The Mahaweli, meaning ‘Great Sandy River’, is the longest and most revered river in Sri Lanka.
Over decades, the Mahaweli river has been exploited, choked, and dammed for irrigation and energy. Large dams have flooded valleys and made lakes out of wild rivers while rural communities were forcibly evicted from their ancestral lands. Resettlement of communities, deforestation, and habitat loss are just some of the knock-on effects.
Globally, the era of large dams is over, yet in Sri Lanka, hydropower remains the largest renewable energy source, with more projects in the pipeline.
This ongoing series aims to explore the paradox of hydropower and shed light on the hidden cost of renewables by highlighting their ecological and social impacts. The project seeks to focus on lesser-known and under-reported aspects to unpack the downstream consequences and cleaner energy solutions in ways that have not been attempted before.
With Sri Lanka facing an unprecedented economic crisis, fuel shortages, droughts, and power outages, the question of where we source our energy from has never been more important. As the climate crisis intensifies, investing in clean sources of energy is critical. If we are to safeguard the free flowing rivers we have left and work towards a healthier future for our planet, we must ask important questions and ensure we learn from our past and find sustainable alternatives for our future.
This project was conceptualised and first developed from a grant given by the Goethe Institute in Sri Lanka and parts of this work has been exhibited at the 'Humanity and Earth'
group exhibition in Colombo (2020) and Jaffna (2023.). The project was also selected as one of the five recipients for the Visura grant for visual journalists in 2023.