Feature Article

Salinity endangers Northwest Vanni farmland

[TamilNet, Monday, 27 October 2003, 00:10 GMT]
Vast tracks of farmlands in impoverished villages close to the northern and western coast of Vanni face imminent danger from ocean waters penetrating inland making the arable land unsuitable for cultivation. Civil Engineering staff in Kilinochchi involved in development planning say that although plans are available to convert the areas in northwest coast including Jaffna peninsula resistant to creeping salinity, they are awaiting financial resources to be earmarked for such activity as part of Northeast rehabilitation.

North West coastal map
Key villages affected in the West North coast of Vanni (click for a larger map)
A salient characteristic of the topography of west coast of Vanni along Mannar to Pooneryn is that the highest ground elevation is only 3-5 feet above mean sea level (MSL).

Earth bunds in the villages of Nagamunai, Ponnvadi and Vaalapadi close to Pooneryn have been traditionally used to prevent salt water incursion.

In villages Alankerni, Vaadiyadi and Nallur, where local streams discharge into the ocean, such as the Kudamurutti Aru that joins the Kilali lagoon, small scale bridges served as barriers to control salt water intrusion. These bridges now lie in abject disrepair.

Salinity in NW Vanni
Damaged salt water barrier along B69 from Kilinochchi to Pooneryn
In villages close to Pooneryn which were controlled by the Sri Lanka Army (SLA) with the assistance of a large Sri Lanka Navy jetty in Nagathevanthurai, scars of war still remain. Besides damaging private properties, many beyond repair, the war also destroyed earth bunds and other salt containment structures. The ground water feeding the wells of these impoverished villages are largely saline and many villagers now depend solely on fresh water brought to the villages by bowzers for daily use.

Kanagaratnam Pattamma whose house was destroyed during the war lives in a hut and depends on her quota of 6 ltrs of water supplied by bowzer every two days to a FORUT provided local water-tank.

Salinity in NW Vanni
Anbarasan, Head of the Village Upliftment Project listening to difficulties of Ms.Kanagaratnam
Further south of Pooneryn, in PallavarayanKattu area which has always been under the control of the Liberation Tigers, the earth bunds have not been maintained for more than 20 years and are in need of repair.

Raviraj, a senior Irrigation Engineer, and Anbarasan, Head of the Village Upliftment Project in Vanni told TamilNet that the woes of the farmers in the war affected regions near the west coast need immediate attention. Most of the fields near the coast are cultivated only during Maha season.



Salinity in NW Vanni
Water from local stream that cuts across B69 on its way to spill into Kilali lagoon



Additional work beyond repairing existing earth bunds, constructing new sea barriers, barrages and rehabilitating destroyed salt water exclusion schemes, is needed to prevent salt water intrusion in Northeast. Retired Irrigation Engineer K. Kunanayakam says a three phased approach is required to make Jaffna peninsula saline free. The first two phases were recommended by late Deputy Director of Irrigation Sanmugam Arumugam (1905-2000):
  • Dam and spillway at the 'bridge' and a 4700 foot long embankment and spillway on the eastern end of the lagoon at Chundikulam will trap the fresh water in the 11,400 acre Elephant Pass lagoon. Kanagarayan Aru discharging flood waters into the lagoon will desalinate the lagoon water and gradually turn it into fresh water.
  • Two and a half mile channelization project to interconnect Elephant pass lagoon with the Vadamarachy lagoon from Mulliyan will carry the fresh water from the Elephant Pass lagoon. The Vadamarachi lagoon discharges its water into the sea at Thondamannar. The lagoon also discharges into the sea at Chemmani. There is a barrage at Thondamannar, which was refurbished and the spillway at Chemmani was constructed in the 1950s. These structures need to be rebuilt.
  • Building a more ambitious 5km long barrage from Kalmunai in Pooneryn sector towards Ariyalai in the peninsula segement will gradually make the Jaffna lagoon a saline free.
The Chundikulam bund was constructed but subsequently breached. The spillway at Elephant Pass bridge was completed, but the Mulliyan channel which was to lead the fresh water from the Elephant Pass lagoon to the Vadamarachi lagoon was never completed.

Impact on lagoon fishing and environmental impact have to be taken into consideration if and when the third phase is attempted, Kunanayakam said.

Compounding the woes of farmers are those of fisher folk who make up another large segement of residents of these coastal villages. Many who make meagre living fishing complain that poaching by Indian fishermen and harassment of the SLN soldiers who are stationed in the islets off Jaffna peninsula have made it difficult for them to carryout their trade. A normal day usually brings in Rs.100 to Rs.200, barely enough to feed a family of four.


Salinity in NW Vanni
Fields near Nallur where cultivation is done only during Maha season
Salinity in NW Vanni
Earth bunds in the village of Allankerni

Salinity in NW Vanni
A 'community center' in Gnani madam, an impoverished village along A32. A water tank here holds water for village residents.
Salinity in NW Vanni
A large water tank in Gnani Madam which is filled with drinking water every two days by an NGO supplied bowzer.

Salinity in NW Vanni
Remnants of SLN's Nagathevanthurai jetty
Salinity in NW Vanni
Fishermen near Nagathevanthurai

Salinity in NW Vanni
Remnants of destroyed SLA tank lies near Mattuvilnadu near Nagathevanthurai
Salinity in NW Vanni
An SLA bombed out private residence located alongside A32 between Poonery town and Nagathevanthurai


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