Coping with climate change: Sharing experiences and challenges from rural Sri Lanka

Wednesday, 24 July 2013 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Adapting and coping with changes in climatic and weather patterns is important. Lack of preparedness and growing uncertainty over weather patterns is a serious issue that needs to be addressed at all levels, from village to national. “We see that weather patterns have changed, and unexpected weather related disasters have increased. My Ministry focuses on increased preparedness and improving early warning,” said Minister for Disaster Management, Mahinda Amaraweera, speaking at the Symposium on Community Based Adaptation to Climate Change, organised by the Global Environmental Facility’s Small Grants Program (GEF/SGP) of UNDP. Held recently, the Symposium brought together over 150 rural people, community-based and civil society organisations working towards managing local impacts of climate change adaptation projects to share experiences, knowledge and lessons learnt.   Island nations such as Sri Lanka are becoming more vulnerable to climate change. The impacts of frequent weather related disasters and climate change could seriously set back development targets set for key sectors such as agriculture, fisheries and even services such as tourism. In addressing this need, GEF/SGP, with support from the Australian Government’s Overseas Aid Programme (AusAID) has provided financial assistance to communities to implement climate change adaptation projects at the local and regional level. The Symposium saw the participation of researchers, practitioners, policy makers, donors and other organisations from across Sri Lanka.  Speaking further at the Symposium, Mahinda Amaraweera, highlighted the need to create awareness and improve knowledge, especially among school children and women, to mitigate the impact of disasters. Noting that disasters are one of the biggest challenges to human development, he stated, “Today we have leaders here, we need you to take this message to villages, and to schools, to enhance their knowledge as we work towards building a safer Sri Lanka.” He recognised the role played by UNDP in supporting such efforts, and also highlighted some of the key initiatives taken by the Government in mitigating the impacts of disasters. “Recent changes in weather patterns have caused billions in losses and damages,” said Deputy Secretary of Treasury Dr. Batagoda, in his key note address. “For example, the Treasury had to allocate Rs. 60 billion for flood control and flood damage in 2010 and 2011. Newly done roads and bridges were damaged due to unexpected and intense rainfall. In 2012, due to drought, we could only produce 18% of electricity through hydro power.” While expressing her thoughts, UNDP Country Director in Sri Lanka, Razina Bilgrami noted that supporting the sustainable development agenda of the country by providing technical assistance and capacity building support to further national development goals is a key priority of UNDP’s work in Sri Lanka. She further added, “The GEF Small Grants Programme has a history of 15 years in Sri Lanka working through some 300 partners, all local non-governmental organisations working in their own geographical area, and has played a key role in taking benefits of environmentally sustainable development to the communities on the ground, and therefore has a wealth of experience to share.”