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3 The Sri Lanka

This chapter describes the ecological, political, and social governance that control forest conditions (extent, content, health productivity, and sustainability etc.) at local, national and global levels.

3.1 General

The Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka (Sri Lanka) is an island in the Indian Ocean to the south of India. It is situated between 5_55' and 9_55' N and longitudes 79_41' and 81_54' E and has about 1,340 km long coastline. Total area of Sri Lanka, including all inland water bodies but excluding open bays and lagoons along the coast as estimated from interpretation of satellite imagery by Legg and Jwell (1995) is 6,616,627 ha. This differs from other figures like 6,515,600 ha (FSMP, 1995), and 6,525, 000 ha (National Atlas of Sri Lanka, Survey Department, Sri Lanka, 1988). About 1,500 km of railways, 98,600 km of highways, and about 400 km of waterways span the entire country. Colombo, Galle, Jaffna, and Trincomalee are its four main ports and harbors.

3.2 Geology and Soil

About 90 percent of Sri Lanka's surface lies on Precambrian strata of more than 2 billion years in age. The island contains a relatively limited strata of sedimentation surrounding its ancient hills. Aside from recent deposits along river valleys, only two small fragments of Jurassic (140 to 190 million years ago) sediment occur in Puttalam District, while a more extensive belt of Miocene (5 to 20 million years ago) limestone is found along the northwest coast, overlain in many areas by Pleistocene (1 million years ago) deposits. The northwest coast is part of the deep Cauvery (Kaveri) river basin of south-east India, which has been collecting sediments from the highlands of India and Sri Lanka since the breakup of the famous Gondwanaland. The soils of Sri Lanka belong to two major categories, those derived from the parent material and their erosion products and those derived from transported materials. The former are generally clayey soils whereas the latter are light sandy loams (ABE, 1977).

3.3 Topography

Sri Lanka is irregular and dissected with its central massif dominating the south. The lowest location is at sea level and the highest elevation is at Pidurutalagala (2,524 meters). However, the Adam's Peak (2,243 meters), which is a destination of interfaith pilgrimage, is commonly known as the highest mountain of Sri Lanka. The coastal belt (less than 100 meters elevation) of varying width extends from seashore to foothills of central massif. In the northern half of island, topography falls away to rolling plain, relieved by isolated ridges.

3.4 Climate

The climate of Sri Lanka is tropical and maritime. The mean temperature ranges from a low of 15.80 C in Nuwara Eliya in the Central Highlands to a high of 290 C in Trincomalee on the northeast coast (where temperature may reach 370 C). The average yearly temperature for the country ranges between 26° C to 28° C and the day and night temperatures may vary by 40 to 70C. Rainfall is abundant and varies from 750 mm to 1850 mm annually. The monsoon winds of the Indian Ocean and Bay of Bengal influence the rainfall and also mark four seasons. The first is from mid-May to October, when winds originate in the south-west, bringing moisture from the Indian Ocean. The second season occurs in October and November, the inter-monsoon months. During this season, periodic squalls occur and sometimes tropical cyclones bring overcast skies and rains to the southwest, northeast, and eastern parts of the island. During the third season, December to March, monsoon winds come from the northeast, bringing moisture from the Bay of Bengal. Another inter-monsoon period occurs from March until mid-May, with light, variable winds and evening thundershowers.

3.5 River System and Coastal area

Most of the rivers in Sri Lanka flow in a radial pattern from central massif toward the sea. About twelve rivers that are longer than 100 kilometers in length carry about 75 percent of the mean river discharge of the entire country. Mahaweli Ganga (335 kilometers) and the Aruvi Aru (170 kilometers) are two most lengthy rivers. Human intervention has altered the flows of some rivers in order to develop hydroelectric, irrigation, and transportation projects in Sri Lanka. Several hundred kilometers of canals link inland waterways in the southwestern part of Sri Lanka, most of which were built by the Dutch in the eighteenth century. Costal area is a belt of about thirty meters above the mean sea level that surrounds the island. The coastline is regular but indented by numerous lagoons and marked by sandy beaches.

3.6 Ecological Zones

Topographically, Sri Lanka is divided into three zones that are distinguishable by elevation: the central highlands, the plains, and the coastal belt. The "Central Highlands" is the heart of the country and is a high plateau, running north-south for approximately sixty-five kilometres flanked with two lower plateaux. The "Plains" zone consists of the island's surface between 30 and 200 meters above sea level. The south-west region is highly eroded and the ridges and valleys rise gradually to merge with the Central Highlands. The south-east region has a red, lateritic soil cover with relatively level ground studded with bare, monolithic hills. The "Coastal" zone is a belt of about thirty meters above the sea level that surrounds the island. Much of the coast consists of sandy beaches indented by coastal lagoons.

Climatically, Sri Lanka is generally classified under three zones (Wet, Intermediate and Dry). First two are in south-west and central highlands and the third is towards north and east of the country. The dry zone occupies almost two thirds of the country and consists mainly of flat and undulating land where major irrigation schemes are in operation and the bulk of the agricultural and forestry activities take place. Following Wijesinghe et al. (1993), these three climatic zones are further subdivided into six bio-climatic zones to distinguish low-lands or mid lands from montane zone through altitude and to identify "arid " (less than 1250 mm annual rain fall) from dry zones through isotherms. Table 1 at Annex, provides a brief description of these groups under five categories instead of six because two zones (Low/Mid Country Intermediate zone and Montane Intermediate zone) have been grouped into one category.

Greller and Balasubramanium (1993) recognize eight forest zones (Table 2 at Annex) related to macroclimate in their study on "Physiognomic, Floristic and Bio-climatological Characterization of the Major Forest types of Sri Lanka". They follow Walter's (1985) "Zonobiome" and "Orobiome" vegetation classification. The "Zonobiomes (ZB)" are based on macroclimate and "Orobiomes (OB)" describe climate and vegetation on mountains within "Zonobiomes". The altitude defines the boundary of "Orobiomes". Legg and Jwell (1995) follow Greller and Balasubramanian (1980 and 1993) method of using elevation, in developing the first digital map of Forest Vegetation types in Sri Lanka. They use elevation, isohyets and vegetation to develop their classification that provides a general idea of major climatically controlled ecological units of the natural forests. The district wise area under different forest types developed by Legg and Jwell is given at Table 3 at Annex.

3.7 Institutions of Governance

Sri Lanka is a democratic republic country and is an Independent member of the Commonwealth of Nations. The Sri Lankan Parliament is a uni-cameral assembly. The universal suffrage began in 1931 and the voting age is 18. The President serves for a maximum two terms and each term has a maximum period of 6 years. The current constitution was adopted in 1978.

The President constitutes a "Cabinet of Ministers" and appoints a Prime Minister from among the members of Parliament. The Parliament consists of 225 representatives elected for a 6-year term at periodical general elections through a system of proportional representation.

An independent judiciary exercises the judicial power of the people. The Chief Justice who is appointed by the President heads the Judiciary. Sri Lanka has four levels of the judiciary (Supreme Court, Court of Appeal, High Court and Courts of first instance and tribunals).

The country is administered through nine provinces (Central, North Central, North Eastern, North Western, Sabaragamuwa, Southern, Uva, and Western) consisting of 25 districts. An appointed district minister heads each district. Local government institutions have a limited role in the political process because Sri Lanka is a unitary rather than a federal state. The country is suffering from political unrest since few decades, which is affecting its economic growth and development.

3.8 Summary

This chapter dealt with ecological, biophysical and political governance of Sri Lanka. These alternative regimes of governance define the capacity of different factors that control the sustenance of natural resources like forests in Sri Lanka. The continuance of unrest in its northern region for quite sometime is affecting its overall growth and is likely to have a negative impact on the sustenance of its natural resources in the long run.

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