Fears of El Nino hitting agriculture, Sri Lankan communities this year


An ongoing drought in several dry zone districts in Sri Lanka and predictions of an El Nino year paint a grim scenario for an island that has had continuous issues of flooding, drought and landslides in the past five years, a UN official said this week.

Razina Bilgrami, Resident Representative, UNDP Colombo, speaking at Tuesday’s launch in Colombo of a project titled “Strengthening the resilience of post conflict recovery and development to climate change risks in Sri Lanka”, said that the impact of such disasters is felt more amongst the vulnerable and the poor – and that is why it is very close to UNDP’s heart. She said a recent survey by UNOCHA on drought showed that the poorest people, those who depend on rain-fed agriculture or on small village tanks, are the worst-affected and most unable to resume livelihood activities.

Razina Bilgrami
Razina Bilgrami

The event was held in the presence of Basil Rajapaksa, Minister of Economic Development; Dr. Nihal Jayathilaka, Secretary, Ministry of Economic Development; Ismail Omer, Representative, World Food Programme Sri Lanka, and Ms. Beth Crawford, Representative, Food and Agricultural Organisation, Sri Lanka and Maldives.

In comments at the event released by the UN Office in Colombo, she was quoted as saying that the programme aims to incorporate the key ingredients of climate change adaptation into mainstream government development programmes in Sri Lanka. More specifically, it will provide the necessary technical and financial support to the Ministry’s Rural Development Unit and the Divi Neguma Department to safeguard the investments made in uplifting rural livelihoods against climate-related disasters and environmental changes, she added..

“I recall that at the time when the project design was being conceptualised and potential target areas of intervention were being identified, the Planning Directors and Assistant Commissioners of all 25 districts had gathered in Colombo under the aegis of the Ministry of Economic Development, and the Minister had himself graced the occasion, and took part in the deliberations. Since then he has closely followed the development of the project, which eventually led to the successful mobilisation of US$3.1million from the Special Climate Change Fund,’ the UNDP Representative noted.

Sri Lanka being a middle income country has successfully accessed the Special Climate Change Fund, which is funding this project that is being launched. This Fund supports both long-term and short-term adaptation activities in water resources management, land management, agriculture, health, infrastructure development, etc in 66 countries across the world.

Ms. Bilgrami said that adaptation to climate change is necessary and inevitable. “Communities have, for centuries, coped with adverse weather and climate, to build very strong agrarian societies. However, the current trend of change and the magnitude of impacts are beyond the coping capacities of local people. Therefore the adaptation focus within this project is on building the ability to withstand these shocks and crises. While local communities are at the heart of such ‘empowered coping’, all local governments, district administrations and national departments have a major role to play in ensuring that technology, information and services are available at the village level, and to communities that need these the most.”

Referring to the three identified districts of Puttalam, Kurunegala and Ratnapura, she said the project will establish technologically sound, community-managed and socially and culturally acceptable models to build more resilience in home gardening, small commercial farms, livestock, rural roads, community centres and rural water supply schemes.

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