His short text begins:
On March 5, 2015, the new government of Sri Lanka headed by President Maithripala Sirisena announced that it had suspended a controversial $1.5 billion project headed by a Chinese firm. The Colombo Port City Development Project entailed creating a landfill of 575 acres in the city of Colombo’s harbor, with hotels, apartments, and office buildings that would attract as much as $13 billion in foreign investment. The project had resulted from a deal between the previous president, Mahinda Rajapakse, and China’s president Xi Jinping. Its suspension was reported to cost the Chinese firm in charge of the project $380,000 a day, idling as many as five thousand people. Given that China is Sri Lanka’s largest aid donor and has already invested $5 billion in the country, it is expected that construction on the project will soon resume. However, the harbor project’s suspension points to the temporality of infrastructure, to the everpresent gap between the start and completion of infrastructure projects.
Later he writes ‘I want to emphasize the temporality of infrastructure. It is assumed that projects, once started, will be completed.’. Indeed. I am reminded of how in 2007 the south side of the Thames suddenly had a large number of frozen concrete. Pools of water gathering in already poured foundations, reinforcing metal grid-work rusting in the rain, no movement on site except for some student film crew making cut-rate avant-guarde porn (media teaching programmes may have been one of the few recession-proof areas). Things started ticking again, but there was a moment of beauty in the frozen scene of crisis capital, and some will look forward to its next outing.
But back in Columbo, more recent newspaper reports suggest the ‘suspension’ is suspended and that work is about to get going again. See this report on 17 September 2015 announcing the resumption of the project: Columbo Telegraph here.
Local groups are still concerned with a number of issues. For example: ‘A multi story barrier to the clean ocean breeze that Colombo currently enjoys, will be shut off forever. In its place the Carbon monoxide, Ozone, dust and PM2.4 will increase. There is no reference at all in the port city project documents available to us that addresses, blocking the inflow of fresh air into Colombo. There is nothing in the documents that indicate the levels of Carbon monoxide, PM2.4, Oxides of Sulfur and Nitrogen that will be produced by the port city. There are no studies to indicate how these pollutants will flow and if they will affect the citizens of Colombo.’ Also ‘the degradation of the quality of surface waters that have rendered much of the shallow aquifer polluted. Does the EIA for the Port City suggest where the water to run this city will come from? … then there is the question of power; will Sri Lanka have to suffer the health ill effects of coal -fired power plants to supply the new city with its needs? And the garbage, already we are coking in our garbage, will Colombo be the repository of garbage for the new city? None of this is addressed in the EIA for a new city. Must we say goodbye to the old city destined to come a slum of the new city?’ (Ranil Senanayake Columbo Telegraph Sept 20, 2015)