Will this drought be prolonged?

Will this drought be prolonged?

The people of the Dry Zone of the country are suffering from a severe water shortage due to the prolonged drought. According to the statistics available on Disaster Management Centre, 1,620,602 persons of 468,329 families living in 13 districts are affected from the drought and its impacts, as at August 11. The most affected areas of the country are agricultural area which is serious as shown from the news reports.

Most of the wewas or tanks are almost dry and people used to dig for nelum roots which they can sell and earn some living – a usual act during severe droughts. The remaining water of these tanks could hardly be used for drinking purposes. People wait hours for the bowser water which is used for the drinking purposes. It is said that the water provided is not sufficient. Some walk or cycle for kilometers to bring a pot of water for their needs. Government drought relief is being provided to the people. It seems those droughts affected of Uva Province are luckier than others – they will receive aid from the government as well as the opposition parties!

To those who are living in the Wet Zone or an area where 24 hour pipe-borne water supply is available, this type of water shortage is mostly far from their understanding. However, to realize the situation, they just have to ask some residents of Sri Jayewardenapura Kotte and surrounding areas about the panicking situation resulted from the 36-hour long suspension of water supply during the first few days of this month. This water-cut which occurred due to a replacement of a water pipe near Battaramulla, but it was extended due to the inability to complete the task in time. The water-cut lasted for about 72 hours and people were suffering from a situation which we can dub as an “urban water stress”. People went searching for the remaining few wells in this suburban area to collect water for their day-to-day work, while the demand for bottled drinking water rose rapidly in the boutiques. The authorities provided bowser water to some of the areas. There were near-conflict situations at some few wells where people were awaiting in queues for a gallon or a bucket of water. The practically abandoned public wells or pin-lindas were used in many areas.
That was the situation due to just a three-day long water shortage. Unfortunately, most of these people couldn’t realize that a similar situation occurs in most parts of the country for three-four months in some of the years – the periodical drought of the year.

Will this drought be prolonged?
Will this drought be prolonged?

Delayed response?

Let us look back at the drought of the Dry Zone. The Maha season of 2013/2014 was unsuccessful and due to the failure of the north-east monsoon rains of 2013/2014. It was obvious that the Yala 2014 was going to be a failure in area other than irrigated from major irrigation schemes that bring water from the Wet Zone. We saw protest campaigns for water staged by farmers in some areas of the need of water but the water was too little and was too late for the cultivation of paddy in some areas.

The reaction of the government was to provide drought relief. The government has announced that huge amount of money has been released for drought relief in the affected area. There are complaints of that this aid reaches the need somewhat delayed. Since the situation was obvious at the beginning of the year, the government should have had better preparations. Some such actions were there such as the promotion of rice imports, to control the price of rice due to the lack of sufficient harvest of paddy.
Failure of rains, droughts, water shortages and lack of proper responses could make societies impatient and provoke unrest. There are examples for such situations which eventually had led to collapse of regimes and governments. The failure of rains in mid 1970s in Sri Lanka seems to have affected to some extent for the downfall of the incumbent government in 1977.

Future rains

The next important issue will be the forthcoming inter-monsoon and monsoon rains – will those be able to bring a rainfall sufficient to compensate this year’s drought. There was a prediction that the next monsoon will be a failure, based on the increased activity of El-Nino. However, the chance of an El-Nino has decreased by early this month. The Department of Meteorology this week predicted a continued rainfall that could end the impact of drought in mid-September, with the commencement of the inter-monsoon.

That is based on modern science. There was an age old system of weather predictions used by our villagers. They used various natural indicators like flowering and fruiting of trees and animal behavior to predict whether there will be a heavy rainfall or a drought in the forthcoming rainy season. These are quite important for the farmers who entirely depend on local rains to feed village level tank for their agriculture. Such areas are found in many parts of the country where large irrigation schemes that divert from long distances are not available.

What do such traditional indicators or observations say of the next rainy season? The Green Movement of Sri Lanka is at present conducting a study on these indicators of long-term weather predictions. According to the data collected for this year, there is a high possibility for the next rainy season to bring a good rainfall. The high abundance of wood apple (divul – Limoniaacidissima) fruits in large numbers along many parts of the dry zone is such an indicator of successful rainy season. Another indicator of a good rainfall is the high abundance of beal fruit (beli – Aeglemarmelos) which is also reported from most of the areas. The strong dry winds called yalhulanga – the dry winds that reach the Dry Zone during the Yala season – is another sign of a forthcoming rainy season. Reports from many parts of the Dry Zone say that these winds were strong and dry. All these predict that the forthcoming rainy season will bring a good amount of rain.

It seems that the forthcoming rainy season will be a test for the success of these traditional knowledge based indicators. The present study of the Green Movement focuses this aspect – whether the present global environmental changes including climate change have had an impact these natural processes. Such changes in phenology of plants and animals have been recorded from other parts of the world. In such a situation, our traditional indicator based long-term weather predictions could become unsuccessful and that could result in further abandonment of the use of this knowledge. In other words, the indicators should be adapted with the current changes, as the knowledge is a dynamic system.
If these indicators are successful, use of these could be revitalized and introduced to the younger generations where the use of those is practical. This knowledge base has many possible remedies for present global environmental issues.

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