Climate change the most urgent threat facing our entire species, and we need to work collectively together and stop procrastinating
– Leonardo DiCaprio
The alarming 42% drop in rice production in the past six months compared to that of last year, the death of nearly two hundred thousand coconut trees and the failure of a slew of other crops during the same season, have put country’s food security in jeopardy. The onslaught by climate change no doubt is playing havoc with the sustenance of Sri Lanka’s population. The jacking up of coconut prices to Rs.100 and the steep rise in rice prices are just the tip of the iceberg.
Agriculture no doubt is one of most vulnerable sectors to be hit by climate change. It goes without saying that unless a comprehensive adaptation programme is put forward by the government a bigger crisis is likely to hit the country next year onward because the effects are only going to be worsened in the years to come. Besides, the projected drying up of ground water resources from 2020 onward threatening water security is going to exacerbate the crisis.
Globally too the fate of agriculture is poised on a precipice. Climate scientists have projected that the entire Nile region which includes large swathes of irrigated land covering Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea, South Sudan, Sudan and Egypt, is expected to become a desert in 2040 due to scarcity of water. Besides, 2.4 billion people living in the Himalayan river basins which include India, Pakistan, China, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Myanmar are expected to experience flash floods and severe drought spells in the years to come.
On the other hand the rising temperatures are stunting the production of wheat, the global staple. Generally corn crops are unable to pollinate when temperatures rise above 93°F. As such Europe, US, Australia, France, Germany, Canada, China, India, Pakistan and many others are comparing their notes and calling urgent conferences to discuss measures to arrest the trend.
However unfortunately it seems that Sri Lanka has so far not shown such urgency in addressing the issues pertaining to the crisis here. It is learnt that a set of proposals has already been presented to the government by the Ministry of Megapolis and Western Development to make the agriculture sector climate resilient and also to ensure water security in areas which do not have water resources right now.
The setting up of a River Basin Authority (RBA) to control and develop the country’s 103 river basins is the key proposal of the plan which is aimed at the multi-purpose development of rivers. This will include creating reservoirs, diverting waters in wet zone rivers to dry zone, controlling floods and many other purposes. However this blue print is yet to get off the ground as it awaits the green light.
It is estimated that annually some 5.5 billion cubic metres of water from the Kelani River flows to the sea. Diverting part of the flood waters to Kurunegala and Puttalam and those of Attanagalu Oya and Gin Ganga to the South and Moneragala are among the proposals of the ministry.
It should be noted that after Ambatale not a single reservoir has been build to supply water to Colombo despite the sharp rise in the demand for fresh drinking water. The ministry plan drives home the point that there’s an urgent need to create at least two more tanks for Colombo in view of the demand.
While the rest of the world is busy discussing means and measures to face the effects of global warming Sri Lanka has so far failed to come up with a single, solid back-up plan. It is high time we rose up to the challenge and implement what needs to be done before it is too late.