A decade ago, the idea of a Sri Lankan city that rivaled the world’s leading financial hubs seemed implausible. From 1983 to 2009, the nation was ravaged by a brutal civil war between its military and an insurgent group called the Tamil Tigers. By the end of the conflict, hundreds of thousands of civilians had been killed and the city had spent more than $200 billion on war costs.
Less than 10 years later, the nation has devised a plan for bringing jobs and economic opportunity to its capital city, Colombo. The most populous city in Sri Lanka, Colombo has about 750,000 residents in its urban core. Through the development of a new metropolis inside the capital, officials estimate that Colombo could eventually double in size.
Though the concept of Port City originated in 2004, its plans were delayed by the war. Sri Lanka went on to see an influx of Chinese investment, which the country put toward major infrastructure improvements. The partnership ran into trouble when Sri Lanka had difficulty repaying its debt, however, while China was accused of using its investments to wield political influence.
In 2014, Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe suspended the Port City project, citing concerns about damage to the coastline. This angered the project’s investor, China Communications Construction Company, which claimed to be losing $380,000 a day while the development was in limbo. By 2016, the plan was back in motion with a new set of environmental protections.
According to the site’s developer, China Harbour Engineering Company, the project is still on track to complete its reclamation efforts and the first phase of infrastructure by 2020. Port City is set to be finished in 2041, at which point its costs could reach $15 billion.
Here’s what it might look like in the future.
China Harbour Engineering Company plans to add 65 million cubic meters (about 17 billion gallons) of sand along the shore.
China Harbour Engineering Company recently obtained a permit allowing it to dredge 5 kilometers from the coastline and only at depths at or below 15 meters. The organization is also prohibited from dredging in areas near reef habitats or fishing grounds.
To account for the economic cost to local fishermen, the company has set aside nearly $7 million to be distributed among fishing associations over three years.