BY NIRANJALA ARIYAWANSHA, Ceylon Today
reporting from Bandarawela
The Iranian engineers who were on duty in the Karandagolla tunnel of Uma Oya project noticed on the night of the 24 December 2014 that water had been leaking into the tunnel from few places.
Engineers and the people of the area said on 25 December torrential showers washed the entire area of Badulla, Bandarawela, Ella and Ella Wellawaya.
On 26 December the villagers of Badde Arawa of Liyangahawela, in Bandarawela woke up in the morning and noticed that the walls and floors in their well built houses had cracked. One house collapsed that same evening. Out of the 61 houses in the village 20 houses have collapsed so far.
Thirty-seven houses in Karagahawela village of Bandarawela too were affected by a landslide on 26 December.
On the same day, 300 wells in Veheragalathenna village of Makulalla, Bandarawela suddenly ran dry. Bodhipala Hettiarachchi, a villager of Veheragalathenna said that the spring in his garden which did not run dry even during the drought had no water since 26 December.
Divisional Secretary of Bandarawela has informed all the 61 residents of Liyangahawela village to vacate houses but only the residents of the collapsed houses had moved to the houses of their relations.
On account of this, the farmers of the villages of Makulalla, Veheragalathenna, Egodagama, Boralanda, Madaperuwa, Palleperuwa and Heel Oya in Bandarawela and Ella Divisional Secretariat areas who irrigated lands with water from the wells and springs are now facing with a severe shortage of water.
This is not the dry season in Uva Province and occasional showers are reported in Badulla, Welimada, Bandarawela, Ella Wellawaya areas. The dry season of Uva is from May to August.
The wells do not accumulate water from the occasional showers experienced these days.
On 24 December, the villagers had connected the water leak identified in the tunnel between Karandagolla to Dayaraba Dam. Two days later only the above-mentioned incidents took place. People strongly believe that the reason why their springs and wells ran dry was that all the water had leaked out into the tunnel.
But the Iranian Engineers are of the opinion that this could be due to the fact that there was heavy rain in the area on 25 December which could have triggered this situation.
On 13 February as the people were protesting, the government took steps to temporarily suspend the constructions of the Uma Oya project. People’s Liberation Front (JVP) Uva Provincial Councillor Samantha Vidyarathna told Ceylon Today that the engineers working at the tunnel had reported that water had leaked out of the tunnel at a speed of 876 litres per second at the outset. But Iranian engineers contradicted it, they told Ceylon Today that it was 400 litres per second that had initially leaked out from the tunnel. Samantha Vidyarathna points out that, at present the water is leaking out at 500 litres per second into the tunnel. He estimated the waste of water as 306,720 million litres from 24 December to 6 March.
But the Iranian engineers argued that water is leaking only at 150-180 litres per second into the tunnel as of now.
People of Uva Province claimed that the government had not considered the Uma Oya Development project on the environmental impact report when its construction had started in 2011 with the assistance of the government of Iran. They pointed out that the huge environmental degradation was the result of this negligence. They argued that the ensuing incidents that took place from 24 December onward was due to bad communication between the two governments.
Now the government has temporarily suspended the construction and a committee of experts have been appointed to prepare a report. The committee is chaired by Dr. Jagath Gunathilake head of the Geology, Dept. of Peradeniya University. The engineers, the contractor FARAB Company of Iran, engineers of Sri Lanka, the residents and people are now awaiting this report.
Meanwhile, we visited the areas affected by the project in Uva Province. We covered the areas from Karandagolla to Dayaraba Dam in Bandarawela through which the tunnel runs underground, the dam in Puhulpola and the underground power house in Wellawaya in our three-day tour. We made a stop at Badde Arawa village in Bandarawela where the walls of houses had cracked and collapsed.
Development always has a conflict with the environmental conservation. However, engineers of the Uma Oya Project said, they cannot take the responsibility for all the destruction that has taken place in the entire Uva Province. But, if there is proof that such destruction was a direct result of the project, they will ensure that due compensation is paid to the property owners. They pointed out that there is no development without having an impact on environment. They say their duty is to do the project with minimal impact on the environment.
However, we cannot blame any party regarding the happenings in the area until the report of the committee of experts is out.
We will publish a full report on the Uma Oya project next week.