Archive for the ‘Climate Change’ Category

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

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).


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


Tank cascade system in Kappirigama – photo courtesy IUCN Sri Lanka 


‘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

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.


Published on SundayTimes on 02.10.2016

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

February 16, 2016

Published on SundayTimes on 10.01.2016

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

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

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.

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.”

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


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

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 

Grim warning from ‘Himalayan tsunami’ to Sri Lanka

August 8, 2013

Sri Lanka’s Hill Country has experienced heavy rains this week. According to Disaster Management Centre, Watawala, Dikkoya and Ambagamuwa DS Divisions in the Nuwara-Eliya District were under flash floods. ( Experts point out that areas like Watawala had been rarely under the flood in the past, despite area receive highest rainfall traditionally. This surely be hints on that Climate Change is on our doorstep. 

Last month, India’s Hill Country Uttarakand has received over 400% rainfall in some parts bringing a disaster killing thousands, What Sri Lanka can learn from Uttarakand floods..? Here is my article published on SundayTimes on 28.07.2013 

Uttarakand floods

Devastating force of Uttarakand floods (c)

A few weeks ago, the Himalayan region faced a flood so devastating it was called Himalaya’s Tsunami. TV footage showed horrific images of large buildings being washed off hillsides by the floods. The official death toll topped 1000 but it is believed to be many times that as the number of people missing is high and rescue attempts are still being carried out in remote regions.

The Uttarakhand disaster was the result of extreme rains and haphazard development, Indian environmentalists said. The area received unusually high rainfall, causing rivers to swell. India’s Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), in its journal Down-to-Earth, states, “The area has been denuded to a great extent due to deforestation and tree cutting for road construction, and other activities such as building construction, mining and hydro power projects. It has also resulted in increased surface flow and rise of river bed due to disposal of debris in the rivers.”

Some areas in Uttarakhand received more than 400 per cent of usual rainfall. What if Sri Lanka received such rainfall?
Watawala was flooded in May for the first time in recent history, so the possibility of floods in Sri Lanka’s own hill country is not remote. Centre for Environmental Justice spokesman Hemantha Withanage says such a situation would spell great danger. “We have cut down trees even on slopes of the mountains. Unplanned developments are being carried out in the area which has doubled the risk of landslides,” he pointed out.

The report on the Uttarakhand floods stated that the “floods turned into a major disaster when people, along with their properties and infrastructure, occupied such areas without adequate information, knowledge, awareness and preparedness against the potential disaster”. This could also be a lesson for Sri Lanka too. Disaster Management Centre (DMC) Media Deputy Director, Lal Sarath Kumara, pointed out that the intensity of rains created floods unexpectedly in many areas. In March, for example, the Deduru Oya flooded areas from Kurunegala to Chilaw after more than 100 years.

Mr Kumara said the DMC was ready for any eventuality and that a network of district-level regional centres had been set up with village-level disaster relief committees. If there were signs of a sudden disaster such as floods, the information would be passed to these regional units to take necessary action.

A house collapse - 10DeadInUttarakhandFloods

A horrific scene – a building collapse in Uttarakand

risky rescue operations

Risky rescue operations at Uttarakand

NuwaraEliya floods (c) DailyMirror

Recent floods in NuwaraEliya (c) DailyMirror

Published on SundayTimes on 28.07.2013

Treasury warns: Weather change drain on budget

August 2, 2013

Monsoon rains have clearly increased in intensity, experts said, as continuing bad weather damaged at least 132 houses and causing a death – and the government warned that the economy would be a victim of our changed weather patterns. The country experienced heavy flooding in 2011 and 2010. Prolonged drought affected 2012, and floods returned over the past few months of this year. The resulting damage has not only affected agriculture and livelihoods but also infrastructure.

Treasury Deputy Secretary Dr. Suren Batagoda said recent changes in weather patterns had caused billions in losses. “Newly done roads and bridges were damaged due to the unexpected and intense rainfall. The Treasury had to allocate Rs. 60 billion for flood control and flood damage in 2010 and 2011,” he said.

“In 2012, due to drought we could only produce 18 per cent of electricity through hydro-power. Using fuel to generate electricity is expensive, so this has become an additional burden to the economy,” Dr. Batagoda added.

IMG_7020 [1024x768]

The Deputy Secretary of Treasury made these revelations last week delivering the keynote address at the Symposium on Community-Based Adaptation to Climate Change, organised by the Global Environmental Facility’s Small Grants Programme (GEF/SGP) of UNDP with support from AusAid.

Other climatic experts addressing the symposium also stressed that frequent weather-related disasters and climate change could seriously set back development targets set for key sectors such as agriculture, fisheries and even services such as tourism.

Most infrastructure projects, including roads, drainage systems, railways, etc. have not been factored in weather change considerations, the National Climate Adaptation Strategy of Sri Lanka (NCASS) emphasised in a recent report: “While in some areas it may not matter, in others this is critical”.

Vegetable plantations have been badly affected in Nuwara Eliya

“Transport infrastructure in certain coastal areas could be under severe threat due to sea level rise. A systematic investment program to adapt infrastructure prone to weather change risks is not available and this will necessarily have to follow after a detailed study, but the investments involved could be substantial. However, incorporating these additional elements to face risks of weather change impacts is important as otherwise, the whole investment will go in the water,” the report points out.

The impact of weather changes on agriculture is evident in the hill country. Nuwara Eliya and its suburbs have been experiencing gloomy weather since April, with some areas receiving doubled rainfall. This has badly affected the tea yield, where some of the estates are recording losses in millions of rupees.

“The tea bushes in hill country have not received enough sunlight so they are not producing buds at the normal rate. Some estates that pluck buds once a week have had to wait more than two weeks and even then those buds are not up to the usual yield,” revealed Dr. Wijeratne of the Tea Research Institute. “This kind of bad weather is not (so far) prolonged in the hill country but these abnormal weather patterns could be indicating a changing climate,” he said.

Between 1974-2008, the highest number of people affected was due to floods and the next highest number of people affected has been due to drought, according to statistics contained in the Sri Lanka Disaster Profile. Compensation is an additional burden to the economy. Preparedness will be a key to face a future disaster.

Published on 28.07.2013 on SundayTimes

Modern use of ancient tanks a world best-practice model

July 19, 2013
Lanka lauded for not procrastinating as crops grow vulnerable

Sri Lanka’s modern farming use of rainwater stored in ancient tanks is a best practice strategy to combat the effects of climate change, says CGIAR, a global partnership of research bodies – but an expert warns that we are ruining this precious legacy. CGIAR’s research programme on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) outlines methods for farmers to adapt to shifts in climate despite uncertain growing conditions in coming years.

Above and below: Tanks built by our ancestors a rich heritage of water storage 

Research carried out by Colombo-based International Water Management Institute (IWMI) a CGIAR partner with CCAFS, was a key contributor to the study. “We have a rich heritage of water storage in Sri Lanka,” said Nishadi Eriyagama, a water resources engineer at International Water Management Institute (IWMI) who also contributed to the study.

“But according to recent research, half of all the 18,000 tanks in the dry zone are abandoned or in need of repair. So there is both a huge challenge and a great opportunity to revive these systems to help us adapt to climate change.’  The CCAFS report ties in with Sri Lanka’s own National Climate Change Adaptation strategy (NCCAS) prepared in 2011 which, among several other strategies to battle climate change, recommends returning to ancient water storage systems.

Professor Andy Challinor of Leeds University, who co-leads research on climate adaptation at CCAFS, said getting farmers and other stakeholders to embrace various adaptation strategies could “end up being equally or more important than seeking higher levels of scientific certainty from a climate model”.

“In Sri Lanka,” Dr Challinor said, “adapting without regrets started with knowing farmer capabilities and vulnerabilities. “Despite limited resources, the government’s adaptation plan is giving farmers a head-start because of its practical approach. Better water capture and management on the farms is translating to better preparation for more extreme weather conditions; better food security for the nation is the result.”

The report notes that the agriculture sector in Sri Lanka, which accounts for almost one-third of employment and one-eighth of gross domestic product, “faces uncertainly in the near-term as projections for precipitation and temperature vary dramatically”.
It goes on: “Instead of delaying a decision until more certainty emerges, government planners looked at the frequency of historical exposure to climate hazards … and identified the need for improved water management as an agricultural adaptation strategy that would be beneficial regardless of how climate changes shaped the precipitation in the future.

“The government then worked with smallholder farmers on a range of adaptive measures that have addressed agriculture water usage for centuries. Ancient Sri Lankan kingdoms used large above-ground tanks to collect and store rainwater for use in drier times; farmers implemented this solution with great success.”

Data published in Sri Lanka’s second National Communication on Climate Change shows a trend in decreasing rainfall and predicts that climate change will make the dry zone drier and the wet zone wetter. Unfortunately for us, several crops, including paddy, are cultivated mainly in the dry zone and could be directly affected by uncertain weather patterns.

Despite the huge amount evidence pointing to man-made climate change as a reality, there is a great deal of uncertainty among researchers about its effects.  That’s a problem for policy makers who are looking for firm recommendations to guide them, hence the development of CCAFS’s “no regrets” approaches that will help farmers whatever the outcome of climate change.

“Climate projections will always have a degree of uncertainty, but we need to stop using uncertainty as a rationale for inaction,” says Dr Sonja Vermeulen, head of research at CCAFS and lead author of the new study.

Published on SundayTimes on 14.07.2013

Authorities heedless of climate change in coastal planning: report

July 10, 2013

Rising ocean would drown valuable projects 

Sri Lanka will be hit hard by climate change and is not giving this enough thought when executing development projects, a new report warns. The report, “Turn Down The Heat: Climate Extremes, Regional Impacts, and the Case for Resilience” builds on a World Bank report released late last year, which concluded the world would warm by 4C above pre-industrial levels by the end of this century if countries did not take concerted action now.


Sea-level rise will impact Sri Lanka (c)

The paper looks at the likely impacts of present-day 2°C and 4°C warming on agricultural production, water resources, coastal ecosystems and cities across sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and South East Asia.  With South Asian coastlines being located close to the equator, projections of local sea-level rise show a greater increase compared to higher latitudes. Sea-level rise is projected to be approximately 100–115cm by the 2090s in a 4°C world, and 60–80 cm in a 2°C world, the report calculates.

“In Sri Lanka, we recently witnessed the havoc wrought on communities, especially those living on the coast, by extreme bad weather and this could only get worse with the accelerating effects of climate change,” pointed out Ivan Rossignol, Acting Country Director for Sri Lanka and the Maldives of the World Bank releasing the report.

The World Bank said climate risk mitigation measures were integrated into the designs of its project investments to ensure their sustainability. For example, the Metro Colombo Urban Development Project (MCUDP), which aims at flood and drainage management, and the Dam Safety and Water Resources Planning Project (DSWRP), have incorporated climate/weather proofing of water resource management into its project design, he explains.

The report, by the National Climate Adaptation Strategy of Sri Lanka (NCASS), warned that many other development projects, including roads, drainage systems, railways, did not take the risks of Climate Change into account even when such concerns were critical.

Transport infrastructure in certain coastal areas could be under severe threat due to sea level rise. Tourism in coastal areas is also under threat, as beaches and the biodiversity which underpin our tourism product are both at risk due to climate change.

Guidelines and standards for development and engineering of infrastructure currently in use are outdated and do not include climate change considerations, the NCASS report says.

Published on SundayTimes on 07.07.2013

Cricket in the Changing Climate

June 25, 2013

Sri Lanka has lost the ICC Champions Trophy Semi-finals and many called it is the rain that supported Indian bowlers making conditions difficult to bat. The final has been restricted to T20 match most of the matches in this tournament have been affected by rain, but it is the summer in England that is not expecting this level of extreme raining. “Has Cricket also become a victim of Climate Change” questions climate experts..


Lots of play time has been lost due to rain © AFP

‘Cricket could be the worst affected sport due to Climate Change’ say climate change experts. They made this comment pointing out that Global Warming is changing the weather patterns making difficult to setup a match schedule avoiding rain as usual dry seasons are now get rains due to abnormal weather patterns.

The ICC Champions trophy held in England is also affected by rain. A number of Champions Trophy matches were abandoned and had been cut short. But it is not all as rain can change the playing conditions. For example, the moisture in the turf can help seamers to get movements and make it unplayable. Many commentators think the semifinal between Sri Lanka and India largely depend on the toss due to conditions aggravated by the rain.

However, this is the summer for England where traditionally they play Ashes series, but 2012 and this year the conditions reversed. It is reported that the England’s Met Department also called a special meeting of climate scientists and meteorologists next week to debate the possible causes of the UK’s “disappointing” weather over recent years, as reported by the Guardian newspaper. The report suggest there could be more to it than natural variability of weather as there are Washout summers. Flash floods. Freezing winters. Snow in May. Droughts. (

This is also the case in Sri Lanka. Wherever Sri Lankan team goes, there is rain, is now a common belief” as lots of matches played by SL were impacted by rain. Not only in Sri Lanka, wherever they go – West Indies, England, India, Australia – atleast few matches are either abandoned or shortened due to rain. There could be many reasons such as there are too many cricket matches being played nowadays and organizers find it hard to schedule it in rain free season. But the fact is all the main tournaments are pre-scheduled looking at the local Climatic Calender too. So where is the disconnect..??

Could it be Climate Change..?? 

“Though the data doesn’t show a major difference in annual rainfall, the spread of the rainfall patterns have clearly changed” says senior meteorologist Mr.Ananda Jayasinharachchi. He pointed out that extremity of the weather events has increase giving examples, when it rain – it downpours; and having experiencing longer drier period. “but changing of the beginning of rainy season could have been little shifted and the rains that comes, once in a while are sometimes due to low pressure conditions in Bay of Bengal” he pointed out.

The trends everywhere in the world shows that Climate Change is not just a myth, but real. More catastrophe’s are predicted, but South Asians will surely be disheartened that it impacts their favorite game – Cricket.

Forget about total abandonment of a match due to rain. Cricket is more vulnerable to changing climate factors – little bit of moisture can create an unexpected swing, a dried pitch will make it a spinners paradise. So Cricket is indeed a sport likely to feel effects of global warming more than any other sports. It could easily impact the results of the match as well, so can be considered as the future match fixer..?

This is not just an imagination. Scientists had studied during the Ashes series played in Australia in 2006/07, why it was noted that the typical characteristics of each Test ground appeared to be changing and that batsmen were tending to prevail over bowlers more than they might have done in the past. Manoj Joshi who was a university lecturer – has decided to analyse the results with climatic data.

The researcher made an interesting finding that when the series is held in Australia, the home side is statistically more likely to succeed after El Nino years, whereas the English team has a better record following La Nina years. This isn’t really a shock because La Nina years typically see wetter conditions with lower land-surface temperature, therefore better mimicking the conditions the English players are used to. El Nino years, however, tend to see lower-than-average rainfall and higher-than-usual land-surface temperature as per the discussion of the paper. (

So it is clear that even the South Asian’s favorite sports – the Cricket – will not be spared by the Climate Change. So take your action atleast on your personal capacity not to contribute to the Global Warming..!!

The elusive New Year messenger

April 14, 2013

Today is Avurudu but have you heard the messenger of the New Year, the koha? �The song of the koha, or the Asian Koel, is a special part of the Avurudu season, like the Western cuckoo is termed the first harbinger of Spring. But do we hear the koha’s melodious song as frequently as in the past or is it fading away like other Avurudu symbols such as erabadu flowers and cadju puhulam? ..or has change of the climate made an impact for timining of this melodious call..? – by Malaka Rodrigo

Pic by Udara Samaraweera

Some readers reported hearing koha’s song less frequently this year. “I haven’t heard the koha in my neigbourhood,”lamented Gayani Karunatilake, who lives in Nugegoda.�Reaction is varied. Responding to a query posted on the Facebook group“Nature”, Kavinda Jayasooriya said he noticed koha calls had increased this year.

Posting on the same group, Jagath Gunawardane, an ardent birdwatcher, said that based on his observations the koha’s call was less frequent now. “The calling reached a peak during the last days of March, and now we are having a reduction in calling. It will be even less during the New Year days,”he predicts.

Sarath Ekanayake, had a different view. “During March-April this year, kohas could not be seen or heard in my surrounding area around Kandy,” he said.

“I saw the koel in February but haven’t heard the calling.”�Mr Ekanayake also shared an interesting observation from a villager of Ambalangoda who said the koha was being found in large numbers in home gardens in the area, sometimes in flocks of five to seven birds.

So what makes these changes..? could the changing climate has made an impact for the timing of Koel’s song..? 

Studies in other countries show that timing of migratory birds are slightly changing. ScienceDaily last year reported that climate change and global warming has started changing the migratory patterns of the birds. ( Ornithologists believe that the urge to migrate is triggered by a series of facts such as day length and the new report which was published on PLoS journal points out that the timing of arrival of the migratory birds have now got advanced.

Ornithologists highlight the impact for the birds due to early arrival can be bad. Professor of biology Allen Hurlbert says that “Timing of bird migration is something critical for the overall health of bird species”. “They have to time it right so they can balance arriving on breeding grounds after there’s no longer a risk of severe winter conditions. If they get it wrong, they may die or may not produce as many young. A change in migration could begin to contribute to population decline, putting many species at risk for extinction”

Prof.Sarath Kotagama, the foremost Ornithologist of Sri Lanka says there are no particular scientific data on changing of migratory patterns in birds that comes to Sri Lanka, but stress the importance of collecting data on migratory birds and scientists also says Global Warming can impact the timing of breeding. The koel’s song is its breeding call, and the posibility of any impact could not be ruled out.

But to conclude, scientific data is required. The migratory patterns of the birds in America have been researched using bird observation data feed into internet based eBird forum by amateur Ornithologists. Since 2002, eBird has collected more than 48 million bird observations from roughly 35,000 contributors. This kind of Citizen Science program is proposed for Sri Lanka as well.

Addressing the Annual BirdWatchers’ Conference organised by FOGSL on March 30, Mr. Fernando said everyone could help in the conservation of birds by properly documenting and sharing those casual observations.

“If you observe the birds around you throughout the year, you can easily monitor any changing patterns of different birds” he added. “Different people have different perceptions on whether the Asian koel is found in their gardens as frequently as last year and whether its song is heard.

“If we kept a record last year on days we heard the koha, or the numbers in which they visited our gardens, then we can compare those records and make conclusions as we have a data set to compare.”�These simple observations collectively could be used as scientific data to monitor any decline or change in population.

The Asian koel is omnivorous, and the large numbers of crows solve their housing needs so the bird can adapt to rapid urbanisation. Ornithologists in general do not see a decline of its numbers. “But no one can say that even the koha is perfectly safe as there can be unexpected phenomena affecting even common birds,” says Chandima Fernando of the Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka (FOGSL).

“The house sparrow was once very common around Sri Lanka. But they are not to be seen any more in many areas. This population decline could have occurred over a period of time but because we haven’t monitored them, we didn’t realise they were in trouble,” he said.

Mr. Fernando also revealed that FOGSL plans to launch another Citizen Science program called “Garden Bird Watch” and welcomes the Sunday Times readers interesting in joining the initiative to send an e-mail to or call FOGSL secretariat on 011-2501332.

Perhaps this Aluth Avurudu is the best time to pay some attention to the common birds. Why not start by observing the koha this year? If you can capture any photographs of kohas, send them to the Sunday Times or email to

The bandit bird

The Avurudu song of the koha is the song of the male vying with other cuckoos to impress a mate. The melody signals the start of the breeding season, which usually coincides with the April festive season.�As the koha’s melodious song is seasonal it is commonly believed that the Asian koel is a migratory bird but Prof.Sarath Kotagama says this is a misconception. The Asian koel could be seen in our home gardens throughout the year if we look closely.

The Asian koel, like many other cuckoos, lay eggs in the nests of other species. Different cuckoos target the nests of different birds. Our beloved “Avurudu koha”selects the crows as foster parents for its young.�The male koel deliberately distracts the crows to allow the female koel to lay its egg in the crow’s nest. A single egg is usually laid, and sometimes the female egg even throws out the host’s egg.

Some baby cuckoos eject the host fledgeling but the koha young are not hardwired to that bad habit. Nevertheless they are very active and quick and eat most of the food brought to the nest by the foster-parents, which eventually causes the baby crows to starve. By the time the crow mothers realise something is wrong the koel is strong enough to flee the nest and the angry foster parents. The male Asian koel is blackish with red eyes, while the female is spotted and often mis-identified as a different species.

Published on SundayTimes on 14.04.2013