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Kalpitiya, Sri Lanka Fisher Folk under threat from Tourism Development — Report of an International Fact-Finding Mission

16 March 2011

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In Mohothtuwarama village in the Kalpitiya division of Sri Lanka, more than a thousand people are trapped! The sea has washed their huts away. Living there for generations and familiar with the ocean and its ways, they would simply move further inland when this happens. This time, however, it was not possible. The land has been taken over for a government tourism project, fences erected and gates locked.

The Mohothtuwarama villagers are not alone in their distress. Nearby islands such as Illuppanthivu and Uchchamunai are also facing a similar predicament. More and more land is being sequestered and access denied, thereby putting villagers’ homes and livelihoods at risk, their rights under threat and their peace of mind in jeopardy. And yet, the people themselves appear to have little say in the matter and feel that they have no one to help them, nowhere to turn.

The Kalpitiya Islands and the Tourism Master Plan of the Sri Lankan Government

As part of a proposed countrywide tourism development plan with the aim of bringing 2.5 million tourists to Sri Lanka by 2016 against 0.6 million at the end of 2010, the Ceylon Tourist Board (CTB) has chosen 14 islands in Kalpitiya in the Puttalam district of the North Western province as the site for the Kalpitiya Dutch Bay Resort Development Project, launched in 2008. Kalpitiya is a peninsula that separates the Puttalam lagoon from the Indian Ocean and is a marine sanctuary with a diversity of habitats ranging from bar reefs, flat coastal plains, saltpans, mangroves swamps, salt marshes and vast sand dune beaches. Dolphins, sea turtles and coral reefs are plentiful in the zone. Nearby attractions include Wilpattu sanctuary, a historical Dutch fort and church, St. Anne’s church in Thalawila and the ancient historic city of Anuradhapura. The 14 islands have a total landmass of 1672.67 hectares (4133.19 acres). Nine islands totaling 268.94 hectares (664.28 acres) are entirely state land whereas the remaining ones have mixed ownership, public and private. The area is mostly inhabited by poor fisher families numbering 10000 or more. The majority are Sinhalese and Muslims with a sprinkling of Tamils and others. Roman Catholicism and Islam are the principal religions. Kalpitiya is a relatively underdeveloped region of the country. Education, healthcare, infrastructure and services are scarce and of low quality. For instance, the level of schooling in the fisher community is only up to the 4th/5th standard or less, despite the fact that Sri Lanka as a whole ranks fairly high among developing countries in terms of basic social indicators.

According to the tourism development plan, seventeen hotels with a total capacity of 5000 rooms and 10000 beds are to be built. Of these, 3 each are five and four-star hotels, 2 are three-star, 1 two-star and 1 one-star. The remaining 7 have not yet been classified. A wide variety of tourist activities are in the offing including fishing tourism, deep sea diving, nature-based tourism, beach, sport and adventure tourism, and agro tourism. In addition, culture, village and event tourism are also planned. Hotels, chalets, water bungalows, Ayurvedic hotels, beach cabanas, sun huts, outdoor barbeque pits, open air performance areas will be available. In order to attract all categories of tourists to the resort, a plethora of attractions and activities will be offered. Cable car tours, theme parks, underwater amusement parks, boat safaris, water sports, golf courses, observation towers, camping, race course, cricket grounds, farms and botanical gardens, shopping centers, museums, art and entertainment centers will cater to tourists - young or old, rich or budget, adventurous or sedate. To facilitate tourism, infrastructure development will be undertaken including helipads, sea flight ports, jetties, cycling routes, and foot pathways. A domestic airport will be built on Uchchamunai island. Furthermore, amenities such as electricity, water, drainage, telecommunications and solid and liquid disposal systems will all be put in place. According to government estimates, the project will generate a total of 37500 new jobs with 15000 being direct ones and 22500 indirect. The private sector is heavily involved in the project with local corporations as well as multinationals being major stakeholders.

[See Full Report Below]

Between The Fence And The Deep Sea: Tourist Development In Kalpitiya, Sri Lanka – Stop And Review Now!
Negombo – 16 March 2011