By Eng. Mahinda Panapitiya
The main objective of this article is to initiate a participatory low-cost multidisciplinary program to promote ecotourism and environmentally sustainable transport systems (EST) not dependent on imported fuel. Ecotourism could be used as the main strategy to obtain returns on the capital investments required for the project.
Multidisciplinary environmentally sustainable transport (EST) systems of this nature are very common in developed countries. For example, around 30% of daily commuters to work in developed countries like Germany, UK and Australia use bicycles. Almost 40% of commuters in Brazil and India also use bicycles. In most countries, a 3-10 mile bike ride is considered moderately easy. In Sri Lanka, it’s more important because our road designers haven’t seriously considered cycling as an alternative transportation system. Given the current economic situation and the dangers that the road network represents for cyclists, the banks can be an interesting alternative for people commuting to work. The EST approach will also address the current fuel crisis facing the country.
According to this concept, reserves, along selected natural waterways under state jurisdiction, could be transformed into cycle paths or walking paths for local communities. It is also important to note that stream banks and associated wetlands in the floodplains of these streams represent the aquatic-terrestrial interfaces of the ecosystem with the highest biodiversity and fertile soil. Therefore, as a side activity, these areas could be used to cultivate high value crops, with medicinal and fruit values. The newly developed tracks would play the role of natural paths providing access to these fertile areas. Therefore, this intervention would also generate income for the local communities by encouraging them to cultivate high value crops and trees along the banks of the waterways. These tree belts would also act as bio-corridors interconnecting isolated forest patches in urban areas, enhancing urban biodiversity. When selecting the banks of waterways to turn them into cycle paths, the ecotourism potential of the area should also be used as a criterion.
2 Projects already completed from
similar nature in Sri Lanka
This type of intervention was implemented in the 1990s in System B of the Mahaweli Project (Maduru Oya), under a USAID-funded program called the Mahaweli Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD) project initiated in the 1990s. In this project, the main objective was to provide cycle paths for farmers practicing paddy cultivation on land bordering the natural banks of watercourses. At the same time, fruit trees have been introduced along the banks of waterways, on the edge of rice fields. Trees such as Kumbuk, Mee, Karanda, which strengthen stream banks against erosion during floods, have also been introduced on the outwash side of streams. For more details on this project, please visit the following website.
Jogging track concepts, introduced by the Provincial Development Authority (WP) in 2011, were the modification of the same concept, meeting the recreational needs of urban communities. It was introduced alongside a flood mitigation project in Gampaha. In 2014, this intervention won the first prize from the Institution of Engineers SL as the best multidisciplinary intervention related to water1. Later, the same concept was duplicated along the riverbanks around Kiribathgoda, Wattala, Kaduwela, etc. The proposed project, in this note, is the diversification of the concept adapted to jogging tracks.
3. Proposed pilot area
Gampaha district is the suggested target pilot area for this new intervention. The internationally renowned Henarthgoda Botanical Garden, located close to the town of Gampaha, is proposed to be used as a hub to attract ecotourists. Town centers like Minuwangoda and Udugampola, on one side Botanical Garden, and cultural centers and temples Asgiriya Rajamaha Viharaya, Pilikuttuwa, Warana, Attanagalla having archaeological values, Indigolla Church on the other side could easily be connected by cycle paths set up along natural waterways, such as Uruwal Oya and Attangalu Oya. The temple caves of Pilikuththuwa are expected to be used to attract ecotourists as it has around 90 rock caves. There are also mini waterfalls in the target area. For example, Dunumala Ella is one of the most famous waterfalls in Gampaha district. Yakkala Aurweda Hospital is another attraction.
Another advantage of this pilot area is that it is located close to the Katunayake airport. Tourists arriving at Katunayaka airport could be easily diverted directly to the Gampaha side, guiding them instead to congested concrete towns like Colombo or far-situated towns like Sigiriya without depending on fuel for their mobility. In other countries, facilities are provided for renting bicycles for tourists to travel from the airport itself to enjoy the natural biodiversity of the country. On the other hand, the whole world is marching towards a spiritual crisis.
Therefore, tourists from wealthy categories are looking for alternative ways to be happy both spiritually and physically. This project will create ideal opportunities for these affluent category tourists by designing these paths as nature trails exposing our rich biodiversity. Sri Lanka has been identified as one of 36 global biodiversity hotspots.
4. Design guideline
Note that this project is expected to be a very low cost intervention. For example, runway surfaces could be improved using only gravel mixed with cement. The land to form the tracks should be borrowed from the bed of the adjacent stream. river banks can be strengthened using bio-engineering technologies. Costly methods such as gabions should not be allowed to reinforce stream banks.
View of a shore that could be improved with cycle paths / nature trails
5. Implementing Agency and Potential Funding Sources
This project addresses issues in the transport sector; it facilitates environmentally sustainable transport (EST) for local populations. Therefore, the Provincial Road Development Authority (PRDA – Western Province) is the ideal institution to implement this project. He has experience in initiating similar interventions such as jogging tracks along the riverbanks of Gampaha district. He also has his machinery unit located next to the target area. The private investor involved in tourism development could also use the PRDA as a coordinating body to liaise with the Ministry of Tourism. USAID could be a potential funding source as this is an extension of a project already started by them in the 90s in the Mahaweli areas as explained above in paragraph 2. An allocation of approximately US$0.25 million is sufficient to mobilize this program.
The project could be named NIVARANA because of the health, both physical and spiritual, economic benefits realized from the project. Nivarana is an indigenous name with the meaning of “COMPLETE CURE” With the new concepts introduced under this proposal to promote ecotourism, the name could be enhanced as NIVARANA FOR SANCHARAKA in Sinhalese.