The Sunday Leader

Rice Shortage Expected In July

  • Importance of apprising the public
  • Thousands affected
  • No rains till March

by Ashanthi Warunasuriya

Thousands have been affected by the drought in most parts of the country and according to the department of meteorology some relief can be expected only in March.

Among the worst affected areas are the North and the North Central provinces. Paddy fields in the North were seen almost completely devoid of water last week. The Maha season of the year 2016 began in October, but cultivation have been disrupted by insufficient rain.

At present the reservoirs hold only 30% of their capacity. Therefore the next cultivation season is going to face difficulties if the drought continues. Meteorologists have forecast of possible rains only in March. But the shortage of rice in July would be difficult to avoid. The Agriculture Ministry says it is currently taking steps to import rice if the need arises.

The government has mobilised a considerable section of its machinery to form a joint mechanism with the participation of several ministries to take steps to minimise the adverse effects of the draught.

On Wednesday a special discussion was held at the President’s Official Residence chaired by President Maithripala Sirisena, to look into the preparations at Ministerial level to provide essential reliefs to the public during the impending drought situation in Sri Lanka.

The President had given instructions to appoint a special committee comprising Secretaries of the Ministries of Power and Energy, Mahaweli and Water Supply, to make quick decisions in the process of providing relief to the people to minimise the difficulties.

During the meeting, it was discussed in detail regarding the programmes already in existence and future work plans launched by respective ministries to face the impending drought situation. Further discussions were held regarding the steps that should be taken to protect water resources to minimise this kind of disaster situations.

President Sirisena also instructed the officials to implement a programme to reconstruct the tanks that have dried up and pointed out the importance of apprising the public regarding the protection of water sources and proper use of the water. Thousands have been affected by the drought in 13 districts. The Ministry for Disaster Management has initiated a programme to collect information about the people who have been affected by the drought.

Assistant Director of the Disaster Management Centre (DMC) Pradeep Koddippili said that a special Presidential Task Force has also been appointed to provide immediate relief to drought victims. He said that necessary allocations have already made to respective District Secretaries. The UN has also offered to assist the people in Sri Lanka to face the draught conditions.

According to Koddippili, anyone who is affected by a shortage of drinking water could contact the emergency hotline 117 which is operational around the clock. He also pointed out that there is a threat of sea water seeping in to the water bodies in coastal areas due to dry weather conditions. He said that such incidents have been reported from many areas including Trincomalee, Hambantota, Jaffna and Mannar. He said that the DMC in collaboration with the District Secretariats have briefed the officials to counter this issue. He also requested the public to use the water sparingly.

The Ministry of Agriculture has appointed a special committee to take steps to prepare the agricultural sector of the country to withstand the drought. Accordingly several new varieties of paddy have been introduced to farmers. One such variety could even bear crops within two and a half months.

Agriculture Minister Duminda Dissanayake said that steps have been taken to distribute paddy seeds to areas where the water has already become scarce. At present there are 150000 acres of land in the wet zone of the country that could be used to grow crops. Most of these lands are situated in Kalutara, Gampaha, Matara and Galle. Fortunately the Wet zone had received some rain over the past few months. Accordingly the government has decided to sponsor the cultivation of lands that have not been cultivated before. One such scheme has introduced a long term plan to grow crops under government subsidies. Apart from that the Agriculture Ministry and the Department of Agriculture have initiated several programmes such as promoting the technologies that use less water to grow crops and also raising the awareness of the public on home gardening.

The Tea Research Board has also taken steps to protect the tea industry of the country against the dry weather conditions. Accordingly the Tea Research Board has discovered a new breed of tea plants that could withstand harsh weather conditions. Its Director I.S.B. Abeysinghe said that it could be effective against drought conditions.

The country’s energy sector has also been hit hard by the dry weather. According to reports the Sri Lanka Electricity Board has decided to purchase electricity from the private sector for Rs. 8000 Million.

The National Water Supply and Drainage Board has also warned that the drinking water supply will last only for little more than two months under these harsh weather conditions. According to the water board if the dry weather continues, strict controls would have to be imposed on water supply. However, the subject ministers have claimed that the government has not taken a decision to impose water or power cuts so far.

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