A father of three, K. Raveenthiram from Alankerny in Kilinochchi used to walk nearly two kilometres to get drinking water from the only well found in the area. It wasn’t easy to pay for the water which was ‘sold’ off a bowser during the worst times of drought. “I’m a poor farmer and it was [...]

The Sunday Times Sri Lanka

Rain water harvesting brings relief to parched lands


The water tank at the Ethimale Base Hospital

A father of three, K. Raveenthiram from Alankerny in Kilinochchi used to walk nearly two kilometres to get drinking water from the only well found in the area. It wasn’t easy to pay for the water which was ‘sold’ off a bowser during the worst times of drought. “I’m a poor farmer and it was not easy for me to find Rs. 600 every ten days to buy drinking water,” he said.

It was the same story in Ethimale in the Moneragala District. The Ethimale Provincial Hospital with a daily out-patient turnover of around 150, had to depend on a weekly water bowser which supplied the hospital with drinking water during the drought. With no tap-borne water, villagers had to walk for miles in search of a few cups of drinking water.  “Our house is close to the cemetery and during floods everything is washed to our compound. We don’t have a well of our own so we used to take water from a neighbour’s well,” says Sinnathurai Sinnathamby from Amman Puram in the Batticaloa District.

Life changed for those from Kilinochchi, Badulla, Moneragala and Batticaloa with the recently launched USAID funded project to promote rainwater harvesting as a practical, disaster-resilient water supply option. The project is also extended as a Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) tool to most acutely flood prone areas in 25 Grama Niladhari Divisions in five Divisional Secretariat Divisions in the Batticaloa District. The project is facilitated by the Lanka Rainwater Harvesting Forum (LRWHF) in partnership with PALM Foundation. The three-year project which entails an endowment of USD 1,000,000 also aspires to build capacity of officials, professionals and communities in rain water harvesting (RWH) technology to influence the policies and practices of flood and drought management.

“Despite government policy in 2005 and legislation in 2009 on RWH, the implementation of it has been very slow, largely due to lack of awareness among local officials and other professionals,” observed Dr. Tanuja Ariyananda, Chief Executive Officer, LRWHF. The benefits of RWH are multiple, points out Dr. Ariyananda. “Not only does it become a safe drinking water option for communities in drought-prone areas, especially in the wake of the fertilizer abuse, it is also a flood mitigation tool, enabling the re-charge of ground water.” RWH is defined as ‘a collection of run-off rainwater for domestic use, agriculture, soil conservation and environmental management.’ The rainwater is collected from the surfaces on which it falls and subsequently stored for later use.

Lanka Rainwater Harvesting Forum is committed to promoting, creating awareness and building capacity on rain water harvesting technology, through facilitating, sharing and exchange of knowledge. As its CEO further explains, rain water is the cleanest form of water, provided it is collected and stored properly. The options of rainwater storage are many ranging from Reinforced Concrete Cement, masonry, Ferro Cement or plastic. The storage can be placed above ground, underground or partially underground.

Rainfall as well as projected temperature increase due to climate change would influence water quantity as well as water quality. Therefore the simple solution in this case is to increase the retention of water which is received during the rainy periods to be used during the non-rainy periods, for which RWH is a feasible solution,” points out Dr. Ariyananda.

She further notes that the experience of the previous project implemented by LRWHF in partnership with USAID/OFDA (Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance) in 2014/2015 which constructed rain water harvesting systems in schools and hospitals in the Northern, Eastern and Uva  Provinces speaks for this. “It has been reported that during the drought of 2014, these institutes were able to cope with it better since most of them had rain water collected and stored and also during flood too since most of the other water sources were contaminated and polluted.”

Women in Batticaloa now have access to clean drinking water. (Pix courtesy LRWHF and PALM Foundation)

The newly launched project will be responsible for rain water harvesting units in 45 schools, ten medical clinics and 360 houses in Kilinochchi, Badulla and Moneragala. An estimated 16,300 people will be beneficiaries of safe drinking water thanks to the project. Already, the work of 40 household units has commenced in Kilinochchi and the Ethimale Provincial Hospital water tank in Moneragala is already completed. “We have also completed the training of 40 officials in Kilinochchi and by June this year we are hoping to commence rehabilitation of disused RWH units,” said Dr. Ariyananda.

In terms of storage facility and capacity, 8,000 litre capacity storage tanks are promoted for domestic use while, 10,000 to 16,000 litre capacity tanks are promoted for hospitals and 30,000 litre capacity for schools. A domestic RWH tank in the dry zone which receives less than 900 mm annual rainfall can meet the daily water demand of 60-70 litres for cooking and drinking, during the driest days off a small roof (50 m2) catchment, points out Dr. Ariyananda who further notes that in a wet zone area like Colombo, similar tank size and roof size can draw 145 litres daily during the dry season.

Partnering with LRWHF is PALM Foundation committed to community development through a holistic approach since 1987. Under the newly launched USAID supported, three-year project, PALM is providing safe drinking water and promoting sanitation facilities among 5000 families from 25 Grama Niladhari Divisions in five Divisional Secretariat Divisions of Batticaloa. These divisions are the most susceptible to floods and the most vulnerable are the low income families living in the low-lying areas of the district as Director, PALM Foundation(East and North), Sunil Dombepola explains. “Only 30% of the households in the entire Batticaloa District have piped water connections. Most of them cannot afford water connections through the National Water Supply and Drainage Board (NWSDB) and even if some can afford to have them, the main water lines are not connected to the vulnerable areas placing them in very difficult situations during and after the floods.” He further noted that from the previous USAID funded project (2012/2013), PALM was able to provide 2716 families in the district with water supply.

In partnership with the NWSDB, PALM Foundation is providing 5000 families (2,0880 people) with water connections at a subsidiary rate under the project. In addition, 45 government schools were also selected to be provided with pure drinking water facilities, benefitting around 10000 students.“While it costs a family around Rs. 17,000 to get a connection, under this scheme, it will cost them only about Rs. 5600,” says Mr. Dombepola who also notes that apart from the water facility, the project will also benefit several households with poor sanitation facilities.

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