Mavil Aru Farmers Unite Against Sri Lankan Govt. Over Dam
Farmers in the Mavil Aru area are opposed to a government-planned dam extension, saying it will dry crops and threaten local wildlife.
During the Sri Lankan civil war, the farmers of Mavil Aru had to fight the militant organisation known as the Tamil Tigers for their water. In July 2006, during the Sri Lankan Civil War the militant organisation took control of Mavil Aru’s sluice gates. Local farmers were united against the Tamil Tiger fighters and the ensuing attack on them by the Sri Lankan army is seen as a turning point in the civil war. And now the farmers of Mavil Aru are fighting for their water again – but this time they are fighting the Sri Lankan government.
The local authorities have decided to increase the height of the Minipe Dam by 3.5 meters.
“As farmers we are not against giving water to other farmers by increasing the height of the dam and widening the canal,” says Anuruddha Vismantha, the chairman of the Mavil Aru United Farmers group. “But this project has been planned without proper consultation and without calculating the loss of water to our areas. We will face a severe water shortage. Who is going to take responsibility for that?”
The Tamil Tigers were wiped out when they tried to close the river that provides water to this holy land.
The organization believes that thousands of farmers will be affected by the dam developments and says that a feasibility study conducted in 2012 did not adequately assess the impact on all stakeholders. Instead it focused only on those who would be directly benefited, they said.
“When we asked the minister who the feasibility study was done with, even he didn’t know!” Vismantha says.
“This project was planned during the time the last minister was in office,” the secretary of the farmer’s organization, D. Dharmaratnam, said. “But the same river doesn’t flow here today. The water volumes have decreased and the number of paddy fields cultivated with that water have also decreased. This must be the only country where irrigation projects are implemented without the knowledge of the current minister.”
The Mavil Aru United Farmers group represents Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims, among others, and they say they have no sectarian or racial animosity within their ranks. All of them are united in opposing the dam extensions.
The farmers also say that the changes to the damn will have an impact on the wild life parks that the Mahaweli River flows through.
“Several parks are nourished by the Mahaweli River and at some times during the year the water levels go down dramatically,” explains Upali Kumarathunge. “Even now herds of elephants come to the Mavil Aru looking for water. That’s even before any work has been done on the dam.”
Despite all the objections, Sri Lanka’s President Maithripala Sirisena laid the foundation stone for the dam development project on October 6 this year anyway.
“They know that something is wrong here,” Gopala Pillai claims. “That is why they organized the foundation laying ceremony so quickly.”
The farmers’ fears are unfounded, says Susantha Mediwaka, of the Irrigation Department of Sri Lanka, who is managing the dam development. He explains that water will only be released to the Minipe Dam when electricity is produced, and that if there was a water shortage in the Mavil Aru, water would be provided there. This would ensure water even at times of scarcity.
The Mavil Aru farmers believe that, no matter what happens, justice will eventually be done. After all, they protested the Tamil Tigers and won and they believe they will win again.
“Seruwila has many holy sites, Buddhist, Muslim and Hindu,” notes Pradeshiya Sabha S. M. Premaratne. “The Tamil Tigers were wiped out when they tried to close the river that provides water to the people of this holy land. If anybody tries to do this again, their fate will also be the same.”
“When the Tamil Tigers closed the area, all of the farmers took to the streets to protest, no matter what race or religion we were,” says K. M. Rahuman of the Muttur Farmers organization. “Whether it is the Tigers or the government, it is wrong and we will never allow it.”