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The Diakonia partner Women's Development Center has donated water tanks to people affected by the drought in Anuradhapura district. Photo: WDC

Continued drought in Sri Lanka

Severe drought has affected the Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa districts in the north central province of Sri Lanka since October 2013, affecting over 50,000 families. Sri Lankan authorities reported that more than 10 months drought affected 1,5 Million people across 14 districts in central, north and eastern areas.

9/21/2014 Publisher: Vanessa Chong

65 percent of the population depend on agriculture in the affected districts

Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa districts are considered the rice bowl of Sri Lanka. 65 percent of the population cultivate staple crops and have been dependent on agriculture for decades.

Water borne diseases 

Crop cultivation, livestock management and drinking water are seriously endangered especially in remote villages with no pipelines. Desperate people began digging wells in old reservoirs which contain contaminated water and soil, increasing in turn, the risks of water borne diseases. Presently, these two districts have reported the highest number of patients with kidney ailments due to excessive use of contaminated water wells. 

The Diakonia partner Women’s Development Center

The Diakonia partner organization Women’s Development Center (WDC) works through the Rajarata Women’s Development Forum (RWDF) in five district secretariat divisions in Anuradhapura District. RWDF consists of 136 groups with 6,262 members and 30 children’s clubs with 1,055 children. 

RWDF reported that mega irrigation schemes have shut down since late last year due to shortage of rainfall.

Farmers suffer from heavy financial pressure

The expected wet season in October is probably not going to spur any agricultural activity,  despite government’s allocation of relief goods. 

One reason is the continuing difficulty with repaying cultivation loans from the Rural Bank and informal money lenders with high interest rates. As government refused to write off farmers’ loans despite the drought, farmers are disqualified from further accessing resources to rehabilitate crops or engage in disaster mitigation activities.

Increased food prices causes inflation

Sri Lanka’s Central Bank reported that increases in food prices caused the country’s inflation to rise to 3,6 percent in the month of July from 2,8 percent in the previous month .

Lack of awareness about food security

RWDF said that although disaster mitigation authorities are present in all the districts, disaster awareness and preparedness have not involved the communities therefore the lack of knowledge is still prevalent. A comprehensive disaster mitigation strategy plan is urgently needed in these communities.

RWDF also cited the lack of awareness about food security: 
“Farmers are used to selling all their products without keeping a portion of the harvests for domestic consumption or to keep as seeds. Home garden produce, poultry and livestock are all sold as well. The farmers of these districts are not used to saving. As a result the entire family starves” says a RWDF spokesperson. 

Members of community-based organizations or self-help groups formed by RWDF and other NGOs have some capacity for food security but the financial situation of the farmers makes it difficult to pay for fertilizers, hiring of machinery for land preparation etc.

The RWDF has linked up with the divisional secretariats of the affected districts and drought relief work is being carried out according to available financial resources. They were able to distribute 500 plastic water containers to few villages. The distribution was managed by women’s societies that have direct contact with the affected families.

Families take loans to meet their daily needs

The World Food Programme has warned that many families are borrowing heavily to meet daily needs and that unless immediate coordinated relief and agricultural inputs specifically targeting vulnerable households are done, there could be a further collapse in household resilience.