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Serving Sri Lanka

This web log is a news and views blog. The primary aim is to provide an avenue for the expression and collection of ideas on sustainable, fair, and just, grassroot level development. Some of the topics that the blog will specifically address are: poverty reduction, rural development, educational issues, social empowerment, post-Tsunami relief and reconstruction, livelihood development, environmental conservation and bio-diversity. 

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Sethusamudaram in a time of Tsunami

Dealing with the Tsunami: : "by Lareef Zubair,
I had thought that the Tsunami shall put an end to the Sethusamudram project which is being proposed to cut a channel for ships to travel from the Arabian Sea to the Bay of Bengal without going around Sri Lanka. The narrow channel, the Palk Straits, is of recent origin in geological terms and rather shallow. At some points its only a few meters across particularly at Adams bridge.Although there are extraordinary pressure gradients across this channel due to the South-West monsoon during the Northern Hemisphere Summer and the North-East monsoon during the North Hemisphere Winter, the currents across the Palk Straits are negligible although there is an oceanographic jet of high speeds just South of Sri Lanka that makes a spectacular seasonal reversal every year. It is the barrier between India and Sri Lanka due to Adams Bridge that ensures a relative tranquility providing a delicate niche ecosystem that was sensitive enough to produce oysters and the endangered duggons now documented in the Gulf of Mannar marine park. If indeed, you cut through the canal, one may not quite know what the impact shall be as, there could be a feedback loop of a small cut leading to erosion, which increasing the channel depth and section and that leads to greater erosion. I had raised all this in 1997 and it is rather foolhardy to undertake this project where there are so many vulnerable people both in Tamil Nadu and in Sri Lanka. If anything became clear during the Tsunami, it is how careless and incapable officialdom in both countries are regarding reducing the risk of the vulnerable and even taking care of those who suffer from their dereliction of duty.The matter was then being pushed by the Indian Defense Minister George Fernandes with thoughts of dealing with the regional nuclear threat in mind. Lately, the mantle to push through the project has been taken up by the DMK, the ruling party in Tamil Nadu and there are questions as to whether a fair environmental impact assessment can be undertaken there given the promise of the Ministers of Shipping and Environment to pursue a favourable outcome.It is in this context that the Tuticorin port authority put out a EIA report in outline. Many have raised questions. There are just so many assumptions in that report. In one place, it says that no leakage or accidents of ships will be permitted in the channel. How, this is possible when rebels and smugglers cross the Straits at will was not addressed. It is only in the last year, that the new government in Sri Lanka even considered taking up the issue. Since that time, a panel of scientists led by the National Acquatic Research Agency has put together a Environmental Impact scoping report. In reality there is no data. Yet, its unfortunate that these scientists have not publicized their findings.As important, is the principle, increasingly recognized in International treaties - which is the Precautionary Principle. This merely states that one should not undertake actions that can lead to extreme environmental and health impacts if one is not sure of the possible scenarios. Yet, those in favour of this project in India and some in Sri Lanka. They argued that India's experts have made their pronoucements and we shoudl all get out of the way of "development".The oceanographical possibilities was reduced to a caricature exercise of a model canal through the straits. But nature is not so simple. And if there was any thing needed to prove it and wake people up , it was the giant earthquake and Tsunami which our respected scientists completely missed forewarnign of the risks of. These and other risks have not gone. While the scientists, policy makers and the contractors are derelict, its the vulnerable who pay the price. Now, it is hard to countenance the fact that the state government of India is going to increase the vulnerability of its coastal population, leave risks regarding fisheries, and indeed the marine ecosystem based on so many unknowns. "


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