Sept 13 (NYT) The four-lane highway leading out of the Sri Lankan town of Hambantota gets so little traffic that it sometimes attracts more wild elephants than automobiles.
The pachyderms are intelligent - they seem to use the road as a jungle shortcut - but not intelligent enough, alas, to appreciate the pun their course embodies: It links together a series of white elephants, i.e. boondoggles, built and financed by the Chinese. Beyond the lonely highway itself, there is a 35,000-seat cricket stadium, an almost vacant $1.5 billion deepwater port and, 16 miles inland, a $209 million jewel known as "the world's emptiest international airport."
Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport, the second-largest in Sri Lanka, is designed to handle a million passengers per year. It currently receives about a dozen passengers per day. Business is so slow that the airport has made more money from renting out the unused cargo terminals for rice storage than from flight-related activities. In one burst of activity last year, 350 security personnel armed with firecrackers were deployed to scare off wild animals, the airport's most common visitors.