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Many Sri Lankans attribute the vagaries of the climate to the caprices of the weather gods. It seems that the time has come again to appease those deities because our tropical island nation is profoundly dependant on monsoon rains for its agriculture, domestic water consumption, irrigation and power supply for its national grid.

Unless the hydro catchment areas receive heavy rainfall soon to fill the reservoirs, another power crisis seems inevitable!In fact, the effect of dry weather is already making its presence felt in several sectors. The nation has had no substantial rainfall since mid-November last year and its longest river, the Mahaweli, has been reduced to a trickle in several stretches.

In the face of the increased regularity of extreme dry seasons, the country still lacks measures to ease the impact on vital sectors such as agriculture, energy and water reserves. Warnings had been sounded that last year’s main rice harvest was likely to shrink substantially as a result of the shortage of rainfall. By early December only 30 percent of the 830,000 hectares of paddy that could potentially be grown during main Maha rice cultivation season had been sown.

Reports have indicated that for the first time in more than a decade, the increased intensity of the scorching heat wave has also served to scorch and destroy extensive groves of coconut palms.The country’s vital tea sector which provides livelihood for nearly 10 percent of our nation’s population is also facing a heat-related threat.

So at times such as the present when the country is experiencing a blistering drought with no rain clouds on the horizon there is nothing one can do except pray. State power agencies are as usual looking up at the clouds. They obviously don’t have any other solutions except to hope against hope that the expectant intermittent monsoon expected to blow in by mid-March will break sooner than later.

If the present weather pattern does not change, the power generation over the course of this year will get much worse before it gets better. And this includes soaring utility costs as well. A poor oil-dependent nation such as ours cannot afford to lose any time in developing cheap, alternate sources of power.Imagine, the daily losses incurred by the CEB due to purchasing thermal power to meet the demand, has risen to more than Rs. 200 million a day.

The power crisis has become a crucial issue in Sri Lanka as a result of its high sensitivity towards internal and external factors. Delays in implementing low-cost power plants to match the increase in electricity demand provided the basis for this issue. Rising oil prices have directly contributed in worsening this situation threatening the long-term sustainability of the country.

But the authorities are also aware that a cheap source of power and backup systems other than hydro have to be found urgently. The officials concerned pointed out, that coal was the answer to our prayer, but that the initial investment could be rather heavy. However, as soon as the plan was announced agitation by environmentalists and residents stymied plans for the establishment of such the venture.

Analysts say that the public should be made aware of the importance of coal powered plants while allaying needless fears that they cause an adverse impact on the environment. Experts claim the Government should construct as many such power plants as possible. The modern technology employed in running coal powered plants ensures that they do not have as harmful an impact on the environment as mooted by the anti-coal plant lobbyists.

No one can deny that water and electricity aret he two most vital components for the lifeblood and development of a nation. Many successive administrations in the recent past paid scarce attention to the development of this sector and major projects envisaged for the boosting of the national grid and enhancing the electricity supply were kept in abeyance for political reasons. Specialists have outlined the challenges facing power generation and energy policies in Sri Lanka today as a result of many years of ill-advised strategic planning, investment and delays in infrastructure construction.

This had resulted in Sri Lanka experiencing a huge power crisis which had developed to a critical extent in 2000-2002 forcing the Electricity Board to curtail power supplies for several hours each day, compelling many industries to curb their production activities and incur heavy losses. Continued power cuts were also one of the factors that contributed to the fall of People sAlliance government in the year 2001.

The present power crisis is not a recent one. But the question asked is why the authorities have left it too late for too long to address the problem? What steps since then have been taken to analyse and identify the causes for the crisis and take steps to overcome its recurrence? What contingency plans have been put in place to reduce the dependence on hydropower failure and breakdowns in backup plants? It has been a perennial problem and will continue to remain so until the authorities go ahead with setting up more sustainable energy plants.

If a start is not made now, the country is in jeopardy of missing out on economic growth altogether. The upshot of all this could translate into severe unemployment, rising prices, worsening poverty and the danger of sparking social tensions. The crucial national objectives of accelerating economic growth and alleviating poverty in this country can never be achieved unless new strategies are adopted towards supplying cheap power for economic activities.

Water is one of the world’s most precious and essential life-sustaining resources. It helps support a crucial plethora of our enterprises, amenities and utilities. As such,we cannot afford to leave it at the mercy of the vagaries of the weather gods.Neither can we entrust it to the hands of idiots who do nothing but get involved in the business of prediction and praying for divine intervention. To continue doing so would be suicidal!
gdgasross@gmail.com