The US$ 30 million World Bank (WB) project to develop the country’s wildlife sector which was lost due to Finance Ministry (FM) bungling may yet be revived under a new WB project to develop South Asia’s wildlife sector.
The regional project currently covers Bhutan, Nepal and Bangladesh, with the possibility of inveigling in India.
The local FM has admitted that they had made a mistake and asked whether the project for Sri Lanka could be revived, it’s learnt. Another possible option in resuscitating the project is through the WB’s new country assistance strategy (CAS) for the island due next year.
Sri Lanka lost the US$ 30 million WB loan under the Bank’s present CAS programme which ends this year after a FM mandarin, probably due to the promptings of his masters, wanted to change the scope of the original project from being wildlife centric to people centric.
The original scope of the project formulated with inputs from experts had a bent in promoting eco tourism, mitigating human-elephant conflict (HEC) and so on. However this Treasury mandarin wanted to change its scope to include the development of buffer zones, deepening of tanks and elephant relocation as a solution to HEC.
But the WB’s contention in regard to the FM’s counter-proposal had been that the development of buffer zones, ie the space kept between wildlife protected areas and human habitation would encourage encroachments into those areas, thus negating the very purpose of the setting-up of such zones.
The Bank’s other contention had been that the relocation of rogue elephants could be conducted only after a feasibility study had been first undertaken and not in an ad hoc manner.
Conservationist Srilal Miththapala referring to this missed aid at a seminar in Colombo on Wednesday said that the “WB grant would have had been like Project Tiger to India.”
On the subject of relocation, Dr. Prithviraj Fernando, a conservationist, speaking at the same seminar said that HEC has been going on for the past 30-50 years. “When we build homes where there are elephants the problem begins,” he said.
The Department of Wildlife Conservation tries to relocate them to protected areas. “But more than 70% of the elephants live outside the protected areas,” he said. They have been used to living in those areas, and live for 50-60 years, in their territory now invaded by humans, said Fernando.
Jayantha Jayewardene, another elephant conservationist told this reporter that there is no “quick fix” solution to resolve the HEC. “A second look at the boundaries of our national parks and protected areas may have to looked at and the demarcations redrawn to accommodate the elephants,” he said.
The Kenyan experience in resolving HEC is not suitable to Sri Lanka considering the latter’s smaller landmass, said Jayewardene.Fernando said that the problem is the growing human population. Though Sri Lanka’s 20 million population is growing at a slow 0.9%, that however means the addition of 180,000 souls annually, he said.
“Development is something that we have to deal with, but therewith we threaten the life of elephants,” said Fernando. Two hundred and fifty years ago there were elephants in Colombo Fort, but now there are no elephants in the South-West part of the country, he said. The seminar was jointly sponsored by John Keells Foundation, Ceylon Chamber of Commerce and IUCN.