Home / FT View/ Water is life

Water is life


Comments / {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}} Views / Tuesday, 6 March 2018 00:00


Water is increasingly becoming a flashpoint in Sri Lanka as consecutive droughts hit precious resources. The latest standoff erupted in Thambuththegama last week after hundreds of farmers protested Government plans to divert water away from a regional tank for a drinking water project. The ensuing clash between farmers and police saw over 50 farmers arrested and the Government halting the project.

Hit by several seasons of drought farmers demanded that they be given first pick of water in the tanks. They argue that not having water to farm will harm more people than potential power cuts and other deprivations and appealed to have public water policies changed to give prominence to farming activities above those such as hydro power generation. Farmers argue that power generation can be shifted to thermal power but crops have no alternatives. Clearly water has become the new flash point.

Water is a key development ingredient that impacts on a variety of factors that sustain and enhance life. As a critical natural resource, the issues connected with managing it are inherently diverse and complex. They involve questions of allocation and distribution, equity, conservation, pricing, regulation, education, participation, and sustainable use.

The pressure on water resources is compounded by Asia’s limited freshwater endowments, which are among the world’s lowest. South Asia, home to over a sixth of the world’s population, has the lowest level of water resources per capita. Its per capita availability of water has dropped by almost 70% since 1950. During the past 50 years, per capita availability has declined by 60% in North Asia and 55% in Southeast Asia. Sri Lanka has been luckier than most of its South Asian neighbours but as it becomes more vulnerable to climate change new fault lines are appearing. The greatest of these is for Sri Lanka to upgrade its national water policy to give it a holistic approach.   

In the past, few projects were derived from a comprehensive water resource strategy. Even fewer took account of other water uses in the project area. The emphasis was mainly on the productive use of water resources, with little attention paid to managing the resources themselves. To meet the increasing challenges of water scarcity, pollution, and degradation of watersheds and ecosystems, water and related resources need to be managed in an integrated manner.  

That much is obvious but, as the Thambuththegama incident proved, difficult to implement given that Sri Lanka’s governments are notoriously incompetent at policy consistency. This is partly because balancing micro and macroeconomic issues can be conflicting. For example importing fuel for thermal power generation can have serious impact on the trade deficit, reserves and public expenditure but its effect will not be immediately visible to a farmer. This gap in understanding puts them in direct collision course with governments, who in turn, pacify them with short term measures to garner votes.

Governments need to promote decentralisation, building capacity, and strengthen monitoring, evaluation, research, and learning at all levels, particularly in public sector institutions. However, participation is the centrepiece of any water service endeavour. The most successful experiences in water use are based on involving the people who consume the water. Excluding them from participation has tended to make solutions to sustainability elusive. Just ask the Thambuththegama farmers.


Share This Article


DISCLAIMER:

1. All comments will be moderated by the Daily FT Web Editor.

2. Comments that are abusive, obscene, incendiary, defamatory or irrelevant will not be published.

3. We may remove hyperlinks within comments.

4. Kindly use a genuine email ID and provide your name.

5. Spamming the comments section under different user names may result in being blacklisted.

COMMENTS

Today's Columnists

Fruits, flowers and futile triumphalism at Galle Face?

Wednesday, 19 December 2018

Every morning, I play voyeur and watch that nice neighbourhood uncle pluck flowers to pooja-fy his guardian deities. He is quite religious about it. And industrious to boot. The problem, of course, is that he doesn’t restrict himself to his garden.


Will Kyaukpyu overtake Gwadar and Hambantota?

Wednesday, 19 December 2018

China last month signed a $1.3 billion contract for Myanmar’s Kyaukpyu port project. The figures doing rounds in media in the run up to this port deal were as high as $7.9 billion which had ignited enormous curiosities. The Chinese had been negoti


Things to do in a Democracy when you’re dead…

Tuesday, 18 December 2018

In yesterday’s column, I argued a case for not impeaching the chief executive of the coup that has left our country situation in ruins. At the end of a pitched battle between the forces of unconstitutional ambition on one hand and democratic resist


Tweaking the New Inland Revenue Act (Part II)

Tuesday, 18 December 2018

In the backdrop where the recent amendment to the country’s supreme law is called in question, it may be appropriate to recall that the passage of the new Inland Revenue (IR) Act through Parliament was far more controversial. Nevertheless, the new


Columnists More