07/07/2008, 00.00
SRI LANKA
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Oluvil: fishermen against harbour expansion

by Melani Manel Perera
The project is part of a wider plan undertaken by the government to jumpstart the country’s economy. It risks driving small operators out of business in favour of large-scale commercial enterprises.
 

Ampara (AsiaNews) – Fishermen in the village of Oluvil (Ampara district) are scaling up their protests against the government’s decision to build a local commercial harbour as part of a broader infrastructural development plan undertaken to improve the quality of life and ensure economic growth.

Named Nagenahira Navodaya (Eastern Awakening), the planned new harbour will be able to cater to large ships with holds exceeding the eight-metre depth level mark.

Local fishermen complain that the new facility has already caused a decline in their activities, depriving them of their livelihood; for its part the government has insisted that future benefits will make fishermen’s lives happier and more prosperous.

Residents have complained that hundreds of people have seen their property expropriated or been displaced as a result of harbour construction work.

Local activists cannot hide their concern for the future of fishing. For Herman Kumara, general secretary of the World Forum For Fisher People (WFFP), the new harbour will cater to large scale commercial fishery rather than small fishermen.

Only large boats will be able to dock, whilst the small boats will not be able to enter, which is what “is happening at Colombo Harbour presently.”

According to locals, 58 families are left out of the 100 or so that once called the village home. Through subsidies, payouts and other expedients, the government was able to get the rest to move, but it evaluated property based on 2002 data, not 2008, thus not taking into account price changes and current inflation.

Locals also criticised the authorities for what they see as lies. Job promises have not panned out and only a few fishermen have been hired to build the new harbour, “far below what was promised.”

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