Extreme weather boosts poverty in Sri Lanka

drought    A study conducted in January by the World Food Programme  (WFP) and the Ministries of Economic Development and Disaster Management found that the combined effects of last year’s long drought and subsequent floods have left many in dire circumstances.

“Rain,” says the 47-year-old vegetable farmer Gamage, who has farmed for three and a half decades in Sri Lanka’s remote south eastern Tanamalvilla area, a dry area where rain can be frustratingly scarce.

Last year, for almost six months, he did not plant any crops because a severe drought had dried out the river from which he draws water. When the drought ended, he was relieved – but not for long. Rains began in early November and kept falling into January.

After severe flooding between December and January affected over 500,000 people in the Northern, Eastern, Southern, South-Eastern and South-western regions, the government sought the assistance of WFP to carry out a survey to map food security in the worst-hit areas.

The assessment found that 31 percent of surveyed households were severely food insecure and an additional 44 percent were suffering from borderline food insecurity. Fully 67 percent of households said they had been affected by both flooding and drought.

Together the drought and the floods affected over 1.5 million people and destroyed or damaged over 10,000 houses.

The assessment warned that the combined effect of the floods and the drought was likely to reduce the estimated seasonal harvest of 2.6 metric tons by at least 600,000 metric tons.

The drought also created headaches to power generation in Sri Lanka. The country became almost entirely reliant on thermal power as hydro electric power generation fell to around 17 percent at the worst of the drought. Annually around 45 percent of Sri Lanka’s electricity generation is from hydropower plants, so the reduction meant a hefty bill for oil imports last year.

“We expected a much lower impact (on the economy) from (imports of) oil for power generation. But a severe drought prevailed and demanded much higher oil imports, which made the balance of payment even more difficult,” Finance secretary P B Jayasundera,  said.

Climate experts warn that such impacts on the economy and its poorest sections will become more frequent unless governments plan ahead.

“Floods and droughts will happen much more frequently now. “Dealing with changing climate patterns and their impacts is not cheap.The longer you wait to act, the higher the bill will be. (AlertNet)

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