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Uma Oya The Tunnel of Tears

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It was a 28 th of June 2017.Whole Bandarawela Town, which is situated in Uva Province of Sri Lanka was seems like struck in one place. All the day to day tasks were interrupted and people were protesting against ongoing ,Uma Oya” project while all the state institutes, private merchant shops ,schools and etc ,all things were closed as a part of one day protest at “Bandarawela” town. This was a very recent public uprising against “uma Oya” project, which has been controversial topic since the beginning of proposal. Then lets what is the Uma oya project and how is its history. The Uma Oya Hydropower Complex (also internally called Uma Oya Multipurpose Development Project or UOMDP) is an irrigation and hydroelectric complex currently under construction in the Badulla District of Sri Lanka. Early assessments of project dates back to 1989, when the first studies was conducted by the country's Central Engineering and Consultancy Bureau. The complex involves building a dam across Dalgolla Oya, and channeling water over a 3,975 m (13,041 ft.) tunnel to Mathatilla Oya, both of which are tributaries of the Uma Oya. At Mathatilla Oya, another dam is constructed to channel 145,000,000 m3 (5.1×109 cu ft.) of waterr annum, via a 15,290 m (50,160 ft) headrace tunnel to the Uma Oya Power Station, where water then discharged to the Alikota Aru via a 3,335 m (10,942 ft.) tailrace tunnel. The Alikota Aru is a tributary of the Kirindi Oya.

However since the beginning of estimations from 1989, governments were failed to initiate the project. Because many fund resourcing bodies like Asian Development Bank rejected to give funds for this project because of sensitive environmental and ethical issues. Because the one aim of this project of transferring the water resources of Uva province-(Badulla and Monaragala districts) to Hambantota district. International community or any recognized fund raising body did not agree to initialize this. However former president Rajapaksha, who is a native of Hambantota District initialized the project in 2008 with Iranian president Mohammad Ahomanejaj with a funds of Eranian export development bank and also Iranian company ”Farab” accepted the irrigation and construction tasks even without environmental evaluation report. However ,there were serious allegations against taking US$ 553 for this project to repay within 20 years as a debt. Because at the beginning the cost for the project was estimated as US$ 250.

However, after inauguration at 2008,there were Hugh public distress over this. The related environmental project was created by university of sri jayawardanepura at 2010 ,November and there were so many weaknesses in report, at least scholars who created that were unable present alternative proposals at the end of a report. The report was open to public for a one month since 2010 November to December and many farmers associations, civil society organizations, concerned individuals presented amendments and positive proposals for environmental report, but unfortunately what happened was all the amendments were neglected and in April,2012,Cemtral Environmental Authority had to approve the project and its environmental evaluation report as a result of considerable political influences of former president MahindaRajapaksha. After that project was launched and the tragedy began. Rainy seasons of the Uma basin and the Southern Province coincide. Both areas receive rain from the Northeast Monsoon. During the Northeast Monsoon, the reservoirs and tanks of the Southern Province overflow.

Thus, the excess water of the Uma River cannot be stored in these reservoirs as proposed by the Uma Oya-The Tunnel of Tears project. Indubitably, Uma oya project is a fruitless waste of time, energy and money. So, water conservation for the drought seasons in Hambantota is not practical thing. However,unfortunately project was approved.

Most of the developmental processes of the project were being carried out in the central highlands. Loss of soil stability due to vibration generated during underground mining activities, changes in the course of water springs and many effects to the water streams are some of the major adverse effects likely to be brought about by this project. This is extremely detrimental to this area since it is already highly susceptible to landslides. Mining activities aggravated the threat of landslides, soil erosion, citation of water bodies, and drop of water table in the areas involving the underground conduits. A whole project consists of 25 kilometer long tunnel system. However, until now only part of it was completed. But people have been suffering due to it. They are losing their lively hoods. Paddy farming and animal farming have been equally threatened while archaeological sites, schools, religious places have been in a line of fire due tounforeseen landslide threats. The work main tunnel has been interrupted due to heavy water leakages in tunnel while subordinate tunnels were finished. People have been becoming refugees of their own lands in several divisional secretariat areas of Uva province including Bandarawelaand Wellawaya. Water resources have been heavily damaged while government is delivering water using water bowsers. However it is not sufficient to fulfill the needs. Country is suffering due to lack of vegetable production and increasing of vegetable prices. Actually, many vegetable farming areas were totally abandoned due to land gaining process in development project and its environmental effects. From numbers until now, 7100 houses were damaged as a result of unstable soil and vibrations waves which were generated by under earth drilling or mining process. And 2300 acres of paddy fields were wasted. Even farmers or house owners have not been received their compensatory payments yet while politicians and some officers corruptingtheir money.

Actually, not only Rajapaksha regime, as well as current government should responsible for Uma Oya tragedy. Because they continued the process after their January 8 victory, until 28th June ,Bandarawela Hartal this year despite their election promise of termination of project.After,28 th Bandarawela protest, president seeks the help of foreign advisers in this regard despite irrespective statements of government ministers who are boasting that they are going to continue this project within any circumstances. As results of president‟s effect, Norwegian experts came to here and they investigated the incident and finally submitted a report to a president. Norwegian expert Bent Aagaard who inspected the Uma Oya Multipurpose Development Project that had caused many problems in the Bandarawela area has said that the machinery used for the Project had not been capable of proper strengthening of the tunnel wall and to seal them with strong grout materials.Mr. Aagaard made these remarks in the interim report submitted to President Maithripala Sirisena at the President‟s Official Residence in Colombo on 4 th of August..Mr. Aagaard said the preliminary studies had not forecast the possibility of large water seepage in the tunnel; “„Excavation must be done by using suitable Uma Oya-The Tunnel of Tears machinery on the tunnel wall and grouting all the leaks in the tunnel to ensure that there will be no seepage in the tunnel in the future,‟ he added.He further said the contractors had not been prepared for large scale water ingress in the tunnel.

He advised that it would be necessary to get special grout material and machinery before remaining the four and a half kilometer stretch of the tunnel is dug as a part of it is below the residential areas.He was of the view that a better comprehensive preliminary study could have prevented the water ingress into the tunnel leading to a severe water dearth in some areas.Meanwhile, President Sirisena said it was regrettable that a series of problems had arisen during the project as the previous government had hurriedly commenced the project without proper study of the feasibility report and the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).

The President requested the expert to provide a full report on how the leakage could be completely stopped and the reasons for not taking into the consideration the water leakage in the previous reports; “The government plans to obtain expert advice prior to implementation of the next project in which a 22 Km long tunnel is to be constructed,” he added So,we hope things will happen in favour of people of Uva province and environment instead of fulfilling narrow desires and expectations of politicians.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 23 August 2017 17:43  
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