Multiple Crisis On The Cards As Drought Intensifies
- Power Shedding Inevitable
- Agriculture badly affected in three districts
By Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema
The government after suspending rice exports to ensure food security due to the drought conditions experienced in most parts of the country is also looking at power shedding as a measure to address a possible power crisis.
The delay in rains has affected 13 districts in the country and the Meteorology Department says it is unlikely that the country would experience significant rains in the next few weeks. Director General of the Meteorology Department S. H. Kariyawasam said that conditions were still not favourable for the country to receive the required amount of rain.
“It is unlikely that there would be significant rains in the next few weeks,” he said, adding that usually there were no rains during the months of July and August.
“It usually rains during the months of April, May and June and once again around September,” he explained.
According to Kariyawasam, the prediction is that there would be average or below average rains experienced in some parts of the country, but not the required amount of rain to overcome the current crisis situation.
The delay in rains has resulted in a massive drop in the water levels in reservoirs that generate hydropower.
The government is currently looking at the option of power shedding as a solution in the event of a further drop in the water levels in reservoirs.
Power and Energy Minister Champika Ranawaka last week observed that the government would decide this week on whether or not to commence a power shedding programme.
He said the daily losses incurred by the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) due to purchasing thermal power to meet the demand have risen to Rs. 200 million a day.
CEB Chairman, Dr Wimaladharma Abeywickrema said the drought would result in an additional Rs. 3 billion overall loss to CEB this year.
The hydropower production is crippled in the country due to drying up of water reservoirs and the CEB is forced to resort to generating power from thermal plants to meet the demand.
Due to the receding water levels in hydropower reservoirs, hydropower generation is down to 16.4 percent and thermal power generation has increased up to 83.2 percent. Dr Abeywickrema explained that the water in the reservoirs is less than 300GwH, which is a poor level.
“It is a level of 800-1,000 GwH that is considered good,” he said.
However, the minimum level required for hydro power generation is between 170-180 GwH.
He added that the government also needed to give priority to the supply of drinking water and for irrigation.
According to Dr Abeywickrema, the CEB would be able to generate hydro power for about two more months if the current water levels are maintained.
He pointed out that the energy sector would also be faced with a technical issue in the event of a failure in hydropower generation.
“Under the current system, there is a necessity to maintain some hydro power generation while increasing thermal power generation,” he added.
Dr Abeywickrema noted that in case of a mechanical failure in the power generators, the country would have to face a severe power crisis.
“In such a scenario, power shedding would be inevitable,” he said.
Apart from the power sector, the agricultural sector has also been dealt a severe blow by the shortage of water with thousands of acres of paddy land in Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa and Kurunegala being destroyed.
Director General of the Irrigation Department, D. G. P. Godaliyedda said there was a 45 percent water level recorded in the reservoirs island wide. He said that the area that have been badly affected are in the Polonnaruwa and Kurunegala districts and certain parts of the Anuradhapura district. “The cultivation under the Girithale scheme in Polonnaruwa is the worst affected,” he said.
Farmers in the Giritale and Elahera schemes in Polonnaruwa and Kalawewa in Anuradhapura have been hit by the drought.
However, Godaliyedda notes that some paddy cultivations in the North Central Province could be saved to an extent with strict water management.
“Strict management of water in the Kawudulla, Minneriya and Parakamasamudra reservoirs could help cultivations to an extent,” he said.
“The main areas that have been affected are the ones where they are dependent on Mahaweli reservoirs for water. Since there is no water in the Mahaweli, these reservoirs have been badly affected,” he added.
He explained that some reservoirs in the Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa areas have water albeit at low levels.
According to Godaliyedda, paddy that has been cultivated would need water up to six to eight weeks, while the remaining water was sufficient only for around two weeks.
“We will have to give water only for a few days and then stop for a longer period than usual before the next release. We will have to provide a small amount of water to ensure the bare survival of the paddy plant,” he said. Agriculture Ministry Secretary W. A. Sakalasuriya said the District Secretaries of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa have been asked to carry out a proper investigation into the paddy lands affected in the two districts.
He observed that the district secretaries were asked to calculate the exact number of paddy lands that have been destroyed in the areas and to help the affected farmers recover from the situation.
“The government is looking at helping the farmers take up some alternative crop cultivation,” he noted.
When inquired if the farmers would be paid compensation, Sakalasuriya said there is no plan to make any financial payments to farmers as compensation.
“The government would assist the farmers to overcome the current crisis,” he said.
As for other crop cultivations in the drought stricken districts, Sakalasuriya observed that the impact has been less than on paddy.
“There has been no huge impact on other crops as much as on paddy since most alternative crops are cultivated using well water,” he said.
However, he noted that the yield of most alternative crops would see a decline due to the drought weather conditions.
Citing an example, he said that the estimated harvest of 12,000 metric tons of gingelly this year could decline to 10,000 metric tons due to the current weather conditions.
“There would only be a slight drop in the harvest,” Sakalasuriya said.
Meanwhile, the Finance and Planning Ministry last week announced that the country would suspend rice exports to Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia and Dubai until the harvest time of the next Maha Season.
The decision was made in order to prevent a possible rice shortage early next year in the event of a complete failure of this Yala harvest. Sri Lanka currently exports 15 containers of rice every week.
According to the Cooperatives and Internal Trade Ministry, the Paddy Purchasing Board and District Secretariats have more than 264,000 metric tons of paddy stocks countrywide.
The government has spent Rs. 4.11 billion to purchase the paddy stocks. Private sector and the farmers are estimated to have another 1.2 million metric tons of paddy in storage.