Archive for the ‘Climate Change’ Category

Sea level rising is real, Lanka urged to take urgent measures to avert disasters

October 6, 2019

http://www.sundaytimes.lk/191006/news/sea-level-rising-is-real-lanka-urged-to-take-urgent-measures-to-avert-disasters-371918.html published on SundayTimes on 06.10.2019

As new global reports issue fresh warning on the impact of global warming on our oceans, how vulnerable is Sri Lanka, especially in view of it being ranked second among countries facing extreme weather patterns due to climate change?

With the sea level rising, the erosion of our beaches will become worse

In 2004, the boxing day tsunami killed some 35,000 people in Sri Lanka and caused immense damage to property. It is said that in Batticaloa and other places in the east, the waves reached several meters high.

“If Sri Lanka were to be hit by a tsunami of a similar magnitude at a time when the sea level would have risen by half a meter, the calamity would be twice as bad as what we experienced in 2004,” warns Dr.D.P.C. Laknath, a coastal engineer, insisting that Sri Lanka should be mindful about changes impacting the oceans due to global warming.

With the sea level rising, the erosion of our beaches will become worse, while extreme weather events can bring devastating floods to low lying coastal areas. Large areas of coastal areas of Puttalam, Galle, Hambantota and Jaffna face the risk of being submerged by the end of the century with the predicted sea level rise, mainly due to the excess water from now rapidly melting glaciers.

The recently released “Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate” highlighted the impacts of global warming on oceans and cryosphere —or those parts of Earth’s surface where water is in solid form, including sea ice, snow cover, glaciers, ice caps, and frozen ground. Published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the report once again emphasises that the sea level rise and other risks related to global warming are real.

The IPCC is the UN’s scientific body evaluating the science behind climate change. Its special report assessed about 7,000 scientific studies by more than 100 authors from 36 countries. It says that while the sea level has risen globally by around 15 cm during the 20th century, it is currently rising more than twice as fast – 3.6 mm per year – and accelerating.

At the 10th International Conference on Asian and Pacific Coasts (APAC 2019) held at Hanoi, Vietnam from September 25 to 28, Dr. Laknath and his research team shared more findings, stressing the importance of getting ready to face climate change impacts, mainly due to the changes taking place in the oceans. Their research paper titled “Analysis of Cyclone Events in the Bay of Bengal and Simulation of Storm Surge in the Eastern Coast of Sri Lanka” won the Best Paper Award at this conference, beating more than 300 entries from several countries.

The intensity of cyclones and other extreme whether events would get increased with climate change,the research paper points out, particularly in view of the impact of warming oceans. Sri Lanka, which has already been placed second on a list of countries that had been impacted by extreme weather events in 2017, should be prepared to avert or minimise the devastating consequences.

“When earth’s atmosphere gets warmed due to the global warming effect, the sea surface temperature will rise. Sea surface temperature is one of the main contributors to generation of a cyclone and many other weather events. Thus the change in sea level temperature will increase the intensity of the weather events that impact Sri Lanka,” says Dr. Laknath, a former postdoctoral researcher at Taisei Technology Centere in Japan.

For his research, he simulated storm surges on the Eastern Coast of Sri Lanka after studying the characteristics and behavior of the Bay of Bengal cyclones of last four decades. “The Eastern coastal area of Sri Lanka is more vulnerable to storm surges and coastal flooding due to cyclones; hence, a proper understanding of cyclones and the kind of damage they can cause are a prerequisite for saving lives and properties and the simulations can help to identify risks,” he points out.

In January this year, the Presidential Expert Committee published a report titled ‘Vision and Strategic Path for Sustainable Sri Lanka 2030’. The report whose chief editor was Prof Mohan Moonesinghe, a vice chair of the Nobel prize winning IPCC team in 2007, highlighted that climate projections and forecasts are very important for a sustainable economy and infrastructure planning.

The report said good prediction models, especially prepared for islands like Sri Lanka, will be necessary for climate forecasts. Most of all, developing a pool of scientists and researchers in fields such as meteorology, oceanography, geology and atmospheric physics is necessary to succeed in this task, it said.

The report also pointed out that about 5% of the land is located within a one-meter elevation from the mean sea level in the critical coastal zone that is exposed to sea level rise and the other forms of climate change effects. But of the total population of Sri Lanka, about 20% is settled within this zone. The on-going development patterns show that the populations in the coastal zone have been gradually increasing over last few decades making the residing populations as well as the properties are increasingly vulnerable to disaster situations.

Meanwhile, the National Aquatic Resources Research and Development Agency (NARA)’s senior scientist Dr. W.N.C. Priyadarshani says some of their studies on sea level rise have also indicated the vulnerability of Sri Lanka’s coastal communities to the ocean-based disaster events is gradually increasing. The low-lying coastal area less than 1m of elevation is about 100 sq. km within the coastal belt of Sri Lanka including maximum area in Jaffna, according to the Shuttle Radar maps originally produced by NASA, the NARA studies show.

The Sea level rise around Sri Lankan waters was investigated by means of in-situ (Tide gauge) and satellite altimetry data over a period spanning two decades from 1993 to 2018. In-situ observation are made using automated permanent sea level monitoring stations which are established by NARA in Trincomalee, Kirinda, Colombo and Mirissa to cover the entire island. To study global sea level rise and ocean-based disasters and to take preventive and mitigation measures within the region, these stations are linked with a global sea level monitoring network established by the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC).

Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate warns impacts to oceans by global warming would be real

Climate change has struck a chord with Lankans although we haven’t taken to the streets: Activists

October 1, 2019

http://www.sundaytimes.lk/190929/news/climate-change-has-struck-a-chord-with-lankans-although-we-havent-taken-to-the-streets-activists-370734.html Published on SundayTimes on 29.09.2019 

This week saw a global wave of protests in many parts of the world with hundreds and thousands of youth and adults taking to the streets holding placards and shouting slogans. They all had a common cause–demanding action to tackle climate change.

This global movement, Climate Strike, was initiated last year by a Swedish youngster, Greta Thunberg who skipped school to protest against the inaction on climate change in front of the Swedish parliament. Since then her actions have inspired schoolchildren and adults alike around the world to take up the fight, which peaked this week to coincide with the UN Climate Action summit.

Although strikes are not new to Sri Lanka with a wave of ongoing strikes almost crippling the public sector, there is little participation by Sri Lankans in this global action against climate change. The Sunday Times contacted a number of local environmental activists to find out why there seemed to be little interest when even neighbouring countries such as India, Bangladesh, Pakistan have joined the global action.

Students strike for climate change awareness in Sydney, Australia

“Our House is on Fire” a climate strike at Berlin, Germany

“Youth engagement is vital in creating change and it is even more important and urgent, when addressing impacts of climate change. The action of Greta Thunberg and many other youth have brought attention to the critical issue of climate change globally and in Sri Lanka also there is a strong call for climate action. The fact that Sri Lankans haven’t taken their climate concerns to the streets as much as other countries does not necessarily mean that the general public is not concerned about climate change,” says Vositha Wijenayake, Executive Director of Sri Lankan Youth Climate Action Network (SLYCAN) Trust.

The SLYCAN Trust conducts several programmes to get Sri Lankan youth engaged in climate issues. MsWjenayake pointed out that there are multiple ways youth could contribute to addressing climate change including taking individual and collective action to create awareness among youth and the public on the need for urgent climate action.

“When we started working on climate change over a decade ago, many efforts were initiated to ensure that youth voices will be included in climate change processes, nationally and internationally. Today, I believe, we have come a long way, and the importance of youth’s role is accepted by almost all,” Ms.Wijenayake added. It is important that we create avenues for youth and engage them constructively in climate action, and to provide them with the technical capacity, and knowledge on climate change impacts which will help them in their efforts, she added.

A symbolic protest in Colombo – Sri Lanka is ranked the second-worst affected country in relation to extreme weather events in 2017. The intensity of rainfall has increased causing floods more frequently

Sri Lanka's global strike for Climate - threats to SL

“Raising awareness and communicating a topic like climate change is complex. There are many facets of climate change, so it is a time consuming, slow task to get people engaged. One off protests such as the Climate Strikes are only about 5% of this communication process” said Nalaka Gunawardene, a specialist on Climate Communications. Mr. Gunwardene pointed out the importance of having more scientific research to bring out the localised impact of climate change, so it would be easier to convince people here that climate change is at their doorstep too.

Prof. Mohan Munasinghe who was the former vice chair of UN Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that was honoured with a Nobel Prize says it is heartening to see that youth are showing their concerns about the future through Climate Strikes. However, we face many problems, and different people may have differing priorities across the world and I believe that the youth in developing countries like Sri Lanka have a different and more balanced perspective than their counterparts in richer countries,” Prof.Munasinghe said.

The poor youth in developing countries where millions are dying of starvation may feel that poverty, inequality, hunger and disease etc. should be given equal or even greater priority than climate change. Global warming will certainly make their problems worse in the future, but they will not be alive in that future unless they deal with their immediate threats and needs. So it is important to look at the problems in more broader perspective and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) is a way forward for countries like Sri Lanka to engage in these issues,” Prof.Munasinghe pointed out.

The Climate Strike actions That was launched on September 20 to coincide with world leaders coming together for a Climate Actions Summit held on September 23 in New York, This high level summit was convened by the UN Secretary General to accelerate actions to implement the Paris Agreement on Climate Change agreed during the 2015 climate summit held in Paris among other things.

Sri Lanka is ranked the second-worst affected country in relation to extreme weather events in 2017, only next to Puerto Rico, in the report, Global Climate Risk Index 2019, produced recently by the climate think-tank, Germanwatch. According to the report, storms and their direct implications – rainfall deluges, floods and landslides – were a major cause of damage in 2017. Of the 10 most affected countries in 2017, four were hit by tropical cyclones, with a clear link being found between climate change and record-breaking downpours and hurricanes.

“It is unfair that developing countries like Sri Lanka have to face the brunt of climate change though extreme weather events etc. even though the country has not contributed to the problem. We need more funds to bear the brunt of climate change. Despite many promises of global funding, it has not yet materialised to the expected level,” prof.Munasinghe pointed out.

Extreme weather events are getting increased

Greta Thunberg to lead youth climate strike in 150 countries

19m Lankans face financial hit from climate change by 2050

October 7, 2018

Living standards in the Northern and North-Western provinces will be badly affected by changing climate and the economic engine of the Western Province will also falter, according to a World Bank study that links GDP to the impact of climate change. Published on SundayTimes on 07.10.2018 http://www.sundaytimes.lk/181007/news/19m-lankans-face-financial-hit-from-climate-change-by-2050-314779.html

Going in search of water: Women are more affected, but female-headed households are more resilient to impacts

The Jaffna and Puttalam districts will be the top hotspots – areas where changes in average weather will adversely affect living standards – while the second most populous district in the country, Gampaha, is among the top 10 most vulnerable districts.

Gampaha has been heavily affected by recent droughts, and the World Bank report points out that western Sri Lanka, along with south-eastern India, northern Pakistan and eastern Nepal, have experienced “unambiguous” temperature rises of 1C to 1.5C (1.8F to 2.7F) from 1950-2010.

The report, South Asia’s Hotspots: The Impact of Temperature and Precipitation Changes on Living Standards, combines average temperature and rainfall information with household survey data to recognise looming changes to the human condition.

Such changes inevitably affect the national economy. “In Sri Lanka, living standards could go down by around 5 percent, and in the worst-case scenario may decline by around 7 percent,” said Professor Muthukumara Mani, a leading economist in the World Bank South Asia Region and author of the report.
“Under the worst-case scenario, GDP will decline by 7.7 percent, an estimated loss of $US50 billion.”

According to the report, about 19 million people in Sri Lanka today live in locations that could become moderate or severe hotspots by 2050 under the carbon-intensive scenario. This is equivalent to more than 90 percent of the country’s population.

Stress was laid on the importance of coping with the changes of average temperature as much as the increase of severe weather events. “Global warming is proven, and the climate change is the ultimate threat multiplier. We are not doing enough, heading toward a 3C increase by 2100, and the poor will suffer most,” said Prof. Mohan Munasinghe, former vice chair of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

“We also tend to forget long-term effects as more focus is on the short term. In case of extreme events, we at least know kind of action that can be taken such as relocation, evacuation etc. and can have a robust mechanism to deal with natural disasters. But we don’t know much about gradual changes in temperature and how to face them,” Prof. Munasinghe said.

“Even a change of one week or two weeks of monsoon can have an impact on farmers. We still do not know what to do with the gradual changes.”
On current trends, humans would need the resources of two planets to satisfy our needs by 2030, Prof. Munasinghe said, stressing the need to take a sustainable path.

People employed in agriculture will bear the brunt of climate-change-caused hardship and many will face extreme poverty, the report states.
They have already begun moving toward other day jobs as they cannot rely totally on agriculture, according to figures shown at the study’s launch ceremony.

While less developed and agriculture-based households are more prone to livelihood upset, hardship will not be limited to rural areas: in Pakistan, the most vulnerable exist in urban areas. The report also states that female-run households are more resilient.

Dr. Herath Manthrithilake, head of the International Water Management Institute (IMWI)’s country programme, said the highlight of the study is its linking of weather changes to the effects on GDP, which allows policymakers to easily understand the consequences of climate change.

Dr. Manthrithilake said water will be an important resource and we would not be able to look as lightly on water management as we did in the last century. “We need to think about all the water resources and how to use them constructively — how we can combine usage. At the moment, once we use water for agriculture, we discard it. We need to find out how waste water can be reused,” he said.

Kusum Athukorala of Netwater Partnership pointed out that women are foot soldiers of climate change adaptation. “Often, women looking for water in parched land has been the tell-tale picture of drought. So they are more affected, but female-headed households are more resilient to impacts,” Ms. Athukorala said.

Given that five of the top 10 vulnerable districts of Sri Lanka are in Northern Province – with Jaffna, Mannar and Kilinochchi the worst affected – it is important that changes in average temperature and precipitation be considered for planning and development activities in that province.

The urbanised west of the country will not escape a financial hit from climate change. The report states: “The highly-urbanised and densely-populated Western Province, which includes Colombo, is also predicted to experience a living standards decline of 7.5 percent by 2050, compared with a situation without changes in average weather. This is a substantial drop, with potentially large implications for the country, given that the province contributes more than 40 per cent of Sri Lanka’s GDP.”

The report states that as more people move from agricultural areas to urban areas to cope better with the economic effects of climate change these shifts will in turn create new climate impacts, particularly with risks to health.

The World Bank report suggests ways in which Sri Lanka could limit the problems caused by climate change. Increasing the share of the non-agricultural sector by a third could limit the deterioration in living standards from -7 percent to 0.1 percent. Reducing travel time to markets and increasing average educational levels would also help the country.

Link to the World Bank Report https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/bitstream/handle/10986/28723/9781464811555.pdf

The smart three-wheeler that doesn’t ‘tuk-tuk’

August 6, 2018

http://www.sundaytimes.lk/180729/news/the-smart-three-wheeler-that-doesnt-tuk-tuk-304677.html Published on SundayTimes on 29.07.2018

An electric three-wheeler with a Lankan heart and a Japanese soul is planning to make travelling eco-friendly
A plan to manufacture an electric three-wheeler in Sri Lanka was revealed this week, with its prototype showcased in Colombo for the first time. The Samurai three-wheeler, built with Japanese technology and currently being tested in Sri Lanka, could be launched in 2020.
The vehicle is powered by two batteries. It has a maximum speed of 60kph with test results showing a more powerful thrust than the normal fuel-powered three-wheeler. At normal cruising range, its batteries could last for about 80km.

Prof.Monte Cassim

The new kid on the block will be silent so the traditional “tuk-tuk” sound will be absent if it is introduced to the roads. Currently being tested at the University of Ruhuna, the Samurai will move to Peradeniya University for test runs on mountain terrains.

Designed by T-Plan Inc., a Japanese engineering consulting company that provides technical support for automobile giants such as Toyota, Daihatsu and Subaru, the Samurai is slightly larger than a conventional tuk-tuk and is designed differently.

The first notable difference is that it has two wheels in front and two at the rear. Japanese engineers say this design is a safety feature that gives the driver more control of the three-wheeler. Sudden turns while driving often result in conventional three-wheelers toppling over but the new design would be more stable. The two wheels in front would hinder reckless and haphazard turns, the designers said.
The changed front shape also provides more space for the driver’s legs, which will help reduce leg injuries in crashes.

One of the major advantages of the electrical three-wheeler is that it is emission-free, which would help achieve climate change-related emission targets. Sri Lanka pledged to make a 10 per cent reduction of emissions in the transport sector, yet the country has large fleet of vehicles that consume fossil fuels. There are more than a million three-wheelers according to the Department of Motor Traffic, and this number is rising.

Electrification of transportation is an urgent task for Sri Lanka because the country spends a huge portion of its foreign reserves on importing fossil fuels, pointed out Professor Monte Cassim, an academic based in Japan who helped initiate the Samurai project. While some question the Samurai’s environmental benefits if electricity is largely generated from fossil fuel, Prof. Cassim has an answer. “Demand for electricity goes down from 10pm-5am and in this period the excess capacity for electricity generated from hydro power etc. goes wasted,” he said.

“Hence this time should be utilised for charging the batteries of vehicles to get the maximum eco-friendliness from the ‘electric vehicles’.” A basic problem with electric three-wheelers is the time it takes to recharge the batteries, with the Samurai’s batteries taking six hours to fully charge. The Samurai team came up with a unique solution: a battery exchange system.

The new kid on the block: The Samurai three-wheeler,

According to this plan, pre-charged batteries would be kept in strategically located exchange stations. Drivers could exchange their used batteries for fully-charged units at these stations in a matter of minutes, in the time it takes to fill up a three-wheeler with petrol.

For the battery-swapping model to be successful a mechanism was needed to inform the driver when the battery is running low and where the nearest exchange station is located.

Fujitsu Group, a well-known, innovative company in Japan, proposed customising its existing cloud-based information exchange system for the Samurai. The Samurai project is one of the initiatives nurtured through the Japan-Sri Lanka Comprehensive Partnership (JCP) set up with a mandate to stimulate science, technology, and innovation-led development in Sri Lanka through Japanese technology.

All-Island Three-Wheeler Drivers’ Union head Lalith Dharmasekara is positive about the electric vehicle. “The drivers are happy about most of the features and if practical issues can be minimised, the new three-wheeler would be popular,” he said.

Cycling together in Palmyrah country

August 2, 2018
This year’s ‘Yathra’ organised by Eco-Friendly Volunteers (Eco-V) saw youth from the North and South getting a firsthand view of the northern environment. Published on SundayTimes on 08.07.2018 http://www.sundaytimes.lk/180708/magazine/cycling-together-in-palmyrah-country-301256.html

‘Vanni Yathra 2018’- a cycling journey by youth from both the North and South highlighted the importance of joint ventures in protecting nature. Launched on June 4 from Kilinochchi, the journey ended in Vavuniya covering over 200 kilometres in nine days.

Vanni Yathra team cycling past Palmyrah trees unique to the north

The team behind the effort- Eco-Friendly Volunteers (Eco-V) had previously organized seven such ‘Yathras’ or journeys covering different parts of Sri Lanka. ‘Yathra’ means journey in Sinhala and the participants are called ‘Yathrees’. Bicycles were used for these journeys which have been going on since 2011 with the aim of promoting the ‘poor man’s vehicle’ as an eco-friendly mode of transportation, said Eco-V’s president Kanchana Weerakoon.

Isyar Newton was the leader of VanniYathra 2018. Newton has been a ‘Yathree’ since 2011 (he was 31 then) and took part in the past six such journeys. Newton was an ex-LTTE combatant and very thankful for the opportunity he got to take part in the ‘Kelani Nadee Yathra’ (journey along Kelani river) in 2011 while he was under rehabilitation.

“Kelani Nadee Yathra’ was a turning point in my life. It was the first time that I got to see the beauty of Sri Lanka and got to know youth from different parts of the country. These ‘yathras’ helped me to realize that youth in Sri Lanka are like-minded as we had loads of fun while campaigning for the environment,” Newton said. “I feel 30 years of my life got wasted due to the war and now feel very productive as I’m now fighting a new kind of battle to protect the environment.”

Newton changed his lifestyle, became vegetarian, stopped drinking fizzy drinks, and now campaigns against environmental pollution and an unhealthy lifestyle. He has participated in many training programmes and became an environmental activist and champion from the Northern Province. “Newton learnt Sinhalese very fast and became the Sinhala- Tamil translator for our programmes. Whenever we had a programme, he always travelled from Kilinochchi and early morning at 6 a.m. he would be at our door-step,” Eco-V’s president Kanchana said. “He became “Our Newton” and I’m happy that he did drive his own JourneyVanni Yathra,” she added.

The 15 youth from North led by Newton were joined by 15 from the South led by Chapa Erandi – another young Yathree who emerged through Ruhunu Yathra 2016. Chapa lives in Deniyaya, in the Matara district and was delighted that she received the chance to explore the North closely for the first time. The team explored the forested areas while travelling and learnt about the plants and different eco-systems in the region. “The chance we got to observe lots of birds at Nandikadal lagoon is the most memorable,” Chapa recalled.

Newton and Chapa planting a tree while a child looks on

Chapa found the campaign interesting as it helped them to educate the Northern community. Healthy food, hygiene and clean water, climate change, healthy living and reducing the carbon footprint are some of the topics this youthful team spoke of. “Northern communities after 30 years of war, only today get to deal with these concerns.

“Language was a barrier, but we were divided into a number of groups, so that our Tamil colleagues could help us to pass the message of conservation to the people,” Chapa said. “Meeting schoolchildren in Pudukuduiruppu was special, as unlike schoolchildren in Colombo, they rarely get the chance to learn about the environment and biodiversity,” she added.

Kanchana also said the bicycle has been used for the journey purposefully as it has become a global symbol of shifting towards sustainability. However, in the social fabric of Sri Lanka many people are choosing motorcycles, cars and three-wheelers for travelling, even a short distance. The bicycle was the Northerners’ main mode of transport, but soon after the war many have changed their lifestyle and shifted to motorbikes and scooters. “Elevating the status of the bicycle in society and showing people the various functions and sustainable attributes to cycling was also an objective of Vanni Yathra 2018,” Kanchana concluded.

Spreading the environmental message among the local community

Norwegian research vessel sail in to probe fish stocks

June 24, 2018

Nansen will address 38-year gap in marine surveys. Published on SundayTimes on http://www.sundaytimes.lk/180617/news/norwegian-researchers-sail-in-to-probe-fishing-stocks-298464.html

The long-awaited Norwegian research vessel, RV Dr Fridtjof Nansen, which sails around the globe helping developing countries set up ecosystem-based fishery management, will reach Colombo on June 22.

The Nansen, regarded as the world’s most advanced marine research vessel, will sail around Sri Lanka for 26 days, surveying oceanic conditions and fish stocks.

The ship is named after Norwegian scientist, explorer, diplomat, humanitarian and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Dr. Fridtjof Nansen (1861-1930), who became famous for his North Pole expeditions. The Nansen Research Programme commenced in 1974.

This is the third consecutive research vessel dedicated to surveying marine resources in developing countries. The ships have made the equivalent of 60 voyages around the globe since the programme’s inception.

The first Nansen vessel surveyed Sri Lankan waters in 1978 and 1980. Since then, no such comprehensive survey on Sri Lanka’s marine environment has taken place.

In the last decades, depletion of marine fish stocks has been rampant. A major aim of the Nansen Programme is to help scientists understand the reasons for such depletion and provide data to help to lessen pressure on fishing.

“Most of the data about fisheries are extractions based on catches by fishermen. An independent study is required to assess depleting fisheries stocks and find out new fishing grounds. There can also be under-utilised fish stocks that can be harvested successfully, and research would help us to identify such opportunities,” said National Aquatic Resource Research Development Agency (NARA) Deputy Director-General Dr. Palitha Kithsiri.

While sailing on a pre-defined path around the Sri Lankan coast, the Nansen will lay nets and carry out experimental trawling at various points. The fish and other creatures caught in the nets will be analysed for detailed information on species, sizes, and catch quantity. As well, acoustic methods will be used to estimate the quantity of fish found in those waters.

Sampling will be undertaken on plankton, fish egg and larvae, jellyfish, top predators and marine life in the main oceanic zones: demersal (bottom-feeding fish in deep waters and on the seabed), mesopelagic (fish found in the intermediate ocean layer, 200-1000m deep) and pelagic (fish that swim largely in open water away from the seabed).

The onboard researchers will collect data on water parameters, sea temperature, and salinity, and will map the sea bed using powerful eco-sonars.
“So, in a nutshell, the research will collect data that will help to implement an Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries (EAF), which is more than simply assessing fish stocks,” Dr. Kithsiri said.

The Nansen Programme is executed by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in close collaboration with the Institute of Marine Research (IMR) of Bergen, Norway, and is funded through the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD).

The Nansen’s 2018 research campaign began in January in Durban and, after taking in Sri Lanka, is expected to end in mid-October in Thailand, FAO program officer Roshini Gunaratne said.

“The overall objective of the programme is to strengthen regional and country-specific efforts to reduce poverty, create optimum conditions for achieving food security and nutrition through the development of sustainable fisheries management systems” Norwegian Ambassador Thorbjorn Gaustadsaether said.

“Norway, as a maritime nation, believes in sustainable development and plays a leading role in battling marine litter,“ the ambassador added. Plastic pollution of the oceans has become a huge problem: plastic and plastic microfibre being ingested by fish is killing them and has the potential to enter the human food chain through the fish we consume.

Global warming will change the dynamics of the ocean but we know very little about such changes. One obvious example of climate change is the coral bleaching caused by ocean warming.

While sea temperature fluctuations disrupt oceanic currents, excess carbon dioxide, believed to be the triggering fact of global warming, could create acidification by dissolving additional carbon dioxide in seawater from the atmosphere.

Fish species are particularly sensitive to these parameters, so it is expected that changes in acid levels in the seas would change fish movement patterns.

Changing temperatures in the seas could make migratory fish such as tuna, sardines and squid could shift their paths of migration and this would affect fishing catches.

Capacity-building is central to all the activities of the Nansen programme. Twenty Sri Lankan scientists active in the fisheries sector will gain the opportunity to be part of the Nansen programme according to NARA’s Dr. Prabath Jayasinghe, who has been nominated the local cruise leader of the Nansen.

A conference on sustainable development goals linked to the oceans will also take place as part of the visit of the Nansen.

The Nansen vessel docked at Colombo

Nansen’s gear used for experimental fishing

The State-of-the-arts equipment inside the ship

Even fish favourites threatened with extinction
When we visit the market to buy fish from the “malu lella” we seldom think about how these fish that are free-living creatures can face extinction if we continue to catch them without set limits.Some fish, such as sharks, are slow breeders that cannot stand over-fishing. The increasing price of some fish varieties is an indication that they are becoming rarer.Sri Lanka’s favourite fish, the yellow-fin tuna (kelawalla) and seer fish (thora) are categorised as “Near-threatened” on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Fauna – only two steps away from the more dire “Endangered” category.Some coral-inhabiting fish such as the hump-head wrasse are “Endangered”, along with elephants and leopards – but fish rarely gain the attention its terrestrial counterparts attract in conservation.

The ocean has different zones based on depths and particular fish inhabit each regions. NARA’s Dr. Palitha Kithsiri said the Nansen’s research will focus on studying the mesopelagic (200m-1000m deep) region, which is currently not much targeted in fisheries.

Living with landslides: Community-based programme teaches combat techniques

July 31, 2017

As landslide deaths become increasingly regular in Sri Lanka during heavy rains, a community-based science programme offers a life-saving mechanism. Getting to know about an imminent landslide even a second earlier could make a big difference, but often the early signs are ignored. To address this issue, an ambitious programme was launched last year.

Nature often gives early landslide warnings such as changes in the landscape, cracks on walls and difficulty in closing or opening doors or windows. (read the box story).  Drawing people’s attention to such early warnings is one of the aims of the Community-Based Landslide Early Warning Project (CBLEW). It teaches people in a landslide-prone community to monitor early signs and prepare an initial response.

A house in Biyagama affected by a landslide. Pic by Lal S. Kumara

The National Building Research Organization (NBRO), the premier institution responsible for dealing with landslide prevention, has identified several risk zones.

NBRO Geologist Darshani Rajapakse said the CBLEW project had been introduced to about 100 villages in Badulla, Nuwara Eliya and Kegalle.
The first step of the programme is to educate the communities on early signs of a landslide and how to respond when disaster occurs. The villages are then taught how to use simple equipment such as a rain gauge, a basic but useful device that can save lives.

According to scientists, 75mm rain for 24 hours in a landslide-prone area should put the people on ‘alert’ while 100mm rain upgrades the risk level to a ‘Warning’. A rainfall of 150mm for 24 hours means it is time for ‘evacuation’ for safety.

The third stage of the programme trains the villagers to map the danger zone, identify safe areas to run in case of a disaster and plan safe passage for evacuation. The last stage of the project involves the setting up of a monitoring committee consisting of active participants chosen from the community.

Ms. Rajapakse said the communities were also taught how to use extensometers which monitor earth movements. She said the NBRO had plans to set up automated extensometers in risk areas where cracks had been sighted. If any major movement of the earth is detected, relevant people are notified through a text message.

According to NBRO studies, 20 percent of Sri Lanka’s land or 13,000 square km in 13 districts is landslide prone, with the Badulla, Nuwara Eliya, Matale, Kandy, Kegalle, Ratnapura and Kalutara districts being the top seven districts on the danger list. Areas with isolated mountains and earth mounds in the Monaragala, Kurunegala, Gampaha, Galle, Matara and Hambanthota districs have also been identified as danger zones. The NBRO said it wanted to implement the CBLEW project in all the areas identified as danger zones.

Published on 28.05.2017 on SundayTimes http://www.sundaytimes.lk/170528/news/living-with-landslides-community-based-programme-teaches-combat-techniques-242728.html

Early warnings of a landslide

  • Changes occur in your landscape such as patterns of storm-water drainage on slopes (especially the places where runoff water converges), land movements, small slides, flows, or progressively leaning trees.
  • Doors or windows stick or jam for the first time.
  • New cracks appear in plaster, tile, brick, or foundations.
  • Outside walls, walks, or stairs begin pulling away from the building.
  • Slowly developing, widening cracks appear on the ground or on paved areas such as streets or driveways.
  • Underground utility lines break.
  • Bulging ground appears at the base of a slope.
  • Water breaks through the ground surface in new locations.
  • Fences, retaining walls, utility poles, or trees tilt or move.
  • A faint rumbling sound that increases in volume is noticeable as the landslide nears.
  • The ground slopes downward in one direction and may begin shifting in that direction under your feet.
  • Unusual sounds, such as trees cracking or boulders knocking together, might indicate moving debris
  • Collapsed pavement, mud, fallen rocks, and other indications of possible debris flow can be seen when driving (embankments along roadsides are particularly susceptible to landslides).

Source: http://www.weather.com

Village tank project provides lessons for restoration

February 26, 2017

Sri Lanka is famous for its irrigation heritage, but only the marvels of large tanks built for irrigation draw attention, while small village tanks are ignored. In many cases village tanks function as a ‘cascade system’ – so using wrong methods to restore them ignoring specific functions of associated components can do more harm, according to experts who discussed the issue recently in Colombo.

People engaged in building an irrigation canal. Pic by Kumudu Herath@IUCN

The International Union of Conservation of Nature and Department of Agrarian Development together with Bandaranaike Centre for International Studies, shared their experiences under the theme “ecological restoration and sustainable management of small tank cascade systems,” on February 14.

The experts say that in Sri Lanka’s dry zone there are 14,000 small ancient village tanks and many are in good shape, supporting 246,000 hectares, about 39 percent of the total irrigable area. In most cases these tanks are designed to function as interconnected clusters often referred to as ‘cascade systems’ called as ‘ellangawa’ in Sinhala.

These tank cascade systems are identified as very efficient water management systems in the world with water being recycled in each tank without letting it go to waste. The entire tank system functions as a single unit, so restoring only a single tank is not useful, said IUCN’s Program Coordinator Shamen Vidanage.

Each tank in a given cascade system adopts geographical and functional features to harmonise with nature. The functional components of a tank perform specific purpose and roles of these components can even be explained in modern science although they were designed centuries ago, he added.

The first set of components of the cascade system is designed to improve the quality of water entering the tank from the catchment.
‘Kulu wewa’ also known as the ‘Forest Tank’ and water holes known as ‘harak wala’ and ‘goda wala’ are all located in the catchment of the tank, retaining dead leaves, mud and other debris, or sediment, experts explain. Next, before the tank is grass cover known as ‘perahana’ located between catchment and high flood levels for purifying the water by holding granules of earth, and sediment functioning similar to a preliminary treatment step of a modern waste water treatment system, the experts explain.

The water stored in the tank is protected from evaporation by tree belt naturally growing on either side of the uppermost areas of each tank. These are called ‘gasgommana’ acting as windshields minimising dry wind contacting the water surface minimizing evaporation, the experts note. “Kattakaduwa’ or interceptor, is a thick strip of vegetation located between tank bund and paddy fields. It also has a water hole called ‘yathuru wala’ to retain saline water seeping from the tank. Various plants of salt absorbing features are found on ‘kattakaduwawa’ which reduce the salinity of the water seeping through the bund before it reaches the paddy fields, the experts say.

“Sadly the cascade systems are poorly understood. For example, there are instances that forest tanks have been used for irrigation,” Vidanage points out.

“Every village had a patch of forests called as ‘gam kele’ and that has disappeared as they are being encroached for agriculture. As a result of these wrong land use patterns, these small tanks now get more sedimentation, increasing tank siltation,” says Professor C M Madduma Bandara of the University of Peradeniya.

Tank sedimentation due to soil erosion is the main factor in the deterioration of the cascade system. Silted tanks retain less water and over the years, these tanks dry out and paddy fields are lost experts say. In addition, pesticides and fertilizers applied in upper areas pollutes the tank water without getting proper natural filtering mechanisms. So experts fear that in future, many of these tank cascade systems will deteriorate and will be abandoned owing to mismanagement.

Meanwhile, as a pilot project, IUCN partnered with Department of Agrarian Development to ecologically restore the Kapiriggama small tank cascade system in the Anuradhapura District. This three-year project was initiated in 2013 with financial assistance from the HSBC Water Programme.

Kapiriggama cascade is in the basin of Malwathuoya and consist of 21 tanks. During the project over 38,000 of cubic metres of silt was removed from five tanks in the Kapiriggama and the removed silt was deposited upstream IUCN says. The project also setup soil conservation mechanisms building soil conservation bunds. Over 7,500 plants on kattakaduwa on 13 tanks were also planted according to IUCN.
“We have also got community participation for all these tasks, so even when the project finishes the villagers who will benefit will be engaged making sure of the sustainability of the Kappirigama tank cascade system,” Dr Ananda Mallawatantri the Country Representative of IUCN said. The north central canal project can also use cascade systems in its design taking additional water into cascades before providing to paddy fields, Dr Mallawatantri said.

Published on SundayTimes on 26.02.2017 http://www.sundaytimes.lk/170226/news/village-tank-project-provides-lessons-for-restoration-230491.html

cover-photo-cascade-tank-system

Tank cascade system in Kappirigama – photo courtesy IUCN Sri Lanka 

kattakaduwa-feb

‘Kattakaduwa’ or Tree Belt between the tank and paddy fields

Battle for solar energy begins

November 20, 2016

Published on SundayTimes on 11.09.2016 http://www.sundaytimes.lk/160911/news/battle-for-solar-energy-begins-208386.html

The government this week launched Soorya Bala Sangramaya (Battle for Solar Energy) with President Maithripala Sirisena inaugurating the programme by lighting his official residence with solar power.The government said it expects the programme to add 200 MW of solar electricity to the national grid by 2020 and 1000 MW by 2025.

A community-based power generation project launched by the Ministry of Power and Renewable Energy, Soorya Bala Sangramaya promotes the installation of solar panels on the rooftops of households and institutes such as religious places, hotels, commercial establishments, and industries, and the buying back of excess power for the national grid.

Solar electricity customers can connect their own onsite generation system to the utility grid and receive credits on their electricity bills for their excess renewable energy generation.Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) and Lanka Electricity Company (Private) Limited (LECO) consumers are given options from three schemes: Net Metering, Net Accounting and Micro Solar Power Producer.

Under the Net Metering scheme, the consumer has to pay only for the net amount of electricity that was consumed. If the solar electricity production exceeds the electricity consumption of the premises, the balance amount can be carried forward for future use for up to 10 years but no fee will be paid for the excess electricity produced.

Under the Net Accounting scheme, if the electricity generation of solar rooftop system is greater than the consumption, the consumer will be paid for the excess at the rate of Rs.22 for 1 Kwh initially. If the consumption is greater than the generation, the consumer shall pay for the excess consumption according to the existing electricity tariff structure.

The total electricity generation from the solar rooftop system would be purchased under the third category, Micro Solar Power Producer. The bill for electricity consumption would be paid to the utility as usual.The solar drive is not, however, without concerns. Although prices of solar panels have come down, considerable capital is still needed to install solar panels, so mostly it is the richer houses that can afford it.

Former CEB General Manager Shavindranath Fernando said solar power generation takes place during the daytime and the excess generation is fed back into the Grid, when the cost of the power generation is relatively low. However the same consumer will draw power from the Grid in the night when most electricity is used. Further it is at night where the Power systems are getting stressed, and the same unit of electricity will cost more to generate at night. He suggested a time-of-day tariff to buy back electricity for the national grid from solar power producers.

President launches 'Surya Bala Sangramaya' by lighting his official residence with solar power.

President launches ‘Surya Bala Sangramaya’ by lighting his official residence with solar power.

Solar panels on a rooftop (c) Newsfirst.jpg

Solar panels on a rooftop (c) Newsfirst

Wildlife desperate for water

October 12, 2016
Safe waterholes dry up, driving animals into human areas 

Poachers are heavily active during the drought – Hambantota

As the drought worsens, not only humans but wild animals too are suffering, reports Malaka Rodrigo

A family living in Hathporuwa, Sooriyawewa, had an unexpected visitor early morning on September 20 – an eight-foot crocodile. The family alerted Hambantota wildlife rangers who promptly responded. Later the same day, the same team of rangers had to rescue another croc, a 9.5 footer, from an agro well in Meegahajadura. As the smaller water holes dry up, wild animals looking for water are increasingly straying into human settlements.

Hambantota wildlife rangers also revealed an increase in elephants infiltrating villages and raiding crops as the drought progresses. Most of the small tanks in the pockets of forest patches had dried out so animals – particularly elephants – were moving to the remaining water sources such as Bandagiriya Wewa.

These, however, are now surrounded by cultivations, most established illegally, so the elephants now have to move through villages to get to the water, intensifying the chance of human-elephant conflict.

The dry period is a merry time for poachers. They use inhumane methods such as poisoning the remaining waterholes, bringing death to the unsuspecting animals.

The wildlife rangers and Special Task Force police nabbed three poachers at Kadawara Wewa in Hambantota this week, finding the bodies of two spotted deer they had killed. They also found different kinds of traps set up near the waterhole to capture wildlife – mainly deer.

Deer and other small animals have other new threats. As safe waterholes dry up they have to venture into more open areas. Groups of feral dogs learn to hunt these weakened animals. Hambantota wildlife officers this week found a dead deer that had been attacked by feral dogs.

The media officer of the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC), Hasini Sarathchandra, said the department was arranging more patrols in protected areas during this dry period but with a large pockets of unprotected areas outside national parks and only a few dozen wildlife rangers available for deployment it was impractical to expect matters to improve as the drought continued. Not only Yala, near Hambantota, but also Wilpattu and Kumana are experiencing drought.

Yala National Parks Warden D.P. Siyasinghe said this is the typical dry period Yala experiences every year. “Many of the small water pools have gone dry but there are number of large tanks and rock pools that still contain water. The department is also putting water into some of the waterholes and, with the use of solar power, some waterholes get water pumped from the river that still has water,” he said.

The Sunday Times learned that the DWC with support from Linea Aqua, last year rehabilitated a number of tanks inside Yala that helped to increase water capacity and retention so that rainwater is held for a longer period.

Some wildlife experts are of the view that drought is a natural process and we should not interfere too much with it. Late Childers Jayawardene, who was Yala Park warden in the late ’70s, earlier said “drought is nature’s way of maintaining life”.

“Drought eliminates the sick and weak animals. Next year, after the drought, what we have is a healthier animal population. Drought is nature’s way of maintaining life,” Mr. Jayawardene said. Hence mechanisms to minimise the damage from drought should be carefully considered.

Elephant expert Dr. Prithviraj Fernando pointed out that food was a bigger concern than water during a drought. An average elephant spends 16-18 hours a day grazing as it requires about 150kg of food, so a dry period is a testing time for elephants particularly restricted into a smaller area.

Releasing of 9.5 feet croc fallen into a Agri well in Meegahajadura - Hambanthota on 20.Sept

Releasing of 9.5 feet croc fallen into a Agri well in Meegahajadura – Hambanthota on 20.Sept

Dr. Fernando pointed out that many of the national parks have more elephants than their vegetation can support during drier period, so it is important that animals be able to roam in adjacent forests to assuage their hunger. As the national parks are surrounded by electric fences, however, the elephants’ movements were restricted.

“Sadly some of these fences erected between national parks and wildernesses belong to the Forest Department. It is important these fences be readjusted if we need to have a healthy elephant population in national parks such as Yala and Udawalawe,” he advised.

Dr. Fernando also said the plan to keep the Minneriya tank at spill level throughout the year for irrigation should be reconsidered in order to manage habitats for elephants in drier periods.

Hundreds of elephants in the area gather during the dry season around the Minneriya tank bed to feed on fresh shoot of grasses that come up as the water level recedes. If the Minneriya tank was at spill level all year round a large amount of these grasslands that emerge during the dry season will be submerged, depriving elephants of this nutrition-rich fodder.

Without this fresh source of food during drought, conflict will increase, Dr. Fernando warned, urging authorities to rethink the strategy.

The drying water holes

Drying out water holes

What price for Nature’s ‘greenbacks’ – the forests?

October 7, 2016

Prof.Nimal Gunathilake

Conservationists are debating whether working out a rupee value for forests would convince money-crunching bureaucrats that preserving them makes more economic sense than stripping woodland for income-producing purposes.

“Many people consider forest as a waste of land where utilising that terrain for other purposes can bring income, also contributing to the national economy. But forests provide other services such as delivering the fresh water we drink and the clean air we breathe whereas if we lose these services it will cost a lot of money to implement costly alternatives,” the Conservator-General of Forests, Anura Sathurusinghe said.

“It is often a big challenge to communicate this value to politicians and officials who mainly understand the value of everything in monetary terms and demand forest land for other development work,” Mr. Sathurusinghe said at a press conference organised by REDD+ Sri Lanka regarding the forthcoming International Research Symposium on Valuation of Forest Ecosystems and Their Services to be held in Colombo on October 18.

REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) is an effort to identify value for the carbon stored in forests, offering incentives for developing countries.

“Tagging a value” for services provide by an ecosystem such as a forest is a modern concept. Ecosystem services are broadly divided into four categories: provisioning, such as the production of food and water; regulating, such as the control of climate and disease; supporting, such as nutrient cycles and crop pollination; cultural, such as spiritual and recreational benefits. The concept aims at putting a price tag for these services which helps to convey their values in monetary terms. Hence the price that has to be paid by destroying that particular forest is highlighted.

“We know about ‘provisioning’ values of forests such as the value of timber, but other services are often taken for granted,” said forests expert Professor Nimal Gunathilake. He explained the aims of the research forum were to share the existing knowledge on forest ecosystem services valuation, identifying new methodologies and identifying the drawbacks.

Conservator General of Forests Anura Sathurusinghe

Ecosystem valuation can be difficult and controversial, and economists have often been criticised for trying to place a “price tag” on nature. At the forum, a question was raised whether communicating the value of individual forests to the general public is prudent as people could start exploiting natural resources such as in the case of illegally stripping forests of “walla patta” trees and smuggling the resin-rich wood overseas.

Mr.Sathurusinghe revealed that a recent review of forests showed degradation was a bigger concern than deforestation. Deforestation means conversion of forest to another land use type while degradation is deterioration of the standing vegetation in density, structure and species composition due to human activities and natural causes.

The four main causes of deforestation are encroachment, infrastructure development projects and private agriculture ventures while drivers for forest degradation include illicit felling of trees, cattle grazing, forest fires, gem-mining, quarrying, forest undergrowth cultivations such as cardamom and non-timber forest product gathering such as weniwel or walla patta. A REDD+ Sri Lanka report states Anuradhapura is the district with the highest levels of deforestation and forest degradation.

Deforestation is taking place at a relatively higher rate in the dry zone due to the many development projects now occurring there. Experts cautioned that dry zone forests are as important as wet zone forests.

ecosystem-inforgraphics

Published on SundayTimes on 02.10.2016 http://www.sundaytimes.lk/161002/news/what-price-for-natures-greenbacks-the-forests-211050.html

MS blows hot against global warming with ‘Sri Lanka Next’

February 16, 2016

Published on SundayTimes on 10.01.2016 http://www.sundaytimes.lk/160110/news/ms-blows-hot-against-global-warming-with-sri-lanka-next-178263.html

President Maithripala Sirisena launched an ambitious campaign to fight global warming, following last month’s global agreement reached to reduce emissions.

Named ‘Sri Lanka Next: Blue-Green Era’, the ceremonial launch took place at the BMICH on January 6 with schoolchildren and invitees in attendance. At the event, President Sirisena and those present read out a pledge to do whatever is necessary in the fight against global warming, and maintain the temperature increase under 2 degrees centigrade.

The audience pledge to fight against global warming. Pix by Indika Handuwala

The pledge further says Sri Lanka will also endeavour to keep it under 1.5 degrees centigrade. The ‘Sri Lanka Next’ campaign will propel the nation into the next level of sustainable low emission development paradigm, where opportunities arising from the emerging new green and blue economy would be tapped.

Scientists predict human induced global warming triggered by excess greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide will make the world hotter by several degrees if nothing is done.

The temperature rise is already being experienced through many extreme weather events triggered by it. Hence, the Paris climate talks ended with both industrialised and developing countries agreeing to cut emissions.

Sri Lanka’s greenhouse gas emissions are considered negligible, compared with industrialised countries, yet, ‘Sri Lanka Next’ promises a low carbon path for Sri Lanka to ease global warming.

Hence, our main focus would be towards adaptation, to confront the bad impacts of climate change.

The key focus of this national initiative is to ensure that Sri Lanka as a nation shift towards clean renewable energy and divests itself of fossil fuel consumption in the industrial and transport sectors.

President Sirisena at the event

The President recently re-introduced tax exemptions for electric cars, in trying to gain this goal.

But Sri Lanka is to set up another coal power plant in Trincomalee under Indian pressure, which will hurt this ambitious campaign warn energy experts.

A series of weeklong events, post launch of ‘Sri Lanka Next’, have been organised for Environment week which falls in the first week of June.

It will consist of a conference, exhibition and symposium on the Blue-Green Economy, followed by a film festival and a student-led event.

President Sirisena, who is also the Minister of Mahaweli Development and Environment, vowed to personally steer the campaign in conjunction with the Central Environmental Authority (CEA), the Forest Department’s REDD+ initiative, together with Department of Wildlife Conservation, the National Climate Secretariat (NCS) and all other relevant Government institutions, the Private Sector and international agencies.

However, the most important aspect is not just promises but the need to implement them, remind environmentalists.
The ‘Sri Lanka Next’ campaign website can be accessed on http://srilankanext.lk/

A message on protecting the environment: Children perform an item

Forest adjoining Yala saved from Gliricidia treat

November 30, 2015
Right of animals to roam free in forest restored 

Environmentalists often have to fight losing battles but they have recently won a battle against a company clearing a forest where elephant, leopard and bear roam in order to grow gliricidia, a biofuel crop.

The land being cleared in Amarawewa

The problem emerged in 2012, when environmentalists noted a large area of forest being cleared in Amarawewa, part of the Tissamaharama Forest Range adjoining the Yala National Park.

The Amarawewa scrub forest, which is under the Forest Department, is a diverse habitat used by a number of animals. As it is close to Yala National Park Block I its disruption has also had an impact on Sri Lanka’s most popular national park.

The Environmental Foundation Limited (EFL) which fights legal battles to stop environmental damage, was shocked when its investigators found that as much as 1500 hectares of forest were being cleared.

The work was being carried out by United Dendro Energy Pvt. Ltd, a subsidiary of Lanka Orix Leasing Company (LOLC). The company planned to bring gliricidia stakes to be processed at the Dendro Power Plant being set up at Biyagama.

Further investigations by environmentalists revealed the existence of two agreements now found by the courts to be unlawful.

One was the grant of an annual permit by the Divisional Forest Office of Hambantota releasing 500ha of the Amarawewa forest to an organisation called Magampura Cattle Owned Farmers Association to develop as pasture land.

The other was a tripartite agreement with the Forest Department, United Dendro Energy Pvt Ltd and the Magampura Cattle Owned Farmers Association according to which 1500ha were to be developed as pasture land while the annual permit granted to the Magampura Cattle Owned Farmers Association only allowed for 500ha.

The 2012 investigations also revealed that several areas approximating 100ha had already been cleared and planted with gliricidia and that access roads were being cut through the buffer zone for the Yala National Park.

The EFL went quickly into action to stop further destruction.

Along with the Wildlife and Nature Protection Society (WNPS) and Wilderness and Protected Areas Foundation (WPAF) the EFL went to court seeking justice. The organisations filed a fundamental rights application in the Supreme Court.

They claimed the project violated the National Environment Act (NEA), the Forest Ordinance (FO) and the Flora and Fauna Protection Ordinance (FFPO).

The NEA states that any project that involves the clearing of more than 1ha of forest, and plantation of any type exceeding 5ha, needed an Environmental Impact Assessment to be conducted priorto any approvals.

The FO clearly specifies that “no person shall cut or clear any forest for the purpose of cultivation and/or pasture land” without a permit that cannot be granted absent due process.

Part of the land that was cleared falls within a mile of the border of the Ruhuna National Park, which is declared as a Protected Area under the provisions of the FFPO.

Any development project falling within one mile of a national park boundary requires the approval of the wildlife department.

Furthermore, the FFPO also makes it mandatory for a party seeking such approval to conduct an Environmental Impact Assessment and submit the report to the wildlife department as a project approving agency.

In Amarawewa, the Dendro project cleared a large extent of forest lands inviolation of all these covenants, lawyers fighting the case pointed out.

In August, United Dendro agreed to settle the case by abandoning the project and also removing the gliricidia that had been cultivated. According to the settlement terms, the related permits too will be cancelled.

The agreement further states that the area should not be released for a similar project in the future.

Published on SundayTimes on 15.11.2015 http://www.sundaytimes.lk/151115/news/green-groups-celebrate-rare-win-against-commerce-171701.html

Pluses for farmers, big minus for wildlifeThe plan to annex forest habitat for commercial cultivation was shrewd and, on its face, reasonable.

The agreement granting villagers the right to run cattle on 500ha of forest was the foot in the door. A provision that allowed them to grow and cut fodder for the animals was the enabling factor that allowed United Dendro Energy Pvt. Ltd to plant its biofuel cash crop, gliricidia.

Gliricidia, a fast-growing medium-sized tree, apart from its commercial value as biofuel, is useful to farmers because its leaves provide food for grazing animals, generate powerful natural fertiliser and “green manure” and can also be used as insect repellent.

With its quick growth, gliricidia can be cut back frequently, and at Amarawewa the leaves could have been used by local farmers with the branches and trunk trimmings being harvested for biofuel.

All this would have come at a heavy cost for wildlife, which would have seen their diverse habitat freely providing a variety of foods and needs transformed into monocultural habitat locked for human use, and the forest corridors that allow them to move around in search of food severely constricted.

Deluges strike at valuable coral reef

January 20, 2015

The intense rainfall that fell across the country a few weeks back left an unexpected victim: coral reefs.

Marine and Coastal Resources Conservation Foundation member Upali Mallikarachchi has revealed that some parts of the Bar Reef marine sanctuary at Kalpitiya have begun bleaching.

Bleaching is one of the worst destructive natural phenomena faced by corals worldwide. It occurs when coral polyps, the organisms that build corals, shed the algae zooxanthellae that give them their colour.

These tiny algae, which live in harmony with the corals, also provide food for the host through the process of photosynthesis. Without the algae the coral becomes pale white and the coral polyps can be exposed to ultraviolet radiation.

Without food, oxygen or cover from dangerous rays, the coral polyps in the reef will die a few weeks after bleaching starts.

Factors that cause bleaching through the departure of the algae include a change in salinity levels, a rise in sea surface temperature and changes in light intensity.

Mr. Mallikarachchi, a former research officer at NARA (National Aquatic Resources Research and Development Agency), says the bleaching at Bar Reef could have been triggered by the large volume of fresh water flowing through Kala Oya that gushed into the ocean via Puttalam Lagoon.
He quotes divers saying the water at Bar Reef recorded very low salinity levels, giving almost drinkable water, on days where it rained heavily last month.

Sri Lanka’s foremost expert on corals, Arjan Rajasuriya, agreed that the large volume of freshwater could trigger the bleaching of Bar Reef. He pointed out that the rainfall levels were abnormally high. In addition, he said, most of the rivers are dammed, so when overfull dams are opened to release excess water – as happened a few weeks ago – there is always a sudden influx offreshwater in the ocean.

When questioned, why only Bar Reef was affected while the heavy rainfall affected most parts of the country, Mr. Mallikarachchi pointed out that factors such as oceanic currents could change the movements of freshwater columns in the ocean.

Bar Reef harbours very high biodiversity and is one of the few pristine coral reef systems in Sri Lanka. The areas of coral bleaching in Bar Reef are the prime spots where coral growth is high.

Mr. Mallikarachchi is hopeful that some of these corals will survive and rest will quickly regrow.

He points out the importance of constant monitoring as Bar Reef has a high level of tourist activity which causes additional stress to the corals and can delay their recovery.

There are fears that similar phenomena would occur with increasing frequency as the intensity of rainfall has increased with the climate change. Experts also fear that the increase of carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere could make the oceans more acidic.

International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) data shows coral species are heading towards extinction more rapidly than other organisms. Corals are the breeding habitats of many fish species that have economic value, so losing coral reefs will affect the whole oceanic system.

http://www.sundaytimes.lk/150118/news/deluges-strike-at-valuable-coral-reef-131139.html

Beaming in from space on ‘silent killer’ drought

July 6, 2014
Lanka to benefit from Indo-Chinese satellite aid 

Sri Lanka has been selected as the first regional country along with Cambodia to benefit from space technology in early predictions of drought – and political rivals India and China are co-operating with the United Nations to develop the mechanism.

News of the initiative came from a two-day forum on Space Technology Applications for Drought Monitoring and Early Warning this week with the participation of local and international scientists together with professionals in agriculture, water management and meteorology.

If drought warnings can be issued earlier, local authorities could take immediate action such as informing farmers to switch to more drought-resistant crops or implementing water management strategies. But drought warnings usually come too late for farmers – after they have put their efforts in the ground, when seeds and plants are growing.

Ground-level data is currently used to predict droughts, but signs of drought can be observed from space long before they are visible to the human eye, and advances in space technology allow monitoring of indicators such as the condition of crops or the availability of water by analysing satellite images through special computer applications.

The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) together with the Arthur C. Clarke Centre Institute for Modern Technologies (ACCIMT) organised the forum this week to discuss how to use the space technology to predict droughts in Sri Lankan conditions.

Addressing the forum, the Director of ESCAP’s Information and Communications Technology and Disaster Risk Reduction Division, Dr. Shamika Sirimanne reminded that drought is a ‘silent killer’ that does not get the attention that other natural disasters attract. “Over the past three decades, it is estimated that droughts in the Asia-Pacific region have affected more than 1.3 billion people and caused damage of more than $US53 billion,” she revealed.

Advanced satellite technologies have been used by developed countries but local regions, highly dependent on agriculture and suffering from droughts as the severity of extreme climatic events worsened with climate change, lacked such assistance. To bridge this gap, ESCAP launched its Regional Drought Mechanism Programme last year as a platform to provide timely and free satellite-based data, products and training to regional drought-prone countries with ultimate aim of transferring the technology to developing countries.

The region’s giants, China and India, with their own space programmes, have come forward to assist this effort to provide the pilot countries with satellite imagery, services, expert training and capacity development. Dr. P.G. Diwakar of Indian Space Research Organisation said Indian scientists had already analysed some of the data collected for Sri Lankan droughts and his country was willing to give technological and other support for this venture. Dr. Diwakar said data extracted from three Indian satellites will to be helpful for this region. A Sri Lankan team is already having training sessions with India and another team will fly to India at the end of this month for further training on how to use computer applications to issue early warnings based on satellite imagery.

Arthur C. Clarke Institute research scientist Chandrima Subasinghe said initially vegetation change will be used as the indicator to monitor the onset of drought. The Normalised Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) is used to monitor changes in the “greenness” of Earth as viewed from space. NDVI is calculated from the visible and near-infrared light reflected by vegetation. Healthy vegetation absorbs most of the visible light that hits it and reflects a large portion of the near-infrared light. Unhealthy or sparse vegetation reflects more visible light and less near-infrared light, yielding a lower NDVI.

The implementing agencies should develop the best data indices in order to do make effective predictions, ACCIMT Director-General Sanath Panawennage said. Addressing the inaugural session, Minister of Technology and Research, Patali Champika Ranawaka warned, “This year may witness the beginning of another El Niño period affecting Sri Lanka – possibly with serious implications for agriculture.

“We have great hope that ESCAP’s Regional Drought Mechanism will help Sri Lanka address this issue by expanding our options for monitoring and responding to agricultural drought, effectively harnessing the potential of space technology applications towards this end.”

http://www.sundaytimes.lk/140706/news/beaming-in-from-space-on-silent-killer-drought-105985.html

Experts warn: Avert conflicts over water-energy-food nexus

April 13, 2014

Water for food is a core issue that can no longer be tackled through a narrow sectorial approach, a major international conference held in Colombo last week was told. Nearly 500 experts from 40 countries participated in the three-day Fifth International Conference on Water Resources and Hydropower Development in Asia at the BMICH.

Addressing the summit, senior minister Dr.Sarath Amunugama said native topography meant that Sri Lanka “was made for hydropower”, which is a vital contributor to economic growth.

Dr Avinash Tyagi, Secretary General of International Commission on Irrigation and Drainage (ICID), focused in his keynote address on reservoir operations during drought conditions – an issue of great relevance to Sri Lanka. He began by underlining the need to recognise the “water-energy-food nexus” and outlined concerns about water security, particularly in the light of climate change.

This has been particularly relevant to Sri Lanka as evident in the severe drought Sri Lanka faced in 2012. There was insufficient water in the reservoirs to be released for farming at height of the drought and it was alleged that the then minister of power and energy had asked officials to use reservoir water stocks to generate hydro-electricity to gain revenue for the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB).

In doing so, the minister managed to bring down the CEB’s power-generating costs which otherwise would have soared with having to resort more to thermal power plants, but in the process the water stocks that should have been kept for irrigation in prolonged drought has been exhausted. This has led to protests by paddy farmers who had to witness their paddy lands dying without water.

This highlights the interlinking of different water usage and the need to carefully manage water stocks among stakeholders, especially for energy and food. In Sri Lanka, water from multipurpose reservoirs been released for various demands which brings to a head the need to manage water wisely to face drought conditions.

The water-energy-food nexus was a highlight of the recently-launched World Water Development report, “Water and Energy”, which said that recognising the many synergies and trade-offs between water and energy use and food production and balancing these trade-offs was central to ensuring water, energy and food security.

In Sri Lanka, the allocation of water for different needs is periodically assessed with major stakeholders such as the CEB, the Irrigation Department, Farmers Association, Water Board and the Mahaweli Authority. The process is handled by the Mahaweli Authority and water releases are supposed to be made in accordance with this plan.

Since there are different departments working toward different needs, it was proposed several years ago that an apex body be set up to manage water resources but this has not materialised. Experts also stressed the need of drawing the Meteorological Department too into the planning stage of water sharing as rainfall patterns grow increasingly unreliable.

Sri Lankan a lead author of elite UN report 

Sri Lankan Achala C. Abeysinghe is a lead author of the latest report by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the main international body for assessing the science related to climate change.

The IPCC, which has won a Nobel Prize for its work, analyses the body of scientific knowledge through three working groups, and its fifth and latest report is a product of Working Group II, which considered climate change in relation to observed impacts and future risks, the potential for and limits to adaptation, and importantly, the vulnerability and exposure of human and natural systems to this change.

A total of 309 co-ordinating lead authors, lead authors, and review editors drawn from 70 countries were selected to produce the latest report. They enlisted the help of 436 contributing authors and 1729 expert and government reviewers.

This elite report consists of 30 chapters and Sri Lankans could be proud that a lead author of its 20th chapter, “Climate-Resilient Pathways: Adaptation, Mitigation, and Sustainable Development” is Dr Abeysinghe, who holds a PhD in international environmental law on climate change.

Her stated interests lie in equity and fairness issues in international climate change negotiations, adaptation to climate change, finance for climate change adaptation and issues related to loss and damage. Dr Abeysinghe works for the respected London-based International Institute for Environment and Development where she is Senior Researcher of the Climate Change Group and Team Leader, Global Climate Change Governance.

She gained her first degree from the University of Colombo and worked as an attorney-at-law in the Supreme Court and was a law lecturer at the Open University of Sri Lanka. As well as contributing significantly to the latest IPCC report, Dr Abeysinghe’s current positions include being legal and technical adviser to the Chair of the Least Developed Countries (LDC) group for the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and Head of the European Capacity Building Initiative workshops programme.

Growing confidence in climate reports but localised studies crucial

Twelve pots of water from the 12 main hydro reservoirs were brought down to Anuradhapura by special motorcade and, after paying tribute at the Ruwanweliseya, were offered to the sacred Bodhi tree with an appeal to the deities for good rains.

This annual ceremony had added fervency last week with climate change producing little answer to the prolonged drought that will see rice shortages by August, hydropower generation at a record low and a global report warning of increasing suffering from global warming.
The latest report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) confirms that extreme events such as this country’s prolonged drought will be a way of life in the future.

The report, “Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability” by IPCC Working Group 2 in which Sri Lankan environmental law specialist Dr Achala C. Abeysinghe was a lead writer, highlights the impact of climate change on water resources with global rainfall patterns due to be greatly affected.

Climate change is projected to reduce renewable surface water and groundwater resources significantly in many regions.

While years ago UN and other reports on the far-reaching effects of climate change were regarded with caution and even scepticism in some quarters, there is much more confidence in the climate projections now, and also evidence of changes already in place, said leading Sri Lankan climate scientist, Dr Lareef Zubair. He acknowledged that some climate change projections had not been tested but emphasised: “There are serious implications of climate change for Sri Lanka in my judgment”.  

Published on SundayTimes on 13.04.2014 http://www.sundaytimes.lk/140413/news/experts-warn-avert-conflicts-over-energy-food-nexus-92398.html

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Severe water shortage looms in Jaffna

September 27, 2013
Climate change, over-extraction of groundwater due to resettlement and with no rivers flowing through the peninsula, its aquifers are fast depleting 

The first elections in Jaffna since the war ended was held yesterday with many political promises. However, experts point out a water shortage silently looming in Jaffna, that will affect the people beyond these political promises.  The fact that Jaffna will face a severe water shortage in the future, if water extraction is not managed, has been revealed by a study done by Jaffna University’s Department of Agricultural Engineering. No river flows across the Jaffna peninsula.

Hence, the groundwater in the limestone aquifer is the main source of water for the area. Aquifers are underground layers of rock that are saturated with water that can be brought to the surface through natural springs or by pumping. The extracted water must be replaced by new water to replenish or recharge the aquifer. But in Jaffna, this recharge rate is 0.57 million cubic metres (MCM) of water, while the extraction rate is 0.66 MCM, according to research done by M. Thushyanthy and C.S. De Silva. So, Jaffna’s limestone aquifer will become depleted over the years, these water experts fear.

Rapid development of agriculture, economy and increase of population due to resettlement, creates greater withdrawal of water. Especially, water extraction for agricultural purposes will impact Jaffna’s water resources, according to this study.
However, this situation is not only restricted to Jaffna. Sri Lanka’s aquifers located in other areas will also face similar issues, says Water Resources Board (WRB) Director General R.S. Wijesekare.

He fears the changing rainfall patterns due to Climate Change will impact Sri Lanka’s groundwater aquifers. Not only the drought, but intense rain during a short period of time, will also disturb groundwater recharging cycles, as it will not allow rain water to leach down, but runoff quickly into rivers. The presence of buildings prevents rainwater from leaching, hence leaching in urban areas is severely reduced, which slows down groundwater recharge, while groundwater extraction for commercial purposes is increasing. Hence, a solution needs to be found for the future, point out water experts.

At least for the Jaffna aquifer, the Jaffna University researchers recommend the establishment of an institution for a groundwater regulatory framework, to optimise its usage by controlling its overuse.

Published on SundayTimes on 22.09.2013 http://www.sundaytimes.lk/130922/news/severe-water-shortage-looms-in-jaffna-63294.html

Excessive use of agrochemicals pollutes groundwater in many places

September 27, 2013

Last month, the Sunday Times highlighted that Sri Lanka’s farmers were over-using agro-chemicals, and warned that it could ultimately penetrate into the groundwater. This has now been confirmed by a study conducted by the Water Resources Board (WRB).

WRB Director General R.S. Wijesekare revealed that chemical compounds such as Nitrates, Phosphates and heavy metals were found in excess in many places in the districts they surveyed. The survey covered Jaffna, Ampara, Puttalam, Anuradhapura, Matale and Gampaha districts. Excessive Nitrate compounds were in samples taken from Kalpitiya and Jaffna, while Phosphate was in abundance in samples taken in Ampara. In samples from Anuradhapura, heavy metals such as Arsenic were found in quantities exceeding standard levels, he confirmed.

Some of the agrochemicals will be absorbed by plants, but most of it will collect on the soil or be washed away as runoff. Part of it leaches through to the groundwater. What goes in will come out, so not only the people in the immediate vicinity, but others in the area too could be affected by contamination.

Water samples from 30 Secretariat Divisions covering these districts have been collected periodically, under this study initiated in 2011. Mr Wijesekare said that the results have highlighted the need for some control of using agro chemicals. He said that WRB with other agencies such as the Agriculture department and farmers are planning to conduct a program in Puttalam to educate farmers to use the Agrochemicals responsibly while monitoring the ground water periodically to check for improvements of the quality. He also said the survey has been done on a Pilot scale and are trying to do the exercise covering the whole island.

Head of Sri Lanka programme of International Water Management Institute (IWMI), Dr Herath Manthreetilake has also stressed the importance of having such programmes at least in priority areas prone to groundwater pollution.

He also pointed out that periodic monitoring has to be continuous, to get a clear idea of pollution levels. Isolated incidents of chemical spills on depleted groundwater reserves due to drought, can increase the concentration of chemicals, so the results may not be entirely accurate – but data captured periodically on the groundwater condition can give a better picture. Dr Manthreetilake said that groundwater in most industrial countries such as Japan, are polluted beyond usage. Therefore, to avoid falling into the same trap, it is important to continue with a proper monitoring mechanism of groundwater sources.

Published on SundayTimes on 22.09.2013 http://www.sundaytimes.lk/130922/news/excessive-use-of-agrochemicals-pollutes-groundwater-in-many-places-63297.html