Resolving the water issues

Posted Thursday September 03, 2015 by Hazel Durbridge

Two 18 year old German girls have turned up to volunteer at S’s centre following A’s departure. Their mother also came to settle them in who was very glamorous and confident. I say that because she stayed in a really dodgy place but was totally blasé about it. Yesterday we ran an event on the beach late afternoon when the heat of the sun has subsided. I was amazed at the volume of children who appeared from nowhere. We read English picture books with them. It was quite surreal being surrounded by about 10 little people waiting their turn to read to you. One little girl was only 7, but extremely good. I wonder if such an opportunity in the UK, with say French or German books, would have evoked such interest?


FOCUS AREA 1 – Resolving the water issue once and for all


UN-Water proposed working definition of water security

‘The capacity of a population to safeguard sustainable access to adequate quantities of acceptable quality water for sustaining livelihoods, human well-being, and socio-economic development, for ensuring protection against water-borne pollution and water-related disasters, and for preserving eco-systems in a climate of peace and political stability.


Every person consulted for this report cited the issue of retaining water and avoiding the disastrous annual flooding as the main priority for Batticaloa’s future economic development and the wellbeing of its people.

It was every person’s understanding that no one had yet looked at this problem in a truly strategic and therefore regional way. This problem is bigger than the eastern province as water flows in to the district from far afield. This requires action at a top ministerial level.

It requires national consultancy expertise (because Sri Lankans understand the tank system better than international consultants) and significant one off national funding. Otherwise you are pouring good money after bad.

After the 2010 floods the government gave 160,000,000Rs emergency relief to Batticaloa district. After the 2012 floods they gave 38,000Rs.

Economic impact of flooding: ‘Though there was no comprehensive economic impact

assessment conducted as yet to assess the economic impact of flooding in Ampara and

Batticaloa districts the available data and outcome of the stakeholder assessment

shows the massive economic impact of flooding to the people and the society. Recorded

statistics during the period 1974 to 2008 confirms that 25,163 houses (Ampara 18,520

and Batticaloa 6,643) and 108,921Ha of paddy and other crop lands (84,639 Ampara and

24,282 Batticaloa) were damaged in Ampara and Batticaloa districts. The economic

impact of high cost spent for reconstruction and recovery of damage infrastructure

services and facilities including road network, telecom system, high cost of surveillance

and relief, loss of labour, health hazards is enormous. The economic impact of flooding

to the national government as well as provincial council and the budget of the local

public agencies is fairly high. The government spends a large amount of money every

year during disasters for emergency operations, relief activities and also after the

disaster for compensation, recovery of essential services, repairs to infrastructure,

improves the health conditions etc. Another important is the adverse impact on the

development of the area. Unfavourable condition created by recurrent flooding in a

region has discouraged long‐term private sector investments generates negative impact

on a region’s economic growth. Land value has gone down and loss of resources can

lead to high costs of goods and services, delaying economic and social development

adversely affecting the economic benefit of the region’.

Source: Flood Mitigation in Ampara and Batticaloa Districts etc.


If this is not addressed in the next 10 years how will Batticaloa feed its growing population and consolidate the infrastructure for the rural poor? Water impact on livelihoods and failure to provide a livelihood for the rural poor will impact on essential services – piped water, electricity, roads, transport, government taxes etc. will all struggle to become sustainable without on-going subsidy.

An acknowledgement that the water issue is bigger than the tanks & irrigation

IWMI (International Water Management Institute) differentiates between three kinds of water scarcity – physical, economical and institutional. Physical water scarcity is easily understandable – not having an adequate quantity of suitable quality water all the time. In other cases water may be readily available, but economically inaccessible. Also water may be available physically as well as economically, but there are no proper policies, institutions or legislation in place to make it available for all, particularly for marginalised groups in society.

These are the realities facing millions of families and which lead to health risks and foregone opportunities for earning incomes and securing livelihoods. Beyond the humanitarian case for water, there is also a strong economic case and therefore a political case for promoting water security.

The ancient tank cascades serve the purpose of water storage and a well-functioning system is equally good at mitigating floods as well as droughts. However times change and pressures increase so the real challenge is not just rehabilitating those, but also making them relevant and recognising all the other physical changes that are taking place, including expansion of agro-wells and new settlements. Based on research work carried out on tank systems in both Sri Lanka and southern India, it is possible to identify new approaches, for example, exploring the potential of tank systems for recharging groundwater.

The proportion of water withdrawn for agriculture is 85% of the total of which 90% is used to irrigate rice paddies. The key challenge now is how to maintain rice self-sufficiency through innovations in crop varieties while reducing water consumption and poorly managed agro-chemical usage. The government has set a target of reducing water use in agriculture to 60% of withdrawals, but this will require incentives to bring about the required behavioural change.

IWMI is working with the Disaster Management Centre of Sri Lanka on flood-prone area mapping using satellite imagery which can then be used as the basis for preparedness plans.

To help address water security issues IWMI launched a new strategic framework for its research programme in Sri Lanka March 2013. The first 3 years of the strategy focuses on 4 main areas: improving agricultural water use and productivity, helping better manage floods, droughts and climate change impacts; aiding the sustainable management of natural resources and ecosystems and developing capacity for knowledge management and sharing.

Source: The Sunday Times 26 May 2013.

The following factors need to be considered in addressing Sri Lanka’s key water needs:

  • Improve irrigation efficiency, including rehabilitation of existing tanks and reservoirs, in the dry zone of Sri Lanka
  • Effectively manage groundwater resources to avoid overexploitation and pollution
  • Include environmental water requirements in all water management strategies to avoid further degradation of ecosystem services
  • Create effective mitigation strategies to adapt to the impacts of climate change
  • Identify better options for water storage to capture surpluses during the wet season for use during the dry season
  • Develop coping strategies to evaluate the associated benefits and risks in the use of wastewater in agriculture

Next step:

The GA has asked colleagues to recommend a suitably qualified expert/ consultant to look at this.

Batticaloa District Development Plan DRAFT 2013


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