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Growth Plan for Sri Lanka – The Island




As for the formulation of environmentally sustainable projects, a concept called river basin has gained international popularity. In conventional approaches, man-made components such as roads, highways were the nuclei around which projects were formulated and the main objective was economic development. This approach has now proven unsustainable.

By Mahinda Panapitiya
Resident of Gampaha district


Our natural ecosystem is deteriorating at an alarming rate. Therefore, along with reducing the number of Local Government (LG) members as suggested by the President, the boundaries of LGs could also be changed to meet the preservation of our ecosystem. Currently, we simply follow the lines of starlight established by the British to define these borders. These straight lines have no “muscle” to motivate people to protect the ecosystems in their districts. However, it is possible to define these limits using the rivers of the provinces as a guide.

River basins in Sri Lanka

This method is called “River Basin Management Approach”. With this approach, it is also possible to develop indicators to assess the performance of these LG members, particularly with regard to their role in the preservation of the natural ecosystems under their command.


One of the major problems currently facing urban areas such as Western Province is that its natural ecosystem is deteriorating at an alarming rate due to poorly planned land use practices. The natural waterways that served as bathing places about 50 years ago are now polluted beyond use. Even the Fish Couture is gone. The watersheds of these natural watercourses such as the Attanagalu Oya basin are also fragmented into small patches due to rapid urbanization, thus severely altering the water retention capacities related to the characteristics of the basin. For example, in some areas, the water table in Gampaha district is falling at an alarming rate. In addition, small tributaries which were perennial in nature some twenty years ago, supplying rivers such as the Attanaugalu Oya, are gradually drying up, limiting their water flows to rainy periods only, while causing flash floods, during heavy rains. Crops of other crops in the highlands are also in decline due to lowering of water tables due to unplanned land use practices.

Furthermore, the quality of groundwater adjacent to industrial areas such as Ekala is currently affected to an unusable level. Wetlands bordering floodplains that serve as natural filters purifying local water sources are slowly disappearing due to unplanned development activities. Rice cultivation practices in the valleys that replenished the underground aquifer in the past are also gradually declining, although the landscape is still intact and available for future agricultural development.

Basic river concept

As for the formulation of environmentally sustainable projects, a concept called river basin has gained international popularity. In conventional approaches, man-made components such as roads, highways were the nuclei around which projects were formulated and the main objective was economic development. This approach has now proven unsustainable.

In the new river basin approach, features of the natural environment such as streams, wetlands, etc. are also treated as equals in formulating development models and policy boundaries for LGs. For example, for areas such as Gampaha District, the Attanagalu Oya (AO) should be the core around which the boundaries of the LG should be conceptualized. In this approach, the preservation and upgrading of ecological assets having an impact on the AO would become necessary prerequisites before launching any new development program in LG areas.

Role of the community

The development project proposed by local authorities targeting the district of Gampaha could be treated as a pilot project for the rest of the country demonstrating how an area could be economically developed in an environmentally friendly way through effective community participation. Land in the Attanagalu Oya basin which is the main water sources in the region is very fertile and ideal for growing rice as well as other crops such as coconut, rubber, pineapple and banana. It has a unique microclimatic condition which is ideal for sensitive crops such as the Beatles.

By introducing concepts related to nature conservation, the spiritual context of the stakeholder communities also plays a very important role. Buddhism as a religion is well known for its role in promoting environmental conservation. Therefore, the many Buddhist centers spread across the region, such as the Attanagala Temple, could also play a leading role during the initial mobilization phase of the program as well as during the implementation phase to maintain ongoing support to the communities. . The target area for the proposed pilot demonstration is also well known for its high caliber human resource base having its own identity with good leadership and intellectual qualities. Most of the professionals in high-ranking positions in the government sector as well as in the private sector spread across Sri Lanka hail from Siyana Korale, located in this new LG area.

Suggested methodology for mobilizing the program

1. Creation of an implementing agency that is multidisciplinary in nature (environment, agriculture, irrigation, urban development, land use planning, landscape architecture, sociologists) to operate at the provincial level under the direct supervision of the central government

2. Appointment of a multidisciplinary panel composed of experts during the planning phase (all expertise for this stage such as social scientists, ecologists, water resources/irrigation experts, agronomists, land use and landscape architects, GIS/IT experts, communication experts, etc. are available not only in the region itself, but also in other countries such as the United States and Japan .

3. Bibliographic survey to compile data already collected, studies, master plans, etc.

4. Preparation of funding proposals for next steps. If necessary, it is easy to tap into international funding sources for this type of intervention. – Feasibility studies and design for implementation in the next 10 years.

5. Conduct awareness programs / concept papers in plain language so that local stakeholders, including politicians, can understand the importance of the river basin approach.


The primary objective of the proposed development works should be to return the region to the environmental stage that prevailed 50 years ago while economically developing the region to its maximum productive level by at least 2027. For this mission, it is necessary to synergize the whole resource base (human, land, water) in the region based effectively on the lessons learned from other river basin projects such as the Mahaweli programme.

President Ranil Wickremesinghe recently asked the Asian Development Bank to establish a university in Sri Lanka to address climate issues. The concept proposed in this article could be used as a tool to identify the right scholars for this university by calling for proposals from candidates who wish to serve this university.