no one has consulted us prior to the lease of our lands for the promotion of tourism in the area. What we want is to live in harmony with our livelihoods. "
"In Mullikulam (Mannar district) where I lived, there were 450 families - said Joseph Francis, a Catholic - we are all displaced, but we need to return to our village. Agriculture and fishing are our livelihoods. Why we do not get the benefit of the so called freedom while others are enjoying them? When do the authorities allow us to go back to our homes? ".
Anthony Thame a fisherman is from Parakrama Samudra Polonnaruwa. Even his house was expropriated: "We do not want seaplanes. This is our life. When the seaplane lands in our basin, the fauna on which we depend for our livelihoods will be wiped out. No organization or institution denies this and we do not know what will become of us. "