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Stop sand mining or Mannar will go under water, warn protestors

Illegal development activities destroying the environment in Mannar must be stopped immediately, protestors demanded, as they called on the government to conserve Mannar’s natural resources.

The protestors who started a march from the Mannar main bridge, made their way to the District Secretariat where they continued demonstrations, dding that livelihoods are at risk. 

They held placards that read 'Stop sand mining or Mannar will go underwater’, 'Mannar Island stolen in broad daylight,’ and 'If dredging is not stopped, fresh water will become polluted and salinity will increase’. They demanded that the government halt the sand mining project and construction of wind power turbines, claiming it would cause irreparable damage to the environment, deforestation, and harm to marine resources and land. 

The protest was organised by several organisations and led by religious leaders as well as members of the Mannar District People’s Committee. Member of Parliament representing Illankai Tamil Arasu Kadchi (ITAK) Charles Nirmalanathan, was also present. Subsequently, the protestors went to the Mannar District Secretariat, where they handed over a petition to the Mannar Additional Commissioner to be conveyed to Sri Lanka's president.

The protestors claimed that more than 4,500 boreholes have been dug below 50 feet by government and private organizations now operating on Mannar Island. They alleged that the the project has been handed to an Australian company which has vowed to continue the project. Based on the demands presented by the protestors, at least 63% of Mannar Island's land area is below sea level and if the mining of fine soil continues, there is a risk of complete submergence of Mannar Island. 

They claimed that the salinity of natural drinking water in Mannar Island further makes the area unlivable. Referring to the construction of high-powered wind turbines, the protestors said that there exist 36 such turbines and plans are afoot to construct 100 more with the help of foreign companies. 

In addition, the protestors also demanded that the militarisation of the Mannar district must be stopped and occupied land should be handed to their rightful owners.

In 2021, environmentalists in Sri Lanka sounded the alarm over an Australian mining project being carried out in Mannar, already the subject of local protests and criticism from Australian environmental experts.

Australian drilling company Titanium Sands Ltd plans to carry out extensive limonite sand mining on ‘fragile’ Mannar Island. Titanium Sands Ltd completed a scoping study of the island drilling over 4000 exploratory holes, some as deep as 12 metres, reportedly without obtaining permission from private landowners. The Australian press reported that Titanium Sands confirmed the stage-one project’s $545 million net present value, which is expected to employ up to 1200 people when fully operational. 

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