People in many more districts are facing ruin because of the unprecedented drought, while farmer groups are insisting that the government pay Rs 50,000 for every acre destroyed. Farmers charge that government incompetence and corruption has made the situation worse. Some estimates suggest that at least a million Sri Lankans are desperate. Government officials say [...]


Drought-bungling and graft-cries rise from a desperate million


Dying fish in the dried up Ridigama Wewa In Hambantota. Pic by Rahul Samantha Hettiarachchi

People in many more districts are facing ruin because of the unprecedented drought, while farmer groups are insisting that the government pay Rs 50,000 for every acre destroyed. Farmers charge that government incompetence and corruption has made the situation worse.

Some estimates suggest that at least a million Sri Lankans are desperate.

Government officials say money has been made available to provide drinking water and rice is being imported.

Latest data from the Disaster Management Ministry show 845,343 people in 16 districts are suffering in the drought. In the Western Province alone, with a 298,848 are badly affected.

Gampaha and Kalutara are the worst affected. In Gampaha, 101,516 have been identified as victims, while in Kalutara there are 197,332.

Gampaha, Assistant District Secretary, Prasad Indika, said out of 13 divisional secretariat areas, eight have been badly affected.

“The situation is terrible. Dompe was added recently to the list. The conditions are becoming worse,” he said.

In the district, 252 water tanks have been placed for the collective use of the public. These tanks are being filled by using 9 water tankers operated under the District Secretariat with the assistance of Pradeshiya Sabhas.

“It is challenging to supply water to 23,845 families with only nine water tankers. We have requested a few more from the army. If the situation worsens we might have to seek the support of non-government organisations as well,” he said.

The Attanagalu Oya flowing across the district is in danger of drying out, said T D Wijesuriya, divisional irrigation engineer in the Gampaha district.

“The meter reading of the Attanagalu Oya was -0.22 m (according to a reference  scale) on Friday. This is a severe stage.’’

He warned of a possible severe drinking water shortage by mid-March. “Water pumped from the Attanagalu Oya was distributed to mitigate the drinking water scarcity. If this also dries up, it will be serious,” he said.

In the Northern Province people are desperate. According to the Disaster Management Centre, 14 divisional secretariat areas have been affected in Jaffna district. Relief operations are not functioning in certain parts of the province.

The Disaster management officer of the Polonnaruwa district, Upul Nanayakkara said that at the moment the recent rains have helped to ease the drinking water shortage.

“All the paddy lands have been cultivated except in Kawudulla and Girithale. Discussions are underway with the Ministry of Agriculture to pay compensation to the farmers in the two areas,” he said.

However, other sources said 50,000 acres of paddy lands out of 150,000 acres that are usually cultivated have been abandoned.

The Director General of the National Disaster Relief Service Centre, Chaminda Pathiraja, said: “The government has granted Rs 50 million through the Treasury to provide drinking water facilities. Another fleet of 100 tractor bowsers and more 1,000 litre water tanks will be bought. The government has provided funds for overtime payments, fuel, hire more bowsers and to buy water.’’

Pathiraja also said 25 metric tonnes of rice from Pakistan will be imported and another 5,000 metric tonnes will be shipped from Indonesia. These would be available in the market by March.

“Officials are gathering data about drought affected farmers to grant relief. Discussions are underway to provide compensation to the farmers. There are proposals to employ them in development projects but a final decision has not been made,” he said.

He said that non-government organisations could assist and all foreign donations could be coordinated via the External Affairs Ministry.

The Department of Meteorology said although light rain can be expected from time to time it wouldn’t be enough to ease drought conditions.

“On 18 and 19 evening showers may occur in most parts of the island except in the Northern Province. In mid March a change in the dry weather will start to occur and by May the drought will totally be over,” predicted duty meteorologist Srimal Herath.

The Assistant Commissioner of the Agrarian Services Department, M L M Sandamali, said the damage to paddy lands is being estimated to calculate compensation.

“A significant decline in the yield is visible in cultivations during this harvesting period. We were able to dig irrigation wells and to pump underground water with the help of the irrigation department for cultivation. In Gampaha district we recovered 3,600 hectares of paddy this way,” she said.

The national organizer of the All Ceylon Farmers Federation, Namal Karunarathna, charged that mismanagement and government corruption were responsible for the crisis. “The government says that the reason for this drought is the low rainfall last year. That’s not the truth. Last year also we received the usual rainfall but the there was a slight difference between the time periods. The problem is the inability to store that.”

He also said the Maha cultivation has failed for the first time in four decades.

“The officials didn’t release water properly last year. The harvest was low as a result. The Padaviya Tank had not been renovated since 1950s,” he said.

Renovations and de-silting of tanks should be done and new tanks should also be built. “The so-called experts have no idea about the technology in irrigation systems as our ancestors had. For example, the Minneriya tank had 62 small tanks known as kulu wewa to control the water flow in the main tank,’’ Karunarathna said.

“The farmers have lost their livelihood completely. Their paddy, vegetable, and corn cultivation have been devastated. We demand the government pay Rs 50,000 for every acre of damaged cultivation and to pay other cultivations according to the damage,” he stressed. “The government cannot refuse that. This is the first compensation farmers have demanded in 40 years for a Maha season.”

UN WFP to help overcome drought related hardshipThe UN World Food Programme (WFP) has come forward to assist Sri Lanka to overcome difficulties faced by the public due to the severe drought prevalent islandwide.The WFP will conduct this programme in partnership with the ministries, non-government organisations and the private sector.

As per the requests made by the Ministry of Disaster Management and the External Resources Dept, for drought related support, WFP’s technical experts conducted a preliminary drought assessment and a report submitted to a ministerial Sub Cabinet meeting on the drought.

In February, the WFP and the Government will lead a joint emergency assessment of the impact of the drought on household food security and livelihoods.

Meanwhile, the WFP is assisting 14,000 farming families in the Mahaweli River Basin, while 72 small tanks will be rehabilitated this year under a Climate Change Adaptation Project.

The WFP has also highlighted the food and nutrition insecurity due to the increased frequency of natural disasters such as floods and droughts.

The WFP noted that the heavy rains received in late January did irreversible damage to the Maha season crops, which resulted in the 2017 harvest being considered the worst in the last decade.

Share This Post


Advertising Rates

Please contact the advertising office on 011 - 2479521 for the advertising rates.