Climate woes, real and created

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By 2016-12-25

By Methmalie Dissanayake

Despite predictions to the contrary, Sri Lanka continues to suffer due to arid weather conditions. Changing weather patterns have given rise to many social issues, which are sometimes less obvious. Last year, parts of the country faced severe floods and some other areas were hit with a major drought. While effects such as loss of homes and destruction of crops become obvious, there are less obvious and long-term implications, for which the country must prepare.

The south-western monsoon brought less than average rainfall this year. Water levels of major reservoirs are decreasing rapidly and there are warnings of possible food shortage and possible power cuts in 2017.

According to the Department of Irrigation, as a result of the arid weather, the average water levels of irrigation tanks and water-ways across the country are between 30-35% at the moment.

The department said the water levels of Parakrama Samudraya, Deduru Oya, Minneriya, Inginimitiya and Lunugamwehera reservoirs remain 50%. Meanwhile, the water levels of the Kawudulla, Kantale, Rajanganaya, Padaviya and Mahakanadarawa tanks are between 30 and 35%, the department noted.

Speaking on the matter, Meteorology Department Director General Lalith Chandrapala said there is no solution to the scarcity of water since less than average rainfall is expected in January and February 2017.

Possible food shortage

The Department of Irrigation also said that cultivation has seen a drop, as a result of the scarcity of water. Only 40 agrarian businesses have taken place in 2016, it added.

Moreover, only 50 to 60% of the total farm lands could be cultivated at the moment. Annually, 800,000 hectares are cultivated during the Maha Season. However, this time around only 250,000 hectares have been cultivated, the department stated.
In areas such as Polonnaruwa, Anuradhapura and Hambantota, cultivation during the Maha season have been limited. Furthermore, of the 190,000 acres of paddy land in the Kurunegala District, only 19,000 acres have been cultivated.
However, in the Ampara District over 90% of the 800,000 acres of paddy lands has been cultivated in this Maha season.
Saman Weerasinghe, the Director General of the Irrigation Department, said usually around 2.2 million acres are cultivated for the Maha season. But, this time, it is only around 1 million acres which would be cultivated, he claimed.

"In a situation like this, prices of rice, fruits and vegetables can increase. There is also a possibility of triggering a food shortage in the near future. It can lead to a situation where people who gain income only by cultivation suffer serious economic problems," Weerasinghe said.

Everyone should be alarmed that the country has to depend on the remaining water levels until next October. Therefore, water should be used very carefully, he added.

Rice crisis

Last week, price of 1 kilo of Nadu rice was increased from Rs 90 to Rs 95. The price of Samba rice 1 kilo remains at Rs 95 as well. It is also said that all the other local rice varieties had increased by about 11-14 per cent
In view of the possibility of a serious rice shortage and a price increase, the Cost of Living Committee earlier this month came to the decision of importing 10,000 metric tonnes of rice from South Asian countries. This decision will help to keep prices of rice under check during festive seasons, the committee said. Apart from importing, the committee also decided to buy paddy from the Paddy Marketing Board (PMB).

Due to the increasing prices of rice, the Canteen Owners Association recently announced that it has decided to increase the price of a lunch packet by Rs 10. The organizer of the association Asela Sampath stressed the government has failed to control the price of rice. He pointed out that there is no shortage of rice in the country at present. Several local businessmen have created this situation, he charged.

Meanwhile, the Rice Research and Development Authority warns of a possible shortage of seed-paddy in time for the next Yala season.

Hydro Power at risk

In its latest report, the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka (PUCSL) says a rainfall, based on past trends, cannot be expected until April 2017. Therefore, in order to ensure the availability of hydro reservoirs, the hydro dispatch level for power generation must be kept below the average level, the report states.
According to the report, with this consideration the loss of thermal generation capacity in the system will not lead to power cuts in January. However, due to demand growth, the present thermal generation capacity of 560 MW will reduce to 500 MW in February and further reduce to 350 MW in March.

Moreover, based on predictions based on November hydro condition, there is a daily surplus energy of about 10,000 MW on average on a weekday, the report says. But, if the system loses approximately 420 MW of thermal generation capacity, there will be an energy inadequacy, it adds.

Government's responsibility

The National Organizer of All Ceylon Peasants Federation, Namal Karunaratne, hit out at the government saying the government should take the entire responsibility for the crisis situation.
Speaking to Ceylon Today, Karunaratne stated there is no rice shortage in the country. The remaining stocks will be sufficient until April. However, behind the 'manipulated' prices of rice varieties there are several private mills. They try to set up a rice shortage with the help of top level MPs of the government. The governments MPs are receiving commission from private mills, he alleged.

Karunaratne also slammed the government's decision to import seed-paddy due to less cultivation. "Even though that fact is true, imported seed-paddy can harm our soil as it is not familiar to the Sri Lankan condition. Therefore, the government must consider a proper plan to distribute seed-paddy stock among farmers," he added.
"This crisis situation occurred mainly due to poor water management, not due to less rainfall. The authorities do not consider repairing large-scale reservoirs.

These reservoirs should be repaired as they haven't been restored in many years. For example, Padaviya Wewa in the Anuradhapura District has not been repaired since the 1950s. The situation of other reservoirs is also the same. Because of this, silt has deposited on the beds of the reservoirs such as Kala Wewa, Nuwara Wewa and Minneriya Wewa, which have reduced their full capacity.

So they cannot contain the water level they used to in earlier days. Therefore, the lakes begin to spill over after two or three bouts of rain," he stated.

Meanwhile, he also said there are certain allegations that when the Mahaweli reservoirs were spilling over, lakes of Rajarata area were not filled with that much water surplus. The Mahaweli Development Authority has its priorities. Using water for cultivation comes last according to them, after using for hydro power, drinking water and industrial activities. If the authorities have taken steps to manage the water belonging to the Mahaweli reservoirs properly, this situation would not have been occurred, Karunaratne stressed.

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