World Water Day is celebrated annually on 22 March and this year’s theme ‘Leave No One Behind’ focuses on ensuring that everyone, everywhere has access to safe water.
In Sri Lanka, the second edition of the Colombo Development Dialogues held in August 2018 focused on ‘Water Security and Climate Variability’. The panel brought together a range of individuals from the government, private sector, development agencies, and academia, to provide expert interventions on various aspects of water security.
The policy paper can be read HERE
Several river basins in Sri Lanka such as the Kelani Ganga, Gin Ganga and Kalu Ganga, release around 60-70 percent of their water unutilized to the sea – it is these basins that often flood.
In some dry zone regions, such as Mannar and Jaffna, there is a risk of sea water intrusion when using groundwater.
30 per cent of cultivated land in Jaffna is affected by salinity.
Changes in rainfall patterns have resulted in climate-induced migration in the North and North Central regions, due to unpredictable rainfall affecting livelihoods dependent on agriculture in those areas.
Prevailing food systems provide under-priced food, leading to underpaid farmers, unable to invest in their crops and water.
The involvement of women in agriculture is underreported, with data indicating that 33 percent of women are employed in agriculture.
40-50 per cent of the agricultural workforce is female.
Despite progress in access to safe drinking water and sanitation in Sri Lanka, one third of households in the estate sector still need to walk out of their households to access water.
Institutions and policies governing water
The responsibility for water management should lie within one institution with the ability to undertake high-level decisions on water uses, measures to reduce disparities in water resources, and respond to water-related disasters.
A water policy needs to be formulated and effectively enforced. This policy should lay out short- and long-term objectives and provide a clear blueprint for all departments.
Designing water systems
To mitigate risks of water-related disasters, reservoirs should be constructed at the centre of river basins, once systematic procedures, such as feasibility studies, have been executed.
With issues around groundwater contamination and salinity, building more surface reservoirs should be considered, instead of focusing on replenishing and storing groundwater. Sri Lanka’s indigenous cascade systems should also continue to be rehabilitated, as they have proven effective.
Integrated urban water management is a key priority, not just through flood models or embankments to divert water, but by looking at overall urban water, land use, urban cropping, etc.
Regional solutions should be considered in designing solutions to cope with water-related disasters. For instance, the building of sub-surface systems in India, Bangladesh and Thailand, which allow for excess floodwater to be diverted to several points in irrigation or rain-fed systems, which could then be stored and used during dry seasons or droughts.
Agricultural planning and pricing
Water consumption should be considered during agricultural planning, to determine which crops should be prioritized, and which should be grown instead of imported.
The seed varieties used by farmers are often not up-to-date with current climate and crop growth models. Bangladesh, for instance, has started growing an improved, flood-tolerant rice variety, resulting in at least 60 percent of its yield remaining intact following floods.
Women and water
Training programmes should be designed to invest directly in women’s capabilities and capacities, as 40-50 percent of the agricultural workforce is female. This could involve re-locating training nearer to villages, child-care facilitates, etc.