By Dimithri Wijesinghe
The Federation of Environmental Organisations (FEO) launched its recent initiative titled “Greening the City Of Colombo”, where it proposed a city-wide tree planting campaign in order to create an urban forest strategy in both public and private lands in the greater Colombo area.
Speaking to FEO Chairperson Dr. Yohan Weerasuriya, he shared that the programme commenced in the first week of July 2020 at the Borella Cemetery; as it has a large land area (44 acres), trees with deep roots were planted along the perimeter of the cemetery, interspersed with flowering plants in order to attract butterflies, bees, and birds. Through this, they hope to enhance the level of biodiversity while reducing air pollution, he shared.
The goal is to achieve a healthy and liveable city, for which we must create better urban environments. FEO shared that through its city-wide tree planting project, it is looking to achieve a number of goals such as increase canopy cover and provide shade, thereby reducing the temperature in certain parts of the city; increase urban ecology and biodiversity as well as tree diversity so as to provide a habitat for small mammals, birds, and insects; improve vegetation health as replacements for ageing trees in the city; and mitigate the urban heat island effect by bringing our inner-city temperatures down whilst reducing air pollution as well.
Dr. Weerasuriya said that rather than planting individual trees in a scattered manner around Colombo, they opted for areas where they are able to plant large numbers of trees – up to 30-40 – adding that they are looking at scouting more locations. Dr. Weerasuriya said they have been in conversation with schools in Colombo and hope to involve environmental associations to further the cause.
He said the FEO proposed to initiate several long-term city tree-planting projects utilising private and public lands within greater Colombo. “Mostly indigenous species will be planted; however, selected exotics will also be chosen based on specific requirements,” he added.
He said the project has a large number of stakeholders including the Government, private sector, and the residents of Colombo. This was evident in their process of seeking approval to plant trees at the Borella and Jawatte Cemeteries, where the Chief Medical Officer of the Colombo Municipal Council (CMC) and both the Catholic and Anglican Church authorities that overlook these spaces gave their consent.
Considering the nature of the project, the FEO is currently on the lookout for volunteers to help plant trees, assist in acquiring approvals, and to also scout for suitable locations for their next project. He added that sponsors are welcome if they wish to sponsor, on a project basis or even on a smaller scale, as they are currently operating on funding by individuals.
Speaking about the benefits of the project, he shared that the city of Colombo is the fastest-growing city in Sri Lanka and as such, the Colombo skyline is constantly changing with the construction of many new office and residential buildings as well as the expansion of roadways and new highways to/from the city of Colombo. However, much like most expansions in urban areas, Colombo’s growth has also taken place without any proper planning.
This kind of expansion can cause damage to existing pockets of forests, landscapes, and green areas in and around cities. The environmental impacts of this rapid urbanisation include increased pollution, increased heat due to the expansion of roads/pavements and tall structures that block out light and wind, and reduced biodiversity in terms of fauna and flora. However, planting trees in urban areas can help to mitigate some of the negative impacts of unplanned and rapid urbanisation, thus making cities more resilient to these changes.