Monday, October 29, 2012

Extreme weather in rural Sri Lanka

With a "Super Storm" hitting the Eastern US right now, its a good time for a reminder of how hard extreme weather hits the poor. Throughout the weekend friends of ours who live in the Eastern US we sharing pictures of empty store shelves. The stores were emptied because people had the money to clear out all of their merchandise. They had the means to be prepared for the storm. Hurricanes that do hit our shores often hit the poorer countries of the Caribbean first.

A story we read today about rural Sri Lanka shows quite the opposite. Many families do not have the means to protect themselves from the storm. The only means they have of generating income through the crops they grow, often gets wiped out by floods and droughts. Writer Amantha Perera of the Inter Press Service interviews one family that had two years worth of income wiped out.
Gamhevage Dayananda, a farmer from the remote village of Pansalgolla in Sri Lanka’s north-central Polonnaruwa district, can attest to this reality, as he and his fellow farmers struggle to survive alternating periods of drought and flooding. 
Unexpectedly heavy rains in February 2011 forced engineers to open the sluice gates of large irrigation tanks in the area, flooding hectare upon hectare of farmland, including Dayananda’s modest plot.
He lost his entire rice harvest, no small setback for his family of four who depend on this crop for their very survival.
This year, Dayananda found himself facing another crisis when drought destroyed his crop and put him at risk of falling deeper into debt.
“One season it’s all rain, next it’s all sun,” Dayananda told IPS. “There is nothing in moderation, it is all in extremes.”
The trend of extreme weather events alternating year after year is unlikely to change, according to W L Sumathipala, former head of the climate change unit at the Ministry of Environment, adding that Sri Lanka is at the receiving end of changing climate patterns. 
Last year’s annual report for the United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) noted, “Climate-related emergencies, such as those linked to drought, floods, and storms, expose the poor and most vulnerable to hazards that have lasting consequences for the health, livelihoods, and well-being of people who have the least capacity to cope with and mitigate the effects of natural disasters.”
Currently about 8.9 percent of this South Asian island nation’s 21 million people live below the poverty line.
Of these, according to Abha Joshi-Ghani, head of the World Bank’s Urban Development and Local Government Unit, “the poor in urban areas are likely to be affected more by the changing climate patterns. They are the most vulnerable because they live in sensitive areas, on precarious land where no one else will settle.”
The British-based charity Homeless International estimates that 12 percent of Sri Lanka’s urban population of about three million can be found in slums.
Defence and Urban Development Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa was recently quoted as saying that shanty dwellers in the capital Colombo can be found “mostly on government lands”.
“Many of them are on the reservations set aside around the lakes, canals, roadways, and railway tracks,” he added.

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