The Conflicting Goals of Development Projects in Sri Lanka


SEATTLE — Development projects are often in conflict with environmental conservation goals, and Sri Lanka is no exception. A number of major projects have taken place on the Island and they have both hindered and advanced Sri Lankan development in many ways. The development projects in Sri Lanka are typically funded through organizations like the World Bank or the Asian Development Bank in coordination with the government. These are five major examples of such projects.

Promoting Equitable Access to Education (2016)

This was one of the development projects in Sri Lanka run by the World Bank and was said to provide equitable access to education to about 3.2 million Sri Lankan students. Of these students, about 52 percent were female. Additionally, it resulted in an 85 percent completion rate for students up to grade 11, which was a slight increase from 2011. This project also facilitated improvements to the education system’s infrastructure: new plans were put in place for national assessments of learning outcomes and school-based teacher development.

Uma Oya Multipurpose Development Project (2011)

This project, which was funded primarily by the Sri Lankan government, aimed to generate hydropower, irrigation and provision of drinking water. In order to achieve these goals, dams were to be built across two major waterfalls in areas of high agricultural concentration. The primary criticism of the project was that the new reservoirs would flood many local crops and financially endanger rural citizens that rely on agriculture for their income. Secondary concerns included biodiversity loss and soil erosion. The project was never completed due to these concerns and is suspended to this day.

Norocholai Coal Power Plant (2006-2011)

The Norocholai coal power plant was Sri Lanka’s first coal power plant and was funded primarily through China’s EXIM bank. The plant is said to generate between 40-60 percent of the country’s electricity, and in 2015 it was the largest profitable entity in Sri Lanka. While the power plant has provided electricity and made it more accessible to those in rural areas, it has come with a number of environmental consequences. The citizens of the area are facing various respiratory diseases and other health issues as a result of extended exposure to burning coal. Additionally, water and air pollution have naturally increased in the areas surrounding the power plant.

Central Expressway Project (2007- )

This project focused on building an expressway between Kadawatha and Dambulla. This is one of the development projects in Sri Lanka that will have many benefits, as it will likely make transportation to rural areas much more accessible, improving medical treatment rates and trade opportunities. Of course, as with the construction of most major highways, the project will displace many citizens and destroy a variety of ecosystems. There have also been issues with funding and the project has not completed the early stages of building, as production only really began in late 2017. There has also been much suspicion about how the project has been moving forward with no official financial contributors.

The Colombo International Financial City Project (2014- )

This project, which is being funded primarily by the Chinese government, aims to develop a port city on unused land on the Colombo coast. The Chinese government has invested $1 billion in the construction of three 60-floor buildings in addition to the $1.4 billion invested in the rest of the project. The rest of this money is meant to aid the creation of a Financial City, which is projected to create 83,000 new jobs and attract up to $13 billion in foreign investment. While this will boost the Sri Lankan economy and develop it financially, the construction will have a number of negative environmental impacts. Oceanic ecosystems along this area are being destroyed and polluted, and waste from the new city will likely end up in the ocean, causing even more damage.

Ultimately, development often comes with negative social, environmental or economic impacts. While it is becoming increasingly difficult to balance the effects of development projects, particularly in poor countries, sustainable development must be made a priority both in Sri Lanka and across the globe. Development projects in Sri Lanka have seen their highs and lows, but moving forward the government must be diligent about the sustainability of projects in the nation.

– Liyanga De Silva

Photo: Flickr


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