- Says high water cost can be reduced by supplementing with rainwater at Lanka Rainwater Harvesting Forum hosted event to mark the World Water Day
By Randima Attygalle
“In Sri Lanka, only 57.7% of our population has access to a pipe borne safe drinking water. Rainwater harvesting policy adopted by the government of Sri Lanka in 2005, aimed at encouraging communities to preserve water near its source by harvesting rainwater. There is much to be done to conserve and preserve the 65% of the rainwater which our island receives, flowing as run-off to the sea through 106 rivers flowing from our central hills in Sri Lanka.
Our industries and plantations are high-end industrial users of water and treated water supplied by the NWS&DB at a significantly high cost. This high water cost can be reduced by supplementing with rainwater,” remarked Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena at an event hosted by Lanka Rainwater Harvesting Forum (LRWHF) to mark the World Water Day.
Prime Minister who was the Chief Guest at the event held at the Water’s Edge in Battaramulla, further noted that countries including Sri Lanka need to accelerate the efforts and to “go beyond business as usual” to achieve universal coverage for safe water and sanitation by 2030 in line with achieving SDG-6.
The event was also attended by Water Supply and Estate Infrastructure Development Minister Jeewan Thondaman and US Ambassador Julie Chung.
In his remarks, the Prime Minister further noted that water is inextricably linked to the three pillars of sustainable development, and it integrates social, cultural, economic and political values. “It is also crosscutting and supports the achievement of many SDG’s through close linkages with climate, energy, cities, environment, food security, poverty, gender equality and health, amongst others. With Climate Change profoundly affecting our economies, societies and environment, water is indeed the major resource for any country to achieve the internationally accepted water-related goals and targets, including those contained in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.”
Citing the wisdom of King Parakarambahu the Great who proclaimed that ‘let no single drop of water that fall from the skies flows to the sea without it being used for the benefit of man,’ Prime Minister further noted that Rainwater harvesting is not rocket science, but a very simple and practical technology which can be adopted by everyone.
This year’s theme for World Water Day, which is ‘Accelerate Change’ through Partnerships and Cooperation’ is fitting as the 75th anniversary of bilateral relations between the United States and Sri Lanka is marked, noted the US Ambassador for Sri Lanka, Julie Chung, addressing the gathering. “The theme of our year of celebration is what our 75 years of relations has been focused on: People, Progress, and Partnership. It is, in fact, our partnership with the Lanka Rainwater Harvesting Forum that has accelerated the change needed to bring drinking water to 100,000 Sri Lankans.” She further remarked that, it seems a little ironic to talk about water conservation in a country that annually averages benefits from about 2,000 millimetres of rain. “But the reality is this generous gift from nature doesn’t benefit all Sri Lankans as much as it could, with less than half of rural Sri Lankans having access to piped water.”
USAID has partnered with LRWHF since 2012 to bring drinking water to 100,000 people and to build more than 1,600 rainwater harvesting tanks for households and communities. The partnership has also helped to educate communities on the benefits of rainwater harvesting, trained people to maintain and operate these systems, and supported research related to rainwater harvesting. LRWHF, assisted by USAID, is also working with women masons to build the tanks that hold the water for the communities where they work.
“Sri Lankan-developed water harvesting system can be used by everyone and Lanka Rainwater is ready to expand its use. But it needs help. The private sector must step up to help expand the use of rainwater tanks and other conservation systems,” observed Ambassador Chung who went on to draw from her own experience of growing up in California with very dry weather conditions. “I’ve witnessed first-hand wasteful practices even in the face of water shortages, so this is a personal issue for me. For my entire childhood, water scarcity was a constant challenge. Climate change makes these problems worse.”
Rainwater Harvesting (RWH) is collection and storing of rain water for later use. Rainwater collected from roof top is stored for human use and run off rain water from land surfaces or rock catchments are collected for agriculture use or for ground water recharging. Rain water collected from the roof can be stored in water storage containers such as reinforced concrete cement, ferro cement or plastic. The storage can be placed above ground, underground or partially underground. Rainwater can also be directed into the groundwater aquifer through dug wells, recharge trenches and recharge pits.
LRWHF was established in 1996 to bring professionals and practitioners to promote, research and foster rainwater harvesting in the country. The experience gained by LRWHF has made it possible to influence the government and other stakeholders to take on rainwater harvesting as a possible and feasible option for domestic rural water supply which led to a National Rain Water Harvesting Policy Strategy in 2005.
Sri Lanka receives a total rainfall of 120 billion cubic meters annually, out of which 43.2 BCM (36%) is available for use after evaporation and absorption to the ground. Out of the available water, 28.1 BCM (65%) is washed to the sea which has the potential to be stored and recharged, pointed out LRWHF CEO Dr. Tanuja Ariyananda.
“Here at home where the annual average rain is 1800 mm, rainwater harvesting is technically feasible anywhere. For instance, a roof area of 50 m2 in Anuradhapura District with 1100 mm annual rainfall, has a potential to collect 44000 litres of rainwater annually which is 120 litres per day.” While rainwater harvesting helps in mitigating drought, it also acts as a buffer against floods and enhances the quality and productivity of ecosystems.
Although the National Water Harvesting Policy was followed by necessary legislation which amended the UDA by-law on drainage which makes provisions for rainwater harvesting by buildings within a municipal area, this is not implemented, resulting in considerable water loss, noted Dr. Ariyananda further reiterating on a collective need to embrace water harvesting as done in many other parts of the world.
The presentation made at the event by Elpitiya Plantations Senior General Manager Ishafir Izzadeen featured the success story of water harvesting, recharging and conservation on Elpitiya Plantations, urging many other business entities to take a cue from.