It is the ‘waarakan season’, the time when fishermen are faced with rough seas, surging waves and stormy weather. While venturing out to sea during this time is considered perilous, the raging seas have also proved to be a danger to those living on the shore line.
Since the beginning of the season this year, coastal erosion caused by the massive waves and adverse weather has damaged over 100 houses in the coastal belt of Mount Lavinia, Dehiwala and Ratmalana with Ratmalana being the worst affected.
Coastal erosion can be caused by tidal waves and high winds which cause the wearing away of land and the removal of beach. While residents claim that a few houses were washed away completely it is evident that many such houses on the sea beach road stretch of Ratmalana and other areas are in imminent danger of meeting the same fate. It was surprising to observe that despite more than half of one’s house being swept away residents were still choosing to live in the sections that remained standing.
“Where are we to go?” asks 65 year old K Anulawathi, a resident of Ratmalana. According to her when she was younger the sea was much further away from land than at present. “As years went by the beach eroded and now it has come to this,” she says showing what is left of her house. A house that once consisted of six rooms, housing three families, has now been reduced to one single room.
For Anulawathi life has become a daily struggle. While sleeping in the temple at night due to the fear of the rising sea she returns with her family during day time to the shambles they once called home. The government-built toilets too have been ripped away by the sea leaving residents sans sanitary facilities.
Speaking to The Nation residents complained that only a few families in the area were relocated post tsunami while few other families were also given apartments from government constructed complexes. “We didn’t get a house” says CM Anthony Perera, a fisherman in the area. He alleges that such housing was only given to those who were favored by politicians.
During the conversation residents claimed that this was the most serious instance of coastal erosion they have faced. “It is a yearly process but we have never been hit this hard,” says Perera adding that many are of the opinion that the situation has worsened due to the construction of the Port City project.
When contacted Director of the Environmental Conservation Trust, Sajeewa Chamikara was of the opinion that through the land filling done for the project the wave patterns have in fact changed. “Depending on the seasons and wave patterns the waves are now being directed at the coastal belt of this area as well as Mutwal,” he said. According to Sajeewa the Unawatuna situation is similar, where a construction of a breakwater intended to preserve the coast, has in fact done further damage as proper procedure was not adhered to.
“If the construction of the Port City is completed the situation will worsen,” he warned adding that even though no research has been done on the matter other research on wave patterns can back these claims.
However, leading environmentalist Jagath Gunawardana said it cannot be ascertained whether the two can be linked. “There may be a possible link, however this can only be deduced through research and studies on wave patterns,” he said adding that such studies are expensive and highly technical.
Professor of Environmental Science of the University of Colombo Prof. Sarath Kotagama was of a similar opinion. “These statements are anecdotal,” he said adding that while the two may have somewhat of a connection it cannot be said for certain without proper research.
Speaking on the matter Senior Engineer of the Lanka Hydraulics Institute, Dr. Sanjeewa Wickramarathna said while no research has been done in this regard, the institute is currently reviewing a report commissioned by the Colombo Port City project.
However while fingers are being pointed in many directions the plight of the people remain with no answers forthcoming from the relevant authorities. When asked what action has been taken by the Department of Coast Conservation, resident of the area Asanka Kumara alleges that officers of the department during their visits distributed bags while asking residents to construct their own sand barriers.
Despite repeated attempts Director General of the Department of Coast Conservation Prabath Chandarakeerthi was not available for comment.
Currently people have been unable to construct such a barricade. However a local private business owner can be seen constructing a sand barrier in order to protect his business premises located on the beach.
“No one in power has come to see our plight” laments Perera. According to him though promises were made to provide land and housing nothing has come out of it yet. “We are willing to move to any place away from this danger” says Anulawathi adding that she lives in constant fear of losing what remains of her house.
In news report the Ratmalana West Divisional Secretary D.A.H.Piyatillake was quoted as saying the immediate resettlement of the displaced families however was not possible for want of land.
It must be noted that these dwellings are in fact unauthorized and located in the tsunami buffer zone. Similarly the houses have also been built on the railway reservation. Even though a minimum of 15 meters should be present between dwellings and the railway track, currently the area is less than 10 meters in the said location.
Despite the many issues, the affected continue to appeal for the assistance of the government on a humanitarian basis. “We know these facts but we have no place to go” said one resident adding that they are not able to afford to purchase their own or opt for rental homes. “We are poor people, if the government can give us a house we are ready to leave” says Anulawathi.
But even she admits that some who were given housing have once again returned to the shore while the question remains whether there is an answer for the continuous environmental damage along with the innocent lives affected by it.