|Saturday, 14 August 2004|
Swift measures to contain dry zone's drought dread
by Chandani Jayatilleke
The Government is acting promptly to provide immediate relief to the drought stricken people in the districts of Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Hambantota, Kurunegala, Puttalam, Monaragala and Matale.
President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga has already met the officials concerned and discussed the issue at length and also directed them to take immediate relief measures to resolve this problem.
Accordingly, the Disaster Management Council is working on this. During the President's meeting with the Council, it was also decided to supply drinking water, repair tube wells and provide immediate drought relief as short-term solutions.
It was further agreed to release 50 water bowsers belonging to the three armed services and the Police for the use of District Secretaries who were charged with the task of supplying water to the people free, through the Water Supply and Drainage Board.
A proposal has been made to facilitate availability of labour by conducting "Drought Relief Campaigns", parallel to the 10,000 irrigation tanks project.
The Government has also planned to construct water tanks in areas identified as perennially drought stricken and draw up plans to identify rural tanks and the irrigation network to implement drinking water supply projects.
The Council decided to implement these programs through the Social Services Department with coordination by Presidential Secretary W. J. S. Karunaratne and the Disaster Management Council with the cooperation of the Ministry of Defence, Law and Order and Samurdhi.
Meanwhile the Department of Social Services has allocated Rs.440 million to provide drought relief for five drought affected districts under the direction of Women's Empowerment and Social Welfare Minister Sumedha G.Jayasena.
The Department has already allocated Rs. 214.6 million for the Kurunegala district. The amount of funds allocated for the Anuradhapura district is Rs. 160 million. Another Rs. 34.1 million has been allocated for the Puttalam district, Rs. 15.3 million for the Badulla district and Rs.7.4 million for the Monaragala district.
According to reports received by the Social Services Dept, 157,171 families, 61,704 acres of paddy land and 51,897 acres of agricultural land in the Kurunegala district have been affected by the drought. More than 158,990 families and 14,077 acres of paddy land in the Anuradhapura district had also been affected while the number of affected families in the Puttalam district is 42,900.
The number of affected families in the Matale district is 16,432. More than 8,382 families in the Hambantota district, 30,419 families in the Polonnaruwa district and another 27,698 families in the Monaragala district are also affected by the long running drought.
The Department has released Rs. 16 million to provide tube wells, water bowsers, deep wells for Anuradhapura, Badulla, Batticaloa, Gampaha, Hambantota, Jaffna, Kilinochchi, Kurunegala, Mannar, Matale, Monaragala, Polonnaruwa, Puttalam and Trincomalee districts.
It has also made arrangements to distribute 637 water tanks among Puttalam, Anuradhapura, Hambantota, Ratnapura, Kurunegala, Monaragala, Ampara, Trincomalee, Polonnaruwa and Badulla districts at a cost of Rs. 3,185,000.
Of all districts, Anuradhapura is the worst hit.
According to reports, 90% of the agricultural lands in Anuradhapura had not been cultivated since January this year.
Media Secretary, North Central Provincial Council, Sarath Bandara Herath said, the people in Anuradhapura have gone through many difficulties over the last four years due to the drought. The area had not received sufficient rainfall throughout this period. Though there had been considerable rain from time to time, since last September, there had not been any rains.
Herath said some of the Wewas and irrigation projects in the area needed urgent renovation. "This is the most suitable time to renovate the 'Wewas' so that when the rain comes, the tanks can hold more water."
Except Nachchaduwa, Tisa Wewa and Nuwara Wewa, all other water resources, meaning tanks and 'Wewas', have gone dry due to the prolonged drought. Even in these three main Wewas, the water level has severely gone down to two-feet. The Water Board struggles with this water level to provide clean drinking water to the people.
Many people and pilgrims still flock to the Sacred City. But only a few would care about the environment. Others are not bothered about the hardships of the people affected by the drought.
The water in the Wewas is polluted because of the dumping of garbage into the water and washing of vehicles in the Wewa by the visitors. "Therefore we have taken a decision to work along with the Police and keep the vehicles away from the Wewa and also to take legal action against those who break this law."
He urged the visitors to Anuradhapura to bring their own water. And also not to bring any polythene or "sili sili" bags as they have found that the Tisa wewa is full of "sili sili" bags.
The drought has also caused a severe impact on the environment and animals in these areas. In Anuradhapura cattle are dying. "And we fear that people will also be affected by disease if the situation persists further," Herath said.
While the Government has already started providing relief to the people, Herath said at least 300 water bowsers are needed on a daily basis.
Besides Anuradhapura, people in the other affected areas are also undergoing severe hardships, according to District Secretariats. Though officials are taking measures to highlight the issue and seek more relief, they are insufficient to address the issue. They also seek assistance from various organisations and donors.
Meanwhile, the Meteorology Department has forecast that the monsoon rains expected in September/October will be on a negative note.
If the drought persists that long and if the farmers could not cultivate their lands once again, the situation may turn critical.
Therefore, it is clear that there is a need to bring effective plans to minimise the negative impact of the drought right now. Perhaps the Government could seek foreign assistance in numerous ways to address this issue in an effective manner.
Produced by Lake House