Constructing reservoirs in Sinharaja: Chamal pledges to seek UNESCO permission

The Government will seek prior permission from the United Nations Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organisation (UNESCO) to develop the two controversial reservoirs proposed to be constructed inside the Sinharaja Forest Reserve in a revival of the Gin Nilwala Diversion Project, The Morning learns.

“Only a part of the Reserve has been considered for this construction – an area which is already home to a few families. If we do go ahead with the plan, we would have to obtain permission from the UNESCO, after which they would conduct a proper damage assessment. We would consider all these factors before implementing the plan,” stated Minister of Irrigation Chamal Rajapaksa in Parliament yesterday (23), in response to a question from the Opposition.

The Morning exclusively reported yesterday that the Ministry of Irrigation would have to obtain permission through the Sri Lanka National Commission for the UNESCO (SLNCU) from the World Heritage Committee.

Furthermore, Rainforest Protectors of Sri Lanka Convenor Jayantha Wijesinghe and environmental Lawyer Dr. Jagath Gunawardana told The Morning on 22 March that such a development could place Sinharaja at risk of losing its UNESCO World Heritage Site status.

Meanwhile, in a statement made to the press yesterday, Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) MP S.B. Dissanayake claimed that there may be a chance that the construction of such reservoirs contributes to the value of the Forest.

“That would be the only instance in which we would allow for this development,” added Dissanayake.

On 20 March, Rajapaksa stated that the Gin Nilwala Diversion Project would require the construction of two irrigation tanks inside the Reserve, each spanning an area of five acres, so as to provide fresh water to Tangalle, Beliatta, Weeraketiya, Walasmulla, Dambarella, and other areas in the South.

The UNESCO aims to contribute to peace building, poverty eradication, sustainable development and intercultural dialogue. One manner of implementing this is through the protection of sites in the “World Heritage List”, which are judged to add value to humanity in cultural and natural ways.

Sri Lanka currently has eight World Heritage Sites; namely, the Ancient City of Polonnaruwa, the Ancient City of Sigiriya, the Old Town of Galle and Its Fortifications, the Rangiri Dambulla Cave Temple, the Sacred City of Anuradhapura, the Sacred City of Kandy, the Central Highlands, and the Sinharaja Forest Reserve.

The Sinharaja Rainforest, located in the Sabaragamuwa and Southern Provinces, covers an area of 18,900 acres and is home to over 50% of the country’s endemic species. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988.