Drought hits 1.8 million people in 20 districts

Thursday, 31 August 2017 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

An estimated 1.8 million people have been affected by the drought across 20 districts, the United Nations said, citing data from the Disaster Management Centre.  

The UN said since late 2016, Sri Lanka has been experiencing a lack of rainfall which has developed into what is believed to be the worst drought in 40 years. 

Across the country, 20 out of 25 districts have been affected with significant impacts on the economic activity, livelihoods and lives of communities. Despite the recent onset of the Southwest monsoon in late May, which triggered flooding and landslides in the country’s southwest provinces, country-wide drought conditions are ongoing.

“As of 29 August (1200hrs, UTC+5.30), 1.8 million people were estimated to be affected by the drought across 20 districts, according to the Disaster Management Centre,” the UN Drought Update released yesterday said. 

In March, it was estimated that 60% of affected households had lost more than one-third of their expected income during the primary cultivation season. One-quarter of households were seriously concerned about access to drinking water, with levels of water available for general household use declining. 

According to recent assessments by the World Food Programme (WFP) and Ministry of Disaster Management, the situation has not improved, and in some cases, has deteriorated further with over 300,000 households estimated to be food insecure. Available water sources are also at alarmingly low levels with reservoirs country-wide 18.5% full, compared to 51% at the same time in 2016.

With the drought impacting the primary and secondary harvests of 2017, the total amount of rice cultivated this year is less than half of that produced in 2016. Other crops have also been adversely affected. As a result, many households have had to limit their food intake, in some cases eating just one meal a day. 

The inability of farmers to cultivate their land has also caused the availability of agricultural work to decline and consequently in many drought-affected communities, indebtedness is rising. This is having serious consequences for the health and wellbeing of communities, with several suicides being directly attributed to the effects of the drought.

The drought has also been linked to a sudden rise in Dengue fever; 129,000 cases and over 300 deaths were reported in the first eight months of 2017 (compared to 55,000 cases for the entirety of 2016). The rise of the disease is, in part, attributable to the low levels of water in many water storage tanks, providing a breeding site for mosquitos that spread the fever.

In response to the drought the Government has been providing drinking water, relief packs of dry rations and other household items worth Rs. 5,000 per household. In April, an agricultural compensation plan of Rs. 8,500 per acre of destroyed crops plus a national agricultural insurance plan were initiated. The Sri Lanka Army is assisting officials with the distribution of the relief packs.

UN agencies and NGOs are conducting activities to address short and long-term needs of drought affected communities, including supplementing the Government’s programs with their own cash programming activities, benefiting more than 50,000 people since early 2017. 

In addition, the UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) allocated $3 million in March 2017 for drought response projects, including cash transfers for food security, as well as for Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) activities and agricultural assistance.

Bilateral assistance has been received or pledged by China, India, Pakistan, Indonesia and Republic of Korea, including provision of water bowsers, rice and cash assistance. Development partners have also committed to implementing longer-term projects, including those aimed at building sustainable knowledge or practices in the agriculture and water management sectors, as part of disaster risk reduction actions.

The Sri Lanka Humanitarian Country Team (HCT) is currently updating its Drought Response Plan which outlines the support that UN agencies and NGOs have provided and are planning to provide, in the short, medium and long-term.