What Dr. Barker may have had in mind is a broader canvas -one that IIMI has now displayed by changing ‘Irrigation’ to ‘Water’ management in its name: the attempts made to turn water into a marketable commodity for private profit. Over the years IIMI / IWMI has employed several strategems towards that end; at a seminar on ‘A Day Without Water: Managing Sri Lanka’s Water Resources’, held last week at the Kadirgamar Institute, its current ‘line’ was made evident by its Director-General, Jeremy Bird a former consultant to the Asian Development Bank which has a history of pushing for the privatisation of water.
The meeting at the Kadiragamar Institute had also highlighted the project to carry the waters of the Irnamadu tank near Kilinochchi by pipes to Jaffna and its western reaches. The ADB would provide loan finance to fund an exercise that would starve Kilinochchi of water and yet be dry for two months in the year. It will also put paid to a project to reduce salinity in water for agricultural and household use through much of the peninsula by blocking sea water from the lagoons in and around Vadamarachchi and Thondamannar, thereby turning those waters, over time, into fresh water. The ADB supported project though has the advantage of providing kick-backs to those who are engaged in or otherwise support it. One of its advocates is an engineer who has a name that is associated with India; he regrets the loss of the freedom for private enterprise that the LTTE had made possible. Desalinating lagoons is small beer.
The ADB and its associates want water taken away from farmers and given over to industrialists (including, especially, the new sacred cow, ‘tourism’), and to urban dwellers. Food? - oh, it can be imported – and, if we drive our farmers to bankruptcy and suicide, we can go back a bit and import labourers from India which has a population and unemployment problem and the need to clear thousands of square miles around Kundikulam of common or garden people.
The problem of dividing the available water between irrigation for food production and the competing demands of hydro-power generation defines the manner in which the multi-purpose Mahaweli project is administered. It was compounded in recent years by the demand for water of urban centres. The first such to surface was Anuradhapura: how much of the waters of the Malwatu Oya, initially retained in Nachchaduwa tank, should be used up by the City tanks, how much sent on, as was always done, for farming down to the Yoda Weva in Mannar district? The water requirement in that region is such that some of the Mahaweli waters too were sent via Kala Weva to Nachchaduwa. And now , in lieu of the Northern canal from Moragahakanda, the waters from Nachchaduwa are to be diverted with loud hosannas through Vavuniya. ‘Anuradhapura’ has always been a thorn in the flesh for myth-makers.
Among the speakers at the LKI symposium had been the Chairman of the National Water Supply & Drainage Board, Karunasena Hettiarachchi. An engineer who had worked in many fields related to water management (he’s an old boy of IIMI though at middle-level ) he had had no word on the use and abuse of groundwater by manufacturing industries and by tourist hotels. As far as I know, no parameters have been laid down on the quantity of water that may be drawn from deep sources, the payment to be made for it and the penalties to be imposed for misuse. He is also a stout, and unprofessional, defender of the wholesale theft of groundwater (342,000 litres per day) - by an Indian company for export to south India as ‘soft drinks’. Groundwater is the most precious of resources, and as a senior hydro-geologist, Dr. H A Dharmagunawardena, had said at this symposium, an extraction of it should be preceded by the most rigorous of assessments of its impact on the environment over the short and long-term. The company in question, Dabur, is known to be a large scale predator in India and operates out of a tax haven in Europe. In India however it is constrained by a regulation that the draw-off of water be no more than the rate of recharge.
Its factory, located in Kotadeniyawa (between Divulapitiya and Giriulla with Negombo and Mirigama to the west and east) was backed by a sop – it would provide thousands of jobs for the people of the area but, as it turned out only some 40 menial jobs were on offer for ‘locals’, the rest would be imported from India, was ‘declared open’ last Friday by Minister Basil Rajapakse. Perhaps in anticipation of it having to be be scuppered (Dabur has encountered such rebuffs elsewhere too) the Indian High Commissioner, Ashok Kantha, declared the previous day ago that ‘The Indian government will not let strong bilateral ties derail of ideological differences’. Mr. Kantha cannot be so dumb as to imagine that the objections to this attempt at large-scale and life-threatening pillage is ‘ideological’. Placards in the vicinity demandethat ‘the Indians get out!’