Condition of Gampaha

An Open Letter to Megapolis Ministry


Gampaha town located within the northern suburb of Colombo has been the hometown for many of the citizens of Siyane Korale, or the "county of relatives". Gampaha was established as a planned town in 1920s. After the development of irrigation schemes and anicuts in the 1960s to support rice cultivation over a vast area, more that half the population in the district became successful farmers producing rice for the country. With many schools providing high quality free education, Gampaha gradually grew as a middle class city, creating a workforce that took up a wide range of jobs in Colombo, within the commuting distance. The Botanical Garden, Attanagalu Oya, numerous anicuts, and the freedom from traffic on the Colombo-Kandy Road made Gampaha to be a heaven for those of us "baby boomers" who remember Gampaha in the 1960s. It provided carefree swimming in the streams, plenty of fish in ponds, wildlife, ample variety of fruits, and good tasting water to drink.

Current situation

It is evident that Gampaha’s eco-friendly past can be lost forever for the new generations, unless measures are taken to protect it in some eco-friendly form. On one hand, land values around Gampaha and surrounding cities are skyrocketing due to increasing population and urban development. On the other hand, protection of urban wetlands and rice fields currently under cultivation is getting weaker due to pressure from private individuals, the deviation of the new generation from agriculture, commercial interests and political forces as opposed to the interests of the local public. Natural streams which were used for bathing about 25 years back are now beyond use for such activities. Fish culture has vanished. Most of the wells which were spilling throughout the year have completely vanished. During droughts, water has to be bought for a price, while during heavy rains downstream areas get flooded. During heavy rains, a water volume more or less same as Parakrama Samudra dump to the sea, while people have to pay for water during subsequent droughts.

Uncontrolled land re-allocation in the name of development is one tool available for private and commercial interests to make money; taking advantage of weak enforcement of environmental laws is a serious issue. Massive apartment complexes, large supermarkets, Industrial facilities such as the one at Rathupaswala, are examples showing how unwise development efforts resulted in destructive outcomes, including the pollution of land and ground water resources. Meethotamulla provides a second example showing how poorly managed urbanization can lead to disasters. It is interesting to note that Gampaha town has recently supported some of the ecological tenets by improving the riverine urban eco-systems while exposing it to the community by introducing recreational areas such as jogging tracks. However, the basic concepts of the planners of those projects have not yet been grasped by decision makers.

Lessons from other countries

Fortunately, many cities in the developed world that have gone through similar implications have left us many guidelines for an eco-friendly growth for cities like Gampaha. Many of the good ideas are captured using terms such as eco-cities or Eco-polis development that essentially capture self-sufficiency and ecological sustainability. Authors such as Michael Hough (2004), Stephen Wheeler (2001), have documented the results and pointed out the key components of economy, ecology and social harmony very clearly. Cities such as San Francisco (USA), Singapore, Portland (USA), etc. have adopted it.

When considering the ecological aspects applicable towards a sustainable future for Gampaha, the first principle is to think local, and aim for self-sufficiency in water and other natural resources. Understanding natural cycles of dry and wet seasons, and engaging in the collection, cleaning and storing rain water with the goal of preventing flooding during the rainy season and droughts in the dry season, fall under this category. Even if the Attanagalu Oya and Maha Oya total annual runoffs are about 0.7and 1.3 million cubic meters respectively, when compared to about 5.5 from Kelani River, various districts around Gampaha can demand a fair share only after developing their local resources. Unlike in the case of Rajarara where Mahaweli water can be delivered on demand, and the local storage capacity of the reservoirs is also large, Gampaha has few options such as restoring the anicut systems, building low lying reservoirs, creating wetland parks, adding ditches when landscaping, and allowing for unpaved areas for increased infiltration. Retention ponds, and all forms of rainwater collection facilities have to be considered in this effort. A diverse eco-system with fish in ponds and water easily infiltrating into uncompact soils, is likely to be helpful in mosquito control too. Thinking locally, needs to be applied in selecting building materials for houses and roads as much as possible, and labor as appropriate.

The second principle that applies to Gampaha aims at landscape and biodiversity. The goal here is to restore the vitality of land that has been damaged in the name of development. This includes cleaning up unused building materials and trash from construction sites, cleaning up contaminated areas to re-establish natural vegetation, encouraging eco-friendly farming practices inherent to the area, and urban gardening. Landscaping should introduce rain gardens and detention ponds to prevent erosion, and promote infiltration, and avoid addition of polluted water into streams. Henarathgoda Botanical Garden could take a leading role in this component.

The third principle that applies to Gampaha is to balance the development with the ecological carrying capacity of the land and other natural resources. The goal here is to make sure that the existing ecological carrying capacity is not compromised during any development. The natural eco-system cleans up the pollution by humans, and this free service cannot be underestimated. Creating community awareness about the importance of protecting the natural water bodies, such as streams, by introducing Cycle/Walking paths along their reservations is another strategy which could be used for this purpose.

The fourth principle is aimed at containing the city bounds and managing the transportation system. The goal here is a compact city where most needs can be fulfilled by walking within a central area.The integrated network is designed for minimum use of cars. Green or ecological pathways are allowed for walking within the city connected to various areas, government centers, shopping areas as well as, the bus and train stations. Public spaces like jogging tracks contribute to the historic attraction of Gampaha city because many of these attributes are already associated with it.

The fifth principle is to reduce pollution, keep the environment clean, and plan for sustainable waste management. Waste recycling, composting, urban gardening are possible within urban environments. Toxic by-products created by factories, garages, workshops, have to be collected and disposed of properly, preventing the natural resources from getting polluted, and the entire population having to pay a price. Providing a habitat for animals and birds can be integrated to this effort.

The sixth principle is aimed at respecting traditional and cultural values from the past. This includes respecting historical sites (Ex: Pilikuthuwa, Warana), ancient landmarks (Ex: Attanagalu Raja Maha Vihara), and diverse local cultures. Promoting ecological awareness arts and crafts, etc. are reasons for people to liking their communities.


Similar to Industrial Cities, IT cities proposed under Megapolis, Gampahaa selected area could be developed as an Eco City. It will be a Pilot Project for the rest of the country too .


Michael Hough, "Cities and Natural Process: A Basis for Sustainability", Routiedge Publishers, New York, 2004.

Mike Jenks and Rod Burgess "Compact Cities: Sustainable Urban Forms for Developing Countries, Spon Press, London, 2004

Stephen E Wheeler, "The Sustainable Urban Development Reader", 2008, Routeledge Publ., New York

A Citizen from Siyane Korale

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