Not having a water policy hurt all

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Water mismanagement is only intensifying the destruction caused by the ongoing drought, say experts.  Water is not an unlimited resource, and if we do not use it carefully specially in this era of climate change where many things are become unpredictable, we will be bringing a serious crisis upon us, says Dr. Dasarath Jayasuriya.

“Lack of policy hurts everyone,” the Australia-based Sri Lankan scientist told the Sunday Times. “Water is like money. If we spend it excessively, we cause problems. But unlike money, there are no banks to give a loan in case of a water deficit. So the country has to manage its resources well, and in an equitable way when you have enough of it. This includes putting something aside for a bad day.”

Dr. Jayasuriya is the deputy director for Climate and Water at the Australian Bureau of Meteorology. He is also one of the six members of the Expert Group set up by the World Meteorology Organisation to advise the global community on climate, food and water.

“We should first carry out an audit of available national water resources. You then study the data against the demand for water to determine long-term sustainable yield. Once we balance demand and supply, we can work out how to best manage water resources, using a risk-management framework,” Dr. Jayasuriya said. “The demand for water increases with population. Meanwhile, climate variability leads to extreme weather patterns. The future will be bleak unless the government acts fast.”

Dr. Jayasuriya says droughts are difficult to predict with certainty, but early warnings are possible using meteorological and hydrological data in monsoon prediction.

Sri Lanka is desperately in need of a water policy, says Herath Manthrithilake, head of the Sri Lanka Development Initiative, International Water Management Institute (IWMI). The country’s irrigation system is largely based on water collected in the wet zone.  The trouble starts when this water is diverted to other areas when there is not enough rainfall in the wet zone, Mr. Manthrithilake said. As there seems to be a changing pattern of climate which affects the distribution of rainfall, it is really a need of the hour; he points out.

“Ideally, water should be allocated to different sectors, such as agriculture and power generation. But we do not have such allocation arrangements. We have no policy on how much water should go to each sector,” he said.

The need for a water policy for Sri Lanka was recognised decades ago. Three attempts to introduce such a policy were stymied by politicians who said the policy was an attempt to “sell water.”

Dr. Jayasuriya said the problem with the three previous water policy attempts was that the government was “pandering to international agencies such as the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank. “These agencies looked at developed sophisticated countries like Australia and tried to shoe-horn a policy that was out of sync with the Asian small-scale subsistence farmers.”

BOX STORY
State mismanagement has brought on water crisis, says JVP MP

The current water crisis that has crippled the irrigation network is the result government mismanagement, Anura Kumara Dissanayake, leader of the JVP Parliamentary Group, told a press conference

MP Dissanayake said many of the country’s tanks were silted up as a result of neglect, and were not collecting rainwater. He said the spill gates of many of the tanks had to be opened a few months ago, and that a large volume of water was released from the Kalawewa to fill the Nuwara Weva and the Tissa Weva in Anuradhapura in time for the Poson festival.

The cutting of trees and the clearing of forests in tank catchment areas was only making a bad situation worse, MP Dissanayake said. He said prime forest lands were being cleared to make for hotels being built in catchment areas that fed irrigation tanks. This destroys the benefits of a watershed and increases siltation.

It was reported that President Mahinda Rajapakse has ordered the de-silting of dried-up tanks in preparation for the next agricultural season.

Published on SundayTimes on 01.07.2012

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