Submitted by » Dilanthe Withanage
Date of Submission » Sep 1, 2011 3:17 PM
Future of Southern Sri Lanka and climate change
The impacts of climate change in the forms of higher temperatures, more varying precipitation, and more extreme weather events threaten millions of people living in Southern Sri Lanka. The southern region is highly vulnerable to droughts and floods that not only devastate lives and livelihoods, but also undermine the progress on economic growth and poverty alleviation. According to previous records, droughts which occurred in year 2001, especially in the Sooriyagoda area; along with the floods and land slides that occurred in 2003 at Morowak Korale can be regarded as major threats of climatic changes faced by the people in southern region.
The risks associated with water-related climate variability are likely to intensify and worsen. Over the coming decades, global climate change will have an impact on water security in significant and highly uncertain ways especially for developing countries. This is largely because poverty levels are high, and capacity of a developing-country to adapt to global change is weak.
When considering the southern region, there are five main river basin ecosystems namely the Nilwala, Kirindi oya, Walawe, Malala oya and the Kirama oya. Those are the highly affected river basin eco systems in both flood and drought conditions. Moreover the impact of climate change on water, translates into a direct impact on food, livelihoods and ecosystems.
Youth in Sri Lanka on climate change
Based on the survey conducted by The British Council, Sri Lanka in 2008, only 45 percent of youth surveyed are aware of the phenomenon of climate change. They are aware of the causes and consequences of climate change. Pollution, deforestation and waste from factories are cited as the main causes of climate change. While changes in temperature, seasons and diseases were the most commonly stated consequences cts of climatic changes.
Amongst those who were aware of climate change, only 20 percent felt a state of ‘urgency’ claiming “something needs to be done now to counter the issue”.
Though today’s youth are aware and concerned about climatic change, they do not feel a great amount of pressure as most perceive the impact of climate change to manifest in the long term (10 -15 years horizon) rather than ‘now’ or the very short-term. Therefore, this is high time to encourage the youth (future generation) and teach them to feel a stronger sense of ‘urgency’ with regards to action against climate change.
Major threats of climate change
No matter what climate change brings and to what extent mitigation efforts are successful, people will experience the impacts of climate change through water.
We need water for everything - food, energy, industry, transport, and, most importantly, for drinking and sanitation. With climate change there will be less water in some places and more in others, making the availability of water unpredictable. This increases the risks of both floods and droughts, resulting in economic losses and human suffering.
For Southern Sri Lanka the major water related hazards are floods, landslides, lightning; tornadoes, cyclones, storm surges, and coastal inundation. The increment of temperature causes an irregular rainfall pattern; increased precipitation intensity and variability are projected to increase the risks of flooding and drought in many areas in Sri Lanka.
Climate change will cause extreme weather in Sri Lanka, damaging agriculture, natural water resources, and the environment. The crop calendar has been changed due to the shifting of the rainfall pattern which is a result of climate change. With a rise in temperature, sea levels will rise and in turn will affect the coastal economy. Due to the rise in sea levels, more land will be inundated and the quality of water will be degraded. Some plants and animals are threatened due to various reasons including the serious impacts of climate change.
In addition, sensitive species of fish and amphibians are exposed to risk. Due to climate change, there would be a decrease in wet zone forest cover by 2020. This creates a serious threat to the ecosystem. Impacts on native plants are evident. Increased sea temperature has negative impacts on coral reefs (already bleached) and sea turtles (population decrease). The rise in sea levels will cause a deterioration of coastal ecosystems. Another impact of climate change will be the spread of diseases. Climatic variations would favor spread of vector borne diseases and invasive alien species such as Malaria, Dengue and Chikun Gunya.
Agriculture, water and environment
The impacts of climate change could affect agriculture in many ways. The predicted rise in sea levels will threaten valuable coastal agricultural land, particularly in low-lying areas. Climate unpredictability will make planning of farm operations more difficult. These impacts will threaten food security for the most vulnerable people. Any further attempt to increase productivity will likely add pressure to available land and water resources. Flood, drought and salinity tolerant crop varieties should be introduced to farmers. Climate change resilient cropping systems, fisheries and livestock systems should also be developed to ensure provisional food security.
Good quality water is the key factor for lives and agriculture. Quality and quantity of water are decreasing drastically with climate change. Methods should be introduced to safeguard water within the region.
Climate change will have an impact upon ecologically fragile areas and different socio-economic groups in Southern Sri Lanka. Climate related disasters may destroy people’s homes, and incomes, while employment could be threatened in many areas. Strategies will be needed to help people in these regions to become climate resilient and ensure their economic and social well-being. Groups that will be considered include: fishing families, who will be affected by changes in freshwater and marine ecosystems; poor and marginal farmers, who will be at greater risk from crop failure than more secure farmers, and will need special attention to protect them from income losses due to climate change.
Adverse impacts of climate change on bio-diversity and ecosystems are being reported from Southern Sri Lanka. Sensitive species such as fish and amphibians are in peril. Due to climate change there would be an 11 % decrease in wet zone forest cover by 2020. This is a serious threat to the rich biodiversity of these ecosystems. Increased sea temperature is having negative impacts on coral reefs and sea turtles. Sea level rise would cause deterioration of coastal ecosystems. Mangrove ecosystems, which are already under serious stress for anthropogenic reasons, will suffer heavily due to further increases in salinity.
A major result of climate change is an increase in the magnitude and intensity of floods, agricultural droughts, storm-surges and cyclones, and landslides.
On the other hand, the 4th IPCC report indicates that one of the major impacts of global warming and climate change will be an increase in vector borne diseases (e.g., malaria and dengue fever). Diarrhoeal diseases are on the increase, which they attribute partly to increased flooding and drainage congestion. This is expected to get worse with climate change.
Global warming will also raise temperatures in the summer season, increasing the incidence of heat strokes, which could be further aggravated by shortage of drinking water. Adaptive strategies against outbreaks of malaria, dengue and other vector borne diseases should be developed along with investments in preventive and curative measures and facilities.
What we have to do
The potential impacts of climate change could be alleviated through :
* Enhanced cooperation and dialogue among the community.
* Widening the knowledge base through cooperation
* Promoting provisional and national initiatives that foster research,
* Develop knowledge and data sharing among institutions.
* Establish a cooperative framework to advance a regional agenda aimed at increasing the exchange of knowledge and best practices.
* Raise awareness among communities and officials at all levels on the likely increased incidence of natural disasters.
* Programs aimed at increasing the awareness of the impacts of climate change will be undertaken among local communities who will in turn be trained in search and rescue, as well as health issues related to disaster management.
* Develop national adaptation plans with water resources management as the cross-cutting consideration.
* Invest in the collection and dissemination of improved hydrological and climate data.
* Strengthen water management institutions to deal with new and existing challenges.
* Invest in infrastructure that helps build climate resilience.
* Prioritize funding for water resources management within the UNFCCC Adaptation Fund.