11/11/2011, 00.00
SRI LANKA

In Sri Lanka, economic development threatens people, fish and elephants

Melani Manel Perera
Policies allow land seizure, forest destruction, house demolition and threaten animals on land and sea, displacing farmers and fishermen from their villages. Humanitarian groups are calling on people to be united, demanding international support for sustainable development in lieu of the government’s mega tourist projects.
Colombo (AsiaNews) – The National Alliance for Right to Land (NARL) issued a statement warning of a pending crisis caused by government land seizures and forest destruction. Thousands of people are being displaced from their homes and villages, left jobless. The alliance warns that fish stock and elephants are at risk as the crisis endanger Sri Lanka’s land and natural heritage because of development policies that favour big multinationals at the expense of those who should be their primary beneficiaries, namely the people. In its release, NARL also calls on people to be united and not be afraid of protesting, urging the international community to support their cause.

In the past few years, the administration of President Mahinda Rajapaksa has launched a number of development projects, especially in tourism, that are designed to turn Sri Lanka into the ‘Marvel of Asia’. However, the same projects disregard the rights and needs of the weakest groups in society, like farmers and fishermen.

“My family and I were displaced in 2007,” said one of the victims of these policies, that is before the end of almost 30 years of civil war in 2009. “We lived in Mullikulam, Mannar District. The Sri Lanka Navy took our 1,200 acres of land ‘for security reasons’. We lived well, quietly, because our village had fertile land. We fished and farmed. Now we are beggars, sleeping where we can. We only want to go home and start over.”

“As a country, we need development but one does not destroy its people and their livelihood and the environment. All development plans should help to improve people’s lives and protect the country’s environment,” said Sajeewa Chamikara, director of Environment Conservation Trust (ECT).

“Because of fear, Sri Lankans are reluctant to come forward to raise their voice against these injustices of the government,” said Herman Kumara, national secretary of National Fisheries Solidarity Movement (NAFSO) and honorary member of the World Forum for Fisheries People (WFFP).

Big cities like Colombo are also affected by government policies. For instance, in order to beautify the capital and rebuild roads and infrastructures, the authorities are tearing down slums and old houses, lamented Fr Marimuttu Sathivel, an Anglican priest. Now people have only 12 seconds to cross the street.

“The whole thing is nonsense,” the clergyman said. “How will little children and the elderly cross? Everyone wants cities that are more beautiful. We also would like to see better housing for the poor. But all this should be done without negative consequences for the population. To achieve our goals, we must act united."
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