Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka: Clearing landmines, freeing an entrepreneurial spirit

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For 32 years, MAG has been driven by our vision of a safe future for everyone affected by violence, conflict and insecurity. MAG is taking this week to thank our supporters for helping us to reach more than 20 million women, men, girls, and boys in 70 countries across the world. The story below is from 2019.

In Mannar district in northern Sri Lanka, the Periyamadu reservoir (known as the "tank" locally) is more than just a source of clean drinking water − it is a source of life and supports livelihoods.

Kokulan, 48, is just one of the many people that rely on the reservoir − the largest of its kind in Mannar.

Kokulan and his family only returned to their homeland in 2010, to Kachchanamaradamadu, five miles outside of Periyamadu. They, like many of the families trapped amid the bitter Sri Lankan civil war, had fled their home in 2007.

Despite the fighting ending in 2009, the deadly legacy of three-decades of conflict lives on.

It was Kokulan that alerted MAG teams to the deadly remnants of war that littered the site of the reservoir.

"Between 2010-2012, 12 cows from my herd died in and around the Periyamadu tank area," Kokulan explains. It was his cows that paid the ultimate price for accidentally triggering landmines — but it could have been Kokulan.

MAG deminers have now been able to clear the mines from the Periyamadu reservoir site. This is great news for Kokulan, and many others in the Kachchanamaradamadu community. Cattle grazing isn't the only livelihood the site supports.

"I catch 10-20 kg of fish per day from the Periyamadu. The lowest price I sell this fish is LKR 150 (about 64p) per kg. I sell my catch to a businessman who collects the fish I catch and takes to Colombo to sell," says Kokulan.

The jungle around the Periyamadu reservoir also provides a seasonal income. Every year, between April and August, Kokulan sets out with two of his friends in search of honey. They collect three to five bottles a day.

Before MAG arrived to clear Periyamadu, Kokulan and his friends lived in constant fear that one day they wouldn't return from a honey-hunting expedition.

"Before clearance, I see the ground and go as I am afraid of the landmines. Now I look up and go when I’m collecting honey. I’m no longer afraid," says Kokulan.

Freed from fear, Kokulan has been able to embrace his entrepreneurial spirit.

Kahchnamaradamadu is located close to the National Shrine of Our Lady of Madhu, a site which draws thousands of religious devotees every summer.

Now Periyamadu is clear, Kokulan collects wood from the site and sells it to the worshippers to build their camps, earning his family an additional income every summer.