Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Sri Lanka waits in vain for the rain

Amantha Perera in IPS: Stuck in mid-day rush hour traffic, commuters packed tight into a tin-roofed bus in Sri Lanka’s capital, Colombo, peer expectantly up at the sky that is beating a savage heat down on the city. No one speaks, but it is clear they are all waiting for the same thing: for the heavens to open up and provide some relief from the scorching weather that is slowly cooking this island nation.

Over 200 km east, in the agricultural district of Ampara, farmers and rural folk wait equally expectantly for the elusive monsoon, already a few weeks late in coming. Water levels at the Senanayake Samudraya tank, which holds the bulk of the district’s water needs, are dangerously low, having dropped below 30 percent of the reservoir’s capacity at the end of May, according to the department of irrigation.

All over the country, low-level anxiety over the water shortage is slowly giving way to panic. With each day that the rains do not fall, food shortages increase, poverty worsens and the economy lurches in uncertainty.

Strangely, the government is yet to officially declare a drought situation, even though water levels in most major reservoirs – which supply close to 46 percent of the country’s electricity needs – are alarmingly low.

Given that over 75 percent of Sri Lanka’s population lives in rural areas, with a large percentage engaged in rice farming, a drought threatens the country to its very core. Harvest losses mounted in the first half of this year, leaving farmers and officials fearful that a predicted weaker-than-average southwest monsoon season will exacerbate the situation.

“It is not looking very good,” warned Rajith Punyawardena, chief climatologist at the department of agriculture, pointing out that the main rice harvesting season, which concluded in April, recorded a loss of 17 percent compared to last year....

Adbar took this aerial photo of the Southern Province in Sri Lanka, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

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