Has Colombo solved its garbage problem?

Despite a number of concerns, ( check out my earlier blog for details ) the proposed development of a sanitary landfill site at Aruwakkalu close to Puttalam up on the west coast is going ahead and Colombo will have a short term solution at least to its garbage problem. The site at Aruwakkalu ( a disused limestone quarry) will cover 45 acres to begin with but could be could be expanded further if need arose. The question is; will this be enough?

the landfill site at Aruwakkalu now

and in its finished state (images; http://www.sundayobserver.lk)

The idea initially is for two trains to run daily from the collecting station at Kelaniya north of Colombo city to Aruwakkalu.  Each train will transport 1,200 metric tons of compressed blocks of solid waste in 13 rail wagons and 26 sealed containers. Eventually the processed garbage will be carried by road. The image below gives some detail of the route.

So how does this landfill work?

It’s basically a large hole in the ground which is sealed with an impermeable bottom liner to prevent leaching and pollution of groundwater.

Waste is deposited in thin layers  and compacted by heavy machinery. to form a refuse cell about 3 metres thick. At the end of each day the  refuse cell is covered with a layer of compacted soil to prevent odours and windblown debris.  When the landfill is completed, it is capped with a layer of clay or a synthetic liner in order to prevent water from entering. A final topsoil cover is placed, compacted, and graded, and various forms of vegetation may be planted in order to reclaim the land.

There are problems to be overcome.

  • methane from the decomposing garbage needs to be burned off although it can be used to generate electricity.
  • pollutant liquids ( leachates ) have to be drained off and removed to avoid polluting the soil.
The need for a sustainable solution

All living things produce waste and in order to survive they have to remove that waste. The same is true for cities. If they cannot, then eventually city life becomes unsustainable. Signs of stress emerge; garbage in the streets, garbage clogging drainage channels and canals, foul smelling air, the spread of insect borne and water borne diseases  like dengue, and negative impacts on health.

Hazards from  open dumps

Open dumping  results in a range of environmental hazards especially because:

  • a large % of the waste is organic which creates highly acidic and toxic leachates in the soil
  • high rainfall, humidity and high temperatures accelerate breakdown of organic material
  1. Dumps are breeding frounds for mosquitos. It is no coincidence that the number of dengue cases is much higher in urban areas such as Colombo. (You can find more on dengue in various other blogs on this site).
  2. Leaching from the dumps pollutes groundwater. The National Water Supply and Drainage Board has found that the ground water aquifers in the greater Colombo area are polluted, primarily because of open dumping of solid waste, and thus unsuitable for use as a source of drinking water supply.
  3. Open solid waste dumps also are a primary source of greenhouse gases such as methane and carbon dioxide, leading to air pollution
  4. In Sri Lanka, high levels of odour, dust and toxic fumes have been found emanating from uncontrolled burning of solid waste (Asian Institute of Technology, 2004).
  5. Haphazard dumping also results in the loss of wetland habitats, which impacts on fauna and flora (particularly in Attidiya and Muthurajawela areas), 
  6. Another serious issue relates to hazardous, electronic and other industrial waste and this includes oil and waste water management since very few facilities are available to recycle such waste in Sri Lanka.
  7. Large unstructured dumps are unstable and prone to collapse; see my blog on the Meethotamulla disaster
Why bother?

For countries in the developing world hoping to get a slice of the development action cities choked by garbage are not attractive places to be. Which multi-nationals would want to locate new offices and  personnel  to glorified rubbish dumps and open sewers.?

And that is what Colombo is becoming. Harsh you think?  Take a look at  a typical street scene in the city. Garbage is just dumped almost anywhere and left; no-one’s responsibility. Everyone does it, not just the poor, although the wealthy are careful not to fly tip in their neighbourhoods preferring low income areas as dumping grounds.

What you see above is random dumping of garbage in the street. But there is garbage dumping on a much greater scale, for example the temporary tip at Keradeniya ( below). Much of it goes unregulated.

Even fragile wetlands such as the Attidiya bird sanctuary haven’t escaped environmental abuse. You have to ask; what are the politicians thinking?

So how has the garbage situation got to this point?

It is estimated that Colombo generates around 8,500 tons of garbage per day but only 25%  is collected. The collected waste finds its way on to open dumps. The rest finds its way onto the streets.

The question is why? As always there is more than one explanation. Here are the main issues.

  • Population Growth: In the last 50 years the population of Colombo has more than doubled and with that the population density has risen from 138 persons per hectare to 268p/ha. Increasing population inevitably means increased amounts of garbage. 
  • Poor governance at both national and municipal level. Until very recently there has been no direction from national government. There has been very little regulation of municipal authorities, a lack of strategic planning and no control of private contractors given contracts for garbage collection and disposal. In other words a free for all with waste management apparently a very low priority for the government. A major problem is that local authorities are not held to account by government,  either for the manner of waste disposal or for the fact that they fail to service all households who are left with little alternative but to roadside dump.
  • Insufficient funding for personnel, vehicles and garbage processing
  • The spread of low-income settlements in urban areas, which go largely unserviced and don’t have access to regular garbage collection
  • Market forces that introduce cheap and unsustainable products, including Increased consumption  of plastic packaging. Inevitably, with the rise of the supermarket chains,  one use plastic bags,  and the increased use of polythene or plastic for wrapping food, there is more waste to dispose of.
  • Lack of environmental health and safety practices among waste collectors
  • Old technology, and limited land for waste disposal.

But there is also another factor; Sri Lanka has a litter culture. Littering is commonplace. Almost everywhere you will see people adding to existing piles or starting new ones; just like this guy.

Littering appears to be acceptable in the public consciousness. Simply put; anti litter laws are not enforced if they exist at all, littering goes unpunished. Nobody cares.

Open Waste dumping is ingrained into Sri Lankan society as a result of:

  • Inadequate municipal collection and disposal
  • Apathy on the part of the public
  • The fact that Sri Lankans don’t really see dumping garbage as a problem, and there seems to be  no motivation to be different;  to recycle,  or to compost.

Attitudes  both political and public need to change

So what are the fixes?

Many argue that landfill is a short term fix not least because of the problems of identifying other potential sites and the resultant public outcry that would ensue in areas targeted for landfill.. Aruwakkalu will eventually fill up. More sites will be needed but given the difficulties the government have experienced finding its first large scale site, can we be sure there will be other sites coming on stream?

1.  The need to re-focus

The recent partial collapse of the open dump at Meethotamulla  which caused more than 30 deaths and damaged or destroyed many low income houses was a wake up call for age government and had the effect of creating a call for a national integrated waste management plan under the control of a government minister. We have to wait to see whether this materialises. However, leaving under-funded municipal authorities to their own devices hasn’t worked.

2.  New approaches

Developing sanitary landfill sites is a step forward and will make a difference but it cannot be the only solution not least because of the expense involved given that the Sri Lankan government is cash-strapped.

Many argue that composting offers an additional way forward given that a large % of waste is organic. The question is; how do you make this happen?

Supporters argue that  community  participation  should be at the core of a drive to more composting a move that could lead to a number of  benefits. Proponents argue that community based composting projects :

  • are cost effective
  • cheaper and therefore not  constrained by limited municipal budgets
  •  reduce the amount of solid waste
  • build environmental awareness within the community
  • would encourage segregation and recycling of waste
  • generate strategies for waste management tailored to local community skills and perceptions
  • build local community involvement through engagement, and developing skills.
  • add an income source for the local community with the sale of recycled materials and compost.

One such example are Community Based Solid Waste Management Projects in Matale and Ratnapura Cities (Integrated resource Recovery Centre Project-IRRC) projects supervised by the Colombo based N.G.O. Sevanatha

‘In Matale, the SEVANATHA with its subsidiary company called Micro Enrich Compost (Pvt) Limited is currently managing the IRRC project. This project has conducted extensive community awareness to motivate the people in residential and non- residential areas to separate waste at source and hand over it to the collectors of the IRRC. In Matale city, the IRRC is handling around seven (07) tons of organic waste at present and working towards achieving nine (09) tons per day capacity soon. It also collects all the recyclable materials and further segregates them for selling at the local market.

Considering the success of IRRC project in Matale, the UN-ESCAP has provided the funding and technical support replicate this model in Ratnapura Municipal area where the city council has provided required support for the project. Accordingly, five (05) tons per day capacity IRR Centre was built at Kanadola in Ratnapura town. This centre was opened in January 2014 and currently running its operation as in Matale. SEVANATHA through its MEC (Pvt) Ltd manages this project in Ratnapura in partnership with the Municipal Council of Rathnapura.” (reprinted from the Sevanatha website)

Final thoughts

The situation in Colombo is dire, and seems to be getting worse. The previous government was successful at keeping the streets clean but at the expense of creating the massive open dump at Meethotamulla. The new landfill site will go some way to getting the existing situation under control but on its own it will not be enough. Even if new landfill sites are found it is hard to see them providing a sustainable solution on their own. There is a crying need for  recycling projects and composting projects to add to the mix.

Educating politicians to take the garbage problem seriously has proven difficult in the past. Educating the public to take better care of the city environment has also proven difficult. However, the current government have ambitious plans for economic development in the coming years.This means attracting foreign direct investment, but in order to be attractive Colombo has to present a greener less polluted face to the world.

Garbage collection and disposal cannot be left to private companies and individuals. it is the state’s responsibility. What is needed then is the appointment of a minister with overall control of garbage collection, street cleaning and the urban environment, with Municipal councils answerable to the ministry; with clear guidelines laid down for all councils to follow and investment in modern equipment, vehicles and personnel to back it up.

The government have recently banned single use plastic bags; big deal! What they need to do is actively prosecute fly tippers and enforce the laws against dumping that exist. Education in the schools is the next step. if the current generational deaf to the threat of a garbage contaminated society then maybe it is up to the younger generation to take the lead.

 

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Mini Hydro Schemes; threatening Sinharaja

 

In Sri Lanka large hydro power potential has been fully utilised. There is no space to add in more plus the existing schemes are multi purpose, providing necessary irrigation water especially to the semi dry and dry zones. And this places a further limit on the capacity of Sri Lanka to generate additional electricity from major H.E.P. schemes

However, there are opportunities for the development of privately owned small scale or mini hydro schemes which could add power to the national grid in Sri Lanka. The problem is that  these schemes are causing concern amongst environmentalists because they block streams and threaten the environment of fresh water fish and fragile riverine ecosystems.

The Energy situation

The Sri Lankan government has ambitious plans to achieve high rates of economic growth in the coming years. However, Sri Lanka barely generates enough energy to satisfy the demands both domestic and industrial right now. To make matters worse, existing power supply has been plagued by disruptions and power outages in the last few months.

Since coming online the thermal power station at Norochalai on the east coast has had several reported breakdowns including a fire, a leak, a trip and an instance where generation exceeded design levels, causing a shutdown. The most recent shutdown came in March when an explosion in a stepdown transformer caused an island-wide power outage.

It doesn’t help levels of confidence in the electricity generation system to read Sri Lanka’s deputy minister for power and renewable energy, Ajith Perera, saying that the plant had been built with “outdated” technologies and substandard materials.

Add in the continuing debate over whether the next thermal power station at Sampur should be built and it  is understandable that the authorities would consider  additions to the grid from  privately owned hydro electric power generation which is both clean and renewable.

Enter the mini hydroscheme

A mini hydro project works by having water in a river diverted to a powerhouse by means of a dam built across the flow. This water rotates a turbine and flows back downstream. Not all the water can be diverted: a part has to be let flow naturally in the river, according to law.

Mini-hydro-power-gra

reprinted with permission by Malaka Rodrigo

Dam-built-on-Anda-Dola-c-Rainforest-Protectors

reprinted with permission by Malaka Rodrigo

The advantages to the state seem obvious.

  • The south west of the island is an area of high rainfall so projects such as this provide a clean and renewable source of energy
  • the state is not involved in any outlay of funds but can simply opt to buy in power from the private company
  • the scale of the development is small which should minimise environmental impact

However, this form of clean energy comes at a cost;

  • alterations to the river flow have an impact  on the physical hydrology of the river changing the volume and velocity of flow downstream, changing the river load and so impacting river channel processes, often increasing erosion downstream of the dam
  • changes to the river have an ecological impact on both flora and fauna
  • there is often damage to the environment from trucks and during construction destroying pristine environments and habitats

Add to that the question of whether the state should be reliant on private companies for additional power generation when their  main motive in building these schemes is arguably profit above any other consideration, including the environment

Some tea estates up in the hills already operate their own private schemes providing power to the tea factories. Theses schemes are generally not taking place in environmentally sensitive areas and are not the focus of this article. What is of concern is applications to develop mini hydro schemes in environmentally sensitive areas such the Sinharaja rainforest reserve.

Case Study

The proposal to build a  mini hydro plant at a waterfall and beauty spot is posing a real threat to Athwelthota river; home to 39 freshwater species 19 of them endemic to Sri Lanka.

maxresdefault

source Youtube

The Athwelthota is one of many rivers that flows out from the northern flanks of the Sinharaja rain forest reserve in southern Sri Lanka. Sinharaja is a world heritage site, and the country’s last viable area of primary tropical rainforest. More than 60% of the trees are endemic and many of them are considered rare. There is much endemic wildlife, especially birds, but the reserve is also home to over 50% of Sri Lanka’s endemic species of mammals and butterflies, as well as many kinds of insects, reptiles and rare amphibians.

forest reserve.tiff

source Google sites

Athwelthota is a paradise for freshwater fish, with a number of species discovered in this unique habitat. The CEJ and the Wildlife Conservation Society of Galle (WCSG) have published a poster showing the indigenous fish that could be endangered by the proposed mini-hydro project in Pilithudu ella, Morapitiya-Athwelthota.

If a mini hydro plant is built, some believe that  the change in flow will be a death sentence for many species living in this micro-habitat,

  • Different fish need different micro-habitats, . For example, the gal padiya or sucker fish lives deep in fast-flowing water; some fish species live in relatively calm water while others prefer fast-flowing water.
  • But if part of a stream is diverted the habitat downstream changes and fish will be affected even though a percentage of water might be allowed to flow freely.
  • With flow changes the PH value of water too could change and very sensitive species could become affected.
  • Some fish migrate upstream to breed and when the stream is blocked this movement is disrupted,

In Athwelthota, 39 freshwater species have been recorded, 20 of them endemic to Sri Lanka.

Most of the mini-hydro projects are being constructed in the biodiversity rich wet zone, so the damage they cause is actually worse than with the large dams,  Not only the fish but other animals such as amphibians and freshwater crabs too are affected.

Athwelthota is also home to Sri Lanka’s only aquatic orchid. Near a waterfall lies a special “spray zone” full of water vapour and this special habitat could be totally lost,

Overall 37 projects are under consideration/construction; many in or on the boundaries of the Sinharaja Rain Forest Reserve.

Construction is being carried out in the Northern Sinharaja Rainforest buffer zone at Kosgulana, approximately 4km east from the Kudawa main entrance. A dam is being built blocking the Kosgulana river in Sinharaja buffer zone and several acres of rainforest have been cleared and concrete laid along the once pristine and protected riverbank. Large trucks and machinery used for construction have driven a wide track through what was once a small footpath in the Sinharaja buffer zone, between Kudawa and Kosgulana,

Another project in the rain forest where 2.5km of concrete penstock has been constructed in the Dellawa district is also said to be “causing massive environmental destruction to the stream, the wildlife and the forest The mini-hydro project will destroy a total 6.5 km stretch of the Anda Dola as water is being diverted from the weir to the powerhouse, several kilometres away. This will result in the local extinction of many endemic and endangered fish species recorded in the Anda Dola.

and what impact might this have on tourism going forward.. not everyone wants to dump themselves on a beach for two weeks…

Final thought

Sri Lanka as a country is changing. With the new government there is a greater concern for the environment and a growing resistance on the part of environmentalists to the power of local politicians and businessmen who have been allowed to ignore the environmental laws of the country. It will be interesting to see how successful they are going forward.

In any case micro hydro schemes are not the answer to Sari Lanka’s growing energy problem. Put together they will not generate the additional power needed. Neither can the island continue to afford to import large amounts of oil to generate power.

Maybe that does mean going ahead with the Sampur coal fired power station in spite of all the objections. Or maybe the government and its foreign funding partners should be looking much more seriously at wind power and solar power as alternatives rather than dumping outmoded and dirty technology on an unsuspecting population.

Acknowledgement: I am grateful, as ever, to Malaka Rodrigo for allowing me to take much of the above from his excellent article: Mini hydros; clean energy comes at a high cost to nature featured in his blog: Window to Nature

You should also read his latest blog which is a follow u on the first one at

http://www.sundaytimes.lk/160828/news/flawed-approvals-of-mini-hydro-projects-spell-river-land-destruction-206573.html

 

Waldringfield UK; a community led flood protection project

In 2013 a storm surge in the North Sea threatened communities up and down the East coast of the UK. Whilst many coastal settlements had benefited from flood protection schemes others like Waldringfield, a small village on the Deben estuary in Suffolk were left out of the loop and vulnerable. So when the surge came the inevitable result was flooding to the village.

Despite the flood there were no plans to put flood protection in place. Instead of taking a fatalistic view, however, the local community came together to raise the funds to create, not only an effective flood protection scheme (one of the first of its kind in the UK),  but at the same time create a nature reserve to enhance the local area. This case study is the story of how this project developed.

What is a storm surge?

Storms along the coast can cause sea levels to rise way above their normal level which leads to coastal flooding. So what causes a storm surge? The two diagrams taken from the UK Meteorological  Office site explain how this can happen.

  • A deep low pressure cell (depression) moves eastwards into the North Sea basin.
  • The low pressure at the centre of the storm “pulls” the water level up, by about 1 cm for every 1 millibar change in pressure.

europe - detailed

source: UK meteorological office

  • As the depression moves down the North Sea basin it generates high winds from a northerly direction. The winds push the sea water southwards and towards the coast, causing it to “pile up” along the coast, raising the sea level and creating a “surge”. This is a predictable event. The residents in Waldringfield knew 24 hours in advance that the surge was on its way, for example.
  • The strong winds in the storm generate large waves on top of the surge which can cause damage to sea defences, or spill over the top of sea walls adding to the flood risk.

europe - detailed

source: UK meteorological office

Introducing Waldringfield

Waldringfield is a small village on the west bank of the river Deben in Suffolk, on the East coast of the United Kingdom. The village comprises 225 houses with a population of 464 (2012). The village has a village hall, pub, boatyard and is home to Waldringfield Yacht Club.

The maps below show the location of Waldringfield in Suffolk and in the UK


                                                                                      waldringfieldlocation east coast

The 2013 Flood

On the 5 December, 2013 a large storm surge hit the east coast of the UK causing widespread flooding along the coast. This was a prime example of low pressure, high winds and high tidal conditions combining to create surge conditions;

  • It was the largest tidal surge since 1953 and water levels were actually higher than in 1953
  • Many East coast estuaries were flooded; The Stour, Deben and Orwell rivers all reported  flood damage.

Waldringfield is on the Deben estuary and suffered significant flooding on the river frontage. The following is the list of damage:

  • The river wall to the north of the village was overtopped, causing flooding of the meadow behind it.
  • The boatyard and about 18 residences on the Quay were also flooded to a depth of about 5 feet,  as well as several beach huts and land to the south of the village.
  • There was one casualty, who was taken to hospital by ambulance.
  • The fire service attended to a fire around 1.30am, which was caused by the flood water shorting the electric gates of a property on the Quay.
  • A heating oil tank and a gas tank floated off it stand, but, fortunately, remained attached to it feed pipes
  • The river wall was badly damaged in places, but it wasn’t breached.

The total cost of the damage and repairs was estimated to be: £10 million overall

The Waldringfield Flood Defence Group (WFDG)

The group got together informally 6 months prior to the flood. They were aware of the flood risk plus they were also aware that Waldringfield was not included in existing flood protection schemes for the Deben estuary. This was possibly because only 18 properties and the boat yard were at risk of flood at that time. (even though the real estate value of those properties is possibly above £20 million

Note: The village of Waldringfield  stretches about 1km inland from the river Deben and the majority of the village sits well above flood level. The lane known as The Quay is the  area liable most likely to flood in the village, see map below:

Waldringfield map cropped Page 1

When the flood occurred, and with no direct help from the government forthcoming, the 18 affected  households formed The Waldringfield Flood Defence Group (WFDG). It had significant support from a number of sources including: The Environment Agency, Suffolk Coastal District Council. The Deben Estuary Partnership, Waldringfield Parish Council, Lord Deben, Chairman of the UK’s Independent Committee on Climate Change, and the local MP, Dr Therese Coffey. Very quickly the group came up with a plan to create a two stage project for the immediate area area: this involved:

  1.  an outline plan for the design of new flood defences; including a raised sea wall 1km in length, flood gates, and movable flood barriers to protect the boatyard (completed within 3 months)
  2. the protection and preservation of a freshwater meadow and marshland habitat north of the village through the repair and strengthening of the river wall.
  3. restoration of  salt marsh which would add to the protection the sea wall.

Funding for the  £1million project was achieved mainly through grants,  including £633,000 from the Government’s Coastal Community Fund. The initial work on the salt marsh  was partly funded by the Suffolk Coast & Heaths Area of Outstanding Beauty unit.), and is visible at low tide.  A further 1,000m of protection is being funded by the Coastal Communities fund at a cost of £100,000

How do salt marshes protect flood defences?

Salt marshes play a major role in flood defence.  Salt marshes are effective buffers to wave action, by creating shallow water which reduces the power of waves. The wider the salt marsh the the more effective it is in protecting the sea wall. One study carried out at Cambridge University found that “salt marshes can reduce the height of damaging waves in storm surge conditions by close to 20%”

What has been achieved?

Stage 1: Raising the flood defences: protecting homes, businesses and jobs.

The live link will take you to the project page which details each step in the process. Stage 1 was completed in February 2015. The main points are as follows:

  • A new reinforced wall was built in front of the properties on The Quay at 3.5m OD. Each of the riverside properties now has its own steel reinforced gate to allow access to the footpath

DSC_0064

  • A  steel flood barrier was erected next to the boatyard. This can be closed by the Environment Agency in the event of a flood warning.
  • Removable steel barriers have been erected in the boatyard; they will be removed to allow boats  access to the river for launching but can be put in place in the event of a flood warning. (see below)

closable flood barrier removable flood barrier

Stage 2: Raising the river wall: repairing a footpath and creating a freshwater wildlife reserve

The live link will take you to the project page which details each step in the process. Stage 2 was completed in October 2015.

The main object of the scheme has been to create a wildlife reserve on a freshwater marsh area, which was formerly owned by the local vicar. When he died his executors agreed to allow the conversion of part of the farmland to a lagoon and nature reserve.

The lagoon area at present is bare.. it looks like a building site.. but it has been planted with sedges and within a few years it will naturalise to form an attractive habitat for birds and mammals, such as the water vole and a family of otters.

lagoon

see small scale map for location

After the flood there was concern over state of sea wall to north of village and the footpath which was also damaged when flood water overtopped the wall. So a decision was made to flatten the top of the wall and to widen the footpath.

The footpath is now much wider and more level as the photo below shows. Some locals probably feel that it is unnatural but access has been improved, and the path is accessible and usable all year. Access to the nature reserve will also be improved for locals and visitors alike.

footpath

the footpath looking north; now wider and flatter

Salt marsh restoration

The saltmarsh in front of the sea wall to the north of the village varies in width. Immediately north of the village it is quite degraded; see below but widens out . The WFDG scheme allows for the installation of brushwood  fences which have been installed in the marsh in front of the sea wall. The hope is that these fences will trap sediment on the outgoing tide and help to build up the marsh in front of the sea wall to add some degree of additional protection to the sea wall and the footpath. There remains another 1000 metres of fencing to install to complete the job.

degraded marsh

the degraded salt marsh

brushwood fences

brushwood fences in place to protect the sea wall

Local community action: is this the way forward?

This scheme is the first of its kind so far as I can tell and The Environment Agency is keen to use this project as a pilot to demonstrate how local communities projects such as this one can be the forerunner for other schemes which fall outside of government support.

  1.  The WFDG were successful because:
  • they were already organized
  • they had the necessary skills to produce a fully drawn up and costed project plan
  • they had the skills to lobby for financial support
  • they acted quickly
  • they worked together and without internal wrangling/disagreement

2.  The value of the community based approach was that they designed it themselves and so it was fit for their purpose; basically they got what they wanted but also created a scheme with significant utility and value to the village as a whole.

3.  At the same time they turned it into a multi purpose project by:

  • protecting the sea wall
  • creating a much more accessible and usable footpath alongside the river, an improved amenity for all
  • working with the estate of the recently deceased vicar to create the wildlife reserve which will be of broad ecological value but also will provide a real amenity to be enjoyed by locals and visitors and will add to the attractiveness of the riverside

I recently interviewed Janette Brown, the secretary of the Waldringfield Flood Defence Group and started by asking her to take us back to the night of the flood. You can listen to the full interview here:

Challenges ahead for the Sri Lankan garment industry

Many see Sri Lanka as the next “tiger economy” in Asia. It is not hard to see why. The country has stabilised after the end of the conflict in 2009. Economic growth has been around 7% for a while now. However, exports have been in decline recently. In 2000, exports stood at 30% of the Gross Domestic Product. By 2014, it had gone down to 15%, indicating a reduction of 50% percent.
The issue is that the manufacturing sector is lagging behind, according to  the Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe. In his November 2016 budget statement he seemed also to suggest that the apparel industry should no longer be seen as the mainstay of the manufacturing sector, calling instead for a diversification which could include car assembly and car component manufacture as well as high tec manufacturing.

Note: new sections on Brexit, GSP+ and Trump are included below in red.

So where is the emphasis going to be? Well according to Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe:

I see Sri Lanka’s economic future as a services hub;  a niche manufacturing destination to produce goods which plug into regional and global value chains, particularly light engineering; and a location for high-value agricultural products such as fruits, vegetables and dairy, both to service the rapidly growing tourism sector and for exports, especially, to the Middle Eastern and Indian markets”.

Exports need a boost and it seems that this is targeted to come from the development of “light engineering”, not something Sri Lanka has much experience of. So whether this will turn out to be a wise decision is something that will come out in the wash.

 An emerging economy

Sri Lanka has a lot going for it right now,  and the pre-conditions for strong economic growth look to be in place.

  • increasing political stability
  • the undoubted quality of the labour force,
  • high levels of literacy amongst the workforce
  • a strong business culture
  •  the emergence of a new breed of young ambitious entrepreneurs
  • a go-ahead government with ambitious plans to fast track growth and with  a clear vision for the future

So it isn’t that surprising that Sri Lanka plans to achieve an economic growth beyond 8% in the next three years.

The Megapolis project (see my blog posted 24/02) is a further example of the ambition of the current government as it seeks to leverage a number of locational advantages:

  1. Location; Sri Lanka is perfectly placed to come a transportation hub. It is equidistant between Europe and Far East,  on the major East-West shipping lanes and with easy access to lucrative Middle Eastern markets and rising African markets. India the major industrial player in the region is just 20 miles to the North.

lanak location

credit; sagt.lk

2. Improving trade relationships with its neighbour, India, with the EEC and the USA ( see the Indo-Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement for example.)

3. High levels of support and investment from China

So where does that leave one of Sri Lanka’s traditional stars; the apparel industry?  Is it in danger of being ignored? What part, if any, will it play in the development of the new economy?

The garment industry has long been a standard bearer for Sri Lankan manufacturing. So what price it can make an increasing contribution to export performance and economic growth? The portents are not promising.
Prospects and Challenges for the Sri Lankan Garment Industry

A note on the role of the textile industry in the development process:

The textile industry often plays a part in the development process for a number of reasons

  • the technology is relatively accessible and affordable
  • there is a large global market to compete in
  • the industry is price sensitive so emerging economies with lower labour costs enjoy a comparative advantage
  • textiles/garments are labour intensive and create significant employment
  • the industry develops industrial/manufacturing skills in the labour force
  • it also makes use of existing skills in the population and draws on existing cultures

The garment industry is already a major industry in Sri Lanka; the question is how can it evolve to help drive the economy forward?

Some key facts

  • In 2014 Textiles and garments accounted for 44% of exports (Export Development Board (EDB) Sri Lanka) and 39% of industrial production
  • it employs nearly 1 million workers both directly (300,000) and indirectly (600,000)
  • the industry accounts for 1 in 5 of all industrial establishments in the country
  • In 2013, earnings from textile and garment exports were 4.5$billion  making it the highest foreign exchange earner
  • Exports to the EU and the US, the two main markets recorded annual growth of 6.8 and 21 percent respectively.
The World Bank View

Accounting for $4.4 billion of its exports, Sri Lanka’s apparel sector outperforms other South Asian countries in terms of quality, lead time, reliability,  social compliance and sustainability.  Although its apparel prices are higher than competitors, Sri Lanka produces more sophisticated products. As China gradually scales back its apparel manufacturingSri Lanka stands to gain market share, but currently not as quickly as some South-East Asian countries.

However, In order to maximize its competitiveness, a new World Bank report recommends that Sri Lanka should:  

  1.  Enter into more trade agreements to help diversify export destinations for existing products, such as active wear and intimate apparel
  2. Expand into new products such as formal wear and high-end outerwear that require higher skills,
  3. position as regional apparel and textile trade hub taking  advantage of its infrastructure advantage
  4. Attract foreign investment through adopting clear investment policies, which currently remains at only 2 percent of GD Increase integration with South Asia and reduce tariffs for the import of man-made fibers, which accounts for 50% of Sri Lanka’s industry inputs, while encouraging domestic growth
  5. Promote industrial relocation
  6. Attract more female workers to relieve its labor shortages

The main players

The industry has some big players notably MAS Holdings and Brandix plus a number of small and medium factories make clothing for a number of global brands: the list is impressive: Nike, Victoria’s Secret, Next, Gap, Speedo and Tommy Hilfiger; and it supplies major supermarket chains such as Marks and Spencer and Tesco.

 

textile-industry-in-sri-lanka-7-638

The Location of the Industry

30% of all factories are located in Western province (around Colombo and Gampaha), especially the larger enterprises whilst the small and medium enterprises tend to be more dispersed. There is also a significant presence in the industrial export zones; see maps below

western-province-map

Western Province

source: Maps of the World

 

zones

Export processing zones

source: BOI Sri Lanka

The Garment Industry: a SWOT analysis

Strengths; 

  • location ; situated on the main sea routes is an attraction for manufacturers.
  • Availability of skilled labour, educated and trainable work force
  • Some of the most modern factories to be found anywhere in South Asia
  • a significant competitive advantage in terms of certain garment types: The lingerie, swimwear and sportswear segments, which require a high degree of skill and utilisation of advanced technical fabrics for manufacture, stand as Sri Lanka’s main apparel strengths.
  • ability to handle high volume orders
  • a reputation for quality short lead times and on time delivery; Sri Lankan manufacturers are now leading the way in terms of reducing  design – to needle – to delivery,  down to a matter of weeks rather than months: this from Sriyan de Silva Wijeyeratne, managing director and CEO of Textured Jersey Lanka.

“It is also about speed.  Brands are now moving towards fast and reactive fashion models. Where lead times were six months a few years ago, they are now six weeks. This makes supply chains much more compressed, and hence the challenge to be nimble.” This is where Sri Lankan companies expect to maintain their  advantage, thanks to a history of fulfilling orders to deadline for international brands and sourcing agents.

  • a reputation for conforming to the highest standards of working practices, working conditions and labour laws (although this last point has been challenged by two visiting EU commissioners recently).

see Daily mirror article 27/04

Listen here to Sami Bandara, general manager of a medium sized apparel company based in Colombo on the strengths of the industry

Weaknesses

  • Lack of marketing skills and a low level of marketing information, and knowledge about export marketing.
  • the need to import all raw textiles
  • high absenteeism and labour turn over.
  • availability of employment in other industries and foreign employment opportunities
  • too concentrated in Western province; needs to decentralise into rural areas, but a factory culture has not yet established among workers in rural areas
  • low labour productivity and Increasing labour cost
  • the absence of a growing “local” market in neighbouring countries which would provide an alternative or addition to the USA and Europe
Sami’s view on weaknesses

The labour leakage/shortage is a critical issue because it means that factories are working at maybe only 70-80% capacity. It makes meeting delivery targets that much harder. At present the leakage rate is anything between 3% and 7% per month depending on the company according to Sami Bandara

Sami again; this time on possible solutions

Cultural factors are at play here plus there is a stigma attached top working in factories. In addition women are harrassed on their way to and from work by men, which is both unpleasant and unnecessary. The long hours and often poor conditions in workers’ hostels are also factors which it seems discourages women from working in factories.

Opportunities
  •  re-instatementof GSP+ now looks to be a a strong probability. This will  allow Sri Lankan garment manufacturers to export to Europe without incurring taxes or quotas
  • the major players like Brandix for example look set to expand textile production in Sri lanka, thus reducing reliance on imported textiles. The country already supports four main fabric mills, with companies like Textured Jersey – a subsidiary of Brandix – having expanded regionally in recent years. and this is necessary because the GSP+ scheme mandates that apparel exports be manufactured using regionally sourced fabrics, meaning Sri Lankan garments made with fabric from major source markets in East Asia will not benefit from GSP+.

    A note: 

The EU’s “Generalised Scheme of Preferences” (GSP) allows developing country exporters to pay less or no duties on their exports to the EU. This gives them vital access to EU markets and contributes to their economic growth. the standard/general GSP arrangement, which offers generous tariff reductions to developing countries. Practically, this means partial or entire removal of tariffs on two thirds of all product categories.

GSP plus: the “GSP+” enhanced preferences mean full removal of tariffs on essentially the same product categories as those covered by the general arrangement. These are granted to countries which ratify and implement core international conventions relating to human and labour rights, environment and good governance.

Threats

  • Regaining GSP+ is not a certainty. The EU are still raising a number of concerns about the human rights situation in the country and there are many issues still to be addressed.
  • increasing competition especially in terms of lower labour cost from Bangladesh, Cambodia Laos and Vietnam Myanmar
  •  Sri Lanka’s labour costs are increasing at a faster pace than productivity
  • competition for labour with other emerging industries especially in Western Province ( see Prime Minister’s commets re manufacturing “mix”
  • the necessity to reduce lead time from the manufactures to the shop, and the distant suppliers’ inability to deliver the value added garments on time
Capturing the Niche Market
  • Large companies like MAS Holdings and Brandix are now moving to a complete integration of the manufacturing process where design, manufacture and packaging are all sourced “under one roof” which cuts costs but more importantly cuts down the time iot take sto bring new designs to market
  • They are also moving to establish own high quality brands
  • increasingly Sri Lankan companies are developing niche products which gives them a competitive advantage in the global market place

Sami’s company Textile Lanka occupy a specialised niche in the market which gives them a competitive advantage. Listen here for a run down of the way his business world.

The Impact of Brexit

The impending departure of the UK from the European single market can be looked at in two ways

  • Negative: many economists now predict that Brexit will have an adverse effect on the UK economy and this will reduce the demand for Sri Lankan exports.
  • Positive: the idea here is that developing nations of the Commonwealth could urge the UK to introduce a preferential tariff system for Commonwealth countries as part of a series of new free trade agreements. The threat of a Brexit induced decline in demand has already led to the Sri Lankan government  focusing more on the Asian region. Bilateral trade negotiations with China, India and Singapore have already started together with talks of negotiations with Bangladesh, New Zealand, South Korea and Thailand as well.

It is worth noting that, although the UK remains the single largest export destination for Sri Lankan apparel in the EU, the share of apparel exports to the UK has steadily declined since 2002. In particular, the share of apparel exports to the UK during 2000-2010 and 2011-2015 declined by 12% and 10%, respectively. Similarly, the annual growth of Sri Lanka’s apparel exports to the UK is significantly lower than it is to other EU countries. So the UK market is not as important as it once was.

Trumpism

The United States is the largest export destination of Sri Lanka and accounts for approximately 25%of Sri Lanka’s exports. Moreover, over 70% of Sri Lanka’s total exports to the US is in apparel, accounting for 43% of Sri Lanka’s total apparel exports. That makes Sri Lanka vulnerable to the current trend towards protectionism and policy uncertainty in the US. In particular to any move to promote a domestic apparel industry by raising tariffs on imports of clothing is a real threat to the Sri Lankan apparel industry. However, it goes broader than that. China is a major provider of foreign investment to Sri Lanka. Given the Trump administration stance over foreign trade, and it’s America first agenda, a negative impact of any trade war between China and the USA is bound to have repercussions for Sri Lanka.

The Future

It seems inconceivable that Sri Lanka should ignore one of its most successful industries as it continues its march towards higher levels of prosperity. Hi Tec industry will come to Sri Lanka but as yet there is a shortage of highly trained and qualified personnel for the communications and IT industry. Similarly where are the engineers? Developing them will take time.

And in the meantime Sri Lanka needs to nurture is garment industry. However, where are the state of the art garment research institutes? Is there a college or institute specifically aimed at creating the next generation of marketeers and entrepreneurs? Should more emphasis be placed on developing home grown fashion designers and should fashion design be given greater status within the education system? How about a bringing major international fashion show to Colombo? Finally how about the government getting behind the industry both in words and deeds. The garment industry is a real “gem” that deserves recognition and support from senior ministers.

Solving the labour shortage is also a key issue. Quite why the industry has such a low status is a puzzle but a long term campaign to win the hearts and minds of potential workers needs to be undertaken. Perhaps TV programmes which don’t show the  industry in such a negative light will help, as would encouraging words from senior members of the government. In the meantime harassment of female workers has to be stopped.

Plus,  pay and working conditions need to be improved. Although many owners argue that they pay a competitive wage they may need to review  their approach. 27,000 rupees per month is not a high salary. If it was, men and women would be clamouring to work in the factories rather than leaving in droves which is what seems to be happening. Sami argues that people driving tuk tuks would be better employed in the garment factories. However, if they can earn as much or more driving a tuk why would they work in a factory?

The garment industry has the capacity to evolve to meet oncoming challenges, and it will need to do so if it is to remain viable. The UK lost its textile industry 100 years ago because it did not move with the times. The same does not have to be true for the Sri Lankan garment industry.

Listen here to the full interview

Welcome to Geo Sri Lanka: case studies for A level geographers

Until recently South Asia has been a neglected are for study; but, it is a rich area for study geographically and,  just as importantly, offers new material for students. As a teacher I was always on the lookout  for new case studies and as an examiner it was always refreshing to see centres moving away from text book examples that had become out of date…which is why I set up this blog. I hope you find the case studies useful.

Phil Brighty

Stop Press: Just added
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The Chilaw mangrove restoration project
Updates:
Challenging Times Ahead for the Sri Lankan Garment Industry
Dengue Fever 2018

List of articles; there are over 20 articles for you to look through; simply click on the link; list of articles and you will find them all

Dengue in Sri Lanka:  Dengue fever in Sri Lanka is reaching epidemic proportions: check out the latest Dengue update.
 Fieldwork in Sri Lanka;

Sri Lanka is a great place to undertake fieldwork for A level geography. A quick browse through the list of titles ( see above) will give an idea of what you can do. Most places are accessible and value for money; plus for students it can be the trip of a lifetime because with careful planning they get to experience what regular tourists never can:

more… 
Next Up: 
China’s expanding influence in South Asia