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, with significant impacts on the economic activity, livelihoods and lives of communities. As of 19 September, (0900hrs, UTC+5.30), 1,927,069 people were estimated to be affected by the drought across 17 districts, according to the Disaster Management Centre (DMC).
Despite the Southwest monsoon in late May, which triggered flooding and landslides in the country’s southwest provinces, country-wide drought conditions are ongoing with the total affected population reaching over two million people in early September. However, the figures reported by the DMC have now been reduced due to brief inter-monsoonal rains experienced in mid-September across various districts. These rains are unlikely to significantly alleviate the ongoing drought conditions which are predicted to continue in the coming weeks.
In March 2017, one-quarter of households were seriously concerned about access to drinking water with levels of water available for general household use declining. According to assessments in August by the World Food Programme (WFP) and Ministry of Disaster Management, 45% of communities have reported that their closest reservoirs are now empty, with overall water levels in reservoirs at 18% in the beginning of August compared to 47% this time last year.
According to the Department of Agriculture, due to the floods in May and ongoing drought impacting the primary and secondary harvests of 2017, the rice production for 2017 is expected to be the lowest paddy production in the last 10 years. The production forecast for 2017 will be sufficient for just over 7 months of household consumption. As a result, over 300,000 households are estimated to be food insecure with many households limiting their food intake and 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. 50% of households surveyed in a recent WFP assessment reported that their debts have almost doubled compared to 2016 due to a lack of agriculture based income. This is having serious consequences for the health and wellbeing of communities.
In response to the drought the government has been providing drinking water to severely affected communities and has distributed relief packs of dry rations and other household items worth Rs. 5,000 to families across several affected districts. 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 August 2017, World Vision Lanka extended their classification of the drought as a Category 2 Disaster. UNICEF provided four water bowsers to the Government, as part of a US$1.5million assistance package. FAO has distributed micro irrigation kits and vegetable seed packs in 4 severely affected districts, partly through the UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) allocation of US$3 million in March 2017 for drought response projects. The CERF funded activities include cash transfers for food security, as well as for projects on Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) programmes and agricultural assistance.
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.
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