are distributing water by bowser and have also repaired and
cleaned 300 of the 700-odd tube wells in the district.
relief in the form of food is also being provided to about
2,000 families," District Secretary Ananda Amaratunga
explains, setting out the immediate steps taken by the the
government to alleviate the suffering of the drought stricken.
Services Department has earmarked funds to provide water and
also drought relief amounting to Rs. 3.5 million.
department scheme is providing nutritional food to about 6,000
expectant mothers. Several non-governmental organisations
are also helping out.
officials battle the drought to save paddy crops in Hambantota.
Kumudini Hettiarachchi reports
Women carrying dripping 'buli' - 20 litre cans - tractors stopped
by small waterways pumping water into tanks with motors and small
groups of women and children clustered round bowsers filling pots
and pans with water are some of the sights that can be seen, not
as frequently as last year, but in the remote corners of this arid
be seen is the desperate battle being waged by irrigation officials
in a last ditch effort to save crops in this district which is in
the grip of a drought.
is the dry period anyway. But the rains which came after the drought
last year, were insufficient and drought conditions are persisting,"
says District Secretary Ananda Amaratunga.
small showers in April did not fill up the tanks. In certain areas
drinking water has become a problem and agriculture is also affected,
says Mr. Amaratunga who administers this second most impoverished
district next to Moneragala.
Lunugamvehera tank. Pix by M.A. Pushpa Kumara
than 100,000 of a population of 525,000 are affected by drought
and the worst off divisions are Hambantota, Sooriyawewa, Lunugamvehera,
Tangalle and Tissamaharama. The lagoons in the Bundala bird sanctuary
have dried up, according to him.
not that there is no water. Water is available, but in some areas
people have to go looking for it.
There is no
severe shortage of drinking water. It's there, but accessibility
is the problem and some people have to walk, cycle or go by tractor
to get their daily water needs," says the District Secretary.
The more desperate
battle is to save crops. "The time is up for paddy harvesting
but here and there some crops are getting damaged by lack of water,"
says Tissamaharama Irrigation Engineer Sarath Wickramapala. "The
water to the fields should have been stopped on September 10, but
we are trying our best to give more water wherever it is available
as farmers are pleading for one more 'mure' as the paddy has not
We get a glimpse
of the paddy cultivation patterns in the district. Taking the division
of Tissamaharama, Mr. Wickramapala explains that the rain-fed Kirindi
Oya feeds the Lunugamvehera reservoir which in turn acts as the
feeder for the Tissa, Yoda, Weerawila, Pannegamuwa and Debera wewas.
It also provides water to many smaller tanks.
has dried up Lunugamvehera. The mouth of the feeder canal and the
whole area around the sluice gates stretch like a desert, the only
difference being that instead of sand there is cracked and parched
earth like a massive cobweb.
yala cultivations were begun, we had meetings with farmers and told
them that there was a shortfall of 10,000 acre feet of water because
the rains were inadequate.
When we discussed
the matter with the farmers they were ready to face the risk and
cultivate, explained Mr. Wickramapala.
Kumarasinghe who is at the Lunugamvehera reservoir to check out
the situation adds, "Yes, we were ready to take a risk and
cultivate, but this situation is not only due to a shortfall in
For about three
weeks, we didn't have an Irrigation Engineer, after the earlier
officer was moved out. This resulted in the water not being controlled
properly," he alleged. "Now we need at least two more
jala mura." Over 9,800 acres of paddy have been cultivated
this season. "About 10-12% of this acreage has faced destruction
because of lack of water but we are putting up a major struggle
and even pumping out the 'dead storage' water from Lunugamvehera
and other tanks to save the balance crops," he says.
water is the quantity left behind below the level of the sluice
gate and is normally not touched.
walata kiriwadina welawate wathura avashiyayayi" (The water
is needed when the paddy is maturing). Otherwise it's like being
affected by malnutrition when one is a child," laments Gunapala
who has lost the paddy from three of the 7.5 acres cultivated. "Our
crops are in danger. The irrigation officers are making a desperate
attempt to save them by pumping water."
is smiling as he watches the pumps spewing water from a nearby channel
to 75 acres of paddy.
He is the leader
of the group of farmers in the area and takes his job seriously.
He allows the other farmers to get the water before tending his
own five-acre plot.
has left the reservoir dry. The rains have also not come. I keep
up at night not only to make sure that the water is not stolen by
errant farmers, but also to chase away the elephants, who are a
menace," says bleary-eyed Nandasena.
the pumping of water, we should be able to save our crops,"
he says confidently. "We have won about 90% of the battle,"
says Chief Irrigation Engineer Nihal Siriwardene.
No mean achievement.
the weather gods
as the name denotes is a high point and for the men, women and children
living in the last grama niladhari division of Andarawewa, the drought
brings much more
hardship than for others in the Hambantota district.
This is where
successful NGO activity has made a mark and also changed the lives
of these humble folk. Here the people have been made aware of a
valuable source of water which can be tapped and stored not only
for drinking but also for cultivations, when the dry months come
And the source
is the little rainfall they experience. Working through the partner
organisation of Giruwapattu Community Development Square (GIDES)
in the area, ITDG South Asia has helped 26 of the 87 families in
Usgala to cope with the drought.
which have been attempting to eke out a living from the harsh, dry
land through chena (slash-and-burn) crops such as mung, peanuts,
cowpea, gingelly and kurakkan had not succeeded earlier.
But since many
farmers have opted for run-off cultivation tanks - built at ground
level, to store water from the land when the rains come - their
plight has improved in the face of the drought. The storage capacity
of a tank is about 5,000 litres.
has helped us to keep our plants and trees from dying," says
S.A. Karunawathie, 44, showing us the tank which has been covered
with cadjans and fenced off with barbed wire to prevent someone
A mother of
three, she explains that the area has little rainfall. But they
have managed to collect water from the few showers that fell in
April and May to water the plants now.
is not poured over the plants directly. The cultivators have been
shown a method where a small porous pot is buried near the plants
and that is filled with water so that the roots of the plant have
moisture, even when the heat is immense," says A.P. Jayaratne
keep a single plant from withering during the drought in the past,
but now they are green and fine," adds Karunawathie's husband
They keep the
ground level tank closed with cadjans to prevent evaporation during
the day when the sun's rays scorch the earth.
we have sold about 12 kilos of our murunga," smiles Gunaseeli,
38, who with her farmer husband has to bring up two children. "Those
days we used to plant crops during one maha as it rains then, only
to see them die the next. We were drowning in debt, there was no
hope. But things have changed now," she says drawing water
from the tank.
She has to
walk a few miles to get their drinking water needs or await the
It's a different
story for 20-year-old Champa Vinitha who has four children to feed,
bathe and wash. Those days she walked many miles to fill a buli
with drinking water and carry the heavy burden on her head. Otherwise
her husband had to cycle into the closest town or pay the van Rs.
10 for each 20-litre can. Not anymore.
She and her
family have invested in a rainwater collecting tank, one of five
built by the ITDG in the village, which drains the water off the
roof through a set of gutters. The few showers which came long ago
keep this family going even now, making life easier and cleaner.