Oil leaks from the Chunnakum power plant are contaminating water in the Jaffna district, polluting the water supply in the area. Tamil Solidarity organised a public meeting to discuss this issue in more detail. It was a wellattended and productive meeting, as the contributors identified a number of steps that need to be taken to fight the water contamination.
Tamil Solidarity understands that this is only the start and more meeting and discussions needs to be organised particularly targeting to raising awareness of the communities and international environment organisation
Speakers included Bangladesh Akhter Khan Secretary, UK branch, Committee to protect the Oil gas and natural resources of Bangladesh.
Thulasichelvan gave a detailed introduction on the danger of the leaks, the effect on the people from contaminated water and introduced the water filter construction manual.
Tamil Solidarity agreed that the power plant should be shut down or made more environmentally friendly. However, this can only be done by maintaining pressure on the government and the power plants. An international solidarity movement is vital if we are to defeat these profitmotivated companies. Such a movement will give those affected by water contamination the confidence to stand up for their basic rights.
This is an ecological disaster with its effect showing in some area in Northern Sri Lanka. According to samples of well water from a 1.5km diameter area surrounding the Chunnakam power station, the majority of the wells were contaminated with an oil level above the acceptable level.
The health, ecological and other long term impacts of the oil pollution is not fully known but the water resource board reports says, “long term expose of the contamination may cause cancer, miscarriage and detriment to early childhood development, skin and mental health”. Direct contact with contaminated water can cause skin damage. Crude oil exposure can cause liver, kidney, respiratory, and reproductive problems. So far more than 200,000 people have been affected.
However, as the number of victims affected by this is increasing there is a widespread alarm, anxiety and panic amongst the people. There is also a mix of confusion as they are faced with uncertainty on the risk they are facing and they that is available.
Who is responsible for this?
A privately owned power generation plant “Northern Power” plant and a Ceylon Electricity Board are built in the heart of farmland in Chunnakam. Electricity is generated at these two power plants functioning with petroleum fuel and power is supplied to the people of the Peninsula. Though the Jaffna peninsula is receiving electricity from the hydroelectric power plant in Laxapahana, it is being augment with power from the Chummakam power plant. In the meantime, oil leaks have been observed into the wellwater in areas surrounding these two power plants. Though it was observed for the first time in 2012, the public didn’t have proper awareness about this phenomenon. On account of the attitude of unconcern on the part of the authorities, the spread of the oil leak has been observed in concentric circles around the power contaminating the water supply.
How do we protest against water contamination in Jaffna?
At the beginning of the year there was a hunger strike against water contamination which included 60 local doctors, teachers and university lecturers. The protester put the three demands forward. Close the power station which caused the oil leakage.
An immediate visit by the Minister of Energy and Power in order to resolve the situation Find a permanent solution to the contamination of water by constructing improved water supplies.
The Tamil diaspora community needs to raise awareness of these issues amongst other communities and environmental groups. Attempts are already in the process but more needs to be done. Further public meetings and protest needs to be organised. Human right and environment organisation need to be contacted and informed of the danger.
What are our strategies?
People in the affected area needs to come together to demand the closing of the power plants, supported by the general public and by internationally solidarity.
The Sri Lankan government, together with their big business partners, has been silent on this issue. Their silences have to be broken by the noise that we make. Rights are not given, they are won.
By: Isai Priya