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Land use/cover changes in the war-ravaged Jaffna Peninsula, Sri Lanka, 1984–early 2004

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Temporal and spatial information on land use/cover is a prerequisite for effective planning decisions in the context of social and economic development. Satellite remote sensing data have become increasingly important in the study of land use/cover changes. This paper uses multitemporal satellite data to measure and spatially characterize land use/cover changes in the Jaffna Peninsula, northern Sri Lanka over the two decades from 1984 to early 2004 in terms of potential drivers. Over this period, the Jaffna Peninsula has been impacted severely by armed conflict between the government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. A postclassification method is used to compare land use/cover classes from satellite images using Geographical Information Systems (GIS) to analyze the spatial pattern of land use/cover changes over the study period. Results indicate that the land use/cover pattern has been very dynamic since early the 1980s, showing a remarkable decrease in agricultural land use and concomitant increase in non-agricultural land uses. The ethnic conflict and its consequences, particularly large-scale population migrations, have been the main driving forces for such land use/cover changes in the Jaffna Peninsula. The results of this study are not only important in aiding efforts to reconstruct this area after decades of physical and socioeconomic devastation, but should also prompt similarly urgent studies in other inaccessible war-torn areas of the world.
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Keywords: GIS; Jaffna Peninsula; ethnic conflict; high security zone; land use/land cover change; remote sensing

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Geography, University of Jaffna, Thirunelveli, Jaffna, Sri Lanka

Publication date: 2008-07-01

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