Uma Oya is a river flows down from the central hills to join the Mahaweli river. It passes through Welimada in the Uva province providing water to large extent of rice fields and other agricultural lands. Under the Uma Oya Hydropower project water will be diverted to Kirindi Oya basin which will take water to Hambantota through a more than 19 km long underground tunnel across mountains in Bandarawela by creating a dam at Puhulpola (in Welimada) and a reservoir in Diaraba. The project cost of headwork is USD 529,059,197 which is equivalent to SLR 60,841,807,770. In brief, 85% of the project cost is provided by a loan from Export Development Bank of Iran and the rest 15% is supplied by the Government of Sri Lanka.
Unfortunately the EIA states that “Certain costs and benefits have not been included in the analysis due to unavailability of methodologies and lack of data.” This includes Impacts on flora and fauna, geological impacts, soil erosion, noise pollution, etc, during the construction stage, River pollution and its long term cumulative impacts on aquatic flora, fauna and humans, clearing of forest areas and damages to ecosystems and functions performed by such ecosystems, including fragmentation, impacts on humans forced into involuntary resettlement, Impacts on wildlife, including endangered elephants and other rare/endemic species, Impacts on aquatic fauna, including anadromous and migratory fish species, Impacts on sites of historical, cultural and religious significance. It is highly erroneous to say that these methodologies ate not available. By not including values for these impacts of the proposed project, the EIA does not contain a true environmental cost-benefit analysis of the proposed project. If the costs of any of these impacts, either individually or separately, are significant, then the project could be a financial as well as an environmental tragedy. For example, if the project were to lead to the extinction of Sri Lanka’s remaining elephant population, would the production of an additional 231 GW-hr of electricity offset the cost of this tragic result?
The proposed EIA repeatedly stated the serious impacts to the biodiversity specially the fauna. The project would cause substantial impacts to aquatic life, especially through fragmentation of habitat. The EIA, then, recognize the risk of extinction for migratory species. Among the migratory species who live in the area there are Garra ceylonensis and Garra ceylonensis phillipsi. Both endemic species that, due to the project, can run to extinction. But the impact of the fragmentation of habitats will affect all the species and also the other indigenous species of the area Puntius bimaculatus.
In Section 5.4.7 of Management Actions to Mitigate Impact on Aquatic Inhabitants, it states that “However, these species are available in the other undisturbed tributaries of the country. Therefore, no mitigation is recommended as the fish ladders are very expensive and therefore not practical for this project”.
The EIA categorizes the impact of the project on fauna by stating: “Moderate impact on the animals living associated with Victoria-Randenigala-Rantambe Sanctuary is anticipated. This is due to the diversion of Uma Oya water away from it normal path where this Sanctuary is located. Animals living there can face water scarcity problems especially elephants that are ranging downstream areas of Uma Oya. Similarly other activities that take away wildlife habitats located close proximity to any form of reserve will have an impact on species that are having larger home ranges covering outside areas.”
Especially, the EIA recognize an impact on reaming bears. Sri Lankan Sloth Bear is a subspecies of the Sloth Bear who live in Sri Lanka and who is considered Critically Endangered and its population is considered in decrease by the IUCN. However the EIA states: “Last reaming Bear habitats close proximity to Bogahapttiya area and Slender Loris habitats are also affected.”
The EIA also recognize a strong impact on elephant. Of course there is a current debate whether Sri Lanka has too many elephants that cannot be sustained. The EIA of the Uma Oya project clearly states: “The Uma Oya development project has significant impact on elephants.” “Nearly more than 1500 elephants inhabit the area and majority will be affected covering Hambantota and Moneragala Districts.”
The Project will be constructed by the Hardish Engineering Company from Iran.