Economic and social consequences of the drought: Increase in poverty, food insecurity and malnutritionView(s):
The severe drought that the country experienced in the last several months has destroyed crops and increased poverty, food insecurity and malnutrition.
According to the Disaster Management Centre, by mid-May, more than 312,000 people in 14 districts in eight of the nine provinces had been affected by the drought. The number of families affected and the crop area devastated would have increased by August.
Poverty, which had increased to about a third of the population, would increase further. This is especially so in rural areas.
The drought has also caused drinking water problems in some areas.
The damage to food crops and loss of income are the worst impacts. The severe drought in all parts of the country has destroyed the Yala paddy harvest as well as several other food crops.
No doubt, the Yala paddy harvest will be much lower than anticipated. The plight of farmers who have lost their crops is indeed pathetic.
Although there would be a significant drop in the Yala paddy harvest, the government says the fall in paddy production will not result in rice imports, as there are sufficient stocks of rice.
Rice prices would, however, increase sharply and further escalate the cost of living. Farmers who reap a lower harvest may be able to sell their paddy at higher prices.
However, this increase in prices is unlikely to compensate them adequately for their loss of income owing to crop failure.
Consequently, rural incomes are likely to fall drastically, and poverty will increase significantly.
Even tea bushes have withered due to the intense heat and lack of rain in some tea-growing regions of the country. Tea production, which was striving to revive with the availability of fertiliser, would not be able to recover this year.
Consequently, tea export volumes and export earnings are likely to decrease. This will affect the trade balance adversely.
The drought has created a serious problem not only for irrigation but also for the generation of hydroelectricity. Hydroelectricity generation is currently at a low level. This has an adverse impact on the trade balance, as higher petroleum imports are needed at a time of rising international oil prices.
The social consequences of the drought are the most serious. The drought has increased poverty, food insecurity and malnutrition.
The most significant impact of the drought would be increased rural poverty. This would, in turn, lead to malnutrition and ill health.
The rise in food prices, as a consequence of the shortfall in production, would affect the food security of poor people in urban areas as well.
Apart from these economic and social consequences of the drought, there has been a significant increase in heat-related illnesses. It has, however, not been as bad as some other countries, such as the southern states of the United States.
Malnutrition, too, would have long-term adverse impacts on health.The government’s health services are short-staffed and lack adequate drugs, worsening the health situation.
When all these adversities are considered, the social consequences of the drought are horrendous.
The improvement in external finances should enable the government to tide over the balance of payments difficulties that could occur. The foreign reserves, which are at about US$ 4 billion at the time of writing, are expected to rise to about US$ 7 billion by the end of the year, mainly due to an upsurge in tourism and increased inflows of inward remittances.
Inter-monsoonal rains being experienced in several parts of the country since the end of August could enhance hydro-electricity generation and reduce the intense heat.
Heavy showers are expected with the onset of the Northeast monsoon in October. As El Nino conditions are usually followed by heavy rainfall, there should be a revival of agriculture next year. However, floods could cause damage to property and lives and destroy crops. Early preparedness could mitigate losses.
The adverse impact of the weather has not only retarded economic growth and affected the country’s finances, but it has also had serious social consequences. The severest impact has been on rural incomes, poverty and malnutrition.
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