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Mattala Airport, Sri Lanka

Mattala Airport, built in the midst of wildlife sanctuaries, wages an ongoing battle against birds and animals that could pose a risk to air safety. Removal of habitats and obstruction of migration routes has led to an increase in human-elephant conflicts


Deforestation and human- elephant conflict

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Mattala Airport, Sri Lanka
Country:Sri Lanka
State or province:Southern Province
Location of conflict:Mattala
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Infrastructure and Built Environment
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Ports and airport projects
Specific commodities:Land
Live Animals
Project Details and Actors
Project details

Mattala International Airport was approved by the Central Environmental Authority (CEA) in May 2009 and launched the following November.[2] The airport opened on 18th March 2013.[3] The airport has capacity to handle 1 million passengers per year and its 3,500 meter runway can accommodate the world’s largest passenger aircraft. The cost of the project was USD209 million with USD 190 million provided as a loan from the Chinese government via the Exim Bank of China.[16] The airport site covers 2,000 hectares in total with the first stage of development taking up 800 hectares.[17]

Project area:2,000
Level of Investment for the conflictive project209,000,000 [16]
Type of populationRural
Start of the conflict:2007
Company names or state enterprises:The Export–Import Bank of China (Exim Bank of China ) from China - In 2009, the Export-Import Bank of China gave Sri Lanka a USD210 million concessional loan for the construction of Mattala Airport
China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) from China - Constructed Mattala Airport
AECOM from United States of America - AECOM was the lead designer responsible for design and build contract for Mattala Airport
Airport and Aviation Services AASL (AASL) from Sri Lanka - Operator of Mattala Airport
Relevant government actors:Government of Sri Lanka
Civil Aviation Authority of Sri Lanka (CAASL)
Central Environment Authority (CEA)
Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC)
Government of China
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Global Forest Watch -
Environment Conservation Trust -
Green Movement of Sri Lanka -
Environment Foundation Ltd. (EFL) -
Ceylon Bird Club -
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityLOW (some local organising)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:International ejos
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of mobilization:Involvement of national and international NGOs
Official complaint letters and petitions
Arguments for the rights of mother nature
Appeals/recourse to economic valuation of the environment
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Global warming, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity, Fires, Air pollution, Noise pollution, Other Environmental impacts
Other Environmental impactsBird strikes (collisions between birds and aircraft)
Human - elephant conflict
Fragmented wildlife habitats
Health ImpactsVisible: Other Health impacts
Potential: Accidents
Other Health impactsIllnesses caused by pollutants emitted by aircraft
Socio-economical ImpactsPotential: Displacement, Loss of livelihood
Project StatusIn operation
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:A large area of was destroyed for Mattala Airport in spite of warnings from several EJOs that locating the facility in the midst of wildlife sanctuaries would cause ongoing conflict between airline safety and preservation of birds and animals. Since Mattala Airport commenced operations the battle against birds, elephants and other wildlife species had continued. Human-elephant conflict has increased resulting in deaths of humans and elephants.
Sources & Materials
Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

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[1] On track to 'go beyond the critical point': Sri Lanka still losing forests at rapid clip, Mongabay, 15 July 2014
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[2] Wildlife in flight!, Times Online Sri Lanka, 22 August 2010
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[3] Sri Lanka Mattala airport reports bird strike, Sri Lanka News Live, 28 March 2013
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[4] Mattala International Airport In Mid-air Battle, Sunday leader, 31 March 2013
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[5] Water holes around Mattala closed to keep away birds and animals, Times Online Sri Lanka, 7 April 2013
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[6] Petition: Stop The Process Of Destroying Sources Of The Wildlife In Mattala, Colombo Telegraph, 3 May 2013
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[7] Monkeys also become victims of Mattala! Dogs have a field day!, LANKANEWSWEB.NET, 28 April 2013
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[8] MRIA expansion impacts on wildlife, Ceylon Today, 19 June 2013
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[9] Peacocks damage plane in Mattala, Colombo Gazette, 11 January 2014
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[10] Religious beliefs save Mattala peacocks, but threat persists,, 20 January 2014, (accessed 25 March 2014)
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[11] Airports' global bird slaughter - 100,000s gassed, shot, poisoned, Ecologist, 18 August 2014
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[13] Concern mounts over roaming elephant on Mattala – Hambantota road, News 1st, 12 September 2015
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[14] Troops Clear Wild Animals From Sri Lanka's White-Elephant Airport, NDTV, 18 March 2018
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[15] The Story Behind The World's Emptiest International Airport, Forbes, 28 May 2016
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[16] EOI to run Mattala Airport next month, Daily News, 14 June 2016
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[17] Namal says Mattala Airport will boost overall economy of south and Sri Lanka, DailyFT, 18 March 2013
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Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Concern mounts over roaming elephant on Mattala – Hambantota road, Newsfirst Sri Lanka, 12 September 2015
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Meta information
Contributor:Rose Bridger, Stay Grounded, email: [email protected]
Last update18/08/2019
Conflict ID:3953
Legal notice / Aviso legal
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