Arugam Bay Master Plan

Rebuilding Sri Lanka for Tourists:
A Report on the Latest Situation
Movement for National Land and Agricultural Reform (MONLAR), Sri Lanka

After the December 2004 tsunami struck, devastating the countries of South and Southeast Asia, the Sri Lankan government moved quickly to announce the launch of a grand plan not just to rehabilitate the affected areas but to rebuild the whole country. They have since gathered commitments of over $3 billion from the international financial institutions and foreign governments to carry this out.

Within days of the disaster, the government had announced that people should not rebuild their houses on the coast. Within weeks, an exclusion zone of up to 200 metres inland from the coast had been announced, displacing fisherfolk and other coastal communities from their land and effectively severing them from their livelihoods. Shortly afterwards, exceptions were announced for tourist businesses, and the government has been talking about the need to promote tourism. In the meantime, non-governmental agencies have been carrying out almost all of the work in cleaning up the destroyed areas, building temporary shelters, regenerating livelihoods and so on.

The Sri Lanka Tourist Board website says, A?a??A?In a cruel twist of fate, nature has presented Sri Lanka with a unique opportunity, and out of this great tragedy will come a world class tourism destination.A?a??A? However, this A?a??A?unique opportunityA?a??A? seems to be reserved solely for developers and those who can afford a A?a??A?world-class tourist destination,A?a??A? but for the majority of tsunami survivors, the opportunity for rebuilding their lives with dignity and sustainability will be lost. For them, the A?a??A?cruel twist of fateA?a??A? was not in the tsunami, but lies in the governmentA?a??a??s tourist- and business-oriented rebuilding plan.

The Master Plans: Arugam Bay, a Blueprint for Sri Lanka

Plans are now being developed to transform 15 coastal towns all around the island into tourist resorts as part of the post- tsunami rebuilding process. The 15 towns under discussion, Wadduwa, Beruwala, Bentota, Hikkaduwa, Galle, Unawatuna, Koggala, Matara, Hambantota, Tangalla, Yala, Arugam Bay, Passikuddah, Nilaweli and Kalpitiya, have been singled out for redevelopment according to different themes.

The first plan to emerge was that for the redevelopment of Arugam Bay, a small town nestled on the edge of a 300 hectare lagoon on the east coast of Sri Lanka, which just happens to be one of the best surfing spots in the world with beautiful beaches. There are indications that this will serve as a model for all the other areas.

Redevelopment Plans A?a??A? Grandiose and InappropriateA?a??A?

The Arugam Bay Resource Development Plan covers a stretch of land 17km by 5km between Komari and Panama, including Pottuvil Town. It envisages the total reorientation of the area away from the current fishing and agricultural communities, supplemented by seasonal guesthouses, into a large development of hotels (A?a??A?low cost budget windsurfer to 5-star touristA?a??A?), a commercial centre (A?a??A?shoppersA?a??a?? paradiseA?a??A?), a yachting marina, floating plane pier and helipad. According to the plan, while only 9 out of 25,000 hectares are currently being used for tourism, this figure is set to increase exponentially through the redevelopment.

Consultants contracted to work on the redevelopment admit that they, A?a??A?have drawn heavily upon past plans (esp. the Tourism Master Plan)A?a??A?which was widely recognised as being A?a??E? grandioseA?a??a?? and A?a??E?inappropriateA?a??a??,A?a??A? referring to a report of the Asian Development Bank. The disconnect between the planned development and the interests of the people is illustrated in the following quote, A?a??E?the location of the helicopter pad near the new pedestrianised road will bring a new vibrant life in to Arugam Bay town centreA?a??a??.

Government Coercion Forces Out Coastal Communities

In the name of A?a??A? redevelopment,A?a??A? the Sri Lanka Tourist Board is ready to acquire not only all the land within the buffer zone declared by the Taskforce for Rebuilding the Nation (TAFREN) of 200 metres from the high tide line, but also a stretch up to a kilometre wide running along 3 kilometres of the coast beyond the buffer zone, as well as a belt of land over 600 metres wide in places around the edge of the lagoon. In addition, an area of sea next to the lagoon entrance will be appropriated for the yachting marina and a strip across the middle of the lagoon for the floating plane landing pier.

Order geriforte side

This proprietary sentiment was reflected in statements made by the Sri Lanka Tourist Board Chairman at a meeting organised by Sewalanka Foundation between the community and the Sri Lanka Tourist Board. Saying, A?a??A?The land belongs to the government. Maybe your forefathers lived in that area, but the 860 acres belongs to the government. It will be developed as a tourist zone. We will put up buildings and develop the area and we will ask you to come and work thereA?a??A? After I became the Chairman I captured 5,000 acres of land for the Tourist Board. My target is 15,000 acres,A?a??A? the Chairman left no room for doubt about the true nature of the plans for reconstruction.

There are plans for new housing for the estimated 5,000 displaced families in 5 separate inland locations, in all cases behind areas zoned off for tourism. These resettlements are located well over 1km from both the sea and the lagoon, which are rendered practically inaccessible by the new tourist infrastructure. The plan proposes to allocate houses in the resettlement districts by drawing lots, and there is blatant coercion to move from the government, saying through the Tourist Board that A?a??A?these houses will be given to people who support our program.A?a??A? Further threats from the Tourist Board hint at state oppression of non- compliants, threatening communities that A?a??A?if you built any illegal structures in Arugam Bay, the army and the police will have to come and remove them.A?a??A?
The document also says that the over 70 existing guesthouses and numerous other small enterprises that will have to be relocated would, if they were already registered businesses, be given the option of leasing land within the zones for a period of up to 30 years, while unregistered businesses would have no such rights. None of the businesses will receive compensation.

$80 Million of Tsunami Funds Spent on Creating a A?a??A?Tourist ParadiseA?a??A?

Where can i buy xeloda

The initial investment in the planned development is estimated at $80 million. Of that, $50 million is earmarked for a bridge over Arugam Lagoon, which according to the plan A?a??A?will stand as an inspirational symbol that shows progress towards the achievement of prosperity for Arugam BayA?a??A? as A?a??A?the gateway to a tourist paradise.A?a??A?

Another $5 million is allocated for a new road around Arugam Lagoon, and $20 million is proposed for the construction of the new inland townships of 2,500 houses each. The remaining $5 million is slated for water supply and sanitation systems in the new townships and the tourist zone. The cost of the other proposed infrastructure, such as the floating plane pier and helipad, is not yet included in the overall plan, although it is stated in the document that such amenities will have to be funded either by investment by the government or from NGOs.


What else could $80 million do?

The government has decided to stop the weekly food grant of 200 rupees in cash and 175 rupees in rations for the 881,000 people affected by the disaster. $80 million would be sufficient to extend this relief for all for another 6 months.

The government has only started to build 1,659 permanent houses to replace the 41,393 that were completely destroyed, a mere fraction of the housing desperately needed by tsunami victims. $80 million would be enough for 32,000 families to build houses.


Redevelopment Plan Conceived in Isolation

The plan was apparently initiated independently by the Rebuild Sri Lanka Trust, which was set up in the aftermath of the tsunami by 4 individuals and started working in the Arugam Bay area as a A?a??A?non- political private sector initiative.A?a??A? The Trustees include the managing director of Maxim Ltd., a garment manufacturing company; a senior partner in a Colombo law firm, specialising in foreign investment, infrastructure development advisory services and real estate; the Managing Director of Expolanka Freight Ltd, a transport services company; and a retired doctor.

The Rebuild Sri Lanka Trust had within a month of the tsunami contracted a series of consultants to work on the plan. These are Dutch engineering consultants Arcadis; ECOPLAN-Z Limited from New Zealand; and EML Consultants from Sri Lanka. All of these consultants are involved in or are directly linked to work on large Asian Development Bank or World Bank infrastructure projects. The local company, EML Consultants, according to their website, normally works in facilitating US investment in water and environmental services, in carbon trading and in the promotion of plantation agriculture and floriculture.

The plan was finalised in late April of this year, and states that at the time of writing the President had already given approval, and was A?a??A?keen to see the action projects proposed in the report are implemented without delay.A?a??A? In fact, USAID had already published a presolicitation notice for a contract to construct the bridge, road, water supply scheme and wastewater system in Arugam Bay by 8th April 2005, and hosted a pre-bid conference for potential contractors in Colombo on 10th May 2005.

The first the residents of Arugam Bay heard of the plan was at a meeting organised by the Sri Lanka Tourist Board and Sewalanka Foundation in Colombo on 17th May 2005, nearly a month after the plan had been approved and finalized by the government, and more than a month after the USAID presoliciation notice was issued.

An assessment of the plan carried out by Arcadis said A?a??A?the most important shortcoming is that it has largely been produced in isolation in Colombo, with little or no stakeholder involvement. It is evident that the team spent only two days in Pottuvil – Arugam Bay, and apart from the GA officer in Ampara and the DS in Pottuvil, they met only with INGO staff.A?a??A?


Business Interests at the Top

The plan falls under the remit of the Taskforce for Rebuilding the Nation (TAFREN), an extra-governmental body functioning under the authority of the President. TAFREN is headed by 10 business leaders, at least 5 of whom own or manage companies that operate beach hotels.


For Tsunami Victims, Another A?a??A?Cruel Twist of FateA?a??A? In Store

The picture that is becoming clearer by the day shows that the direction being taken in the post-tsunami rebuilding is completely counter to the interests of those people who have suffered in the disaster. They are being driven off their land and out of their livelihoods in the name of a grand plan for the A?a??E?modernisationA?a??a?? of the country.

This process started long before tsunami, but it is now being pushed with the weight of the $3 billion the government has gathered in the name of the tsunami victims. If all of the 15 tourist townships require an investment of $80 million, the cost will be $1.2 billion, or a massive 40% of the total amount committed. If all of the 15 tourist township plans follow the model of Arugam Bay, the number of families pushed out to make way for hotels, yachting marinas, helipads and floating plane landing strips could be well over 75,000.

published September, 2005 – but only found on the net now, January, 2008

1 Response to “Arugam Bay Master Plan”

  • Great blog you have here.. It’s difficult to find high quality writing like yours nowadays. I really appreciate people like you! Take care!!

Leave a Reply