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.

Having spent countless hours hiking these landscapes and exploring the watersheds that feed these rivers, I have witnessed first-hand many of these impacts. 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.

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.