Centre For Environmental Justice Urges Asian Development Bank  Of The Harm  Caused By a project Funded By It

Shakila Ifham

November 4, 2022


A civic minded organization yesterday urged the Asian Development Bank President Masatsugu Asakawa to intervene into Moragahakanda reservoir and Upper Elahara Canal project funded by the Bank

Centre for Environmental Justice Director and Senior Advisor Hemantha Withanage told The Earthlanka that they had spelled out to the ADB Chief about the destruction caused to the elephants due to the project.

“CEJ is a public interest environmental organisation based in Sri Lanka. CEJ is a member of the NGO Forum on ADB. We would like to bring to your attention the destruction of elephant habitats in Minneriya and Kavudulla wildlife national parks due to the ADB funded Mahaweli Water Security investment project in Sri Lanka,” the letter to the ADB chief stated.

He also said that the Upper Elahera Canal is the largest component in the Mahaweli Water Security Investment Program Sovereign Project | 47381-001 (MWSIP) funded by the Asian Development Bank.

The programme is building or upgrading more than 260 km of canals, reservoirs, and other irrigation infrastructure to deliver water to areas suffering from regular water scarcity and drought.

Moragahakanda irrigation reservoir completed in 2017, released water to Minneriya Tank without considering the impact to the wildlife habitats in the Minneriya National park. Minneriya is known for the largest elephant gathering in Asia which is one of the tourism attractions in Sri Lanka.

According to the experts, Elephant Gathering in Minneriya National Park is benefiting stakeholders of the region directly by about Rs. 1.25 billion each year. This equals overall earnings of about Rs. 8.5 million per day from the ‘Gathering’.

During the dry season, some 300 elephants feed on the grasslands in the Minneriya tank.

However, these grasslands have been completely covered with water from Moragahakanda reservoir and the elephants started suffering from food shortage since 2018. Although they have moved to other locations, those habitats did not adequately support hundreds of elephants that lived in the Minneriya and the Kavudulla national parks.

Therefore, many elephants have started dying and especially baby elephants have become malnourished and eventually die. While the national economy lost millions of rupees due to the destruction of these habitats, the elephant herd was devastated by the water release to the Minneriya reservoir, Withanage said.

He added: “We are well aware that the ADB resident mission and the project team have been informed of the situation by the experts. Unfortunately the situation has not been corrected to date.”

According to the ADB project Data Sheet “the first tranche of the investment program is categorized A for environment in accordance with ADB’s Safeguard Policy Statement (2009). Individual environmental assessments have been undertaken for the three projects.

Environment Impact assessments for the North Western Province Canal Project (NWPCP) and Upper Elahera Canal Project (UECP), each categorized A, and an initial environmental examination for Minipe Left Bank Canal Rehabilitation Project (MLBCRP) were prepared. Since the investment program is time-sliced and implementation of all three projects will begin under the first tranche, the environmental assessments cover the entire investment program. All subsequent tranches will also be categorized A for environment.

Unfortunately, he said that Asian Development Bank failed to address this issue during the project design and implementation stages and not looked for alternatives. This failure has resulted in loss of habitat for the elephants and many other wildlife living in the two National Parks. This failure has also resulted in loss of national income especially during this debt crisis we are facing in Sri Lanka.