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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2556

The Central Hill Country: Geographical heartland (Hadabima) of Sri Lank (New gegraphical interpretation - Central Hill Country)

By Sudath Gunasekara (SLAS)

The central hill country of Sri Lanka, a roughly triangular mountainous area located at the south-central part of the Island is the most important geographical sub-region in the Island. It is defined as the land that lies above the 300 m contour and it covers roughly about 20% of the total area of the Island. Virtually it has determined and dictated the geographical landscape of this country through out its history. The physiography, climate, drainage pattern and the physical and cultural landscape of the Island had been decisively influenced by it. The influence it has exerted on the Islands geopolitical history too cannot be easily overlooked.

Fig.1 Source : Sudath Gunasekara , 1991Fig.1 Source : Sudath Gunasekara , 1991

First of all, if you look at the physiographic map of the hill country after turning it clockwise until you place Rakwana hills on the west and Dumbara hills on the east, you will notice that by way of analogy, it resembles a ‘HEART flanked by two LUNGS’ on either side; Rakwana and Dumbara forming the two ‘LUNGS’ and the central massif ‘THE HEART’. The rivers represent the arteries that carry the ‘blood’. The analogy could be clearly observed by superimposing the blood circulatory system over the morphological map of the central highlands, turned 90 degrees clockwise. So you will notice that by way of analogy the central hill country of Sri Lanka resembles a ‘HEART’.

Fig.2 - Source: Hydrological Survey DepartmentFig.2 - Source: Hydrological Survey Department

Secondly, it provides the source for all the rivers in the Island. Out of a total of 103 rivers, nearly forty have their sources on these high watersheds. Draining down the hills and the coastal lowlands all around and sculpturing the landscape they form the live arteries that keep the Islands entire life system alive.

The rivers transport the excess water that falls from the heavens along with the water released by the sub-surface in to the high seas. The forest cover and the sub-surface absorb part of the rainfall and a part passed back to the atmosphere by way of evapo-transpiration. The same water thus returns as rain through the process of evaporation and precipitation activated by solar radiation and atmospheric circulation. Once again the excess water is transported back to the seas by the rivers. This process continues without a beginning or an end. This we call the hydrological cycle.

When you carefully observe this process you will see a close affinity between this circulation and the blood circulation in a human body. As much as the heart does the purification as well as pumping out and in of blood and keeps the being alive the central

hill country also technically does its ‘purification’ and ‘pumping out and in’ and keeps the entire life system in the Island alive. Thus functionally too, it resembles a heart.

If these rivers cease to flow in their sources due to deforestation, land degradation or any other reason they will also cease to flow in their entire lengths and as a result the above functional process will also come to an end. The country will turn in to a desert. Then the entire life system on this Island will disappear from its surface. This will draw the curtain on the Islands civilization as well.

Accordingly, just as the beat of the heart decides the fate of a being, even so, the physical and hydrological stability of the central hill country will decide the fate of the entire life system in this country. The day the hill country stops its normal functioning the beginning of the end of the Islands entire life system will firmly set in. Therefore just as the heart is the most important life-giving agent in human anatomy, in the same way the Central Hill Country is the life-giving agent in the body of Sri Lanka. This is why I take the liberty to call the ‘Heartland’ (Hadabima) of Sri Lanka.

Besides the Islands relatively small size and its geographical location in relation to the global wind belts and the upper atmospheric circulations, the location of the hill country and the islands peculiar physiography have made it virtually dependent on the hill country for the rainfall pattern and the sustenance of its life system. It also acts as a giant natural reservoir or sponge that retains millions of gallons of water both underground and over ground. It plays a vital role in rainmaking and also functions as a climatic regulator. This is a unique situation for any country in the world. The central hill country with its forest cover intact could also be described as the Islands biggest natural reservoir

If you consider the quantum of water that is stored by a grown up tree, one can imagine the enormous volume of water that would be stored by the forest cover that envelopes these watersheds spanning over 20% of the Islands total area. These watersheds also store an enormous volume of water in its underground layers, which helps to recharge the entire drainage pattern of the Island. The springs, that spring up, right round the hill country, would not have been there, if not for these central hills. These springs make the rivers perennial. Thus, the hill country maintains the physical and hydrological stability of the central watersheds, which is perhaps the most crucial factor in sustaining the Islands life system.

The forest cover on these watersheds acts as a protective umbrella for the hill country. Besides many other functions, they protect and enrich the surface soil layer, provide ecological balance and sustain the physical and hydrological stability of the Island. More trees on the one hand mean less surface run-off, less erosion, less earth slips and less flashfloods and less siltation in riverbeds and down stream areas. On the other hand more trees also means more rain, more water, higher water table, better soil layer, better irrigation, higher hydroelectricity potential, cheap power, more fauna and flora, higher biodiversity, optimum ecological balance, more crops, better agriculture, more industries, more employment, more people and finally better and higher standards of life for the people.

Source : Sudath Gunasekara , 1991Source : Sudath Gunasekara , 1991

An unprotected, degraded and barren hill country on the other hand will leave us with rivers without water, powerhouses without power and finally, land without forests and life.

The day the forest cover is no more on these hills, the rivers will cease to flow and the heartland will stops all its normal functions. The day the heartland stops functioning, the curtain will fall on the civilization of this Island. It is in this logical perspective, I believe, that we should try to understand the critical importance of protecting the hill country as the country’s ‘Geographical Heartland’ in order to protect and sustain the life system on this Island, with the same care and caution that we take to protect our hearts.

"Those who protect the forests that envelope the central hills protect the watersheds; those who protect the watersheds protect the brooks, streams and rivers arising there from and also the soil and the entire life system thereon and those who protect the brooks, streams, rivers, and the life system will protect the totality of civilization on this Island."

(I suggest this perspective be introduced to all students of geography at school level)

PS: The word "HADABIMA" is now used in Sri Lanka to designate the former NADSA project. It is also widely used by geographers and journalists today to describe the central hill country. But unfortunately no one knows the history behind the origin of this word. As such I must mention it here for record purposes that it was I who coined this word in 1991to rename the NADSA Project. For the NADSA project it meant Haritha Danav Bim Sanvardhana Madhyama Adikariya (HADABIMA). But for the Central hill country it simply means the Heart Land

- Asian Tribune -

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