(By Sara Attanayake | Translated by Akitha Wijayasinghe)
Environmentalists are strongly opposing the decision to build a wide road in the middle of the Flood Plains National Park in the Polonnaruwa District, along the Mahaweli River.
Will the President approve the project?
An old road from Manampitiya, Polonnaruwa to Yakkure is planned to be developed suddenly. In order to protect the National Park, this road was not in use, and was replaced with a wide carpeted road to Yakkure across Manampitiya, Dimbulagala, Pelatiyawa and Kalukele.
However, a letter sent to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa by the Sri Lanka Biodiversity and Research Circle states that efforts are being made to re-widen the road at the request of several local politicians, which could lead to the destruction of this unique ecosystem.
The relevant letter signed by the chairman of the organization Supun Lahiru Prakash has requested the President to intervene to stop this destructive project which is being carried out by provoking people in the area.
A special ecosystem
The Flood Plains National Park was declared on August 7, 1984, with several main objectives. Its main objective is to protect the floodplain of the Mahaweli River, which is a unique ecosystem created by the Mahaweli River, the longest river in Sri Lanka.
Another objective of this project is to provide habitats to many wildlife including wild elephants that have lost their habitats due to the Mahaweli Development scheme. This national park covers an area of 17,350 hectares.
Residents of the area say that there have been several previous attempts to illegally hand over lands in this national park for paddy cultivation. Sand mining has also started in the area in 2015 at several sand corridors, including the famous Giramankada sand corridor within the park.
That was with the approval of former President Maithripala Sirisena. As a result, the road that had been submerged in the overgrowth, has been re-used. Residents of the area further say that the road from Giramankada to Damanewewa was cleared for lorries carrying sand.
However, the former President himself banned sand mining in the area due to strong protests from environmentalists and other parties. That was with the amended circular issued by the then government on sand mining and transportation. Subsequently, the use of the relevant section of the road has been banned again by the Wildlife Conservation Department.
An election promise
Residents and environmental groups point out that several candidates who contested in the last parliamentary election from the Polonnaruwa district have promised to reopen the road and allow sand to be dug in the sand corridors.
According to the promise, at a meeting held at the Polonnaruwa District Secretariat under the inauguration of Ministers of State Roshan Ranasinghe and Siripala Gamlath, who are currently representing the ruling party, it was stated that this road should be constructed soon and that this is a primary demand of the people in the area.
Only for the people!
The officials of the Department of Wildlife Conservation pointed out that the road could not be allowed as it passes through the Flood Plains National Park. The ministers have emphasized that this road should be built for the people at any cost.
After that, at several meetings held with the participation of the people of the area, the relevant Ministers have stated that this road does not belong to the National Park and that it is located outside the boundary of the National Park.
On the 15th, a team of wildlife officials led by State Minister of Wildlife Conservation Wimalaweera Dissanayake visited the area to inspect the construction of the road.
Confirms that the road lies through the park
Examination of the relevant maps confirms that this road from Damanewewa to Manampitiya via Yakkure is entirely within the boundary of the National Park. This road is located at a distance of 700-800 meters from the river in the winding area of the Mahaweli river near Yakkure where there are many sand corridors including Giramankada.
Environmentalists point out that widening the road so close to the river will completely destroy the whole lake ecosystem.
The Flood Plains National Park is a critical wildlife reserve in the Mahaweli Wildlife Sanctuary, where more than 30 percent of Sri Lanka’s wild elephants are recorded. Lake elephants can be seen here with larger body sizes than the average size, which is limited only to this unique ecosystem. Wasgamuwa National Park is located to the south from the Flood Plains National Park and Somawathiya National Park to the north.
Environmentalists also show that the Flood Plains National Park, which connects these parks, is home to a number of elephant migration routes. They say that the objective of relevant ministers is to open sand corridors through the widening of the old road and to provide lands in the national park for paddy cultivation.
Only for businessmen
The residents of the area point out that this road is not essential for them and that they can carry out their daily activities through the aforementioned Kalukele road. They also say that transport facilities too are available in that direction and emphasize that by widening this road for their narrow business purposes might cause the elephants to roam near their houses posing a threat to their lives.
During his visit to the area on the 15th, Minister Wimalaweera Dissanayake, who also owns the subject of elephant fence renovation, had discussed with officials about the construction of a new elephant fence.
Meanwhile, a similar example in the National Flood Plains National Park is reported from Indonesia. The Indonesian government is working to build a road through the Mamberamo Foja Wildlife Reserve connecting the cities of Jaipur and Wamena in the Papua region, Indonesian media reports.
The government says the decision to split the 950,000-hectare reserve and build a road is for people to access isolated areas and for their welfare.
The wildlife reserve, which includes 40 ecosystems including montane rainforests, lowland and mountain rainforests, freshwater swamps, floodplain grasslands, savannahs and mangroves, is home to 332 endemic bird species and 80 mammal species. ((https://news.mongabay.com/2020/11/trans-papua-road-wamena-jayapura-mamberamo-foja-lorentz/)
Road construction is completely banned in Indonesia’s wildlife reserves. However, in 2014, the Ministry of Forest Conservation issued a permit to cut a road through the reserve, said Yan Ukako, head of the public works department in the Yalimo district where the reserve is located.
He further told the media that not only animals but also humans can live in the wildlife reserves and after the construction of this road, houses and farms will be built on both sides of the road.