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Mawella revisited

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Debri from the fire-stricken X-Press Pearl ship

The Sri Lankan coastline has seen many disasters in the recent past. Its high vulnerability to climate change impacts like sea-level rise, flooding, storm surges, cyclones together with unexpected manmade disasters like the fire on the New Diamond oil tanker and the X-Press Pearl chemical spill makes us realise the immense value of Sri Lanka’s beautiful coastline and how precariously its survival is balanced at the moment. The sole tourist magnet for many years in the past has been our beautiful beaches. But the destruction of our beaches goes on, making one wonder if will be left with any decent beaches at all for our children to brag about in the future.

The Negombo beach is not contiguous; it exists in patches. The Mount Lavinia beach needed to be filled in, just to keep its name going and tourists coming to this destination . The same goes for Unawatuna. A small breakwater caused the world-famous Unawatuna beach to disappear almost overnight. The other prime example is the coastline from Wattala all the way to Chilaw. It has all but disappeared. Miles and miles of black boulders piled high on the once soft sand-filled beaches. Sea walls, groins, breakwaters and anchorages stick out like skeletal ribs of a dead shore bearing silent witness to the damage engineering has done to the coastline. It is due to lack of foresight and knowledge of planners and builders, mainly of the Coast Conservation and Fisheries Departments. If one looks up the coastline on Google satellite, it is all but gone, all the way from Colombo to Chilaw. And downwards from Colombo to Kalutara. Anchorages up to Marawila and beyond stand-alone like graves of a lost shoreline and is an eyesore even on Google maps! The sand is carved out around them leaving only the boulder structure, dysfunctional with nothing to protect.

Engineered coastlines the world over have not only failed to protect the beaches but have actively contributed to its disappearance. The largest structural changes in hydrodynamic conditions of the sea and sediment supply are generally due to human interventions. Beach sand comes mostly (90 percent) from inland waterways. When these are blocked with dams, the sediments that collect inside the dams never reach the sea. Moreover, river sand is harvested and sold. A beach is a dynamic space. So is its sand. It keeps shifting with ocean currents and seasons. Humans intervene in this natural force of the sea, with disastrous consequences. All these human activities, mostly at government level, have contributed to the degradation of Sri Lanka’s beaches. Though the blame and shame are piled high on business interests like hotels and tourism-related activities, on analysis, they are not the only culprits. We can see that the biggest destroyer has been the government. With its lacklustre employees churning out outdated and harmful solutions. They construct structures that actually damage this valuable natural heritage.

This is happening currently in Mawella. It has been in the news that the planned government ‘coast protection’ methods will be applied there again, to a pristine and beautiful beach. This is for the benefit of a few fishermen. In this beautiful bay, it comes in the form of a breakwater with a fisheries harbour and two anchorages to hold the sand ‘in’ during the off-season monsoonal rains Vaarakan. These structures are spread out over the whole bay. Being a government project, interdepartmental approvals were easily obtained, including a conditional no objection letter from the Sri Lanka Tourism Authority. The wrecking has already been launched. The contractor, a local politician-cum-quarry businessman, who is a long-standing friend of the current ruling party, has won the contract bid and has started the carnage already. Because it was under threat of being stopped during a court case launched by concerned parties, he is working 24/7 to take it beyond the point of turning back.

Trying to stop this ravaging of beauty in the name of coast conservation and fisheries development, concerned environmentalists, tourism investors, especially eco-tourism enthusiasts of the bay, and fishermen who are against this project have challenged this hare-brained project in the highest courts. As a result, the court has issued a ruling banning all multi-day boats from ever entering Mawella Bay, let alone the harbour therein. Moreover, awakening belatedly to the huge tourism potential of the bay as well as heeding its ongoing tourism projects and the massive tourism investments already made as well as in the pipeline for Mawella, the Sri Lanka Tourism Authority has withdrawn approvals granted to this project. Either due to the contractor’s hurry, racketeering, or some sea god’s intervention, part of the breakwater, already built, has collapsed (See Pic 3). The shore sand shift is visible already. The fishermen, in whose name this massacre of a beach is carried out, are already complaining of their new predicament. And the multi-day boat fishers who were the major beneficiaries, stand cast out from this fisheries harbour.

So, my question is what is the purpose of this development now, which is costing taxpayers Rs.399 million. They are building a harbour, which is banned for boats! The businessman is continuing to build the breakwater regardless, because it fills his pockets. He couldn’t care less if it is used or not. The government Fisheries and Coast Conservation Departments say they can’t stop the project even if it’s now rendered useless with the Court verdict, as it will cost more to stop it and compensate the contractor. So he wins either way. But at least the cost to the environment can be prevented. The crashing of thriving and eco-friendly tourism can be stopped. The disaster of ruining one of the most beautiful beaches of Sri Lanka can be stopped. Aren’t they a precious enough commodity these days?

What can be done instead in Mawella? Surrounded by cliffs and filled with nooks and crannies, it can easily be turned into a fish-breeding ground. Coastal fishermen of Mawella have seen a decline in their yield steadily over the years. With the lagoon as a prop, the shallow waters of the bay will make an ideal breeding ground for replenishing Sri Lankan fisheries resources if it can be turned into a fish breeding project. If this happens, tourism too, will flourish. Fisheries tourism is a niche market and remains unexplored in Sri Lanka. With the existing vibrant fishing community, this can be tried in Mawella, especially the unique local know-how and existing eco-friendly fishing methods they use. Creating an underwater bio-reef may protect the bay better than the planned engineered structures like the breakwaters, jetties and anchorages. These structures are banned in some states in America as well as the damaging effect on sand migration well studied and documented in other countries that have built these already. They have suffered the consequences. Let us learn from others’ mistakes.

In the power and energy sector, the government has realised the damage caused by fossil fuel and taken timely course corrections to change power generation plans to renewables. Hats off to them, especially the president for doing this. In the same way, coast conservation and fisheries also need to be looked at with environmental impact as a top priority. They need to learn from other countries who have suffered the consequences of old and bygone methods of coast conservation. Groins, seawalls and breakwaters may have their place and use in sea-ravaged and eroded coastlines, but not in the pristinely preserved Mawella Bay. As far as I know, these engineered structures are supposed to be built perpendicular to the shoreline which is impossible in a curved shape like a bay, without impacting its wave patterns and completely ruining it. These spoil not only the beauty of the bay but its currents, wave patterns, sand movement, plants and fish. This affects not only humans but every living thing that depends on these for their survival, from plants, fish to humans. There have been recorded sightings of pink dolphins in this bay, a rare breed of dolphins. What good is it to fishermen if there are no fish to catch? Which is amply proven by the fish yields of Mawella. Isn’t it better to re-evaluate and use the money for something more beneficial to the fishermen of the area? Doing so is the surest way of protecting our coastal ecosystems as well as Sri Lanka’s beaches for future generations.

Concerned Citizen



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Opinion

Another mother and son to be admired

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It was with a sense of awe, admiration and joy that I read the piece by Capt. Elmo Jayawardene in The Island of 25 Oct. 2021, on the achievements of Dr Pahalagedera Jayathilaka, a handicapped youth from almost the wilderness in a village called Dandu Bendi Ruppa in Nuwara Kalaviya who had achieved almost the impossible, gaining a super First Class from the University of Moratuwa and a PhD in Fluid Dynamics from the National University of Singapore. Thereafter he has been attached to the University of Oxford as a Research Scientist. All credit for his achievements has to go to his mother, Pahalagedera Dingiriamma who did everything within her means to enable her son to achieve the almost impossible, by cultivating vegetables to feed, educate and raise eight offspring.

Dr. Jayathilaka is a person we Sri Lankans have to be proud of and also get children to emulate his achievements. The most important thing about this patriotic son of the soil is that he wants to return to Sri Lanka and give something back to his motherland in return for the free education he has had. This is when most of the youth are clamouring to go abroad.

There is another mother and a handicapped son who have to be admired. The boy is Brian Eaton who had just received his Ordinary Level examination results and he has got A grades for all nine subjects. He was featured in the Sirasa TV programme Lakshapathi, which is the local equivalent of Who wants to be a millionaire. He lives with his mother, who is a seamstress, in Mattakkuliya. He is blind. He has read over 200 books in braille. The mother had to take him by bus to the Blind School in Ratmalana. It used to take about two hours to get to the school and another two hours to return home. As the mother had to wait till school is over, she used to take the material and cut same while waiting for her son. She does the sewing after returning home.

Though they are Christians, Brian had wanted to study Buddhism and seemed to know more about Buddhism than most Buddhist youth.

Brian was accommodated as a special case on the Lakshapathi programme without his having to face the “fastest finger first” selection process. His knowledge of all subjects was such that he was able to answer many questions without any assistance. He came up to the Rs. 2.0 million penultimate question without much difficulty and answered it correctly. Then it was the final question for the jackpot prize of Rs. 3.0 million. Brian decided to withdraw from the programme without attempting to answer the final question as he was not very sure. He withdrew securing Rs.2.0 million. Before he stepped down from the hot seat, the quiz master asked him what would have been his answer. And to everybody’s dismay the answer he gave was correct and he missed out on another Rs. one million.

Brian is an exceptional child who has successfully overcome all disabilities, with the untiring efforts of his mother, to reach the top of the programme which had evaded many of the normal children who had participated in this programme. We wish him success in all his future endeavours.

MH Nissanka Warakaulle

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Opinion

Warnapura: A colourful cricketing giant

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Bandula Warnapura secured his name in the annals of Sri Lankan cricket as the country’s first Test Cricket Captain. As Sri Lanka’s opening batter, he faced the first delivery bowled by Bob Willis during the inaugural test match played between Sri Lanka and England on the historic day of 17 Feb. 1982, at the P Sara Stadium (previously known as Colombo Oval), in Borella. Further, he scored the first test run for his country. Records are usually meant to be broken as it happens regularly in the sports arena world over. But Warnapura’s feats will never be disintegrated. What a privileged position to be in! It is an exceedingly rare combination of persistent commitment, endurance, and of course, luck, over a long period of time.

My happy memories of Bandula Warnapura were linked with our school days about 12 years prior to the country’s first test match.

I vividly remember his exceptional achievements during his school career at Nalanda College between 1968 and 1972. Towards the latter part of this period he rose to fame of an exceptional degree. His name became a common household one; in fact, no other school cricketer at the time received such media attention. Two other contemporary school cricketers who came close to him were Duleep Mendis and Roy Dias; a wonderful triumvirate who dominated school cricket in the early 1970’s.

In 1971, Warnapura everyone expected the batting machine to break the existing batting record of the Ananda – Nalanda annual cricket encounter (popularly known as “Battle of Maroons”) when he captained the Nalanda cricket team. However, he only managed to score half a century (53), which brought much disappointment to many cricket fans.

As a grade 9 student of Ananda College at the time, I still treasure fond memories of his record-breaking epic innings of 118 not out in 1972 at the big match. He broke the 44-year-old batting record (111) held by another Nalandian P M Jayatilaka in 1928. I was in the Ananda (rival) pavilion; the overwhelming expectation of the other boys of the Ananda pavilion was against him reaching a glorious century. However, I was quietly feeling happy for him and honestly wanted him to achieve the century and surpass the existing record. After breaking the then batting record, the Nalanda pavilion was ecstatic and Bandula Warnapura became a school cricketing legend. I remember well, the legendary cricket commentator Premasara Epasinghe staunchly supporting Warnapura throughout his career.

W arnapura’s subsequent cricketing career was remarkable and by accident in 1979 he captained SriLanka and won a World Cup match against the star-studded Indian team (Gavaskar, Kapil Dev et al.). Most believe that as an ICC associate member, beating an ICC full member was the precursor state for the elevation of the Island nation to the test status in 1981. It was a dream come true for all cricket fans in Sri Lanka. However, at this time around, Warnapura’s cricketing career was on the decline and ended abruptly after the ill-advised rebel South Africa tour in 1984.

Bandula Warnapura’s sad demise at a relatively young age is indeed extremely sorrowful news.

Thank you Bandula for giving us fond memories with great nostalgia during our school days. May you have a fruitful journey of sansara and finally attain the supreme bliss of nibbana!

Prof Ananda Jayasinghe

University of Peradeniya

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Opinion

Ali Sabry’s equation

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by Rohana R. Wasala

Justice Minister Ali Sabry is reported to have said the traditional brand of Islamism which has been practised by Muslims in Sri Lanka for centuries has to be preserved while the religion should not be practised according to the likes of one group. He reportedly made this remark after taking part in a religious ceremony at the Dewatagaha Mosque, Colombo. (This architecturally impressive place of Islamic worship is a proud national monument situated at the heart of the commercial capital; it is a symbol of the peaceful coexistence of Muslims with Sri Lankans of other faiths.) The Minister is reported to have added that unity among Muslims in Sri Lanka should also be preserved just like preserving unity among various religious and ethnic groups.

Sri Lankans of all beliefs interested in the early restoration of the externally disturbed customary religious and communal harmony subscribe to that laudable view with the necessary alterations. But will his equation of Islam with Islamism work in the current context.

(CAVEAT: There is no way to check the authenticity of the news report in question unless Minister Ali Sabry confirms or denies what is claimed in it about him. It has not been indicated in which language he expressed these ideas. Did he actually use the words Islam and Islamism speaking in English or their equivalents speaking in another language, or has the media arbitrarily translated into English, using those two terms, what the speaker said in another language?)

But for the purpose of this essay, I assume that the Minister’s words have been reported accurately. I don’t know whether Muslims in Sri Lanka have started using the words Islam and Islamism interchangeably, which, of course, I’d have thought, is a near impossibility, given the universally recognised difference in meaning between the two terms. Google.com defines Islam as ‘the religion of the Muslims, a monotheistic faith regarded as revealed through Muhammad as the Prophet of Allah’. Islamism on the other hand, is generally taken to mean Islamist fundamentalism associated with violent militancy, which is purely a religiopolitical movement. The Wikipedia defines Islamism thus: “Islamism (also often called political Islam or Islamic fundamentalism) is a political ideology which posits that modern states and regions should be reconstituted in constitutional, economic and judicial terms, in accordance with what is conceived as a revival or a return to authentic Islamic practice in its totality”.

(By the way, the Wikipedia is no longer regarded as an easily available smart tool for the amateur researcher for the reason that the entries are made by voluntary editors at various levels of scholarship and academic authority and authenticity. The Wikipedia user must be sufficiently educated and well informed to be able to separate the wheat from the chaff. In this case, the definition given is sound enough.) Explaining the relation between Islam and Islamism, the Wikipedia says:

“The relationship between the notions of Islam and Islamism has been subject to disagreement. Hayri Abaza argues that the failure to distinguish between Islam and Islamism leads many in the West to support illiberal Islamic regimes, to the detriment of progressive moderates who seek to separate religion from politics. A writer for the International Crisis Group maintains that “the conception of ‘political Islam’” is a creation of Americans to explain the Iranian Islamic Revolution and (that) apolitical Islam was a historical fluke of the “short-lived era of the heyday of secular Arab nationalism between 1945 and 1970”, and it is quietist-political Islam, not Islamism, that requires explanation.

“Another source distinguishes Islamist from Islamic “by the fact that the latter refers to a religion and culture in existence over a millennium, whereas the first is a political/religious phenomenon linked to the great events of the 20th century”. Islamists have, at least at times, defined themselves as “Islamiyyoun/Islamists” to differentiate themselves from Muslimun/Muslims. Daniel Pipes describes Islamism as a modern ideology that owes more to European utopian ideologies and “isms” than to traditional Islamic religion.”

When Ali Sabry reportedly made the particular remark, he probably had in mind what the Wiki quote refers to as ‘quietist or political Islam’ (which, in common parlance, is called ‘moderate Islam’). Moderate Islam is not regarded as a problem, but Islamism definitely is. It need not be reiterated that the problem of Islamism affects the whole world. As far as Sri Lanka is concerned, Islamic/Islamist fundamentalism came to prominence relatively recently, although it has been smoldering since the mid-20th century as some commentators have pointed out. Given this background, responsible speakers do not use the two words (Islam and Islamism) as alternatives. I believe that minister Ali Sabry speaks as a responsible person. That is why I am sceptical about what has been reported of his speech. But these are strange times. Anything is possible.

However, it is somewhat inconceivable that Ali Sabry, who has been entrusted by the President with such a great responsibility or an array of responsibilities as he bears in a government that sought election on the main platform of “One Law, One Country” and that is poised to bring in a new constitution, made this thoughtless identification of Islam with Islamism.

The President wanted to assure the Muslim community that they were safe and would not be subjected to discrimination under his rule, particularly in the face of incursions into Sri Lanka of rampant Islamist extremism, although most Muslims did not vote for him at the presidential election in November 2019. It is conceivable that the President’s more important aim in appointing Ali Sabry to that key post was to enlist the participation of the Muslim community in governance despite their implicit initial refusal of his goodwill. It is unlikely that Ali Sabry has forgotten this.

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