07/13/2023, 19.30
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People rebuilding bridge left half-finished under former President Rajapaska

by Arundathie Abeysinghe

A serviceable bridge was torn down in Puttalam, a district in North Western province, for a new, wider structure. However, amid the country’s economic crisis, work was abandoned halfway through. Many unpaid workers have left for the Middle East. Now, after almost two years of hardship, locals (especially seniors) are building a foot bridge on their own, using local resources.

Colombo (AsiaNews) – Residents in Puttalam, a district in Sri Lanka’s North Western Province, have been forced to build and pay for on their own a temporary bridge after the new Anamaduwa-Meegoda bridge was abandoned halfway through its construction.

Although the old bridge was in good condition, it was demolished to be replaced by a more modern and wider structure, as part of an infrastructure programme launched in 2020 by the government of then President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

The old bridge was still passable but was always a challenge for big vehicles like container lorries, said Puttalam residents Karunasena Athukorala (68), Tilakasiri Hewapatabendige (70), and Siripala Punchihewa (74) speaking to AsiaNews.

Construction on the new bridge began in 2021 backed by those who thought that it would help movement within the district, potentially benefitting 15 villages.

Nevertheless, while the old bridge could have been used, since there was not enough land in this area for both, it was torn down.

An alternative route was set up, and now "residents are forced to resort to winding paths to reach their destination,” locals say.

"During the rainy season they have to cross a river to reach the nearby village or go to town. Students, pregnant women, the elderly and the disabled are the most affected and village youth risk their lives to carry them across the river,” they add.

"When someone is ill, the whole village gathers and carries the sick person on a tarp tied to two bamboo poles walking about eight kilometres to the hospital. It's a nightmare.”

“Before the new structure was even half completed, the contractor claimed that he had not received any payment,” said former District Secretary Manusha Senanayake, a resident of Puttalam. “Workers were let go and many left for the Middle East. Currently, there are no funds for materials or labour."

Left without a bridge for two years, residents decided to build a temporary structure for pedestrian, bicycle and motorcycle traffic. They did this by raising money locally and working on the project themselves.

The owners of several local hardware stores offered building materials. But villagers, many of them elderly, are doing the hard work at the abandoned construction site.

"Since many young residents in the area have jobs in Colombo, they only help out on weekends,” said senior engineer Chaminda Tennakoon who supervises the work. “Hence, construction is progressing at a snail’s pace.”

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