Environmentalists complain road construction is negatively impacting Sinharaja

An Inspection Panel that examined the Kudawa access road to the Sinharaja rainforest has determined that the project does not comply with World Bank (WB) standards for road construction in forest reserves.  This was revealed by the Centre for Environmental and Nature Studies (CENS), National Coordinator, Dr. Ravindra Kariyawasam, at a press conference, held at the Centre for Society & Religion (CSR) in Colombo, February 10th.

The Inspection Panel is an independent mechanism that looks into complaints by individuals or communities against the WB-funded projects.  The complaint is against the WB-funded Ecosystems Conservation and Management Project to enhance nature based tourism and provide better facilities to local and foreign tourists.

The complaint made to the panel by two individuals on behalf of 106 community members, states that the project is causing harm to the fauna and flora of the world heritage forest reserve and affecting the livelihoods of the area residents.

Co-Convenor of the Press Conference, Vekendeweal Rahula Thera of the Sinharaja Surakeeme Janapavura, stated that the road was not being constructed in a manner that allowed for easy animal movement.

Complaints had been made to the World Bank and the relevant local authorities previously, but there had been no remedial action, they stated.

Dr. Kariyawasam added that the team had inspected the project, on January 29 and 30. “The road is now 20 feet wide. About 1.6 kilometres of the 32 km roadway that has been developed using concrete has considerably damaged the environment.  All of this is being done in collusion with the Forest Department and other agencies.” “There are plans to increase the number of tourists, and the actions taken so far are in violation of the Fauna and Flora Act,” he said. If not well managed, that could lead to further devastation of the forest, he warned.

Laying the blame at the feet of successive governments, which, he alleged had only gazetted various regulations but failed to implement them, Dr. Kariyawasam called on President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who has claimed to be concerned about the environment to take corrective action.

Gazettes have been published demarcating the boundaries of the Sinharaja forest, but encroachment for agricultural and tourism purposes continue, at the expense of this virgin forest, which the UNESCO has designated a World Heritage Site and a Biosphere Reserve.  The recent fires in the Amazon and in Australia have taken a heavy toll on the world’s forest cover, and unless corrective measures are taken, more forests will be lost.

The complaint lodged with the Inspection Panel, accessed on-line, says ‘many trees and plants that serve as micro and macro habitats of several species in the area have been cut down. Furthermore, they claim that the concrete structures to capture water streams close to the road impact adversely on endemic fish species. The Requesters allege that before the start of the Project they had asked the authorities to conduct an environmental impact assessment but were told that it is unnecessary work.”

The complainants have also told the Panel, that a complaint made in July 2019 to the World Bank has not yielded the desired result.

The report of the Panel’s visit to Sinharaja has not yet been released, according to CENS.

The Sinharaja forest, the convenors of the Press Conference claimed, would benefit the environment and provide protection from climate change, and it must not be used as a money spinner for the government and other private entities.


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