I am excited to launch Mapping Mahaweli, which is the project I created as part of the CHI graduate fellowship. Mapping Mahaweli is a website that is based on the Accelerated Mahaweli Development Program (AMDP). This is Sri Lanka’s largest multipurpose national development program, initiated in 1961, aimed at large-scale development of the Mahaweli basin in a number of directions, including agricultural production, irrigation systems, resettlement of people, and flood mitigation.

My inspiration for this project is my dissertation research that focuses on household water insecurity in communities where Chronic Kidney Disease of uncertain etiology is prevalent. CKDu is reported from several areas that are connected to the AMDP. Often, in my conversations around water insecurity, people shared with me their experiences coming to these areas in the “dry zones,” which made me realize the importance of looking at historical data of the AMDP. While I was exploring literature on the AMDP I realized that much of the historical data on the project are not digitally accessible. The Mapping Mahaweli Project intends to cater to the research needs of fellow researchers interested in Sri Lankan or South Asian Studies.

On the process of the building the website…Mapping Mahaweli website is built using a free bootstrap template that I downloaded from https://startbootstrap.com. While there were points where I was frustrated when I couldn’t figure out how to change certain things the way I wanted in their CSS file, overall, I am quite happy about the aesthetics and functionality of the basic template I used. In what follows I will briefly introduce an overview of each page of the website.

The homepage/landing page introduces the user to the Mapping Mahaweli project, and it also includes a brief section on how to navigate the website. The map documents two main points of construction of the AMDP: (1) dams and (2) Town centers established under the Mahaweli colonization schemes. While this is not a comprehensive map, it is my expectation that these marked points will give the users a sense of the expansion of the development project. I used Leadlet.js to create this map. The map initializes with a base layer called “Mahaweli Constructions” provided by MapTiler. Then, there are two groups of markers added as overlays: “Dams constructed under the AMDP” and “Town Centers established under the AMDP.” The users have the option to view dams and town centers simultaneously or separately. Each marker contains more details and pictures of the dams and a brief description of the system the town center belongs to. As someone who was completely new to the coding world, I always found the video tutorials available online particularly helpful when I was stuck while building the map.

Mahaweli Memories are written as a recollection of stories that the settlers of the AMDP shared with me during my pre-dissertation fieldwork in various locations in Ampara and Anuradhapura. I have compiled this collection of stories as a way of archiving resettled people’s memories around the AMDP. Also, I use my own sketches and photographs to create these stories. Sometimes, I also offer an analysis of the stories. I have anonymized the names of locations and people. These stories that are grounded in people’s memories and every day realities shed light on the dynamics of techno-politics of a development project. I plan to incorporate more Mahaweli Memories into this website as I generate more ethnographic data.

The last two subpages, “About the AMDP” (coming soon) and “About the Author,” introduce the user to the AMDP and myself, respectively. Since most of the historical documents written about the AMDP that I found at the University of Peradeniya Library are in Sinhala, I included the “About AMDP” page, particularly with non-local researchers who are interested in Sri Lanka in mind. I expect to expand this section as I collect and review further writings on the AMDP.

Overall, building this website has been a beautiful learning experience. I’m thankful to the CHI fellowship for this great learning opportunity.