Proactive measures only solution | Sunday Observer

Proactive measures only solution

While one part of the country is finally raising its head from the floods and landslides which occurred a few months back, and attempting to bring back life to normalcy, some other parts are grappling with the drought condition where water supply by the authorities is limited to 5-6 litres per family unit.

In most areas, Divisional Secretariats have installed water tanks at identified locations and refill the tanks daily for people to have access to water. Needless to say, people walk an alarming number of miles to carry the water back home.

The latest situation report released by the Disaster Management Centre has identified 16 districts as being affected by the drought. However, according to the Secretary to the Ministry of Disaster Management, S. S Miyanwala, they have now started providing drinking water to 75 Divisional Secretariats falling under 13 Districts identified as severely hit by the drought conditions.

“We have made arrangements to provide drinking water to the hard hit areas. However, according to the weather forecast we can expect scattered showers in the coming months and by the end of September inter-monsoon showers will occur. Therefore the situation would improve to some extent once the rainy season begins,” Secretary Miyanwala said, speaking to the Sunday Observer.

But, the question arises whether the inter-monsoonal rains would suffice to overcome the drought. Speaking to the Sunday Observer, Principal Scientist - Climatology, Department of Agriculture, Dr. Ranjith Punyawardane says, it is doubtful whether the coming rains will take the country out of its prevailing condition.

According to the Jaffna District Secretary, N. Vethanayahan, the worst hit district is Delft. Animals are equally suffering with the scarcity of water which does not suffice even to quench their thirst. The water has become muddy and unsuitable for drinking.

“The worst hit areas in the district are Delft, Kayts, Velani, Waranagar and Chavakacheri. Our Divisional Secretariat has nine tractor bowsers and one lorry, bowsers and we have been distributing drinking water to the affected areas. We will be getting another lorry bowser and three more tractor bowsers to supply drinking water to the affected areas and so increase the water dispatch centres,” Vethanayahan said.

At present, more than 100 temporary water tanks have been erected in the Jaffna District and 60 more are required to meet the current demand. According to the Divisional Secretary, 60 more have been requested which would be installed in the coming weeks.

Of the 16 divisions in the Puttalam District, drinking water distribution is carried out in 14 divisions using 22 tractor bowsers. However, according to the Puttalam Divisional Secretariat the water bowsers being used are not sufficient and more have been requested.

“Monetary allocations have been approved to purchase more water bowsers and we have called for quotations. Once we get them, we should be able to enhance the water supply. We have been supplying water for the past two months now,” Divisional Secretary of the Puttalam District N. H. M Chithrananda told the Sunday Observer.

He expressed concern over the limited water resources, stating that very soon the natural water sources will not be sufficient to continue for long. As proactive measures, 40 tanks in the district have been cleaned and refurbished. Other abandoned wells in areas identified to have water, are being renovated, he said.

“Merely distributing drinking water is not sufficient. What we have to ensure is that water sources are secured and used properly without any wastage,” Chithrananda said.

“In some areas people walk a good 20 to 30 kilometres just to get drinking water. So we need to increase the water distribution points,” Miyanwala said.

The drought, similar to the floods and landslides that seriously affected a large part of the country has burdened the government immensely. In the Puttalam District alone, over 300 temporary 10 litre water tanks are installed to distribute water and the daily cost for distribution per bowser amounts to about Rs 30,000.

The government paid as compensation, a sum of Rs 10,000 per family unit for the loss of crop, and further drought relief has been distributed in the affected areas.

People are not the only ones affected by the drought. Animals too now tend to gather at identified water resources. Speaking to the Sunday Observer, Researcher at the Centre for Conservation and Research, Sampath Ekanayake says, he has informed relevant authorities to provide water to identified locations where animals gather in search of water.

“We see animals gathering near whatever the remaining water sources and grass to quench their thirst,” says Sampath.

Effect on cultivation

Principal Scientist - Climatology Dr. Ranjith Punyawardane raises concerns that this year has produced the least harvest when compared to the past decade, due to the drought.

The total cultivation during the 2017 Yala season was 254,967 hectares. This is only 64 percent of the targeted cultivation for this year while the paddy production forecast stands at 0.988 million metric tons.

“This year’s Yala season paddy production stands at 35 percent lower in comparison to last year’s paddy production,” Dr. Punyawardane said.

The country’s food security mainly depends on the cultivation in the dry zone and the intermediary dry zone.

Rainfall is expected only towards the latter part of September and will continue in October but the question is whether the intermediary monsoons will bring enough rainfall to overcome the prevailing conditions.

Dr. Punyawardana expresses doubt saying that when taking into account the current conditions in the atmosphere it is very much unlikely that a heavy rainfall, enough to lug the country out of this situation, will occur.

“At present, we face a serious situation with the water levels of major tanks and reservoirs at a record low. By September, these water levels will further deplete. If we are to have a good Maha season this year, the September rainfall should be at a very high level, which I doubt,” Dr. Punyawardana lamented.

Accordingly, the water level of the Kotmale reservoir stands at, roughly 30 percent while the water level of Victoria is a mere 20 percent and Randenigala 10 percent. The Senanayake Samudraya which is considered the biggest tank in Sri Lanka also contains only about 10 percent of its water.

“At present, a gray situation exists with regard to the Maha season,” Dr. Punyawardana said.

The drought condition, just like the floods, is not something new or that which has taken the country by surprise. This condition has had a bearing on both the Yala and Maha seasons during 2016 and the Yala season this year.


“In similar events governments and institutions will have the options of adopting reactive responses as well as proactive responses. Unfortunately, we only seek for reactive responses and try to settle the problem only for the time being,” Dr. Punyawardana said.

Increasing the resilience of the community to face such dire situations, adopting methods of conserving and storing water when we have it in abundance, and constructing more reservoirs and tanks, are some of the proactive measures that can be adopted.

Conservation and preservation of the central highlands must be done immediately and more effectively, as this is what helps maintain the natural water sources.

Until and unless the authorities take necessary action to adopt proactive measures to face these natural catastrophes, the country will be eternally burdened with unnecessary expenses and hindrance to the country’s development. For as long as climate change happens, we will be faced with similar natural disasters, he said.