by Melani Manel Perera
The goal is to turn Sri Lanka into a ‘Wonder of Asia’. Tourism can jumpstart the country’s economy and create jobs. However, the needs of local fishing communities must be taken into account. Their livelihood is at risk from new projects.
The government of Sri Lanka plans to promote tourism as a pillar of the country’s economic development and a way to counter the economic crisis caused by the very long interethnic conflict between Sinhalese and Tamils. The goal is to turn the island nation into a “Wonder of Asia”, to quote President Mahinda Rajapaksa. But not everyone is convinced. Although billions of rupees in revenue are promised, many warn against forgetting the needs of ordinary people who are at risk of becoming victimised a second time.
AsiaNews spoke with Mano Rawatte, a Sri Lankan who teaches programming at a US university. For him, “focusing on tourism to jumpstart the economy is a good idea, but it must take into account the fact that other Asian nations have been doing the same for many years.”
According to the university instructor, the various projects proposed by the authorities should focus on job creation in non-traditional activities (like fishing and farming).
However, “I seriously doubt if the environment will be protected or enhanced with expanded tourism unless strict rules are enforced to protect the beaches, remove garbage, and protect coral reefs,” he said.
In fact, Rawatte is concerned about the problem of corruption, which is widespread in the tourist sector. This would be especially true if a casino is opened.
“It is a way of making a lot of money that could be reinvested in rural school development,” he explained. However, casinos should “be for everyone, not only tourists.”
At the same time, “social ills like drug addition, gambling and sex tourism are already present in the country and they won’t get worse for this,” he said.
Herman Kumara disagrees. For the social activist and secretary general of the World Forum for Fisher People, the consequences of this kind of development will be far more negative than any benefits it might bring.
Sri Lankans are mostly employed in fishing and farming. To develop tourist projects without taking into account this reality is “dangerous”.
Projects like the ‘Sea Plane’ venture “harm not only the coastal marine ecosystem in some areas, but also the life of communities. Fisher people in Kalpitiya, Panama, Arugambay, Nilaweli and Negombo base their subsistence on fishing. Depriving them of that in favour of tourism means depriving them of their lives.”
According to the controversial project, seaplanes would be used to bring tourists to hard-to-get places. Currently, it is on hold.
For Kumara, tourism does remain an important factor in promoting economic growth. The solution lies however in cooperation between the government and its citizens.
“We expect the authorities to involved individual communities to start development from the ‘bottom’ up. This way, people, their livelihood and lands can be protected.” ~ courtesy: AsiaNews.it ~