Published on: April 23, 2024

Iranian President to Visit Island for the Inauguration of UOMDP Tomorrow

Five MoUs Set to be Signed Between the Two Nations.

  • 290 GWh to be Contributed to the National Grid.
  • 4500 Hectares of New Agricultural Land and 1500 Hectares of Existing Land Irrigated.
  • Project to Meet Water Needs in Badulla, Monaragala and Hambantota Regions.

In a significant diplomatic moment, the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Dr. Ebrahim Raisi, is set to visit the island nation tomorrow (24). His visit is in response to a special invitation extended by President Ranil Wickremasinghe, marking the first visit of an Iranian President to Sri Lanka since former President Dr. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s visit in April 2008.

During his one-day official visit, President Raisi will participate in a public ceremony marking the inauguration of the Uma Oya Multipurpose Development Project (UOMDP) scheduled for tomorrow (24) morning. This project, following the Mahaweli Development Project, is one of the largest irrigation projects in Sri Lanka.

A highlight of President Raisi’s visit will be the signing of five memorandums of understanding (MoUs), aimed at bolstering bilateral relations between Iran and Sri Lanka. The ceremony, chaired by the presidents of Iran and Sri Lanka, will symbolize the cooperation between the two nations in this significant infrastructure endeavour.

The Uma Oya Multipurpose Development Project (UOMDP) is a significant endeavour of utmost importance to Sri Lanka. Its primary objective is to alleviate water scarcity in the southeastern dry region of the country by redirecting an annual average of 145 million cubic meters (MCM) of excess water from the Uma Oya basin to the Kirindi Oya basin. It is crucial to note that this redirection is executed with meticulous attention to minimize any adverse effects on the environment and pre-existing water sources.

As a result of this project, approximately 4,500 hectares of new land and 1,500 hectares of existing agricultural land in the Monaragala district will receive irrigation water. Moreover, the areas of Badulla, Monaragala, and Hambantota will benefit from 39 million cubic meters (MCM) of water for drinking and industrial purposes, while generating and adding 290 GWh of electrical energy annually to the National Grid.

The project encompasses the construction of two reservoirs at Puhulpola and Dyraaba, a conveyance tunnel (Link Tunnel) spanning 3.98 kilometers to connect the two reservoirs, a 15.2-kilometer-long Head Race Tunnel, Surge Shaft, Pressure Shaft, Underground Powerhouse, Switchyard, Transmission line, Tailrace Tunnel, and related infrastructure.

Pursuant to an Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) executed between the Minister of Petroleum and Petroleum Resources Development on behalf of Government of Sri Lanka and the Minister of Energy of Islamic Republic of Iran on November 27, 2007, the Cabinet of Ministers approved the execution of the Contract Agreement between the Executing Agency, Ministry of Irrigation and Water Management of Sri Lanka and Farab Energy and Water Projects (Farab Company) of Iran dated April 28, 2008 to implement the “Uma Oya Multipurpose Development Project” by Farab Company, as an Engineering, Procurement and Construction (EPC) contract.

Accordingly, Farab Company has undertaken the detailed feasibility studies, prepared detailed engineering designs, procured all materials, equipment and machinery, and carried out the physical construction, installation, testing and commissioning of the project. The total contract sums amount to USD 514 million and the contract became effective on March 15, 2010. Initially, the Export Development Bank of Iran (EDBI) funded USD 50 million until 2013. However, due to international sanctions against Iran, they were unable to continue providing funds for the project. Therefore, the Government of Sri Lanka decided to proceed with the project using government funds while continuing with the same contractor, Farab Company.

When the project commenced on March 15, 2010, its scheduled completion date was March 15, 2015. However, due to various factors such as technical issues, particularly unexpected water ingress into the Headrace tunnel (HRT), social impacts, financial challenges, and disruptions caused by the global Covid-19 pandemic during the construction period, the completion date has been extended to March 31, 2024.

Additionally, the overall project period, including the defect and liability period, has been extended to March 31, 2025.

The project completed its commissioning phase in February and March 2024, successfully synchronizing Units 01 and 02 with the national grid. It then proceeded to complete its trial operations on April 1, 2024.

The Uma Oya Multipurpose Development Project involves significant engineering challenges, particularly due to the 700-meter difference in height between Bandarawela and Wellawaya. Adjusting the tunnel route at such a height is a complex task. Additionally, the construction of a deep pressure shaft to channel water onto turbines is an unprecedented feat. Such innovative engineering solutions are rarely seen globally, making the completion of this project a remarkable achievement.

Following the completion of the Uma Oya Multipurpose Development Project, the project components will be transferred to the operating authorities, namely the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) and the Mahaweli Authority of Sri Lanka (MASL). This transition will occur after the Ministry of Irrigation takes over the project components from the contractor.

Once electricity is generated, the water is directed through a tunnel to the Alikota Ara Reservoir, built across a tributary of the Kirindi Oya. From there, it is further diverted to the Handapanagala Reservoir, which has been expanded threefold as part of the project. Additionally, water is channeled to the new Kuda Oya Reservoir, currently under construction on the right bank. These reservoirs facilitate irrigation in areas such as Wellawaya, Maharagama, Thanamalvila, and Balaharutha in the Monaragala District.

An irrigation system spanning over 60 meters in length is currently being constructed. It is anticipated that this system will supply irrigation water to 1,500 hectares of already cultivated land and an additional 4,500 hectares of newly developed land, supporting agricultural activities in both the Yala and Maha seasons.

The Uma Oya Downstream Development Project, facilitated directly by the Irrigation Department, is poised to alleviate the longstanding water scarcity issues in the Kirindi Oya Basin. Under the guidance of the government, officials have been directed to execute an integrated agricultural development initiative leveraging modern technology to optimize water utilization. Additionally, the Uma Oya Multipurpose Development Project has effectively addressed the challenge of supplying water for both domestic and industrial purposes in the Bandarawela and Wellawaya regions.

The historical ties between Sri Lanka and Iran date back centuries, predating the formal establishment of diplomatic relations. Initially, interactions between the two nations were primarily centered around the Strait of Hormuz during the Persian era. Formal diplomatic relations were officially established in 1962. Iran established its mission in Colombo in 1975, while Sri Lanka reciprocated by establishing its mission in Tehran in January 1990. Over the years, both countries have maintained close cooperation across various sectors and have consistently supported each other in multilateral forums. High-level visits between the two nations have been a regular occurrence, further solidifying their bilateral relationship.

Iranian development assistance to Sri Lanka primarily consists of loans, with a focus on enhancing infrastructure, irrigation, and power sectors. Sri Lanka has already repaid USD 19,301,572.6 to Iran, with a remaining gross payable amount of USD 35,246,022.56.

Sri Lanka and Iran have collaborated closely within the United Nations and its affiliated agencies, offering mutual support on matters of shared concern. Both nations are active members of various international and regional organizations, including the Asian Cooperation Dialogue (ACD), the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), and the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA).

Sri Lanka has granted approval for Mahan Air flights between the two nations, anticipating increased tourism from Iran to Sri Lanka and bolstered cooperation in aviation. In 2022, Iran ranked 27th among countries with the highest international tourist arrivals in Sri Lanka, experiencing notable growth compared to 2021. By June 2023, Sri Lanka had welcomed 5,973 Iranian tourists.

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