or thousands of years, Sri Lanka’s fresh water resources have been one of our greatest treasures. Unfortunately, this blessing and nature’s free gift to us is often taken for granted and in recent decades we have seen waste, mismanagement and even the pollution of ground water resources mainly in the rice bowl of the North Central Province, where thousands of farmer families are known to be suffering from a deadly kidney disease with some 20,000 deaths reported in recent years. One of our greatest kings, Parakrama Bahu pleaded that not a single drop of rainwater must be allowed to go waste and must be made use of. Thus with the marvels of ancient engineering he built the famous Parakrama Samudraya and thousands of wewas to conserve water. Tragically most of these wewas have been allowed to go into the waste bins of history while government leaders in recent decades have asked World Bank experts to help us with irrigation management forgetting that these western experts were probably still on trees when our engineers thousands of years ago designed the Parakarama Samudraya and the wewas.
Many Third World experts believed that the world is running short of fresh water and in a decade or so the super powers might go to war to grab control of Third World water resources, just as the United States wage devastating wars in Afghanistan and Iraq recently with the hidden agenda of taking control of the multi-billion dollar oil resources and pipe lines in those countries.
In the 1980s and 90s, there were subtle moves to sell Sri Lanka’s water resources - including at least six major rivers - to transnational corporations (TNCs). This is the modern sophisticated way of economic neo-colonialism. Earlier they came with their military power to openly plunder the resources of Third World countries including Sri Lanka. Now the tactics have changed and the neo- colonialism is continuing mainly through TNCs.
The difference is that, third World countries are now being plundered of their wealth and resources but most people do not know what is happening and it will be too late when we realize we have been stripped and are paupers. The TNCs are doing this in vital areas such as healthcare, agriculture, food and nutrition. Now they have turned their economic drones on our fresh water resources. Recently the Wyamba Provincial Council quietly passed a resolution to work out new plans for the management of water resources. Civic action groups believe the undercurrents of this move may be the first step towards the privatization of Sri Lanka’s precious fresh water resources, though the Rajapaksa government has repeatedly pledged it would not sell our fresh water resources to TNCs.
Veteran irrigation engineer D.L.O.Mendis in an article has referred to the destruction of Sri Lanka’s ancient economic heritage. He says: “It needs to be mentioned that there is an unspoken belief that Moragahakande will transfer Mahaweli water to the northern areas, even up to Jaffna peninsula. Consequently, anyone who opposes this project is suspected of not wanting “good Sinhala water to go to Tamil areas” as a former diplomat put it. But, it should be realized that this would create a totally unnecessary and unmanageable situation of sharing water in the northern areas. That is one very good reason why the River for Jaffna proposal should be taken up and implemented as early as possible.
There is sufficient water in every locality in Sri Lanka provided rainfall is conserved and used without waste. Massive transfer of water by river diversions had been achieved in ancient times, only on a water and soil conservation eco-systems basis. The present tendency to “play god” by diverting rivers on a purely hydraulic engineering basis will inevitably lead to unmitigated environmental disaster, followed by socio-political chaos. The lessons of Lunugamvehera in particular have to be learned, and such blunders never repeated.”