Are there no laws to prevent the relentless pollution
of water? :
"Ma-Oya is not only a blessing for people like us living in the
Aranayake area. It provides life giving water to thousands, until it
reaches the sea at Kochchikade. But, the way our elders are abusing this
waterway, children like us will not be able enjoy its benefits for long.
Is there no law in the country to prevent this relentless pollution?"
The spillgate of
This essay by a child who penned down her thoughts for an essay
competition organized by Netwater, echoes the question that many of us
From the very beginning of life, when one studies the civilizations
of Mesopotamia, on the river banks of the Tigris and Euphrates or the
Indus valley civilization, it is evident that people, kingdoms,
governments and society, grew around a water source. Water was an
integral part of their livelihoods, agriculture and development. The
demand for water has increased rapidly, but the question is, has the
supply increased to cater to the demand?
"Climate change imposes a lot of stress on communities. As a country
which has undergone a lot in the recent past, we cannot afford to have
community distress," says Kusum Athukorale, chairperson and senior
advisor of Netwater and Sri Lanka Water Partnership.
The closest incident of insufficient water supply was seen last
Wednesday when about 500 people living in the Heel Oya water catchment
area had gathered to complain to the Divisional Secretariat Ella-Wellawaya,
that they lacked sufficient drinking water. It is due to the Uma Oya
project, since the villagers claimed they had no such issue before the
project was implemented. The Divisional Secretariat for the Ella-Wellawaya
area says, steps have been taken to provide water using bowsers.
One of the many water resources that Sri Lanka depends on, as any
other country, is rainwater. Rainy seasons are mainly the Southwest and
Northeast monsoon seasons, also complemented by the two inter monsoon
seasons. Hence, technically, there are four seasons where rain is
expected, but in reality it is not so.
In May this year over two thirds of the country faced the catastrophe
of floods and landslides. Soon after the dry spell started, for the last
four months there has been no rain. With such erratic weather conditions
imposed by climate change the question is, are we ready to prevent
unwanted catastrophic conditions or are we waiting to address it after
the damage is done?
"We must consider disaster risk reduction. Why is it that we wait
until the last minute? We wait till the end of a really bad drought and
start screaming and running with buckets of water. Nobody knows what to
do with ground water, there is no monitoring. We do not have an
integrated water resource policy. We have about 62 agencies going
haywire," Kusum Athukorale told the Sunday Observer in a tone of
Accordingly, a continuous drought prevailing up to six months can be
an extreme; we have so far not faced such extreme circumstances. The
authorities have failed to come up with coherent strategies on
adaptation to climate change and disaster risk reduction. In the
monarchical era, our kings gave priority to water. Inculcated deeply
within them was a desire to contain and save water and consequently, Sri
Lanka had innumerable tanks and reservoirs.
It was due to the agricultural background that prevailed at that
time. It shows the interrelation between water and a socio-economic
development of society.
When the infamous Kashyapa asked his father King Dhathusena to give
him his share of wealth, King Dhathusena took him to the 'Kala Wewa' and
said; 'this is my wealth,' which shows that water was an integral
element in the livelihood of early society.
Additional General Secretary, National Water Supply and Drainage
Board, Jaya Siriwardena shows two key methods of water management and
First, water retention. "If there's no retention,the water we get
from the rain would just flow into the sea. So, we need water catchment
areas so that the water can be retained during rainy seasons for release
during the drought.
At present, our forest cover is depleting. Statistics show a
reduction from 30 percent to 17 percent. Our main catchment areas are
above 5,000 ft from sea level, so the number one proposal is to protect
and improve our catchment areas," he said.
Second, ways and means of trapping the water received during the
rainy season. This is done by reservoirs. The need here is to increase
the number of storage tanks.
A Meteorology Department research shows, on a closer study of weather
patterns, in the past 20 to 25 years rainfall has not decreased. But,
rainy seasons occur for shorter periods and drought continues for a
The drought has affected several parts of the country including the
Polonnaruwa district and Hambantota, Tangalle and Angunukolapelessa
areas in the Southern Province and in the Eastern province Pottuvil and
Currently, the issues faced by the Water Supply and Drainage Board in
providing water is twofold. First, water consumption has increased
islandwide due to the dry climate.
According to the Water Board, due to dry weather conditions people in
areas not affected by drought have increased their water usage by 1.5
Second, Water Board has to distribute water to drought affected
areas, which means going out of their usual customer base.
In rural areas water is not supplied via the Water Board but wells or
water ponds are the main sources of finding water.
But, once these sources dry up the responsibility falls on the Board
to meet such demands.
Most authorities sight ground water as a solution. But the question
is how much of ground water is available and accessible?
"Ground water runs dry. We have many agro wells and they are also
running dry. How sustainable are these wells? There are over 100 agro
wells and only three are viable. For instance, we have over 52,000 small
tanks in the country.
They are very important sources of ground water recharge. When there
is ground water recharge the wells in the area also benefit. Ground
water is also a shared resource," said Kusum Athukorala.
What the Sri Lankan system lacks now is an integrated approach. There
are many authorities, professional and technical staff deployed to water
related authorities and Ministries, but they are more compartmentalized
and are unaware of each section's contribution to the national system as
"Somebody has to look at these tanks in the country and provide for
tank rehabilitation," says Kusum.