Awakening Iranamadu | Sunday Observer

Awakening Iranamadu

Minister of City Planning water Supply and Higher Education, Rauff Hakeem who visited flood affected areas in Kilinochchi recently, made a comment on bringing Iranamadu water to Jaffna, a long awaited hope. At a meeting in Kilinochchi, the Minister said that diverting the water in Iranamadu tank is the most feasible solution to end the Jaffna water crisis as per his knowledge.

Even though the Minister’s remarks made news to the southerners of the country, those words were another chapter of a broken promise to the people of Jaffna.

The Jaffna peninsula faces severe issues related to clean drinking water because the peninsula relies on ground water. There is no river or reservoir in the area to develop a drinking water project. Chunnakam, a Jaffna suburb is badly affected by ground water contamination.

Political struggle

Bringing Iranamadu water into Jaffna began years ago. In 2005, a dam of the Iranamadu tank was upgraded from 34 feet to 36 feet enhancing its water capacity. Then, after the end of the war against terrorism, the government in partnership with the ADB checked the feasibility of doing so.

The ADB had agreed to provide US$ 90 million for the project. The project aimed to transport 27,000 cubic metres per day of water from Iranamadu tank to Jaffna peninsula for treatment and distribution to the water hit Jaffna and nearby towns. It also aimed to improve sanitation infrastructure in Jaffna town and water resource management in the peninsula.

Former Opposition Leader of the Northern Provincial Council (NPC), N. Thavarasa, told the Sunday Observer that Iranamadu water has to be the primary source of drinking water to Jaffna peninsula. “The ADB has already done the feasibility study and the development of the Iranamadu tank is the best solution to the problem,” he said.

Thavarasa said the initial ADB project for Jaffna - Kilinochchi Water Supply consisted of three stages, namely renovation of the Iranamadu tank, supplying water from Iranamadu to Jaffna and full restoration of the sewerage system in the Jaffna Municipality.

However, the project was halted due to a farmers’ protest in the Kilinochchi area. As the Sunday Observer reliably understands, politically motivated farmers opposed diverting Iranamadu water to Jaffna.

This lead to an issue in commencing development work by the ADB as its loan grant had a condition to say that consent of the farmers of the Iranamadu feeding area is essential to begin work on the project.

The then Chief Minister of the NPC, C.V. Wigneswaran also had a resolution passed in the Provincial Council and wrote a letter to the ADB asking to halt the project.

“The Iranamadu Development Project planned to enhance its actual capacity of 82,000 acre feet to 120,000 acre feet. In the ADB proposal the annual requirement of the Jaffna peninsula was 8,100 acre feet. Therefore, there was no need to protest against the proposal,” said Thavarasa.

Former Chairman of the NPC, C.V.K. Sivagnanam said that he and Leader of Ilankai Tamil Arasu Kadchi (ITAK) Mavai Senathirajah, suggested to divert only the excess water of Iranamadu in a certain period of the year. That idea also has been put aside.

“Rauff Hakeem was the Minister of Water Supply back then too. At a meeting at the Kilinochchi District Secretariat where Minister Hakeem was present, we conveyed this idea. But nothing happened,” said Sivagnanam.


However, in a newsletter dated November 29, 2017 the ADB had declared its approval to release an additional grant of $120 million to the project stating:

“The 2010 project has faced various challenges hampering the original plan to bring in water from the Iranamadu tank.

Bringing water from a new desalination plant instead, will directly address water scarcity challenges caused by climate change.

“Through the development and management of a desalination plant, the additional finance will complete ADB’s efforts to provide piped water for 300,000 people and eliminate the drudgery of fetching water over long distances that women particularly face,” said ADB’s Principal Urban Development Specialist, Jingmin Huang.

The proposal for a desalination plant is also in the pipeline. But just like the farmer community protest in Iranamadu, the Vadamarachchi fishery community has objected to a sea water desalination project in Vadamarachchi East.

“The other problem with establishing a desalination plant is the cost. According to my knowledge the cost for a desalination plant will be ten times higher than bringing Iranamadu water. On the other hand, the fisher community is also afraid that their livelihood will be affected by such a project,” said Thavarasa.

Apart from the two options already proposed, Sivagnanam suggests a fresh alternative to the issue.

“My personal opinion is that Pali Aru is the best solution for the water issue in the peninsula.

Pali Aru is on the border of Jaffna and Kilinochchi districts. There will be no adverse effect on any party by using Pali Aru water. I informed the Prime Minister about this three months ago. I think he will look into it,” said Sivagnanam.

Eight years have passed since approval was given to the ADB proposal to transport Iranamadu water to the Jaffna peninsula. But Iranamadu water is still in Kilinochchi, over-spilling during rainy seasons. The years were full of political talks and moves with no sustainable approach to resolve the issue. In a world where access to clean drinking water is a universal right, it is absolutely sad to see that it is just a pipe dream to the residents of Jaffna.

(Despite several attempts by the Sunday Observer to contact Minister Rauff Hakeem, he was not available for comment)