Despite all the boasting and high growth rates projected by the government’s economic pundits, Sri Lanka’s foreign debt in 2011 had soared to 24.8 billion dollars compared to 9 billion dollars in 2000 while debt servicing last year amounted to as much as 12.1 per cent.
With Sri Lanka neck-deep in debt and generations to come burdened with the repayment, the country has been hit by the worst drought in recent history with the Meteorological Department warning there may be no heavy rain till October in some districts.
Tens of thousands of acres of crops have been destroyed in the aftermath of a disastrous paddy harvest where about 300,000 tonnes of paddy were destroyed because farmers did not get a crop of rice and were pushed into the mud hole of paupers. It is a tragedy and a crime because agriculture and farmers have been part of our civilisation for centuries. Those days are gone with the wind.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa has ordered that compensation be paid to tens of thousands of farmers who are languishing in varying degrees of degradation and destitution. A committee comprising officials from several ministries has been appointed to work out this scheme, but opposition critics and independent analysts fear that the plague of rampant corruption and fraud may affect this scheme also and millions of rupees might go to racketeers instead of farmers. The main opposition UNP also said on Monday the Rs.100,000 compensation being given to farmer families amounted to bribes to get their votes at the upcoming provincial elections.
Once this drought crisis is overcome, the government also needs to reconsider the whole process of agriculture and turn to bio farming instead of the current practice of using huge amounts of chemical fertilizers, weedicides and pesticides. Research shows that even the ground water in the main rice-producing areas has been polluted by the excessive use of agrochemicals, and thousands of people are suffering from kidney ailments. Bio farming may be more difficult but it is definitely the best way, and farmers need to be encouraged by giving them incentives.
With hydro-power and drinking-water reservoirs also drying up due to the prolonged drought, Sri Lanka again faces the dreaded power cuts and water cuts. The Ceylon Electricity Board said last week more than 80 per cent of power supplies was coming from highly-expensive thermal power sources, and if the drought continued, the CEB would have no option but to impose power cuts.
The National Water Supply and Drainage Board has also warned of water cuts. Whoever may have blundered and whoever is to be blamed, the people need to respond in a patriotic way by reducing the use of electricity and tap water. If every family could save a few units every month, the total would be enough to have flood lights on a mighty ocean.