Archive for the ‘Climate Change’ Category

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

A week with days to remind Water, Forest, Sparrows & Climate Change

March 26, 2013

Have you realized 5 international days that are having some Environmental Importance were fallen on last week..??

Yes, 23rd.March: Earth Hour & World Meteorological Day, 22nd. March: World Water Day, 21st March: World Forest Day and 20th March: World Sparrows Day were those special days celebrated last week.EarthHour

On Saturday 23rd of March two environmentally important days Earth Hourand the World Meteorological Day has been celebrated. The Earth Hour was observed across the world including Sri Lanka with many switching off lights and refrain from using other power consuming devices for an hour stating at 8.30pm. Earth Hour Co-Founder and Executive Director Andy Ridley visited Sri Lanka on last January also meeting the president Mahinda Rajapakse earning support for the campaign. He started Earth Hour in 2007 mainly aimed importance of individual action to fight the Climate Change due to excessive emission of Green House Gases such as Carbon Dioxide. As of 2012, the cause has been successfully advocated in more than 7,000 cities in 152 countries, including Sri Lanka.

The World Meteorological Day was also fallen on 23rd of March. This year’s them was ‘Attention towards weather for the protection of property and lives’ which became a timely subject with signs that Climate Change intensifying the extremity of otherwise normal weather events. Sad news also reported this week that a majestic domesticated Tusker has been killed by a lightning strike highlighting the importance of this year’s World Meteorological Day’s theme. The minister of Disaster Management Mahinda Amaraweera highlighted the need of upgrading Meteorology Department in facing these extremities of weather events.

logo for World Water dayThe theme of this year’s World Water Day which was fallen on 22nd of March has been the Water Corporation. The Year 2013 is also named as the International Year of Water Corporation highlighting the importance of managing water.  However, managing water resources has been a hotly debated issue where on several occasions it is attempted to introduce Water Policies for Sri Lanka, but political and community pressure lead to abandon these efforts. However, last year – Sri Lanka faced severe drought and then floods. During the drought, there wasn’t enough water to continue cultivations and if we had a proper water policy, this situation could have been governed and managed atleast to some point, highlights those who campaign for a water policy.

The week also marked the celebration of First-ever International Forest Day on 21st of March. This date was agreed by the UN General Assembly in November 2012 so that every year there would be one day set aside to “celebrate and raise awareness” of forests. Sri Lanka is considered as a global Biodiversity Hotspot and the diversity of life in forests contributes much for claiming this prestigious status. Forget the little creatures inhabit in this habitats. Forests perform lots of valuable Ecosystem Services that helps to regulates lots of systems support humanity and our survival such as regulating Climate and safeguarding Watershed facility. So the day has carried a special importance for Sri Lanka.

On 20th March, another day which was taking a lighter side was fallen on. It was the World Sparrows Day has been promoted by many environmental organizations in different parts of the world highlighting the perils of Sparrows. The House Sparrows known in Sinhala as ‘Ge Kurulla’ was once very common even in our households. The House Sparrows known in Sinhala as ‘Ge Kurulla’ was once very common even in our households. But they have been declined even without our knowledge. Now the ‘chirpy’ sound of this bird once common in many parts is not to be heard. Even the existing populations are declined without our knowledge. This is not a phenomena recorded only in Sri Lanka, but many something observed in many parts of the world. So the day is specially dedicated to highlight the importance of having an eye even on the common birds as there is no guarantee they would be saved.

However, these days will be only meant for raising awareness. it is highlighted no matter how many days were dedicated – public and authorities need to take up the tasks to protect our environment, otherwise the results of not taking care of our Environment will impact our own survival. Let’s all be motivated to take up the challenges of not over exploiting our natural resources.

Special days fallen on this week..

  • 23rd.March: Earth Hour
  • 23rd. March: World Meteorological Day
  • 22nd. March: World Water Day
  • 21st March: World Forest Day
  • 20th March: World Sparrows Day

First ‘International Forest Day’ celebrates today

March 21, 2013

Today, 21st March, is the International Day of Forests. The importance of the forests has increased in this era of Climate Change as forests are perhaps the greatest Carbon Sinks that removes atmospheric Carbon Dioxide leading the way of the fight against Global Warming.  This date was agreed by the UN General Assembly in November last year so that every year there would be one day set aside to “celebrate and raise awareness” of forests.

Forest(c) Greenpeace

Forest is a valuable Ecosystem (c) Greenpeace

Sri Lanka is considered as a global Biodiversity Hotspot and the diversity of life in forests contributes much for claiming this prestigious status. The Tropical Wet Lowland Evergreen Rainforests and the cloud forests (tropical moist evergreen forest) in hill country of Sri Lanka is home for about 80% of the Endemic fauna and flora of Sri Lanka. But sadly, majority of the protected areas of Sri Lanka are from Dry Zone despite the  remaining forests in Wet Zone and central highlands are severely threatened by Encroachment.

Forget the little creatures inhabit in this habitats. Forests perform lots of valuable Ecosystem Services that helps to regulates lots of systems support humanity and our survival.

First of all, forest regulates the climate. Statistics show that forests store nearly 300 billion tonnes of carbon in their living parts. This is roughly 40 times the annual greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from fossil fuels. Deforestation accounts for approximately the same amount of climate pollution as all the world’s cars, trucks, trains, planes, and ships combined. So, from a climate point of view it’s better to keep the GHGs where they are by preserving and protecting the forests, says Greenpeace.

The world’s fight against climate change has placed a special emphasis on protecting the world’s remaining forests. This has given rise to a concept called “Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation” (REDD). According to this mechanism, there is a set of steps designed to use market/financial incentives to reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases from deforestation and forest degradation.

In simpler terms, REDD is a mechanism to financially reward commitments by developing forested nations to stop deforestation/forest degradation and enhancing forest carbon stocks that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Recognizing the more important role of forests, this programme has become REDD+ where the ‘plus’ goes beyond deforestation, also including the role of conservation, sustainable management aiming to protect forest biodiversity too.

REDD implementation is expected to take place in a post-2012 climate regime, and global level discussions are currently being held to finalize the mechanism. The World Bank and the United Nations have launched a programme (REDD readiness) to support developing countries to develop capacity to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation and to implement a future REDD mechanism.

In theory, this can bring multiple benefits to Sri Lanka so it is worth evaluating the opportunities of REDD and getting ready before it is too late. The Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) under the Kyoto Protocol which is a global agreement to reduce green house gas emissions also held similar promise, but Sri Lanka was late to act on it. Are we on top of this new forest initiative ?

The UN-REDD Programme initially works with nine member countries across Africa, Asia and Latin America: Bolivia, Congo, Indonesia, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Tanzania, Vietnam and Zambia. It was announced that Sri Lanka has been admitted to the ‘United Nations Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries (REDD) Programme’ in October 2009. Since then Sri Lanka has been granted observer status to the UN-REDD programme and is currently in the process of doing the ground work for REDD.

Image on deforestation. Courtesy UN REDD

“Getting ready for the REDD is not an easy task, but the REDD-Readiness process alone will provide benefits to Sri Lanka,” says Conservator of Forests of the Forest Department Anura Sathurusinghe who is also the REDD focal point for Sri Lanka.

There is much data and information to be collected before formulation of REDD projects. The first phase of REDD-readiness includes formulating of National REDD Strategy development, capacity building, institutional strengthening along with many other pilot activities.

An accurate national inventory of forest resources of the country is essential information needed for the REDD programme as it will help in estimating the amount of carbon contained in these forests. This carbon measurement process has already started with a team of experts currently evaluating the carbon stocks of different forest types in Sri Lanka. Other than the forests, agricultural lands such as rubber, coconut and forest plantations (such as Eucalyptus) and also home gardens are studied through different methods to estimate their stock of carbon.

Experts also point out the many drawbacks that could hinder the success of these REDD mechanisms including cost of certification, lack of a comprehensive database on quantification of GHG emission reductions by existing forests and some areas of the process that are still not clear etc.

That some of the forests are managed by the Forest Department and the Department of Wildlife Conservation which is now outside of the Environmental Ministry also would require coordination between ministries.

Environmental lawyer Jagath Gunawardane agrees that the REDD initiative could bring benefits to the country by reducing deforestation if properly implemented. He pointed out that the government will also be bound to protect the forests as a result of the agreement.

Many of Sri Lanka’s leading environmentalists were against the previous attempt to introduce the Tropical Forest Conservation (TFC) Act by the United States which proposed the swap of debts for protection activities of Sinharaja forest. “TFC was between two countries which was not transparent, while REDD will be governed by an international agreement; so there is no complaint at this stage although we need to evaluate future developments carefully,” Mr. Gunawardane said.

Kanneliya absorbs more carbon than Sinharaja

Prof. Janendra Costa, has already completed the estimation of carbon absorption rates of Sinharaja and the Kanneliya-Dediyagala-Nakiyadeniya (KDN) forest complex. The total carbon stock of Sinharaja is 305 metric tons of carbon per hectare while KDN records 312. Carbon stock is the amount of carbon in the standing biomass (mass of organic matter) of the forest at a given point of time.

It is the result of carbon sequestration over a large number of years where the Carbon sequestration rate is defined as the amount of carbon that the forest would absorb (through photosynthesis) and retain during a given period of time.

It is the carbon sequestration rate (through absorbing atmospheric CO2) that is important for REDD+ because it is the parameter that represents the contribution from a forest to climate change mitigation. This annual carbon sequestration rate (metric tons of carbon per hectare per year) is 8.953 in KDN while in Sinharaja it is 7.403.

An interesting finding is that the total annual carbon dioxide absorption rate (million metric tons of CO2 per year) of KDN is higher than the Sinharaja Man and Biosphere forest reserve.

Prof. De Costa points out this is primarily because KDN is located in a slightly warmer environment, which receives a slightly greater amount of solar radiation (both of which are because KDN is located slightly closer to the Equator), which enables a slightly greater photosynthetic rate. The research also revealed Sinharaja absorbs 2.52% of Sri Lanka’s total annual CO2 emissions and KDN absorbs 3.26%.

In comparison to the CO2 absorption rates of these two tropical rainforests, Prof. Costa expects the CO2 absorption rates of the dry zone forests and montane forests (e.g. Horton Plains, part of Knuckles and the Peak Wilderness) to be lower.

He suggests that in the dry zone forests, the tree density is lower and because of the warmer temperatures a greater percentage of absorbed carbon would be released again due to greater respiration.

So let’s all understand the value of forests and protect them – if not for Biodiversity; for our own sake..!!!

Message of the Executive Secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity on Occasion of International Forest Day

Rain brings relief, but danger lurks in lightning strikes

October 14, 2012

October 13th was International Day of Disaster Reduction. That same week lightning strikes claimed several lives in Sri Lanka. Has Global Warming increase the extremity of lightning..? 

Although the drought appeared to be easing in some areas of the country with the onset of rains, it has come at a price with lightning strikes killing five people during the past few weeks. Two Korean tourists were among the first victims who were hit by lightning while they were enjoying the scenery from a vantage point – Lipton’s Seat. A few days later two farmers were killed in Medawachchiya.

According to Meteorology Department data, the number of deaths due to lightning has increased over the years with the number standing at 40 for this year. According to Met. Department chief meteorologist Ananda Jayasinharachchi the highest number of deaths, 50, was recorded last year. Although the data is not comprehensive as the list is compiled according to media reports, notification through personal contacts or reported by the Disaster Management Centre, many experts in the field agree that the intensity of lightning has increased over the years.

Mr. Jayasinharachchi also agreed adding that the thunder has become louder and the lightning more intense. “This could be due to climate change,” the expert meteorologist said adding that global warming resulted in extreme weather patterns. He also said population density was increasing in many areas, so a single lightning strike could cause more damage.

Sri Lanka faces two main seasons of lightning that coincide with the inter-monsoon rains. The March-April season has proved to be the worst season and experts say the lightning will be more intense in the fast approaching second season, October – November. They point out this is because during the inter-monsoon period the cloud cover is more than during the monsoon and the chances for the clouds to get electronically charged were more.

International Scientists too agrees that the Global Warming will increase the intensity of lightning. This research has been reported in the Journal of Geophysical Research and Atmospheric Research, and has been presented at the International Conference on Lightning Protection in last July. An increase in lightning activity will have particular impact in areas that become warmer and drier as global warming progresses, says the researcher Prof. Colin Price, Head of the Department of Geophysics, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences at Tel Aviv University analyzing the computer models. Experts claim increase in lightning activity will have particular impact in areas that become warmer and drier as global warming progresses.

According to Sri Lankan meteorological experts, lightning incidents are more frequent in the wet zone of Sri Lanka and areas such as Horana, Avissawella and Ratnapura were more prone to them. Accordingly although the Western, Sabaragamuwa and Southern provinces are more prone to lightning, deaths have been reported consistently from other districts.

There are many form of lightning, but the ones that strike the earth are the ones that create widespread damage to property and cause injuries. Not just humans but in the recent past, several elephants too have fallen victim to lightning.

How to determine the danger:

When a flash of lightning is observed, count the seconds before the sound of the thunder clap. Every five seconds equals one mile. Divide this by five to get the distance in miles between you and the lightning. Less than 15 seconds means you are in the danger zone, where the strike is less than three miles away.

Outdoor safety:

  • Avoid being near the tallest object around
  • Move to a sturdy enclosed building
  • Get inside a hardtop vehicle and keep the windows rolled up
  • Don’t seek shelter under isolated trees
  • Do not ride bicycles or travel in an open vehicle like a tractor
  • If in a boat, crouch down in the centre of the boat
  • Swimming is not safe
  • Wear dry slippers (wet slippers are still not safe)

Indoor safety:

  • Do not use any electrical appliances and unplug unnecessary ones
  • Disconnect the TV antenna, keeping socket of antenna wire closer to earth outside the house
  • Do not use a corded telephone except in an emergency
  • Stay away from windows and doors

First aid:

  • �Massage the victim
  • �If not breathing, give artificial respiration

Note: Touching a victim of lightning is safe. (From

What is lightning?

Lightning is an atmospheric discharge of electricity, which typically occurs during thunderstorms. In the atmospheric electrical discharge, a leader of a bolt of lightning can travel at speeds of 60,000 miles per second, and can reach temperatures reaching 30,000 �C (54,000 �F), hot enough to fuse silica sand. Energy of a normal lightning can be used to keep a 100 watt bulb switched on for three months.

What is thunder?

Thunder is the sound made by lightning. The sudden increase in pressure and temperature from lightning produces rapid expansion of the air surrounding and within a bolt of lightning. In turn, this expansion of air creates a sonic shock wave which produces the sound of thunder.

Inter-monsoon period begins with dry NCP receiving blessed rain�

By Sonja Candappa

After the drought conditions experienced in the past few months, the second inter-monsoon period has begun with scattered thunder showers forecast in most parts of the island and especially in the parched North Central and Eastern Provinces.
Met Department Chief Meteorologist Ananda Jayasingharachchi told the Sunday Times the reason there was less rainfall this year was because there were insufficient tropical disturbances in the Bay of Bengal.

“The change in climatic activity around the Bay of Bengal is part of a global climate change and is the result of global warming,” Mr. Jayasingharachchi said.�The much needed rains are expected to continue throughout October and November, depending on whether tropical disturbances are created in the Bay of Bengal.

There are two inter-monsoon periods from March to April and October to November. During this period, scattered thunder showers are experienced in the evenings, island wide.�The North-East monsoon from December to mid-February affects most of the island, but especially the Northern, Eastern and North-Central Provinces.

How hail forms

Met Department Meteorologists said that hail experienced in the Haputale area was a result of the formation of cumulo-nimbus, convectional clouds over the region. Convectional clouds form when the there is insufficient rain during monsoon periods and the surface of the earth overheats, enabling water particles to evaporate and condense in the upper atmosphere and fall as hail.

Published on SundayTimes on 14.10.2012

Desperate farmers seek help as climate hits back

October 7, 2012
230,000 cultivators apply for drought compensation, more such events feared in future writes Malaka Rodrigo 

The crippling drought that has ruined thousands of cultivated acres across the country has driven more than 230,000 farmers to seek compensation from the Government. Scientists warn that extreme weather could become a pattern and that agriculture could be a repeat victim.

Touching scene: Kindly souls provide some drinking water to cattle in drought-stricken Puttalam. Pic by Hiran Priyankara Jayasinghe

The Agrarian Services Department has been approached by farmers in 13 districts, including Kurunegala, Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa and Ampara, seeking compensation for failed or destroyed crops. The highest number of applications, about 130,000, have come from the Kurunegala district. The drought has flattened up to 2,45,000 acres of paddy land, according to Agrarian Services Commissioner-General Sunil Weerasinghe.

He said Agrarian Services officers were in discussions with the Treasury to work out compensation deals. For a start, there will be a cash-flow work system under which farmers will be paid for community work, such as cleaning and repairing the irrigation network. Dry rations will also be handed out.

As a result of the drought and depleted food supplies, prices of food stuffs and some vegetables, including lime, have gone up. Fortunately, Sri Lanka had a bumper rice harvest last season, and extra stocks are being used to stabilize the price of the rice.
Compared to this time last year, prices for one kilo of vegetables have increased dramatically, according to the Hector Kobbekaduwa Agrarian Research and Training Institute.

Leeks have gone up 87 per cent; beetroot 65 per cent; carrots 61 per cent; capsicum chillies 77 per; pumpkin 48 per cent, and lime 60 per cent. The research institute’s Dr. L. Rupasena said vegetable prices usually drop at this time of year, but this year was different because of the unprecedented drought. “This extended drought should be a warning to have clear policies in place in case of such of extreme weather conditions in future,” he told the Sunday Times.

Bowsers to the rescue in Polonnaruwa. Pic by K.G. Karunaratne

In the past few weeks, rainfall has been recorded in many parts of the country, One expert – Dr. W. M. A. D. B. Wicremasinghe, director of the Natural Resources Management Centre (NRMC) of the Agriculture Department – changing weather patterns make it difficult to store water for irrigation. Excess water from heavy rains overflow the reservoirs and is wasted. He said recent weather patterns result in flood conditions during the rainy months and prolonged dry periods.

It is clearly evident that the current drought has impacted the whole of Sri Lanka though many parts of Sri Lanka received rains during past few weeks. Vegetables from upcountry are now being brought to the city markets, which will soon have a positive impact on prices. However, we should not forget the bitter experience and learn from it, the importance of clear policies to adapt to this kind of extreme weather as Climate Change clearly threatens to increase the frequency of such extreme events in the future too.

Dr.W.M.A.D.B.Wicremasinghe, director of Natural Resources Management Centre (NRMC) of the Agriculture Department said “Sri Lanka’s agriculture sector will be one of the areas badly impacted by the changes in climate which will increase the frequency of droughts such as the present one. Though annual rainfall is relatively unchanged, it is found out that Sri Lanka is already facing changing rainfall patterns where we experience heavy rain falls and lengthier dry periods in between.” Dr Wickremasinghe went on to say “This will even impact the irrigation water, as heavy rain within short periods of time is difficult to retain in the reservoirs, when the  tendency will be for them to spill over.”

Many crops in Sri Lanka have particular climatic requirements; where they need dry periods at times of flowering and then rain at other times. But the rainfall patterns are changing and the traditional agricultural seasons are getting disturbed. “Last year we didn’t have a good harvest of some of the tree fruits such as Rambutan, Duriyan or Mango. This is mainly due to rain experienced in February which coincides with the flowering season of these fruits. But this year the climatic conditions were right, so we got lots of harvest in these fruits” said Dr.Wicremasinghe pointing out that if Climate Change impacts the general weather cycle, there could be more price fluctuations of foods. These kind of bad seasons were there previously too, but the frequencies of “bad seasons” are increasing indicating that climate change is already making its impact felt.

Dr.Wicremasinghe also pointed out that the increase in temperature too will impact agriculture adversely and noted that the night time temperature particularly has increased in many parts of Sri Lanka with sudden cooler days. This type of weather will impact the yield of crop plants. The experts say that there was an evaporation of 7mm water per day in the present climatic conditions. With the increased temperature, the evaporation rates too will increase exhausting the remaining water quickly. According to the NRMC director, it is also reported that increased atmospheric temperature will trigger more decease and the prevalence of pests, which too, will damage crops. To face these, the farmers spray lots of pesticides and fungicides, which will increase the cost of production resulting in higher prices.

The HARTI’s additional director, Dr.Rupasena points out that proper production planning is the way to control food prices. In the meantime, it is also reported that the Agriculture department, Power and Energy ministry, Irrigation department together with Meteorology Department are planning on a proactive coordinated effort to manage irrigational water, to face future threats of droughts. Dr.Wicremasinghe also mentioned that they are planning to issue predictions every 2 weeks on future forecasts, to enable farmers to make informed decisions.

Apart from that, the Agriculture department is doing research on introducing new hybrid paddy varieties which are drought tolerant.  They are also working on Drought Escape paddy varieties, which have shorter crop cycles of two and a half months, where in instances of predicted drought, farmers can grow and harvest these, before the drought takes them unawares. New micro irrigation techniques which save water too are being introduced to farmers and the need to learn water management is also emphasized.

Housewives sour-faced over price of lime

Housewives are stunned by the current price of lime. A single lime cost a record Rs. 18 at certain supermarkets this week – and these were not even top quality limes.

“I’ve stopped stocking lime in my store,” said one retailer. “People are going for citrus fruit alternatives, such as the jama naran or mandarin.”

The wholesale price of lime ranged from Rs. 230 to 240 a kilo, compared with Rs.31 a kilo the previous week. Retail prices ranged from Rs.280 to even Rs. 500 a kilo.

The lime plant, scientifically known as citrus aurantifolia, needs the right climatic conditions to bloom and produce fruit.

Too much rain and prolonged droughts can disturb the natural cycle of the lime tree. Lime is mainly cultivated in the dry zone, in the Moneragala and Ampara districts. These areas have been badly hit by the drought.Curry leaves have also become scarce in the market.

Farmers’ plight worsens; banks want loans paid back

with Hansani Bandara

The woes of drought-hit farmers in the North Central Province (NCP) increase with banks that have given them loans adding pressure on them while their appeal for relief falls by the wayside. The Sunday Times learns that some farmers are taking up menial jobs to feed their families since they have pawned jewellery, vehicles and other valuables.

R. P. Dharmathilake, treasurer of the Progressive Farmers’ Collective in Polonnaruwa said it was only by pawning or obtaining bank loans that farmers found money for cultivation and they settled the loans by selling the harvest. But this time much of the harvest was destroyed by the drought and they could not pay back their loans.

He said they had made several pleas to authorities and politicians seeking relief, but the response was poor.
“We had discussions with the politicians in the area on August 27. We submitted our request in writing. We also warned them that we will be organising a protest. But nothing happened,” he said.

M. Dharmathilake said only those farmers who had insured their crops in obtaining bank loans obtained some compensation.
Adding to their woes were bank notices demanding that the farmers pay back their loans.

Agrarian Services and Wildlife Minister S. M. Chandrasena said compensation would be paid under agriculture insurance and the process had already been started. But Mr. Dharmathilake said the amount to be paid to those who had insured the land was hardly enough to cover the loss.

Agrarian Commissioner, Sunil Weerasinghe said the process of paying compensation would start immediately and would be concluded before the next season.

He said that as part of a relief package, farmers would be given seedpaddy and the bank loan interests would be waived. He said the Ministry of Finance and Planning would instruct the state banks to waive the interests due from drought-hit farmers.
He explained that programmes were being implemented district wise to provide relief to 132,000 farmers affected by the drought.

Regardless of the assurances, farmers say they are still in depths of despair.Kapilrathna Banda, a farmer from Giritale, Polonnaruwa said that they would not believe the promises of the government anymore. He said the authorities promise that seedpaddy would be distributed free in the next season but there was little guarantee that they would do it.

“Nothing has been done so far on paying compensation. Officials came to the village to collect information on crop damage, but provided little relief. We are now doing odd jobs at the reservoir renovation projects and earn 500 rupees a day,” he said. Nandasena Gunathilake, another farmer whose crops were destroyed by the drought, said this drought was a result of improper water management.

“We have come to the point where we have to sell our possession to find money. We can’t rely on politicians’ promises. What we need is compensation for damaged crop and funds to cultivate in the next season,” he said.

According to latest statistics, more than 250,000 acres of crop have been damaged by the drought in the Northern, North Central and Eastern Provinces.

“During the last few weeks, several protests erupted asking to release water to save their paddy. Some of these protests have gone violent even blocking the roads and farmers locking horns with the officials. At least in one instance in Devahuwa, a clash between fishermen and farmers were averted only by the intervention of the police. The fishermen wanted to keep the remaining water for the fish, while farmers were desperate to get at least a bit of water in their attempt to protect their fast drying paddy farms. As the frequency of extreme weather events increase, there can be many such incidents”, warn the experts

Published on 16.09.2012

Today is World Ozone day: Healing the hole

September 16, 2012

Today – 16th of September is the International Ozone Day. The day has been dedicated to celebrate the special occasion of signing of Montreal protocol which aimed at controlling the gases such as CFC that is harmful for Ozone layer. Montreal protocol is a rare success story where world could act together to achieve a common Environmental Goal and particularly pass a positive message for all those who struggle to sign common treaties to reduce Green House Gases to mitigate Climate Change or agree to protect Earth’s biodiversity.

This article written on 2007 features Sri Lanka’s success in achieving Montreal targets..!!

The fight to protect the Ozone layer: Sri Lanka wins UNEP award

By Malaka Rodrigo

When “Ozone-friendly”, “CFC free” labels started to appear in the early ’90s on products such as refrigerators, to many, it seemed just another marketing strategy, but in fact, these “ozone-friendly” alternatives may save lives. Skin cancer, cataracts and problems in the immune system are some of the effects of exposure to dangerous Ultra Violet (UV) rays that penetrate Ozone Holes in the atmosphere.

Scientists identified the threat caused by the depletion of the Ozone Layer that shields the earth, by gases such as Chloro fluoro carbons (CFCs) in the early ’80s. Knowing the grave consequences, the global community initiated the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer in 1985. As the legal instrument for the Vienna Convention, the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer came into force in 1987.

Being a Third World country, one might be forgiven for thinking that Sri Lanka would lag behind in achieving such international commitment. But to the contrary, the National Ozone Unit (NOU) of Sri Lanka has driven all parties to achieve the Montreal targets ahead of the allotted time. In recognition of their efforts, the NOU received the award for Best Implementers of the Montreal Protocol last week at a ceremony in Montreal, Canada that celebrated the 20th Anniversary of the Protocol.

The citation on the award given by the UNEP read – “Sri Lanka Ozone Unit known globally for many of its contributions to efforts to address Ozone Depleting Substances (ODS) including its effective implementation projects to enable achievements of the Protocol’s reduction requirements, its effective licensing programs and its creative public awareness activities.”

Dr. W.L. Sumathipala, head of the NOU, who just returned from Canada with the award, praised the parties that have been supporting them in the fight to protect the Ozone Layer.

Sri Lanka ratified both the Vienna Convention and the Montreal Protocol on December 15, 1989. The Montreal Protocol has been signed by 192 countries at present. Each country has been given a set of annual targets to reduce the usage of ODS depending upon the base levels and with a deadline of complete elimination by 2010.

The NOU of Sri Lanka was established under the Ministry of Environment in 1994, to implement the Montreal Protocol and related activities. Initially called the Montreal Protocol Unit, it was later named the National Ozone Unit. The 13th summit of Montreal Protocol countries was held in Colombo and Sri Lanka was nominated as the president of the Bureau of the Montreal Protocol countries for 2001 and has been vice president both in 2000 and 2005.

Fulfilling the commitments under the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer by phasing out ODS has been adopted as the primary mission of the NOU since its inception. To initiate activities to maintain and strengthen the institutional framework in protection of the Ozone Layer, with minimum inconvenience to industry/general public are the other objectives of this unit. NOU assists local industrialists and individuals to convert their equipment into CFC-free systems by providing funds as well as technical guidance. The training unit of NOU regularly conducts workshops for technicians and students on methods of modifying existing machinery by using Ozone-friendly gases. Over 2300 technicians have been trained up to now. They also provide guidance in the reusing of the ODS which can reduce the gases being freely released into the atmosphere.

Significant award: Dr. Sumathipala (right) with Marco Gonzalez, Executive Secretary, Ozone Secretariat, UNEP

Sri Lanka imported over 450 tonnes of CFCs in 1995 and this was reduced by 85% in 2006. The NOU hopes to eliminate some of the Ozone Destruction Substances completely from Sri Lanka by 2008, two years prior to the target set by the Montreal Protocol.

Although Sri Lanka is not producing Ozone Depleting Substances within the country, a few industries consume significant amounts of ODS. Air conditioning, the refrigerator service sector, the agricultural sector and quarantine sector are the main industries. CFC, which is the main ODS has been heavily used in the refrigeration and air conditioning sector. There were three refrigeration factories using CFCs in Sri Lanka, but these were converted to non-CFC technology with grants from the Multilateral Fund. At present CFCs are being used only for repairing and servicing of refrigerators, air conditioners etc. NOU encourages recycling of these substances.

ODS is also used in the garment manufacturing industry on a small scale as a solvent, and for dry-cleaning textiles. Bromine compound is another substance that depletes Ozone. Halons which contain these bromine compounds are used in fire extinguishing equipment. No virgin Halon is being imported to the country now; but there is a possibility of the use of already installed systems. Methyl Bromide (CH3Br) is imported as a pre-shipment fumigant and is used as a soil treatment to control soil pests such as nematodes, seeds fungi, bacteria and other parasite plants. In Sri Lanka Methyl Bromide is commonly used in the tea plantations. NOU has collaboratively worked with the Tea Research Institute to introduce alternatives for these, supported by the. UNEP and UNDP. NOU also conducts awareness programmes for students and the general public.

The world community has not yet felt the full impact of ozone depletion. September 16th has been set apart as the International Ozone Day and 2007 was named the International Year for Ozone Protection by the UN to emphasize the importance of the effort. However, countries like Sri Lanka will feel the effects of the changes caused by Ozone Depletion, aggravated by poor health conditions, undeveloped agricultural methods and other economic setbacks unless preventive action is taken. This is where the efforts by the NOU are so vital.

OZONE: What is it?

Ozone (O3) is a naturally occurring gas made of a triple form of oxygen. More than 90% of it is found in the Stratosphere 10 to 50 km above the earth’s surface. This region where Ozone is concentrated in the Stratosphere is commonly known as the Ozone Layer. This ozone layer acts as a protective shield, which filters the harmful ultra violet rays.

Mechanism of Ozone Layer Depletion

In the 1980s, it was discovered that the most commonly used ozone depleting substances (ODS) are Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), commonly used in the refrigeration industry. When CFCs are released to the atmosphere they reach the stratosphere and are split by ultra violet radiation. This process sets highly reactive chlorine atoms free. Bromine atoms were also released in a similar manner from substances like Halon and Methyl Bromide. These chlorine and bromine atoms act as a destroying agent of ozone molecules. Scientists found that, in this way a single chlorine atom can destroy up to 100,000 ozone molecules. Repetition of this process gradually thins out the ozone layer.

Effects of Ozone Layer Depletion

The direct result of the ozone layer depletion will be an increase of the amount of UV radiation that will reach the earth’s surface. These ultra violet rays have a destructive effect on humans, marine life, crops and other living creatures. According to studies, ozone depletion will lead to human skin cancer, cataracts and also affect the capacity of the human immune system resulting in decline in immunity and increase in the occurrence of infectious diseases.

Ultra violet rays have an adverse effect on plant and marine life. Seeds of plants and larvae of sea creatures that are exposed to the sun will be seriously damaged thereby breaking the natural life system and food production. Growth of plants and crops will also be restricted.

Published on sundayTimes on 30.09.2007

Fires consume 15, 000 acres of forest and grassland

September 5, 2012

The past 150 days, between April and August, have been marred by more than 155 fires. These fires are mostly the result of human carelessness, rather than any monkey business. But as Changing Climate will also prolonged the droughts, Sri Lanka may have to be ready for more forest fires in the future. In return wildfires will contributes for Global Warming writes Malaka Rodrigo 

The Ramayana legend says that when the Sinhala soldiers captured Hanuman, they set the Monkey King’s tail on fire. In revenge, Hanuman jumped from roof to roof and set the entire Sinhala kingdom on fire.

It may seem that a similarly angry entity is responsible for the spate of fires that have broken out across the drought-hit country. More than 155 forest fires have occurred in the past 150 days, according to Disaster Management Centre (DMC) spokesperson Sarath Lal Kumara. That amounts to almost one fire per day.

Locals join in Disaster Management Centre check fires

Between April and August, fires destroyed 15,000 acres of forest and grassland. Most of the forest fires occurred in the Badulla, Moneragala and Nuwara Eliya districts.

The worst fire this year raged through jungle between Ohiya and Pattipola early last month. The fire destroyed 1,500 acres of forest and even disrupted hill country train services. The fire could have been started by something as small and insignificant as a lighted cigarette butt thrown from a passing train. The second biggest fire occurred in the Knuckles Range, where more than 500 acres of jungle were destroyed. “The long spell of drought has fuelled the fires,” Mr. Kumara told the Sunday Times.
Whenever a forest fire breaks out, the DMC works with the local community and local administration to fight the flames. The Sri Lanka Air Force has frequently flown to the rescue by dropping water from aircraft to control fires in inaccessible areas. Fires have also broken out in catchment areas near tanks and reservoirs.

These recent forest fires have not destroyed native forest cover, according to Professor Nimal Gunathilake of the Department of Botany, at the University of Peradeniya. The areas affected are either grassland or plantations of eucalyptus or pinus.
Almost all forest fires in Sri Lanka are “man-made” – sparked by human action, through accident or design. Forest Department sources say farmers sometimes set dead grass alight to clear land to grow fresh grass for cattle, and these fires can spread to adjacent forests. Farmers also burn down degraded forests to clear land for cultivation purposes.

Hunters start fires to drive animals out into the open. The Ohiya fire could have been sparked by a lighted cigarette butt thrown from a train or dropped by someone walking through a forest. The burning of debris by labourers working on highways and railways is another fire hazard. Not everyone stops to think about the death toll of wildlife that fall victim to forest fires. A jungle fire is a death trap for any slow-moving animal. Last week, villagers rescued a python from a forest fire.

As the climate change is threatened to make the droughts prolonged in the future, the forest fire hazard is predicted to be increased fears experts. Particularly in America and Australia – where large wild fire is already frequent – it is predicted the increasing climate will make the droughts prolonged than in the past. This is backed by research and the US Space Agency – NASA too among them who try to decipher the mystery of increasing wildfires around the globe.

The relationship between wildfire and Climate Change is mysterious and fueling one another. As Climate Change increase wildfire, the results of wildfires contribute to Global Warming as wildfire emits lots of Green House Gases. Wildfire burns both living and dead organisms and called as Bio-mass Burning. Dr. Joel Levine, a biomass burning expert at NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, talking to NASA pointed out that Biomass burning accounts for the annual production of some 30 percent of atmospheric carbon dioxide – hence forest fire is a culprit in aggravating Global Warming.

“What’s happening with the planet’s climate right now needs to be a wake-up call to all of us, meaning all heads of state, all heads of social organizations, in order to take a more energetic approach to countering the global changes to the climate” calls the experts.

The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer

The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite shows fires around the world. Credit: NASA

Published on SundayTimes on 02.09.2012

Adopt farming methods that make best use of water

April 1, 2012
Some 85 per cent of water collected and extracted used for agriculture, but a lot of it goes waste – By Malaka Rodrigo
Unless we start managing our water resources properly, we could be contributing to a world food crisis, warns the International Water Management Institute (IWMI).“About 85 per cent of the fresh water extracted and stored is used for agriculture, and only the balance 15 per cent is used for drinking and household and industrial use,” Dr. Herath Manthrithilake, head of the IWMI’s Sri Lanka Development Initiative, told the Sunday Times. “If water is not wisely used, Sri Lanka will be among the countries that will face a food crisis linked to water shortages.

”Many of us take water for granted and think our water needs are limited to the water we drink and use for cooking, bathing and washing clothes. The fact is that each of us needs daily between two and five litres of drinking water, but up to 3,000 litres of water for growing and producing the food we consume daily.

One slice of bread represents an investment of 40 litres of water, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Vegetable products such as a potato, an apple and a tomato take up to 25, 70 and 13 litres of waters respectively, while animal-based products, such as a cup of milk and an egg, take 200 and 135 litres respectively. Beef tops the list in water consumption: a single slice of beef for a steak requires 7,000 litres.

Paddy farming is an exceptionally heavy consumer of water: up to 3,000 litres go into the production of one kilogram of rice. Rice is the staple food in Asian countries, and most of the water used for agriculture in Sri Lanka goes into rice cultivation. Unfortunately, inefficient water usage means that a lot of the water goes waste. Sixty per cent of the water pumped into paddy farms goes waste, say experts.
“We desperately need farming methods that are low on water usage,” said Dr. Herath Manthrithilake. “Our ancestors knew how to manage water. Look at the ancient cascading tank system.”

A cascade of tanks would collect rainwater, and this water would be released for paddy farming from a “wewa” on high ground; excess water flowing through the paddy fields ended up in tanks built on lower ground. The cascading tank system was introduced in the time of King Parâkramabâhu the Great (1123-1186) who is remembered for saying that not one drop of water should flow into the sea without serving the community.

Under modern irrigation systems, collected rainwater is directed into paddy fields through canals, but much of the water goes waste. The need of the hour is to maximise on available water by adopting sustainable agricultural practices, Dr. Manthrithilake said.

Ground water may be used for agriculture, but this too should be done in a sustainable way and in the knowledge that ground water is not an unlimited resource. In the ’90s, agro-wells were dug for agricultural purposes without proper evaluation of ground conditions. Many of these agro-wells have since dried up. It takes time for ground water to be replaced, and the rate of replacement varies from place to place.

Climate change is the latest challenge to water conservation, said Professor Champa Navaratne of the Agriculture Faculty of the University of Ruhuna. Quality water is required for agriculture and daily living purposes, but quality water is becoming a limited source as rain patterns change all over the country. “When it rains, it pours, while droughts last for longer and longer periods,” Professor Navaratne told the Sunday Times. “With dwindling forest cover, rain water runs off instead of staying and soaking into the earth. And when the soil fails to absorb sufficient water, the ground water resources shrink.”

Conservationists hope that this year’s World Water Day will provide a platform for serious thinking about water conservation and food security.

Lanka-based institute wins top honour in water research

The International Water Management Institute (IWMI), which is based in Sri Lanka, was named the 2012 Stockholm Water Prize Laureate on World Water Day, observed on March 22. The Stockholm Water Prize is the “world’s most prestigious prize for outstanding achievements in water-related research activities.”
“I am absolutely delighted that the International Water Management Institute has been awarded this year’s Stockholm Water Prize,” said IWMI Director General, Dr Colin Chartres.

The honour goes to individuals, institutions and organisations that make a significant contribution to water conservation and protection, which in turn improves the health of the planet’s ecosystems. The Stockholm citation said the IWMI was chosen for its pioneering research to improve agriculture water management, enhance food security, protect environmental health and alleviate poverty in developing countries. The IWMI has also developed a water policy that has yet to be adopted.

Published on SundayTimes on 01.04.2012


Sri Lanka Swinging between Fossil Fuel and Renewable Energy

October 30, 2011
Eco-friendly, sustainable Renewable Energy like Solar Power is the way forward-Experts – By Malaka Rodrigo
At a point when Sri Lanka faces a looming energy crisis, a Solar Power Plant was commissioned in Hambantota last month, to meet the electricity needs of the area. The new plant, which will add 500 kw to the national grid, has been touted by authorities as the first such Solar Power Plant in Sri Lanka. The plant will generate 2,300 units of electricity daily, and is expected to generate 839,500 kilowatt hours annually.

Solar panels at the first solar power plant. Pic courtesy Ministry of Power and Energy

Also known as Renewable Energy (RE), solar power is a freely available clean energy source which doesn’t emit any pollutant, unlike Fossil Fuel or Coal-burning Thermal Power stations.

Located close to the equator, Sri Lanka does not experience any seasonal variation in solar radiation. A solar resource map for Sri Lanka shows that the solar radiation varies from 4.0 – 4.5 kilowatt-hours per square meter per day on most parts of the flat dry zone which accounts for about two-thirds of the land area of the country, making Solar power an abundant option.

In this era of Global Warming, much research is being carried out on technologies to reduce cost and increase efficiency of Renewable Energy. However, high initial capital cost is still a problem in promoting Solar Energy. This Solar Power Plant alone has cost Rs 412 million, with the Korean Government funding the project to make it a reality.

The power plant will serve the electricity needs of over 3,000 rural families. Speaking at the launching ceremony, Power & Energy Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka said the time has come for the country to focus on alternate energy resources, as the power generated using fossil fuel is becoming expensive. The Minister revealed plans to increase usage of sustainable energy resources in the next few years, with the promise of achieving countrywide electrification by 2015. As many rural areas are not connected to the main electricity grid, Sri Lanka has to rely on RE to make this objective achievable, point out energy experts.

Former vice chairman of UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Prof. Mohan Munasinghe is also of the view that monetary benefits alone should not be the sole criteria when promoting RE. Prof. Munasinghe who was also an advisor on Power and Energy to former president J.R. Jayewardene, pointed out that small scale RE projects are best suited for areas located far from the national grid. When cost of connecting these areas to national grids add up, the initial capital cost of setting up of RE plants will be justified. He also says that, most RE plants are easy to operate. Hence, the surrounding rural community itself can be trained to operate these plants. The Prof. adds that, this would enable to technically empower Sri Lanka’s rural community, especially the youth.

A second Solar Power Plant is also being built near the same locality in Hambantota, and will be in operation soon. At present, unconventional RE contributes only 6% of the national power generation, excluding the electricity generated by conventional, large hydropower projects. The Sustainable Energy Authority, the apex institution driving Sri Lanka towards Energy Sustainability, targets to increase non-conventional RE power generation by 10% by 2015. There are many mini hydropower projects that have been established as RE sources, but most of the water sources are almost fully utilized, limiting further expansion. Hence, the country has to turn to Biomass (dendro power), Solar or Wind energies to achieve this RE target, point out Energy experts.

Government has also recently revealed plans to set up “Wind Energy Parks” to allow investors build wind farms. The first such wind energy park will be established in Mannar.

However, Environmentalists point out that the country should also be carefully evaluating its RE options. Though it cuts pollutant emissions, clearance of large tracts of land is required. For instance, Wind Farms make other environmental impacts. A mini hydropower project being set up in the Mahaweli River is in the spotlight recently, for not following EIA procedures and for dumping used solar panels, which will add to the e-waste. Hence, every aspect has to be considered, but RE is the way forward, point out experts.

Sampur Coal Power Plant Agreement signed 

Despite attempts to move toward Renewable Energy (RE), Sri Lanka this week signed an agreement to set up its second coal power station at Sampur in Trincomalee. This will be a joint venture between India and Sri Lanka, at an estimated cost of US$ 500 million. Construction is expected to begin next year, and due to be completed in 2016. The country’s first Coal Power plant in Norochcholai was commissioned earlier this year, but is not operating to its potential due to many technical defects. The Chinese-built plant has been shut down on several occasions, allegedly for being unstable. Hence, it is important to evaluate what has gone wrong in Norochcholai, so that those mistakes will not be repeated in Sampur.

Energy experts point out that it is not prudent to move towards Coal Power, as it may become an expensive option in future. Addressing journalists at a forum organised by the Sri Lankan Youth Climate Action Network on ‘Climate Change & Energy Sustainability’, Executive Director- Sri Lanka Energy Forum, Asoka Abeygunawardana said that it is not prudent to move toward Coal Power, as it is a depleting resource whose cost will increase in future, compelling us to spend more on electricity. When these unforeseen costs are summed up, the initial investment for RE is worth it, he says.

Mr. Abeygunawardana is also an advisor to the Power & Energy Minister, and the author of “A World without Oil or Coal – a solution to Sri Lanka’s electricity crisis in the post fossil fuel era”.

In his book, he highlights that energy supply plans without taking into consideration the global energy crisis, should be stopped even at this late stage. “Sri Lanka, having built oil power plants, while staring the oil crisis in the face, is now fighting to construct coal power plants, with the coal crisis and climate change staring them in the face. Exchanging one rapidly depleting source for another is possibly the most foolish policy decision that the government can make. Instead, it should strategise and implement a plan for tapping RE sources over the next six years,” he states.

In the preface of this book, Chairman- Green Movement, Suranjan Kodituwakku writes the need to recognise the Government’s dubious approach to solving the energy crisis, by stating on the one hand, that we should move towards RE sources, while on the other, it is constructing more and more coal power plants.

Published on SundayTimes –

Sri Lanka commissions first solar power plant

September 21, 2011

Will provide electricity to 3,000 rural families

Solar panels at the first solar power plant

Marking a milestone in renewable energy, Sri Lanka, has commissioned its first solar power plant. It will add 500 kilowatt to the National Grid and generate 2,300 units of electricity daily. The power plant located in Hambantota in southern Sri Lanka will cater to electricity needs of over 3,000 rural families. The annual power generation is expected to be 839,500 kilowatt hours. 

Sri Lanka is largely dependent on thermal energy and hydropower for its electricity needs. It is estimated that the power generated by the plant will save 200,000 litres of diesel annually and hence emission of 300 tonnes of carbon dioxide into the environment.

“The time has come for the country to focus on alternative energy resources since the power generated using fossil fuel is expensive,” said Patali Champika Ranawaka, the country’s power and energy minister while inaugurating the plant on August 8.

The plant was built in collaboration with the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) and will be operated by Sri Lanka’s Sustainable Energy Authority (SEA), the apex institution driving Sri Lanka towards energy sustainability. The Authority is also planning to set up another solar power plant with Japanese aid. The power and energy ministry has also lined up several large-scale solar power projects in the northern, eastern and north-central provinces of the country.

At present, renewable energy contributes only seven per cent of the national power generation, excluding electricity generated by conventional hydropower projects. SEA targets to increase the power generation from non-conventional sources to 10 per cent by the end of 2015 (see table). Experts say this is not a hard target as Sri Lanka is located in the equatorial belt. The country receives year-round supply of solar energy. The island nation’s location in the ocean also gives it distinct wind regimes.

Generation mix proposed by Sri Lanka’s national energy policies and strategies
Year Conventional Hydrolytic (%) Maximum from oil (%) Coal (%) Minimum from non-conventional renewable energy (%)
1995 94 6
2000 45 54 1
2005 36 61 3
2010 42 31 20 7
2015 28 8 54 10
Source: Sustainable Energy Authority of Sri Lanka

Several wind power plants are already in operation and the government plans to set up wind energy parks to allow investors to build wind farms. The first such park will be developed at Mannar in north western part of Sri Lanka. SEA is also promoting the use of dendro power biomass as a fuel option for electricity generation. The Gliricedia sepium commonly known as Gliricedia grows wild in the country and takes about one and a half years to mature. It provides fuel wood which can then be used to generate dendro power.

Former vice chairman of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Mohan Munasinghe points out that monetary benefits alone should not be the sole criterion when promoting renewable energy. “Small scale renewable energy projects are best suited for areas located far from the national grid. When cost of connecting these areas to national grids add up, the initial capital cost of setting up of renewable energy plants will be justified,” he says. He adds that such plants are easy to operate. Hence, the surrounding rural community can be trained to operate these plants. “This would technically empower Sri Lanka’s rural community, especially the youth,” he says.

Published on India’s ‘Down-to-Earth’ magazine Sep 15, 2011

Along the Kelani river for unity and education

September 14, 2011

It was a 13-day journey along the Kelani River. Starting from the foothills of Sri Pada, a group of 21 young people made the journey downstream, some times wading through the river, at other times travelling by raft. They caught a bus to pass some stretches and biked along the banks of the Kelani at other times.

They had also made several stops on their way to do street dramas to raise awareness on climate change, stressing to village folks and others that they too can do their bit toward the environment individually. Named as ‘Kelani Nadee Yatra’, the programme aimed at increasing environmental consciousness to combat climate change at grass-root level through youth participation.

“‘Kelani Nadee Yatra’ is also an attempt to make young Green Leaders who can take the message of environmental protection to society,” explained Kanchana Weerakoon, president of the Eco-friendly Volunteers (ECO-V) who masterminded the programme.

Kanchana said that the idea of having a river journey is also a strategy since youth always enjoy challenges and outdoor activities and working in the field than learning in a classroom. “Water is severely affected by climate change and the Kelani is one of our waterways that faces many environmental challenges – so we wanted to highlight these issues too,” Kanchana explained.

Organizers say they received more than 100 applications and interviews were conducted to select the most suitable. University undergraduates, members of the Youth Parliament, school students were among the final 20, most of them aged between 18 and 20. At the organizers’ request, two ex-combatants being rehabilitated were also given chance to join the group. It was also the first time these two Newton and Selva were seeing this part of Sri Lanka.

“Newton is a young ex-LTTE combatant who was with us during our environmental expedition on Kelani River with his colleague Selva. During the journey the two had been able to integrate well with the others and face the challenges of the journey as a team,” said Imala Abeyratne, a second-year student of Rajarata University.

“Eventhough we had heard of complex things like Carbon Footprint, it is this ‘Kelani Nadee Yatra’ training which has given me the proper understanding of the concept and how each of us can contribute in simple ways,” Imala explained.

Another participant, Madusha Kularatne, a Peradeniya University undergrad valued the chance she got to observe the biodiversity along the Kelani River. Seeing a handun diviya (Fishing Cat) near Moussakelle for the first time in her life was a novel experience for her.

The team tackling difficult terrain

The team also did some water monitoring, to ascertain the changes in water quality that would reveal the level of pollution downstream. Talking about their Tamil colleagues, Madusha said that she had felt a little fearful initially hearing that two ex-combatants were joining ‘Kelani Nadee Yatra’. But it was just a matter of time before the spirit of youth overcame all divisions resulting in all of them being good friends now.

How Newton felt about this newfound friendship was evident in the poem he had written on the third day of the programme, while the team took a break on large rocks on the river.

“This is a journey that had given a meaning to humanity
This is a journey that blends beauty of nature
This is a journey beautiful places were observed
..and this is truly a journey where nature becomes life..
This is a journey that bring shame to those who ordered to kill
This is a journey that changed hatred
This is indeed a noble journey of peace
..and this is a journey that make us understand the power of god..!!

An exhibition to showcase the work done on the river journey will be held at the Beira Lake Kala Duwa (island) on September 15 from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.

CEA celebrates 30th anniversary with Green Economy Forum

August 31, 2011

Signs that the world is moving towards an Economic Crisis is visible. However, countries also need to look at strengthening their social and environmental capital, said internationally acclaimed Prof. Mohan Munasinghe last week, while also making references to the recent London riots. He made these comments at a forum, ‘Greening the Economy’, organised by the Central Environmental Authority (CEA) to mark its 30th Anniversary.

Speakers at the forum organised by the CEA

Prof. Mohan Munasinghe was the Vice Chairman of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) co-laureate of 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. Addressing the gathering, Prof. Munasinghe said the world is in need of adopting Millennium Consumption Goals (MCG) by the rich, similar to the Millennium Development Goals (MGD) designed to alleviate power reduction. It is projected that the world is facing a catastrophic future due to climate change, and the rich countries are to blame for emitting greenhouse gases such as CO2, as a result of their consumption patterns. The MCG proposes a new way of life for the rich, promoting sustainability.

MCG is a concept of Sri Lankan scholar Prof. Munasinghe himself. He said the concept has been discussed for many years, and will continue to lobby this novel idea at future international meetings on sustainable development. MCGs will also be presented to the preparatory meeting for the forthcoming UN Conference on Sustainable Development summit known as Rio+20 to be held in Brazil next year.

However, Prof. Munasinghe said that the lack of political will in implementing proposed emission cuts will be a problem in the future. As per the IPCC’s 4th Assessment Report, 2 degrees Celsius increase in global temperature is expected by 2100.

Even though world leaders agreed on emission cuts, the talks held in Copenhagen and Cancun in the last two years failed to meet them. The next round of talks will be held this December in Durban, South Africa, but Prof. Munasinghe said there are no big hopes for a binding agreement. The Professor complained that the world is going backwards, which could result in rise in global temperature by more than 2 degrees Celsius, triggering catastrophic events such as rise in sea levels and extreme weather patterns.

The ‘Greening the Economy’ forum was also addressed by CEO- Dialog, Dr. Hans Wijesuriya, which included a discussion forum managed by Director- Postgraduate Institute of Management, Prof. Uditha Liyanage.

Meanwhile, Chairman-CEA, Charitha Herath said there are a series of events lined up to mark the 30th Anniversary of CEA. The CEA also organizes National Green Awards to be held next week. These National Green Awards will be the country’s main environmental award from this year, which will recognize industries and personnel who strive for a balance by adopting eco-friendly practices. “An attempt to move toward green economic policies in line with their development goals is made by many countries, and in Sri Lanka too, the CEA will take the lead in promoting environment-friendly practices in doing business,” the chairman explained as their objectives of the Green Awards.

As the main regulatory body in evaluating Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA), the CEA also has an important strategic role to play in greening the development practices as a whole. But around the country, much environment destruction is taking place with development, and the CEA sometimes is blamed for not evaluating their EIA’s properly.

Explaining this situation, Chairman Herath said that his institute always evaluates the EIAs thoroughly. Even government projects are covered by EIAs and the CEA has a mandate to stop implementing any project that violates the Assessment Report. He further said that the CEA welcomes and entertains public complaints pertaining to environment destruction or violation of EIAs.

Published on 21.08.2011

Action! It’s Bollywood Vs Hollywood for WED

June 12, 2011

World Environment Day (WED) was celebrated around the world on June 5 and both Bollywood and Hollywood stars were among those who rallied their fans to take environmental friendly actions on this day – by Malaka Rodrigo

‘Save trees’, ‘Protect our Environment’ – these are some of the slogans we start hearing around the first week of June when the world celebrates World Environment Day (WED). But this time the United Nation’s Environment Program (UNEP) came up with a new way to convey the message.

“Hi Rahul, I bet I can get more people to join us on World Environment than you..”
“Ahh…. I don’t think so.. I’m one of the most respected actors of India after al.l”
“Ah…. So am I …and I have so much goodwill to share that I will plant a tree for each activity registered under my name.”
“Well, I will see each of your trees and will plant two.”

This was the dialogue between two Bollywood stars – Priyanka Chopra and Rahul Bose who headed an environmental campaign to urge their fans in India and around the world to take action on World Environment Day. ‘Plant a Forest’ was the theme of the challenge.

The WED challenge set up by these Bollywood stars is simple. There are many environmental activities we all can do individually or as a community- from choosing public transport to travel, turning off additional lights, recycling or even tree planting. These individual actions, when multiplied, can make an exponential difference to the planet.

To make their favourite actor win the challenge, the fans have to register their Environmental Activity under either Priyanka or Rahul on the UNEP WED Challenge website. When they log into  it first prompts them to choose their most loved idol and then register their activities.

This year’s theme is “FORESTS: Nature at your service” and going forward with this idea both Rahul and Priyanka promised to plant a forest for each registered activity to increase the tree cover and most importantly look after the trees. More action by their fans will make this forest bigger.

Hollywood stars Don Cheadle (Ocean’s Eleven) and Brazilian model Gisele Bundchen too have taken up the challenge. Bollywood has in fact challenged Hollywood in World Environment Day activities.

“Hey Don.. Hey Giselle.. Now we get more people to join us on World Environment Day than both of you”.
This was typically a challenge by a hero in a Hindi movie, but it was for a good cause.

“Help Bollywood to beat Hollywood to plant a huge forest to make the world a healthier place” that was Rahul’s plea to his fans.

Visit to get some of the ideas on environmental actions. The final results of the challenge will be released soon, so keep an eye on the UNEP website

Published on SundayTimes youth section – MirrorMagazine on 12.06.2011

Scientists from Sri Lanka, India and US to jointly study Indian Ocean weather phenomena

February 6, 2011

The country is facing its second phase of bad weather stricken within weeks. In this aftermath, a group of oceanographic scientists from USA was in Sri Lanka last week initiating talks with Sri Lankan scientists to start a collective research on Indian Ocean Weather phenomena. The weather in the region is mainly affected by the Indian Ocean Monsoon that has been subject to many variations of the Bay of Bengal which was the main target of the discussions. In this era of Climate Change (caused by Global Warming) and other oceanic phenomena like La Nina already been affecting the traditional monsoon rainfall patterns, the new research initiative expects to shed new insight into understand the weather changes in the region assisting to make more accurate forecasts.

The research however still is at the planning stage and the initial meeting was held at the Cinnamon Grand Hotel last Thursday (03rd.Feb) with the participating of leading Sri Lankan researchers on the field of Oceanography and scientific research. The project expected to be funded by the office of Naval Research of United State is code named ASIRI (Air-Sea Interactions in Northern Indian Ocean). The air and sea interaction patterns in the Indian Ocean are the driving force that decides the monsoon weather according to the experts. The North Indian Ocean is a unique semi-enclosed tropical ocean basin compared to the rest of the tropical oceans due to its location. As a result, the hydrologic response of Indian Ocean Monsoons can bringing in more rain than by any other mechanism and can affect the livelihood of well over a billion people in the region, directly or indirectly. Better understanding of this air-sea interaction will be help to improve predictability of the Indian Ocean monsoons according to these experts.

Researchers also points out that the Indian Ocean monsoon vary from year to year and even day to day, making it one of the most difficult meteorological phenomena of the world to predict. The new trends triggered by the global warming such as flow of more freshwater to the Bay of Bengal by the melting Himalayan Glaziers etc, can change the composition of the Ocean Water which may results in changing the dynamics that can bring in other impacts, raising the need to study the monsoon phenomena more closely.

A main aim of the intended project is to study the effects of the monsoon to the maritime naval traveling. Hence the naval experts from US and Sri Lankan Navy were also been partnered to the project from both countries. The US team consists of mainly the Sri Lankan and Indian scientists of Oceanography who are now attached to US universities. Prof. Harindra Joseph Fernando from the University of Notre Dame USA who is a leading member of the steering committee said the intended research is expected to be done as collaboration between India, USA and Sri Lanka. Team started the proceedings last year and currently being hold discussions to identify several outstanding research issues relate to the monsoon weather phenomena with scientists and government agencies in South Asia region.

The US team was in India earlier this week discussing similar research interests with the Indian Oceanographers. A team of Sri Lankan scientists of National Aquatic Resources Research and Development Agency (NARA) led the discussions held last Thursday. NARA; been the main research arm of Oceanography in Sri Lanka presented the nature of Oceanographic studies the institute already being conducted.

This international collaboration is expected to bring about exchange of scientific and technical knowledge and open possibilities of further scientific collaboration in other areas too between these countries.

Biodiversity with Kids: El-Niño and La-Niña

January 29, 2011

This decade starting with 2011 has been named as the Decade of Biodiversity by the United Nations. Your friends – Puncha and Panchi are back exploring Biodiversity, Climate Change and Science..!! By Malaka Rodrigo

It was News Time on TV. Both Puncha and Panchi were surprised by seeing the footage of an elephant on top of a tree, killed by floods. “Look at the poor elephant on the tree Aiya.. How did his body go up that high..?” Panchi was puzzled.

“The floods had taken his body that high,” Puncha reminded his sister about the recent bad rains.
“But why so much rains at this time..?” Panchi wanted to know.. “La Niña,” Puncha proudly shouted what he had seen on TV earlier. “La… WHAT…??” Little Panchi didn’t know what it was. “La Niña, – this is something that happened in the Pacific Ocean which brought heavy rains to Sri Lanka.”

“But Aiya the Pacific Ocean is far away from Sri Lanka isn’t it?” said Panchi and ran to the inflated globe on their study table. “See – it is so far from Sri Lanka.”“Hmm.. Can’t be… Is it..? But… (oops)” Puncha too got stuck realizing the Pacific Ocean was indeed far away from Sri Lanka.

Luckily, Seeya was around… Seeya is the wiseman both kids trust when they have a question. They ran to Seeya with the globe… Folding the newspaper he was reading, Seeya started to explain. “La Niña is a phenomena where the sea surface temperature of the Eastern Central Pacific Ocean near the equator drops by about 3 to 5 degrees Celsius. When the ocean is cooler than normal, it disturbs the normal wind pattern which brings rains to different parts of the world including Sri Lanka”.

“The region of Earth receiving the sun’s direct rays is the tropics, which are close to the equator. Here, air is heated and rises, leaving low pressure areas behind. To fill these low presure areas, cooler air starts flowing in from other areas. This creates wind patterns.”

“Wind patterns…??” Panchi was confused. “Can you remember what happens when Amma burns leaf
litter in the garden..? Have you noticed that sometimes ash and particles of burnt leaves also rise with the fire..? This happens because the air heated by the fire goes up. To fill this void, air from surrounding areas flows in – this forms a wind.”
“These winds that sweep across the oceans, bring lots of water vapour. When this water vapour condenses, it comes down as rain. Changes in sea temperature on one side means there are more variations between these pressure areas, so the atmosphere has more energy than normal which can bring heavier rains to some parts and cause droughts in other instances”.

It was a lengthy explanation Seeya gave about La Niña. “Hmm.. What is then El Niño, Seeya?” Puncha also remembered something he heard earlier. “Well, El Niño is the complete opposite of La Niña. La Niña is due to cooler currents, while El Niño is caused by a warm oceanic current in the Pacific Ocean near the equator”, explained Seeya.

“So do El Niño and La Niña occur due to climate change caused by global warming..??” Puncha wanted to know. Seeya scratched his head… “Hmm.. These kind of events have happened in the earth in the past too, but scientists believe that due to global warming, the power of these rains have increased and they occur more often than in the past.”

“The planet is warming because we do activities that emit more gases like carbon dioxide that trap the Sun’s heat …”“We too can help by switching off unnecessary lights etc,” Panchi said repeating what she was advised by Seeya in the past. “Hey – Nangi.. Look who is talking.. You left the TV switched on and nobody is watching it..” Puncha said jokingly.

“It wasn’t I who switched it on.. It was you.. So you have to switch it off..” Panchi declared. “Hey kids.. There is no use fighting about whose job it is… Let’s switch it off and any other electrical items when we are not using them, in order to do our part to fight against Global Warming”, said Seeya while taking the remote control to switch the TV off.

Tell your friends

Do you know how to properly pronounce La Niña..? La Niña is a Spanish word, so pronunciation is different. It is difficult to write here, but it should be pronounced as \lä-nē-nya\. The name La Niña originates from Spanish, meaning “girl child”, analogous to El Niño meaning “boy child”.

Published on FundayTimes on 30.01.2011