Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka: Drought 2002 Appeal No.18/2002

The Situation

Two and a half years of severe drought in Southern Sri Lanka's Hambantota District continues unabated. More than 400,000 people, some 80% of Hambantota's population, have been affected by the long term effects of the drought. A joint Sri Lanka Red Cross (SLRC)/Federation assessment in May 2002 revealed that the drought affected population is only capable of meeting approximately one-third of their required nutritional needs. The food security situation is deteriorating. The worsening drought conditions have caused a change in food consumption patterns among the people of the region. Families have gone from having three meals a day to consuming only one or two meals a day, with some being forced to eat only tree leaves instead of vegetables. Where possible, families have been forced to send elder children to stay with relatives in other regions due to the lack of adequate food and water supplies in Hambantota region.

In August 2001, the Federation launched an appeal to support the SLRC with assisting 39,000 beneficiaries affected by the prolonged drought in the Hambantota region. The 2001 appeal, was subsequently revised to aid 21,000 beneficiaries sustained six month food distribution programme, and was completed in February 2002.

Thanks to a generous donation by the Japanese Red Cross Society towards the 2001 drought appeal, and the reallocation of funds from a previous appeal, an additional distribution to a slightly reduced and reassessed number of families took place between 18-20 February in the region to complete the final phase of the food distribution programme of 2001. A SLRC/Federation reassessment mission took place at the same time as the final relief distributions for the 2001 operation. The conclusion of the 2001 programme was designed to coincide with the arrival of the south-west monsoon (April/May). However, the desperately needed rains, just as over the past two and a half years, failed to reach the most severely affected areas and the drought continued. According to the Sri Lankan Meterological Institute, Hambantota experiences a drought situation when measured rainfall is less than 75 per cent of normal levels. Hambantota District has experienced below average rainfall since 1996 and suffered two severe droughts in 1998 and 2001.

In May, a further assessment was conducted by SLRC and the Federation's South Asia disaster response delegate. This assessment included a community level food basket exercise conducted in two villages, one of which had been receiving SLRC food rations, and one that had not received any form of aid from relief sources. The assessment team also held extensive discussions with other affected communities, Grama Niladaris (government administrator at a divisional level), the Government Agent (top administrative official at a divisional level), other NGOs, and Government health officials. The assessment found that the small amount of rain that fell in December and subsequently in April and May had failed to alleviate the drought conditions in the worst affected pockets.

Those people who, expected larger quantities of rain this past April, risked securing further loans in order to purchase seeds. As drought conditions worsen the opportunities for income generation are declining. Seeds planted for cash crops (i.e. cashew nuts) have died, and the availability of casual work in the paddy fields has decreased drastically due to the drying up of irrigation ponds and traditional water sources. Staple food prices have risen by approximately 50% and, families, in the most desperate cases, are consuming tree leaves in the place of vegetables.

Food Security

The food basket assessment carried out by SLRC volunteers in May showed that people are receiving just one third of their daily energy and protein requirements as per the Sphere standards. Government health officials have confirmed that the average birth weight has fallen and that school attendance levels have dropped significantly as the drought has progressed.

In a move to ensure greater relief distribution coverage, the government, which has also been distributing food and water since February, has requested that the SLRCS support their food distribution and water provision programmes in the future.

All basic food items are available in local markets, however people have experienced a decrease in purchasing power due to the lack of employment opportunities, and a 50% increase in staple food product prices, and are thus unable to obtain adequate food supplies.

Health and Water

Daily water consumption in the region for drinking and cooking currently stands at approximately 2.5 litres per person per day, less than 20% of the minimum requirements set out under the Sphere Standards. In order to wash people must walk, on average, 6 km to tanks (large open water storage reservoirs) where water is still available. The lack of water available for washing has led to a decline in hygiene standards and consequently an increase in dysentery cases. The local government has been bringing drinking water to villages in tankers, however financial pressures have put strains on this service. As a result, the water supply for the population is inadequate and irregular. Tube wells are not a feasible solution due to the salinity of the water in the region.

Health and Sanitation

NORAD, the Norwegian Development Cooperation Agency, has funded the establishment of low flush latrines for most of the households in the visited areas. These latrines are used and cleaned by the population. At the moment no initiatives in this respect seem necessary. However, the probability of an outbreak of water borne diseases is high as the population is becoming increasingly concentrated around the few remaining water sources in the area. Figures for January showed dysentery levels in Hambantota were four times higher than the national average.

The health system is working well in the area with a referral system and vaccination programme in place. However, there is an urgent need to establish higher levels of health, hygiene and nutrition education at a community level in the worst affected areas. Previously SLRC volunteers have been involved in dengue fever prevention campaigns and are therefore well placed to carry out further community level education programmes.

Female headed households, which have become a feature of the district as many men have left in search of work, will be especially targeted by the programme.

Action so far (non Red Cross/Red Crescent)

The local government has organised food distributions and is tankering water to villages. However, due to lack of funding and equipment the government is unable to continue with these initiatives. Local government officials have therefore asked the SLRC for assistance with water distributions, and to take over and extend their food distribution programme.

Due to a lack of water tanks at village distribution points, water is being distributed to beneficiaries directly from bowsers (distribution tankers). This has led to wastage through spillage and delays in distribution. CARE has supplied rubber water containers (800 litres) to various villages in the region. Unfortunately, many of the containers supplied by external organisations are being destroyed by elephants which have left the jungle in search of water. In one district, water bowsers were not put into operation due to lack of funds.

WFP, UNDP and FAO had also assisted in the previous relief operations over the past 6 months, and some other INGOs including World Vision, Oxfam and SCF (UK) also supported water provisions in different areas.

Red CrosslRed Crescent response so far

The Federation has allocated CHF 200,000 from its Disaster Relief Emergency Fund (DREF) for immediate action.

Red Cross Red Crescent action

In January 2002, a house-to-house survey was conducted in three AGA (local government) Divisions to assess whether the brief rains in December had any impact on the worst affected families. The number of families surveyed was: 468 in Lunugamvehera division, 490 in Sooriyawewa division, and 520 in Hambantota division. Some 1,478 families were surveyed out of the total beneficiary list of 3,718 families. The survey was carried out by 32 SLRC branch volunteers (15 male and 17 female) in villages receiving the six month food distributions. Results of the survey expressed a continued need for assistance in the region, especially amongst the poorest farming families. An additional assessment by the Federation's Regional disaster response delegate was requested by the survey team.

In response to this request, a second SLRC/Federation joint assessment was made from 22-24 March to assess the impact of the food distribution programme and review future possibilities given the humanitarian needs. A final joint assessment was conducted during the end of May 2002 using the food basket assessment (as described below). May's assessment confirmed the SLRC's earlier evaluations, that in view of the prolonged impact of the drought the continuation of relief programmes is necessary.

The food basket assessment was made in two villages by teams comprised of SLRC national headquarters staff, branch officers, and volunteers. One village, Andarawewa, was previously supported by the SLRC. The other village, Bondaginya, was located in a district proposed by the government for future SLRC assistance since it had not received any previous assistance.

In the village Bondaginya (not previously supported by the SLRC or any other aid agencies) the average daily ration per person was as follows:

Dried Fish
Tree Leaves

Most of the families in this village were living on rice and vegetables or tree leaves alone. The above figures represent less than one third of a standard full ration for protein and energy as per Sphere standards. A result of this substandard food intake has been a noticeable drop in birth weight in the area.

The village of Andarawewa was targeted for distribution by the SLRC for 6 months ending in March 2002. As a result, this village is better off in terms of food consumption than the unsupported village. The average daily ration per person in May was as follows:

Dried Fish
Tree Leaves

These figures represent a more varied ration with a higher nutritional value, but consumption is still well below Sphere minimum standards. The SLRC rations helped the families to purchase supplementary nutritional foods (e.g. fish) with their limited disposable income. It is expected that without assistance, this village's nutritional levels would fall back to levels observed in the unassisted village.

The Needs

Immediate Needs

The average income of families in the worst affected areas was found, in the first assessment, to be LKR 625 per month (CHF 12.5). Under normal conditions this income would supplement their subsistence paddy and vegetable farming. As these crops have failed, this meagre income is insufficient to provide food for the family.

Most of these families are government relief recipients which entitles them to food coupons totalling LKR 350 per family per month (CHF 7). This amount is barely sufficient for one week's worth of basic food for a family.

The Sri Lankan government has the primary mandate for assisting the drought affected population, however, the armed conflict that has gripped the North of the country over the last 20 years has drained national resources. The local government in Hambantota has no capacity to provide additional food to the population. The Hambantota District Government Agent (top administrative official) has requested that the SLRC continue to provide food assistance to the most vulnerable families, and also has asked for support in providing drinking water to the villages in the region. There are currently no security issues in the region.

Relief items needs


The food basket assessment showed that, with their existing resources, the population is only capable of meeting 33% of their energy and protein needs. Even these needs are being met at the expense of other basic needs such as clothing and improved qualitative and diversified nutrition. Therefore, the relief ration should cover 80% of a full Sphere standards ration (see explanation below). Flour is not advisable as people need coconut for food preparation which is currently not available due to the drought. Salt is unnecessary as it is freely available. The amount of food needed per person per day is as follows:

Edible oil
400 grams
30 grams
80 grams
30 grams

Water & Sanitation needs

The scarcity of water and long distances to water sources, in combination with a limited capacity of the local government has led to a decrease in water and sanitation standards. In order to remedy the situation, water containers, hand pumps, and bowsers (mobile water distribution containers) will be needed.

There is also an urgent need for SLRC volunteers to be trained in order to conduct community level health, hygiene and nutrition education for households in the worst affected areas in order to better educate residents on how to best use their already meagre resources.

The Proposed Operation

Objectives and Activities planned

The overall goal of the SLRC operation is, to provide supplementary food and water support to the most vulnerable communities, within the drought affected area, until the anticipated first harvest of crops in January 2003 (providing rainfall this year is normal).

Relief distributions

The aforementioned surveys indicate that the majority of families most severely affected by the drought are able to provide for one third of their food needs until the next harvest. This operation is designed to make up the other 80% shortfall. The shortfall is calculated at 80% when all other non-food needs are considered. Currently families are being forced to ignore their medical and clothing needs in order to cover just one third of their nutritional needs. If families are provided with 80% of their daily food requirement they will be able to meet the most pressing of their non-nutritional needs.

Three thousand families, selected in close coordination with local government officials and other NGOs, will receive two distributions of food. Quantities are based on the Sphere minimum nutritional standards and items are locally acceptable staples of rice, oil, dal and sugar were chosen following discussions with the potential beneficiaries in the food basket survey. Each distribution will be sufficient for an average family of six persons for three months. Distributions will provide for families' nutritional needs until the first crops can be harvested in January 2003.

Table 1 below provides further details of food requirements:

Food Requirements (kgs)

Daily per person
(in Grams)
Per family (6 persons)
Per family for 9 months
3,000 families for 9 months
Dal (lentils)
Edible oil

Restoration of food supply

CARE is currently running a seed supply programme in the region, they have informed SLRC that they will continue running this programme. Currently no programmes are being considered by the SLRC in this area. Any future options will only be assessed in parallel with the needs and capacities identified at a community and Branch level through the volunteer network.

Specific objectives and activities of the SLRC programme are shown below:

Objective 1: To distribute food to 3000 families for 9 months.

Activity 1: Personnel from SLRCS NHQ, Hambantota Branch and a Federation delegate will conduct a rapid assessment to identify an immediate 1,000 of the most vulnerable families in the district. This will be complete before mid-July, with an immediate first food distribution to these families by end of July.

Activity 2: Food will be procured and distributed to a further 2,000 families starting first week of August until end of February 2003 (three distributions, with each distribution consisting of a two month supply and a final distribution of a one month supply of food).

In accordance with the requirements of beneficiaries and community leaders as expressed during community review meetings conducted during the previous operation, procurements will be carried out locally. Rural dwelling Sri Lankans consume very specific varieties of rice and dal which are grown in Sri Lanka and other varieties are not considered palatable. Local cooperative suppliers especially will be asked to provide tenders as previous experience has shown that procurement at this level not only stimulates the local economy but also saves considerably on warehousing, transport and distribution costs.

Activity 3: The warehouse currently available in the district will be upgraded and repaired to provide a storage area for relief and food stocks.

Safe water/sanitation

Tanks for collecting, treating and storing water are needed in the key water scarce locations of the District. Ten schools will be provided with 20,000 litre underground storage tanks, hand pumps and rainwater collecting systems. Over the next five months the SLRC will organise the transport of water to these storage tanks using bowsers. Transportation of water will continue until the beginning of the monsoon period in December. Clean water is available for this project from reservoirs in nearby areas. With this additional capacity the SLRC will supplement the capacity of the local government and at the same time provide a more sustainable solution to the drought problem. The realisation of this programme requires that bowsers be bought and that tractors be rented.

Objective 2: To provide drinking water to ten water collection containers at ten schools including rainwater harvesting system and hand pump.

Activity 1: Personnel from SLRC NHQ and Hambantota Branch will identify the ten most suitable schools, in the worst affected areas, to receive water tanks. School assessment will be based on the scarcity of water, quality of the school's roof to maximise run-off catchment, the distance of the school from the village, and the availability of volunteers in the area for maintenance of the tanks and pumps. This assessment will be carried out by the end of June.

Activity 2: Construction of water collection tanks by the end of August.

Activity 3: Bowsering water to these water points will begin in mid-July. In the first month, while tanks are being constructed, water will be distributed directly from bowsers. Bowsers will deposit water directly into the tanks once construction is complete. This activity will continue until the first rains appear in November/December.

Activity 4: The system will be maintained by volunteers throughout the project.

Public health

SLRC volunteers will further cooperate with the Ministry of Health in dissemination activities. This objective can be facilitated through community based first aid training with sanitation and nutrition components. The volunteers will also identify specific needs in the villages for the development of a further longer term drought mitigation programme at a later stage.

Objective 3: To disseminate sanitation and health practices through a sustainable network of volunteers targeting female heads of families

Activity 1: The SLRC will train 40 volunteers in Community Based Health and First Aid (CBHFA) and provide them with a first aid kit, a bicycle and dissemination material. Two of these volunteers will be selected to be trained as trainers in order to facilitate further development of the volunteer pool.

Activity 2: Volunteers will organise meetings with families in the most vulnerable areas, targeting particularly female heads of families, to disseminate information on nutrition and sanitation, and to discuss possible community based programmes in these areas.

Objective 4: To enhance the response capacity of the Hambantota Red Cross Branch.

Activity 1: 40 volunteers will be trained in disaster response, disaster preparedness and disaster mitigation with a water/sanitation (WATSAN) component to be integrated into the course. Volunteers will each be provided with a bicycle. Two volunteers in this group will be trained as trainers in order to facilitate further development of the volunteer pool.

National Society Capacity Building

As a follow up to the 2001 Red Cross/Red Crescent drought relief programme, the Federation, the SLRC's Drought Relief coordinator and Hambantota branch officials devised a questionnaire to assess the success of the programme. In accordance with Sphere standards, the SLRC conducted continuous community level monitoring and assessment questionnaires throughout the six month programme to ensure that beneficiaries were involved at all stages in the planning and design of the programme (for example, the beneficiaries set the original level of food needs per family at 50% of Sphere standards through their own assessment).

The SLRC has considerable experience in disaster relief operations and has a substantial number of available volunteers both in the Hambantota District branch and throughout the country. Many of these volunteers have received training in disaster preparedness and vulnerability capacity assessment. Further training in disaster response, disaster preparedness, disaster mitigation and CBHFA is required.

The previous drought relief effort received considerable media coverage. A similar publicity campaign will be launched for this appeal which will further enhance the visibility of the SLRCS. A public information component will be integrated into this publicity campaign, explaining the movement's mandate and role, and advocating for coordinated and well-resourced interventions from all other agencies and NGOs to assist the drought affected communities. The SLRC launch of the "World Disasters Report" on 19 June at a national press conference in Colombo was attended by 40 senior journalists from the print and electronic media, and was presided over by the Minister for Social Services. The Minister took the opportunity to thank the SLRC for the role it plays in Sri Lanka, and invited continued close cooperation with the government in the future.

The Federation's international advocacy priority of creating greater awareness and support for vulnerable communities who are suffering because of slow onset and forgotten disasters will guide the publicity objectives of this programme.


The Federation and UN Resident Coordinator's Office have continued to share the lessons learnt from recent drought relief operations with various institutions in