A severe drought has devastated ordinary life across many parts of rural Sri Lanka, in ways that have not been experienced for many years.
Experts believe this drought could be the result of El Nino, which could also explain the extreme temperatures.
Farming in Sri Lanka is dependent on two main monsoon rain seasons, and intermittent rains during the inter-monsoonal periods. The failure and severe weakening of rains left many parts of the island parched and dependent on stored water. Extremely high temperatures have resulted in increased evaporation, threatening already scarce stored water reserves.
THE FIRST SIGNS
Farmers of Walawa in the southern part of the island were the first to be battered by the shortage of water for their farmlands.
Authorities restricted the flow of water from the Samanala Wewa reservoir to the Udawalawa Reservoir claiming that water was required to generate electricity.
Although the distribution of water recommenced following strong protests by farmers over the decision, it was too late to save many rice fields from destruction.
Sri Lanka’s Department of Meteorology had forecast that rainfall would be insufficient until October, and warned that it would be impossible to continue to provide electricity to the Southern Province by generating power from the Samanala Wewa.
THE THREATS OF POWER CUTS
Now, plans are afoot for emergency purchases of power from private sector generators, at an enormous cost, while farming communities are lamenting the devastation caused to their fields.
Meanwhile, the cost of power generation of the state utility Ceylon Electricity Board has increased by Rs. 600 million this year.
"The generation of thermal power on a daily basis has been increased to 64% from 30%," a senior official attached to the Ceylon Electricity Board said, "This is due to the shortage of water for hydropower generation."
The cost of power generation stood at about Rs. 800 million. However, the prevailing situation means the cost will now hike up to about Rs. 1.4 billion.
POWER SUPPLY VERSUS FARMING
The Mahaweli Authority of Sri Lanka, the government body that controls the release of water and has the responsibility of balancing the needs of farmers and power generation, earlier stressed that the country's economy would suffer a loss of over Rs. 30 billion following the Cabinet decision to prioritize electricity generation, and not to release water from the Samanala Wewa to rice fields.
DESPERATION OF THE FARMERS
Similar situations in other river basins, such as the Mahaweli region that produces most of the country’s food supply, have led to much public criticism that the sparse water available during this El Nino Year has been mismanaged, with suspicions of corruption.
As of Tuesday (22), the arid weather conditions have affected people living across 17 districts of Sri Lanka.
A total of 248,531 people have been affected, according to the latest statistics released by Sri Lanka's Disaster Management Centre.
Gammadda launched a dry ration distribution initiative, in which the most needy families especially from farming families will be given a pack of food provisions to help them tide over these difficult times. This is intended to bolster existing food security safety nets and other social security nets in place. This initiative was launched to coincide with the drought conditions to provide a sense of relief who are the backbone of Sri Lankan society and produce most of the food we eat. While it is impossible to help everyone, Gammadda decided that it would do what it can, and is thankful to the kind hearts who spontaneously come forward in support of this cause.