Drought disrupts ‘Yala’ season | Sunday Observer

Drought disrupts ‘Yala’ season

14 July, 2019
A  woman digging for Lotus yams in the dried up Bogamuwa tank in  Arachchikattuwa, in a bid to fend for the children of her drought hit  farming family.                   Pix: Prasad Purnamal
A woman digging for Lotus yams in the dried up Bogamuwa tank in Arachchikattuwa, in a bid to fend for the children of her drought hit farming family. Pix: Prasad Purnamal

The Agriculture Department warned that the harsh, dry weather conditions gripping the country at present will disrupt the Yala season and said that the entire crop of some farmers may have been destroyed.

The drought which has affected over half a million people in 105 DS divisions in 18 districts, is expected to intensify in the coming days despite some showers having been experienced in parts of Sabaragamuwa, Central, Western, Eastern and North-Western provinces and in Mannar, Galle and Matara districts last week.

Agriculture Director General, Dr.W.M.W.Weerakoon, said the Department is yet to measure the full scale of the disaster and that a report was due by this week. Despite intermittent thundershowers the dry spell, which has prevailed during the past two and a half months, has affected eight provinces.

Last year 363,000 hectares of paddy land was cultivated during the Yala season with the southwestern monsoon, ( May - end August) and the harvest stood at 1.53 million metric tons.

Bitter disappointment

With some promising showers in the first few weeks at the onset of the Yala season in May, paddy farmers were full of hope but they faced a bitter disappointment. The weather gods deceived the farmers. “The showers stopped three weeks later and there has not been sufficient rainfall to sustain the paddy fields thus far,” said the Director General confirming what the Farmer Societies said.

One of the hardest hit areas is the Puttalam district with some parts not having rain for six months. The Farmer Societies lamented that the rainfall for the whole of the past year had been insufficient for cultivated land in the district. The statistics show a shocking state of affairs. Out of the 1380 irrigation tanks in the Puttlam district, almost 800 have been depleted due to the current drought.

“We have a very pathetic situation in our areas. We have to face floods after every heavy rainfall and drought conditions affect our agriculture after the shortest dry spell,” Bogamuwa Farmer Society President, Udeni Pushpakumara, said adding that they needed a better irrigation system to protect their crops, emphasising that it was a life and death situation for them every year.

The Agriculture Director General who is stationed in Peradeniya was busy attending meetings in Colombo on Thursday and Friday to plan ahead and suggest measures to the Government to cushion the effects of expected crop damage due to the drought.

The Agriculture Department is currently taking a census of the damage to cultivated land and has warned that if precautions are not taken immediately, the effects of the present drought will be detrimental to the country.

Drinking water

According to the Disaster Management Centre, by Thursday last week over half a million people in 158,000 families were affected by the drought. The consequences were felt by almost the entire country.

“We have spent Rs.50 million so far to provide drinking water to the critically affected,” Deputy Director, Disaster Management Centre Pradeep Kodippili said. He said 120,000 people are being supplied drinking water via bowsers and water tanks by last week.

The DMC has provided 600 water bowsers to each district severely affected by the drought. However, a compensation scheme is yet to be devised. “The compensation will be calculated according to the agriculture department estimates of the crop damage,” he said.

Met Department Deputy Director for Research and International Affairs, Dr.Shiromani Jayawardena said that according to the long term forecast there will be less rainfall than usual in July, August and September. “This might change due to short term weather conditions but the dry spell is expected to continue for some time,” she warned.

Dr.Jayawardena said the country was currently experiencing a weak El-nino condition, hence, the high temperatures experienced as a result were also aggravating the issue.

“We had a good rainfall in October and November last year but the extreme hot weather has increased the rate of evaporation,” she said pointing out the reasons for the surface water shortage.