on buffer zones
By Nalaka Nonis and Marisa de
Nine months after the tsunami devastation, the government has now
been compelled to soft-pedal the tough stance it adopted earlier
after failing to find alternate land to resettle the affected people
on the hotly-debated 100/200-metre buffer zone.
eventually conceding to continuous requests from people for relaxing
the buffer zone regulations, the government had overlooked the views
expressed by the United Nations and environmentalists about the
impracticalities of enforcing a general 100/200-metre buffer zone
rather than making it flexible depending on the vulnerability levels
in different areas.
move by the Government at this time comes in the wake of UNP leader
and presidential candidate Ranil Wickremesinghe’s promise
to scrap the 100/200-metre ban if he is elected President at the
He said that instead of a ban his government would educate the people
on appropriate methods of construction along the coastal stretches.
present government vacillating over a firm decision on the buffer
zone regulation had resulted in the closure of a number of tourist
hotels and other related businesses bordering the coastal belt in
both the eastern and southern provinces.
the government’s move, late in the day though, the spokesperson
for the UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Sri Lanka Orla Clinton said
they were pleased to note that following extensive consultations,
the Government had now decided to modify its stance on the buffer
zone regulation and was now adopting a more flexible approach. “It’s
hoped this move will contribute to reducing pressure for land needed
to relocate and accommodate better the wishes of the community”,
despite relaxing the rule, the government is yet to carry out a
proper scientific study or evaluation to identify the land areas
most to least vulnerable to effects of a tsunami that could hit
our shores in the future.
The new regulations have only been announced by way of interim guidelines.
Coast conservation department director R.A.D.B. Samaranayake said
the Government has still not done a vulnerable-assessment study
along the island’s coastal belt before the preparation of
firm guidelines regarding building constructions close to the sea.
the reason behind the delay in determining the exact perimeters
of the buffer zone, Public Security Ministry Secretary Tilak Ranaviraja
said that firstly -- the Committee appointed by President Chandrika
Kumaratunga and chaired by the presidential secretary -- had to
work out how best to accommodate or incorporate recommendations
by the UDA and the coast conservation department.
they had to submit the report, having taken into consideration the
committee’s recommendations as well. Now that the schedules
have been finalised, they will have to be sent to the relevant Government
Agents instructing them on how exactly to act”, he said and
added that even initially the Government had mentioned that the
buffer zone regulations may need to be flexible.
buffer zone has been redefined due to an acute shortage of land
in some areas and will vary according to the elevation of the land”,
Mr. Ranaviraja said.
said if there were any former residents within the 100-metre buffer
zone who were told to move out but now wanted to return to their
original location of residence, such instances would have to be
dealt with on a case-by-case basis.
Dr. Samaranayake said his department’s advisory council agreed
to relax the buffer zone regulations in a number of coastal stretches
after studying the reconstruction projects on a case-by-case basis.
said requests had been made by donors, developers and other agencies
calling for the re-defining of the perimeters of the buffer zones.
But approval for such requests is granted only if the requests cover
the design criteria of the coast conservation advisory council including
a proper structure plan, evacuation methods, columns, tsunami towers
and other related matters.
Dr. Samaranayake said the CCD has given approval only for specific
projects in given coastal stretches and if any new projects have
been planned for those areas then the persons concerned should seek
fresh approval from the department’s advisory council.
said approval for rebuilding on a smaller scale could also be considered
if the strict conditions laid down are complied with. Urban Development
Ministry Secretary Thosapala Hewage confirming the relaxation of
the buffer zone regulations said the revisions came after representations
from various quarters seeking permission for construction purposes.
Samaranayake said the approved reconstruction would be monitored
by the Urban Development Authority and the National Housing Development
far the advisory council has relaxed the buffer zone limits in 30
Grama Niladhari Divisions in 25 Divisional Secretaries covering
8 districts. These include Colombo, Kalutara, Galle, Matara, Hambantota,
Ampara, Batticoloa and Trincomalee”, Dr. Samaranayake said.
the graphic for a detailed account of the boundary relaxations at
Grama Niladhari and Divisional Secretary levels)
said requests from the Northern Province for any relaxation to the
buffer zone regulations have not been formally reported to the advisory
council of the CCD
the recommended buffer zone perimeter for the western, southern
and eastern coastal belt varies between 30 to 80 metres. Reduction
in the distance would depend on land availability in Grama Niladhari
Divisions in the given Divisional Secretariats.
example the buffer zone perimeter in Mutur, Kinniya, Kuchchaweli
in the Trincomalee District has been relaxed from the earlier 200
metres to 60 metres.
Samaranayake said any further requests for rebuilding purposes within
the stipulated buffer zones should be directed through relevant
ministries for approval.
the interim guidelines, Cabinet early this year allowed the hotel
sector coming under the Tourism Ministry to rebuild within the buffer
zone if it adhered to certain criteria.
to commence rebuilding was granted if construction work was proceeding
at the time the tsunami struck and if the damage was estimated at
to the interim guidelines in the event the cost of rebuilding exceeded
40 percent the Ceylon Tourist Board was supposed to provide a location
shut down as CCD-Govt. miss out on communication
Located within the 100-metre buffer zone, the Dickwella Village
Hotel has been out of business for the past ten months, having been
forced to shut down by the Coast Conservation Department, because
of the lack of proper communication between the government and the
according to the government, all hotels with less than 40% in damages
could reconstruct their buildings in the same location, we weren’t
allowed to”, Hotel General Manager Bathiya Gunasekera said
and added that when they reconstructed their boundary wall, it was
pulled down by the CCD.
He said this was an instance of clear proof of the lack of communication
between the government and the CCD.
we were at the receiving end of their poor communication. The Italian
owners of the hotel, shut it down and left the country,” he
Mr. Gunasekera said the hotel’s management had submitted an
appeal to the CCD requesting permission to re-open, but to no avail.
We are yet to receive a response from the CCD”, Mr. Gunasekera
tourism without beaches, says Ramanujam
The 100-200m buffer zone would have had a detrimental effect on
the tourism industry, as no tourists would patronise a hotel, located
so far off the beach, Tourism Ministry Secretary P. Ramanujam said.
there’s no beach, there’s no tourism”, he said.
This is true especially with regard to hotels along the eastern
coastal belt. Furthermore, in areas like Phuket, most of their hotels
have already been rebuilt on the same location and that they were
back in business”, he said.
in view of the government’s decision to revise the buffer
zone regulations, making it more flexible and objective, the Tourism
Ministry has stipulated a few safety guidelines, like no rooms to
be constructed on the ground floor and evacuation plans for the
hotels to adhere to when reconstructing their hotels, Dr. Ramanujam
said decisions would have to be taken on a case-by- case basis,
as the buffer zone requirement would depend on the landscape of
Dr. Ramanujam said for instance areas like Tangalle which are situated
on a relatively higher level, would require less of a buffer zone,
whereas, most places along the east coast would require a bigger
margin. He said that having one rule for tourism and another for
the locals was unfair and as such the authorities were doing their
best to make it fair for everyone.