by Yang Meiju, Jamila Najmuddin
COLOMBO, April 5 (Xinhua) -- Sinhala Pedige Athanayake, a Sri Lankan farmer in his late 50s, is now enjoying his life to the fullest.
Sitting under a shade in his house, Athanayake resides in a small village located between Anuradhapura and Trincomalee situated in Sri Lanka's northeast district, around 300 km from capital Colombo.
In a few months, Athanayake will be moving out of his house and settling in a new village. The land he owns will soon be filled with water as part of the mega Yan Oya Irrigation Project, which is a Sri Lanka-China cooperated project, aimed at improving the lives of farmers in the remote areas.
"I was born in this house and have lived here all my life. It is sad that I have to leave but I know it is for the best. My life has improved a lot since I started working for this project and I know it will benefit my children and other farmers too," Athanayake said.
The area where this farmer's house is located belongs to a tropical marine climate zone. The area experiences a dry climate throughout the year with distinct rains.
The farmers, here, have suffered from the low production of agriculture for years due to the lack of water.
However, the farmers are now hoping once the Yan Oya Irrigation project is completed, it will provide water to over 10,000 farmer families.
The project, costing Rs. 36 billion, aims to increase crop intensity in the Yala and Maha seasons and facilitates villagers with drinking water.
It is being constructed by China CAMC Engineering Company.
"This project is mostly built for public welfare," Zheng Zhihong, deputy general manager of the No. 4 Engineering Department of CAMCE, told Xinhua.
Zheng explained that the Yan Oya project would provide water for irrigation purposes and would expand irrigational area to 6,346 hectares. It would also increase the paddy crop.
After the construction of the proposed reservoir, the nearby lakes would also be suitable for developing fisheries and livestock.
Following the construction of the main project, a shorter road to Trincomalee, which would be less than 30 Km, will be also completed.
Zheng said the people in the area would have a continuous drinking water supply and more than 12,000 families would benefit direct and indirectly from the reservoir.
Along with the immense benefits, the Yan Oya project has also improved the lives of the local people through the available job opportunities.
As the first local to be recruited at the project office, Athanayake said his life had improved immensely.
"I was recruited to be in charge of security of the project as I was educated and fluent in my English. Later my son in law also joined the team and was able to get a higher salary. With this project my family was able to beat poverty," Athanayake said.
Athanayake and his son in law earn Rs. 100,000 a month (around 680 U.S. dollars).
"This is much higher for local people in this area. We bought one truck under a loan and leased it out. The loan will be repaid in August this year. Our lives have turned for the better," Athanayake said.
According to Zheng, the total construction period of the Yan Oya Irrigation Project is 172 weeks. The work began in February 2015 and will be completed by June 2018. And for now 93 percent of total work has been completed, with 11 percent advance in progress.
"There are over 1,200 employees among them almost 1,000 employees are from the local area," Zheng said.
There are more people like Athanayake whose lives have changed due to the construction of this project, especially in northern Sri Lanka which suffered from decades of terrorism.
Most of the people in the north, especially the youth who had not gained an education due to years of conflict are now benefitting from the construction of this project.
"The Yan Oya Irrigation Project provides a large number of job opportunities. We even offer training to young people who have no experience," Zheng said.
"Thanks to this project, the old school in the area has been repaired and upgraded. The run-down, narrow road was flattened and widened. A bridge was built across the Yan Oya river so people now have easy access. I can't fully express my thanks and gratefulness to the Chinese company and China," Athanayake told Xinhua.
Wickramatillaka Palitha, a Sri Lankan irrigation Officer, said the local people and officials are now eagerly awaiting the completion of the project.
Based on the present progress, the project will be completed one year ahead of schedule.