ECONOMYNEXT – The prolonged drought that has gripped Sri Lanka has worsened food insecurity, with more people going hungry and indebtedness rising for lack of farm work, the United Nations office in Colombo said.
Despite the Southwest monsoon in late May, which triggered flooding and landslides in the country’s southwest provinces, country-wide drought conditions are ongoing, it said in its latest drought update.
The total number of affected people reached over two million in early September, but has now been reduced due to brief inter-monsoonal rains experienced in mid-September across various districts, according to the Disaster Management Centre.
“These rains are unlikely to significantly alleviate the ongoing drought conditions, which are predicted to continue in the coming weeks,” the UN office said in a statement.
Sri Lanka has been experiencing a lack of rainfall since late 2016, which has developed into what is believed to be the worst drought in 40 years, with significant impacts on the economic activity, livelihoods and lives of communities.
The Department of Agriculture estimates that, due to the floods in May and ongoing drought impacting the primary and secondary harvests of 2017, rice production for 2017 is expected to be the lowest paddy production in the last 10 years. The production forecast for 2017 will be sufficient for just over 7 months of household consumption.
“As a result, over 300,000 households are estimated to be food insecure, with many households limiting their food intake and in some cases eating just one meal a day,” the UN said.
Up to 19 September, 1,927,069 people were estimated to be affected by the drought across 17 districts, according to the Disaster Management Centre.
The UN office said that the inability of farmers to cultivate their land has also caused the availability of agricultural work to decline.
“Consequently, in many drought-affected communities, indebtedness is rising,” it said, noting that 50% of households surveyed in a recent World Food Programme assessment reported that their debts have almost doubled compared to 2016 due to a lack of agriculture-based income.
“This is having serious consequences for the health and well-being of communities, with several suicides being directly attributed to the effects of the drought,” the statement said.
According to assessments in August by the World Food Programme (WFP) and Ministry of Disaster Management, 45% of communities have reported that their closest reservoirs are now empty, with overall water levels in reservoirs at 18 percent in the beginning of August compared to 47 percent this time last year.
In response to the drought, the government has been providing drinking water to severely-affected communities, and has distributed relief packs of dry rations and other household items to families across several affected districts.
An agricultural compensation plan of 8,500 rupees per acre of destroyed crops plus a national agricultural insurance plan were also initiated.
The UN said its agencies and NGOs are conducting activities to address short- and long-term needs of drought-affected communities, including supplementing the government’s programmes with their own cash programming activities, benefiting more than 50,000 people since early 2017.