Campaign Against Privatization of Water Resources
in Sri Lanka.

1. A New Policy on Water.

In Sri Lanka the cabinet of Ministers on the 28th April 2000 approved 'National Water Resources Policy' proposed by the Water Resources Secretariat. The particular policy document is supposed to be an outcome of work done by a team of government and non-government organizations of Sri Lanka and also of the World Bank. Mateen Thobani of the World Bank has arrived in Sri Lanka in 1998 to advice the government on 'Tradable Water Rights'.

2. The Hidden Agenda.

The major recommendation is that 'all the water resources shall vest with the government'. Once implemented every user of water has to obtain water entitlement on a price. It is only a step in transferring the ownership of the water resources to the international companies for making profits through distribution.

Hitherto in the history of Sri Lanka, water was always regarded as a common property of people. It was meant to be freely available not only for human beings, but all beings including the animals and plant life. The State is only the guardian of those and has no authority to intervene or change the course of nature.

These aspects are directly undermined by the new recommendations made by the so-called experts, whose only criterion is profits. On the basis of the Market Policies of the World Bank IMF and WTO, profits are more important than life.

It is very clear that the hidden agenda of the recommendations in the 'National Water Resources Policy' document is to allow the World's elite to make profits out of natures' gifts at the expense of the poor, animals and plants.

Already about 12 foreign companies have visited Sri Lanka and held international workshops to explore business opportunities with water.

3. The Impact.

Had those recommendations implemented, the consequences envisaged on Sri Lankan culture, foundation of which is nothing but water, the irrigation system and paddy cultivation, are serious. The agriculture more particularly, the paddy cultivation will be serious affected, if water is issued as a commodity on market. That danger is there already, because the World Bank in a document 'Non-plantation Sector Alternatives' in 1996 has advised the government that paddy cultivation in Sri Lanka is a non-profitable venture and recommended the diversification of agriculture into cash crops instead of paddy.

The long-term effects of such a transition on the whole of Sri Lankan society are alarming. If paddy cultivation is abandoned, people will have to depend on imports for their basic food. The food security of people is thus threatened.

The livelihoods of the lagoon fishermen too are threatened under the proposed legislation. Already it has been recommended in another 'Master Plan' for development of the potentials in the Lagoon, to introduce tourist activities in and around the Negombo Lagoon, where about 15000 live on lagoon fishing. If the natural movement in the lagoon is disturbed due to boat service or water sports, people fear that the lagoon fish such as prawns, lobsters and crabs will disappear.

The Puttalam lagoon was another water resource where the prawn farming flourished but that lagoon is now said to be dead. The provincial council has posthumously banned prawn farming there.

Those farmers, who give up farms in Puttalam seem to establish new ones in the Negombo lagoon. There are about 10 farms already established in Negombo. Many more large pits are being dug using modern machinery.

Knowing very well the gravity of the proposal the content of the said document was kept a secret until certain People's Organizations came it across. No people oriented government will keep a policy such as the water policy hidden from people. It is an aspect of good governance to respect people's right to know and encourage them to express their opinion on critical issues.

Making water a commodity and fixing a market price as proposed in the recommendations amounts to deprivation of the gift of water or taking away of life of the urban and rural poor, farmers and the animals and plants as well.

4. People's Protest.

Already in the 1980s, the previous government attempted to introduce a Water Tax to the farmers, but was withdrawn due to the public pressure. Pressure is mounting again against the proposed policy. Two demonstrations were held on the 17th and 24th of March in two provincial coastal towns called Negombo and Jaela to protest against the said proposal.

The cultural groups sang songs and poems to put across the message of the imminent danger of the proposals to their day to day life. Being predominantly a Catholic town, several priests and nuns too joined the protest. The ordinary people such as the fishermen, fisher women and youth who had been previously conscientized on these issues held placards and banners and collected the signatures and demanded the withdrawal of the proposals.

The protest at national level organized by 'National Alliance for Protection of Water Rights' was held from the 19th to 22nd. People from three different directions of the country came in convoys of vehicles, holding picket lines, distributing handbills and collecting signatures in the major towns they passed and drew the attention of the public, exposed and denounced the WB and WTO policies. Both Buddhist monks and Catholic clergy (men and women) played an active role during these protests.

Finally, a mass rally was held at Tissamaharama, a provincial town in the South of Sri Lanka where about 5000 people gathered to express their protest. The JVP a leftist political party to express their protest formed a human chain around a lake in the same area and on the same day.

Sustained campaign of Water | IMF/WB Asia | IMF/WB Struggles | PGA