Worst Drought In Years Threatens The Country

by Ashanthi Warunasuriya
Worst drought in years

  • Discussions initiated to counter
  • potential hazardous situations
  • Water levels of all main reservoirs have declined by 27%

Minister Anura Priyadarshana Yapa

The country is preparing to face the worst drought in years. Lack of adequate rain has opened the doors for a potential disaster in several areas.

The authorities have already initiated discussions to identify these potential hazardous situations and to find out ways to counter them. On the instructions of President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, plans are currently being drafted to formulate a state mechanism to face the upcoming dry weather conditions.

According to meteorological reports the level of rain that has been received in Sri Lanka by the end of 2016 has declined drastically compared to previous years. As a result, meteorologists have warned that the country may face a severe drought in 2017.

A drought could have a serious impact on the country’s electricity generation, agriculture and other areas. However, the government has stated that the general public should not worry about the drought as the authorities are taking steps to counter such a situation should it occur.

Commenting on the government’s preparations to meet a potential drought, Minister for Disaster Management Anura Priyadarshana Yapa said that all the responsible government bodies have been duly briefed on the situation and have been set in motion to identify potential hazards and to prepare for them. The proposed state mechanism would include a joint collaboration between the Energy Ministry, the Disaster Management Ministry, Agricultural Ministry and the Ministry of Science and Technology.

“After preliminary discussions, a cabinet paper on the subject will be presented to the cabinet,” the Minister said.

At present, the water levels of all main reservoirs of the country have declined by 27%. The area of paddy cultivation for the Maha season has dropped by 30%. According to experts, this situation could have adverse effects on this year’s energy and food consumption. At present the Disaster Management Centre (DMC) has taken both short and long term steps to avoid such a hazard. Its coordinating committee is currently engaged in initiating a media campaign to raise awareness among the public regarding preserving water.

Steps have also been taken to obtain a technical estimate from the responsible institutions to formulate recommendations. In the long term, the government is planning to formulate irrigation policies that are environmentally friendly and balanced in nature.

On previous occasions, the lack of foresight and preparation resulted in heavy losses to the country during the flood season. Therefore the DMC is determined to make early preparations to meet the oncoming natural disaster.

During the last dry spell from June to September 2016, the government spent over 42 million rupees to supply drinking water to 22 districts. Figures from the National Disaster Relief Service shows 147 divisional secretariats were affected out of 337 in total. During this period, around 1 million people were having difficulties in accessing drinking water for three to four months. Furthermore, the Ministry has deployed 40 bowsers and 54 tractor bowsers for water distribution operations to the respective districts.

If the country receives rain during the North East monsoon or after, there should be remedies for rain water harvesting such as seasonal ponds, home ponds, agro-wells, house-hold water storage tanks, high elevation of paddy field banks (Uswuuniyara).

The government is also looking at promoting and implementing water conservation practices through a media campaign. They are also looking at crop diversification, alternation drought resistant crop cultivation, eco rehabilitation of seasonal ponds in dry zones especially in cascade systems and establishing home gardens including home ponds in feasible geo areas.

Long term establishment of tank eco-systems in every potential tank especially in dry zones through ongoing projects (such as Green Climate Fund Project), incorporating risk sensitive planning with specific focus on water conservation practices to ongoing government programmes is also being looked into. Each Ministry and Department is to have a budget to mainstream risk sensitive activities.

The country’s electricity generation has also become one of the most vulnerable points for dry weather. Since the hydro-electrical power plants are the main caterer of the country’s energy needs, a drought could easily cripple the country’s electric supply.

As present the water level of many reservoirs that are used to generate electricity have dropped by 40-50%. According to the meteorology department, if the dry weather conditions continue, the situation could get even dire during March.

Even now the warning signs have been lit as the gross national electricity generation has declined by 8-20%. Under favourable weather conditions, the country relies on hydro electricity to fulfil over 50% of its entire energy needs. If the drought continues, it could only result in more power cuts.

Although the importance of renewable energy has been often mentioned, so far the authorities have not been able to improve such technologies. Even though thermal energy remains an option the high costs incurred in generating or purchasing such energy is only going to result in increased electricity tariffs. The CEB was recently subjected to heavy criticism for its delay in adapting alternate power generation techniques mentioned in the 2015-2035 energy generation plans.

The proposed 300 MW LNG power plant that is scheduled to be constructed in Kerawalapitiya is yet to be initiated. There are also plans to build another 170 MW LNG power plant at Hambantota.

There are also plans to construct three additional Diesel power plants of 35MW each to be used in an emergency. Proposals have also been made to convert some of the thermal energy power plants into Natural Gas. But the problem remains as to why these plans have not yet been set in motion. If the plans are not put into action on correct time it could only result in failures such as the fate of Sampur Coal Power Plant.

According to Power and Energy Minister Ranjith Siyambalapitiya the dry weather itself is a cause for increased electricity consumption as the people are prone to use more and more coolant systems such as fans and air conditioning. According to him the government is planning to enter into an MoU with the Petroleum Ministry to use more mobile electricity generators in case of an emergency.

Since the  looming drought is said to be the worst in a decade, there is no doubt the situation will be serious. But Minister Siyambalapitiya assured that the government will not cut down the power supply or increase tariffs. He says the general public could assist the government in this difficult moment by conserving at least 50 MW of electricity every day.

Apart from Electricity, the country’s agriculture is the next potential victim in a drought. Expressing his ministry’s strategy to counter this problem, Agriculture Minister Duminda Dissanayake said that they are looking for more technology to cater to the needs of farmers with a minimal use of water.

Meanwhile Samurdhi and Social Welfare Minister S.B. Dissanayake says that there could be a potential shortage of food with the oncoming drought. Since paddy cultivation is going to decline during the dry season, the Minister says it would be wise to cultivate dry crops such as ‘kurakkan’ to maintain the food supply.

This drought is not only limited to Sri Lanka. According to forecasts it is going to affect the whole South Asian region. Hence there was a recent Pirith chanting at the Parakrama Samudra in Polonnaruwa and a prayer at the Muttumariamman Kovil in Dimbulagala with the participation of President Maithripala Sirisena to pray for  favourable weather.

Expressing his views on the matter the chief climatologist of the Agriculture Ministry Ranjith Punyawardhana says the global climate has been subjected to several changes and that this is a rare climate change.

Global warming has increased by 0.83 degrees compared to 2015. Global warming has caused severe changes in the weather patterns. According to Punyawardhana, human activities since the industrial revolution has had a direct impact on this situation.

Although around 850,000 hectares of paddy fields are cultivated during the Maha season it has now dropped to a staggering 280,000 hectares. Accordingly the current water levels would be enough for the crops up until February 2017.

This may compel the government to rely more on food imports over the next few years. Hence it is important to change our attitudes about preserving water and minimising waste if we are to survive these hard times. The time has come for the entire nation to unite once again to meet this new ‘enemy of the state’.

3 Comments for “Worst Drought In Years Threatens The Country”

  1. Eng.M.V.R.Perera

    what has the CEB Engineers have to state on this mater normally in a average year the Reservoirs with large capacities generate about 4.6 billion units per year has it not done that much in 2016. If it has done that much where electricity is concern it has nothing to do with the drought but with not having sufficient BOT coal fueled electricity to generate when the 3 sets at Noracholai has to do off load cleaning. CEB engineers come out with the truth

  2. Enough has been written on the subject , but sadly, the forest cover continues to be exploited with absolute impunity, and even the widening of roads and high rise buildings and other structures contributes to the continuing increasing radiation of heat into the late hours, causing an obstruction to condensation of water vapour in the atmosphere. Even consumable drinking water is becoming limited at an alarming rate due to unstoppable pollution. This will all be to our peril.

  3. kumar

    The President and the bureaucracy has to take a large share of the blame. They have been only talking but has failed to approach the problem intelligently and logically other than to plant saplings and make a huge noise. I suggest they open a suggestion box via e mail or post and have these acknowledged and evaluated by a professional with an open mind,take prudent steps and make known the results and continue a dialog with those who make practical suggestions. This cold be an open dialog via a web site created for such. There is an urgent need for experimenting with a group of dedicated individuals before its too late.

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