Sri Lanka: a political ecology of socio-environmental conflicts and development projects

Abstract

By analyzing 26 cases in the EJ Atlas for Sri Lanka, their causes, the impacts, the social actors involved, the forms of mobilization, and the main outcomes of the conflicts, this article examines in what ways activities aiming at economic growth produce socio-environmental conflicts. Such activities increase the social metabolism causing changes that translate into environmental, social, and health impacts which due to inequality of power are unequally distributed. As a result, those who are negatively impacted sometimes mobilize claiming environmental justice. The mining of construction materials to support the boom in the building sector and the expansion of intensive plantations into ‘extraction frontiers’ in new territories, cause deforestation, biodiversity loss, and hurt the local communities. Tourism and industries and new infrastructures are causing displacement, pollution, land degradation, and water shortage, affecting communities of farmers and fishermen that mobilize against the adverse impacts. Those with power to appropriate the natural resources are mostly the state together with international finance institutions and international actors who are able to implement the construction of infrastructures, plantations, and mass tourism. Mobilizations are mostly geared to the protection of livelihoods threatened by loss of access to land, pollution, deforestation, diseases, water scarcity, and new uncertain risks. The protection of the environment demanded by the mobilized groups in Sri Lanka does not aim just to protect nature itself but belongs to a wider movement of an “environmentalism of the poor”.

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Fig. 1

Source: UNEP 2016

Fig. 2

Source: UNEP 2016

Fig. 3

Source: UNEP 2016

Fig. 4

Source: UNEP 2016

Notes

  1. 1.

    A development program begun in the 1970s for irrigation facilities and the generation of electric power (Ministry of Mahaweli Development and Environment 2016).

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Acknowledgements

This paper is based on a dissertation for the MSc in Environment, Policy and Development at SOAS (London) in 2016 which relied on information organized by the author and provided in 2015 by the CEJ Sri Lanka while she was working as an intern at ICTA-UAB in Barcelona for the EJ Atlas. She would like to thank Hemantha Withanage from CEJ and Daniela Del Bene and Arnim Scheidel from the ICTA-UAB for the assistance provided in collecting and revising the information. Moreover, she would like to thank Professor Joan Martinez-Alier and Professor Rosaleen Duffy for many careful revisions and comments.

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Correspondence to Paola Bianca Camisani.

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Handled by Federico Demaria, icta uab, Spain.

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Camisani, P.B. Sri Lanka: a political ecology of socio-environmental conflicts and development projects. Sustain Sci 13, 693–707 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11625-018-0544-7

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Keywords

  • Sri Lanka
  • EJ Atlas
  • Environmental justice
  • Socio-environmental conflicts
  • Environmentalism of the poor
  • Internal colonialism