A hydropower project leaves thousands of people without water in Sri Lanka
by Melani Manel Perera

The Uma Oya complex was approved by the government of Mahinda Rajapaksa. Construction has dried up the land, and damaged homes. According to unofficial estimates, about 600 tonnes of harvest crops has been lost, and at least 42 villages afflicted by drought.

Colombo (AsiaNews) – The Uma Oya hydropower complex is an irrigation and hydroelectric project that has led to the destruction of some 600 metric tonnes of crops, and deprived entire villages of water, forcing residents to trek tens of kilometres to get water to bathe and drink.

For this reason, some 20,000 people from 42 villages in Badulla District (Uva province) have taken to the streets to protest against a development that has ruined their lives and livelihoods. The protest was organised by the activists of the People's Movement against the Destructive Uma Oya Project.

AsiaNews spoke with several residents of Medaperuwa, a village inhabited by Sinhalese and Muslims some 28 km from Ella-Bandarawela, Badulla, where the project is located.

Everyone slams the extreme living conditions in which they have been forced over the past two years, that is, since the start of the project approved by the previous government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

“We led a good life farming,” said P.B. Sanjeewa, a farmer. But "For two years now, we haven’t had any water. Canals, rivers and wells have dried up. We can take only one or two baths a week going far away,” he said. “Thousands of acres of land have been destroyed.”

According to unofficial estimates, in the first months of 2017, farmers lost about 600 tonnes of crops., and construction has caused damages to the land, homes and roads.

Lasantha de Silva, from the Uva community radio service, reports that in the past Bandarawela "was a tourist destination for many foreign and local visitors. The beautiful landscape, cool and mildly windy weather made this place a paradise. But that paradise has not been transformed into hell”.

"The beautiful village community, which was nurtured by the blessings of the natural environment, is ironically craving for water today."

Other villages affected are Medaperuwa, Udaperuwa, Egodagama, Palleperuwa, Heel Oya and Weragala.

Ms Musameel, a mother of four school-age children, is upset that the government grants only 500 rupees a week (US$ 3.35) to buy water. "That is not enough,” she said. “We are forced to go to another village to bathe."

“We are suffering a lot,” said Niaas Musameel, her 16-year-old son. “People must travel or walk on foot at least seven kilometres to take a bath or get drinking water."

“With my three-wheeler, I can carry my family to faraway places to take a bath,” explained Manatungage Maalasri, a three-wheeler driver. “But what about the people who don’t have this privilege? What about old people, the sick?”

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