With a drought raging across many parts of the country affecting millions, the Disaster Management Centre (DMC) urged the public to use water carefully and sparingly while the Ministry of Agriculture informed that they only expected a harvest below 50% from this year’s Yala season cultivation.

Deputy Director-c.d (Early Warning) at the Emergency Operation Centre of the DMC, K.A.D. Pradeep K. Kodippili said that apart from the provision of drinking water via tanks (6,000 within the last two months) and bowsers (500 within the last two months) and the allocation of Rs 40 million for the purpose, the Government acting on the instructions of the President Maithripala Sirisena had decided to provide all those who were affected in around 17 Districts with a pack of dry rations.

The latter move is in anticipation of a potential food shortage which could arise as a result of agriculture production being adversely impacted by the lack of rain. In the case of the supplying of drinking water, hospitals and schools and villages have been prioritized.
Damages to crops too have been paid off, he added.

The main challenge is the absence of rain which is expected within two months.
“Apart from the emergency response aspect, we are looking at disaster mitigation, too. The disaster emergency hotline 117 is open to the public. The water is provided free of charge. The same is the case with the National Water Supply and Drainage Board. The drivers of bowsers are paid for by us,” he added.

Meanwhile, the Ministry acknowledged that following the drought, the farmers were faced with financial and monetary issues. In response, the levies (taxes) on the prices of certain essential commodities and the import of rice have also been lifted by the Government.
Secretary – State Ministry of Agriculture and Acting Commissioner General of the Govijana Seva, D.V. Bandulasena said that with the drought affecting the entire dry zone, not only paddy farming but the cultivation of other field crops such as mung beans, cowpea and vegetables, had been affected. The farming of vegetables in the hill country and upcountry has also been affected albeit to a lesser degree, he noted.

Meanwhile, Minister of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Management, Mahinda Amaraweera has noted that the prolonged drought which in certain areas had led to the complete evaporation of certain water bodies, reserves and reservoirs, had in turn adversely impacted the freshwater fishing industry, thereby severely affecting the fishermen dependent on the resource and engaged in the livelihood for their main daily source of income. Measures are to be taken to provide relief to those in dire straits.

Therefore due to the low rainfall, we have to find alternative ways and means of farming, Bandulasena explained, adding that they had also decided to place more emphasis on the wet zone, and on farming crops which withstood drought to a degree such as soya beans, sweet potato, seed paddy varieties which bear yield in two and a half months (developed at the Rice Research and Development Institute in Bathalagoda) and especially vegetables (which grow in the low land wet zone).

The Ministry of Agriculture also announced that aside to the seed paddy stock they possessed, they intended to purchase seed paddy from farmers and farmers contracted by the Ministry.

“The 2016 Yala season, the 2016 and 2017 Maha season (paddy and other crops) and the 2017 Yala have been adversely affected by the drought. In the case of the latter, only 50% of the lands have been cultivated. Even that has faced shortages of rainfall thus further affecting the ultimate harvest,” he further pointed out.