05/13/2011, 00.00
SRI LANKA
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Kalpitiya: another tourist project denies fisher people access to the sea

by Melani Manel Perera
Barbed wire now surrounds beaches and military patrol hotel and resort building sites. A new mega project designed to boost the national economy could damage the local ecosystem and harm the life of local communities.
Kalpitiya (AsiaNews) – The Sri Lankan Navy has erected barriers and put up barbed wire around the beaches of  Kalpitiya (Puttalam District, Northwestern Province), thus denying local fishermen access to the sea. The action is part of a government plan to boost the national economy by promoting tourism. However, it might also damage the local ecosystem and harm local communities.

“We too like development and tourism,” some fishermen said during a meeting at the Annai Velankanni parish church on Uchchimunai Island, about 25 km north of Kalpitiya, “but only if they do not destroy our islands and way of life.”

Local residents are upset that the government sold at hefty prices many acres of land and entire beaches to Colombo-based companies and business people for hotel and resort development.

Now barbed wire surrounds the areas in question and ‘No Entry Without Permission’ signs have gone up all around.

If the plan goes ahead, the life of local communities would be in jeopardy because their existence depends almost exclusively on fishing.

“We know the government can earn a lot of money by promoting island tourism,” some fishermen said at the meeting organised by the Negombo Praja Abhilasha network. “However, they must also take into account the people who live here. We too have the right to be heard. We have voted for and elected the political leaders who made this decision.” A new naval checkpoint has been set up at the entrance between two beach seine (Madel Padu). About 50 fishermen who used to work there lost their jobs.

Fishermen from the Negombo Lagoon area (located north of Colombo in the Western Province) have been involved in a lengthy protest against the Sea Plane project (currently on hold), which would have brought in hydroplanes to promote hard-to-get places as tourist destinations.

The meeting in Kalpitiya brought together fishermen from the islands of Keerimundalama, Sinnamunai, Rodapaduwa, Boattuwadiya and Mohoththuwarama (which are off the coast of Kalpitiya).

According to the Sri Lanka Tourist Development Authority (SLTDA), the Kalpitiya tourism promotion zone is the country’s biggest tourism development project.

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