The Sunday Leader

Kalpitiya Fishermen’s Livelihood Disrupted

By Raisa Wickrematunge

The fishing community residing on the Kalpitiya islands is distraught at the prospect of leaving their homes and having their source of livelihood disrupted by the Kalpitiya Tourism Development project, according to a recent report.

The fact-finding report, compiled by the Convenor of the National Fisheries Solidarity Movement (NAFSO) Herman Kumara, focuses on the impact of tourism projects on several small islands in the Kalpitiya region, with research conducted from December 2012 to March 2013.

The study found that most of the fishermen on these islands were not consulted or informed about the tourism projects.

“We have been living on these islands for generations and we are not prepared to give up our rights, even if we were given money in exchange of land,” said Sampath Pushpakumara, a fisherman from Mutwal isle.

“We have been living on our land for the last 70 to 80 years. Now our people are frightened after hearing that our lands are being acquired for the tourism industry. If our lands are acquired we will be deprived of everything including our livelihood. We are frightened of that. The government might not help us.

The officials want us to produce ‘deeds’ for lands if we need any assistance from them. But so far no one has come to pressure us,” said another fisherman Asanka Cruz from the Sinnamunnakkarei isle.

The Kalpitiya Integrated Tourism Resort Project (KITRP) will affect 14 islands in the Kalpitiya area, aiming to turn it into a destination for tourism, with the construction of resorts and sports centres. The Sri Lanka Tourism Bureau claims that the KITRP will generate at least 15,000 jobs directly and a further 22,500 jobs indirectly, according to the report, with Investor Guidelines claiming that 50,000 jobs could be created indirectly. The NAFSO report contests this saying that only those with at least an Ordinary Level qualification in English would be employed by the hotels and most of the inhabitants on the affected islands do not have such qualifications. Most of the fishermen living on these islands did not have legal documentation to prove their ownership, but have been living in the area for generations and consider it their home, the report found.

For instance, residents of Uchchamunei have reportedly been asked to vacate the island to make way for a hotel which is being constructed there by the Grama Sevaka and Divisional Secretariat officials. The Uchchamunei Holy Cross Fisheries Society has been agitating for the state to grant them deeds to their lands, but have been repeatedly turned down, the report claims. Others who were displaced during the war found they could not return home as their land had been transferred to other parties in their absence.

Beach seine net fishermen in the area found their livelihood disrupted in 2011 and 2012 with the Fisheries Department refusing to grant them fishing and land permits which were needed for them to continue their jobs. On Mutwal isle beach seine fishermen have had their sea access blocked by boulders, leading to 50 to 60 fisheries workers becoming unemployed.

The report also highlighted environmental and negative social factors which could impact the fishermen’s families due to the large scale tourism development project in Kalpitiya.

The proposal to acquire the fishermen‘s lands was initially approved as an enactment in 2005 to the Tourism Affairs Act No. 38. Gazette Notification Nos. 1568 / 18 and No. 1549 / 7 were published on August 1, 2007 and May 13, 2008 respectively.

4 Comments for “Kalpitiya Fishermen’s Livelihood Disrupted”

  1. Dorothy

    The positive slogan of the tourism industry in opening the Kalpitya idyllic natural environment for Tourism is that it would provide jobs and more jobs in hotels and allied industiies to the locals . Are the people of Kalpitya to be conditioned to give up a free vocation based traditional livelihood of being a sea fishmen ,True they whingi as a;l workers do but their faces early morning show their of the glee of challenge of the sea much more than a wage slave industry in a hotel . The urban ness of such type work appeals to the urban people who needs to get out of the confineness of the flat or room . Many of these would flock to these areas like Kalpitiya bringing with them some of the values and needs established in their minds . Can the local fishermen and the fish curing people , simple folk withstand this invasion of their privacy ? If it were the powerful they would have put up live fences and boards warning the intruders , but these people with their simple solutions to their daily living who are now happy even in their grumblings who face the sea in their boats mechanized today , whose wives and childrens smile with glee at the catch brought home are to be disturbed and taught what they are missing in life . Yes a they are missing a super tv to sit and stare and end endorse fantasy drama totaly unrelated to their lives . Well we have to face the price of development .It happened to BALI . it happened to Thailand , and it happened to areas closer home too.Once its gone it becomes history and a museum piece of days gone by . Like the introduction of mechanized boats, why can’t the powers to be train these people to be wealthy fishermen going out to sea like the Norwegians with modern what ever but at heart still remain a fisher man in heart and soul .

    • H_Hansen

      Dear Dorothy,
      As a Norwegian I wanted to comment on your last sentence. Because you are so right indeed. The fishermen of Norway were poor, and their lives were hard. But they loved, respected and lived with the sea that gave food but also took lives.
      Today there is a different life, not one small boat for every fisherman. They operate together, in larger boats organized as companies – but owned fully or partly by the people working on them.
      Tourism and fisheries are developing side by side without conflicts.
      Life is safer, and they still live by the sea they love.

      I have been to the beautiful Kalpitiya. There is room for both the fishermen and the tourism. Both live off the nature – pollution would harm both so both would keep it clean.
      They can help each other and build the place for all.
      It would not have to be a “tax” going from hotels to fishermen. But a successful way could be an obligation for developers to invest in fishing industry – which would give a profit back to themselves in the future as well as the firshemen.
      The fishermen could go further out to sea in bigger and better boats and they would have an increase their standard of living and education.
      This will not happen by itself. A President and Government with visions and commitment is needed.
      So I hope they have such a President and Government.

      • Cham

        I agreed with Hansen,

        I was born in the fishing town in the south and I see the slow development of the fishing community in the area for the last 10-15 years. Boats are owned by the rich mudalali and he takes half of the earnings. I belive the better way would be the sharing of the profit and build a community with proper housing and access to education for children by the investers.

      • Diyasena

        Dear Hansan,
        You may have visited to Kalpitiya and met the people living there. They expect to live in the lands where they are living with out any disturbances to their life and livelihoods. They do not expect luxurious life. What they want is basic facilities to have decent life. However, what is happening in our country is to forget small food producers, in fact small and medium size producers in our society today. What our government doing is to promote tourism while forgetting the rights of the rest of the people. It is fishers in Kalpitiya or Nilaweli, Farmers in Moneragala of Polonnaruwa, Slum dwellers in Colombo, and many more. We do not have leaders who are visionaries for future of the country. Unfortunately, we did not have such leaders in the past and present. Do you have any hope for such leaders in the future?
        I am doubt.

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