11/28/2007, 00.00
SRI LANKA
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Government impoverishing Norochcholai in order to build a coal power station

by Melani Manel Perera
An inter-faith group made up of Catholics and Muslims that slammed the project organises a joint day of prayer as a form of protest. If it is built the power station will have a disastrous environmental impact on the area. Many families are already suffering as a result of their eviction on the president’s order. The new government-built homes they were given already show structural problems and are located faraway from basic services.

Colombo (AsiaNews) – The Sri Lankan government is pushing controversial projects in order to satisfy the country’s energy needs. These projects involve high risks for pollution in the affected areas and create the illusion that the future for the population will be better. In fact they are false promises that accentuate the miserable conditions in which many families live. The harsh blame comes from Catholic and Muslim religious authorities in Norochcholai, Puttalam district, north of Colombo, who are pursuing their battle against plans to build a coal power station.

Constituted as an inter-faith group, Catholics and Muslims met last Saturday for a day of prayer at St Anne’s Shrine in Talawila. More than 1,500 people gathered for the occasion, convinced that “by insisting on the power station project in Norochcholai President Mahinda Rajapakse is showing an evilness that is hiding behind an apparent humanitarian commitment.”

A joint venture between the Sri Lankan government and a Chinese company calls for the construction of coal-powered thermal station at a cost of US$ 450 million. It would generate some 300 MW and would be the first coal power station in the country.

However, emissions from burning coal are the most important source of man-made carbon dioxide, which is considered by most scientists studying climate change the primary cause of global warming. Furthermore, during its life-span a coal power station generates more radioactivity than a nuclear power station of the same capacity.

Fr Sarath Iddamalgoda, a member of the Alliance for the Protection of National Resources and Human Rights, told AsiaNews that “we have been fighting against the project for years and the president himself has intervened several times to shut us up. He came here and made promises saying that the station would bring a brighter future. But all he wanted was to get support for the project.”

Sadly, many residents already understand that reality. Some 81 families, who were evicted from their birthplace to give way to construction, were moved to areas where they cannot even meet their most basic needs.

“They [the evicted families] now face great difficulties with regard to transportation, access to health care and education,” the priest said.

The new homes they were given do not meet safety standards—cracks have already appeared in the walls.

“Not to mention the negative impact on the area and its economy, on a population which subsists largely on the land and the sea,” other residents who attended the prayer meeting said.

Once the power station is up and running it will produce acid rain which will destroy farming and compromise the fishing sector.

“The government has a duty to protect farmers and fishermen,” said Sister Christine Fernando, who was also in Talawila. “When it plans mega-projects like this one it should first of all keep in mind the dignity and the rights of its people.”

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