The United Nations (UN) in Sri Lanka last week said the drought situation was so severe that some families were eating one meal a day, adding that indebtedness was also rising in the affected areas.

In a communiqué, the UN the droughts had left 1.8 million people suffering in the island.
“The total amount of rice cultivated this year is less than half of that produced in 2016. Other crops have also been adversely affected. As a result, many households have had to limit their food intake, in some cases eating just one meal a day,” the UN said.
“The inability of farmers to cultivate their land has also caused the availability of agricultural work to decline and consequently in many drought-affected communities, indebtedness is rising.”

In March 2017, it was estimated that 60 per cent of affected households had lost more than one-third of their expected income during the primary cultivation season.

The UN added that one-quarter of households were seriously concerned about access to drinking water, with levels of water available for general household use declining.

According to recent assessments by the World Food Programme (WFP) and Ministry of Disaster Management, the situation has not improved, and in some cases, has deteriorated further with over 300,000 households estimated to be food insecure.
“Available water sources are also at alarmingly low levels with reservoirs country-wide 18.5 per cent full, compared to 51 per cent at the same time in 2016.”

The communiqué further said that the drought had also been linked to a sudden rise in Dengue fever; 129,000 cases and over 300 deaths were reported in the first eight months of 2017 (compared to 55,000 cases for the entirety of 2016).

“The rise of the disease is, in part, attributable to the low levels of water in many water storage tanks, providing a breeding site for mosquitos that spread the fever.”
In response to the drought the government has been providing drinking water, relief packs of dry rations and other household items worth Rs. 5,000 per household.
In April, an agricultural compensation plan of Rs. 8,500 per acre of destroyed crops plus a national agricultural insurance plan were initiated. The Sri Lanka Army is assisting officials with the distribution of the relief packs.

UN agencies and NGOs are conducting activities to address short and long-term needs of drought affected communities, including supplementing the government’s programs with their own cash programming activities, benefiting more than 50,000 people since early 2017. In addition, the UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) allocated US$3 million in March 2017 for drought response projects, including cash transfers for food security, as well as for Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) activities and agricultural assistance.

Bilateral assistance has been received or pledged by China, India, Pakistan, Indonesia and Republic of Korea, including provision of water bowsers, rice and cash assistance. Development partners have also committed to implementing longer-term projects, including those aimed at building sustainable knowledge or practices in the agriculture and water management sectors, as part of disaster risk reduction actions.

The Sri Lanka Humanitarian Country Team (HCT) is currently updating its Drought Response Plan which outlines the support that UN agencies and NGOs have provided and are planning to provide, in the short, medium and long-term.

The next Drought Update from the Office of the Resident Coordinator on Sri Lanka’s drought situation can be expected on or around 11 September 2017.