Focus/Spotlight

Nature takes a turn for the worse

By Tharumalee Silva

Nature took a turn for the worse as saltwater seeped into the Kalu and Kelani rivers affecting hundreds of families.

The National Water Supply and Drainage Board (NWSDB) had then deemed the water unsuitable for consumption.

The Disaster Management Centre (DMC) had said that over 58,175 families were affected by the crisis in the Kalutara District.

Disaster Management Centre Western Province Additional General Manager Sunith Perera stated that the intrusion of saltwater into the Kalu River had resulted in the salt percentage of the water increasing, thereby making it unsuitable for human consumption.

“With the increasing drought, the water has dried up to below sea level.

Thus, saltwater has seeped into where we normally obtain water for human consumption. For now, we are pumping and distributing water from the river itself for washing purposes. But for drinking water, we have provided 10 water browsers,” he said.

Perera further stated that the bowsers from provincial councils and the Sri Lanka Army provide water free of charge.

Speaking to The Sunday Morning regarding the matter, Deputy General Manager of Disaster Management Centre Western Province – South Deputy General Manager Krishan Fernando said that the water supply from the Kalu River had not been curtailed, as the public can use it for purposes other than consumption.

“For drinking purposes, we have 10 bowsers to fill a tank which has been erected to distribute drinking water. Further, for the time being, a project has been initiated to obtain water from upstream,” he added.

He said that the project will be completed by end-2020 and as a permanent solution, a saltwater barrier will be erected near the beach where the Kalu River meets the sea.

This barrier will help for agricultural purposes and will prevent flooding. The barrier will be erected by the Irrigation Department. The barrier will mark the end of saltwater intrusion to the Kalu River.

In 2014, the University of Moratuwa conducted a case study on saltwater intrusion to the Kalu River, which is the main supplier of river sand in the country. The report stated that the Kalu Ganga provided 113,360 cubes of river sand per year.

Islandwide drought

The crisis follows a serious drought affecting many parts of the country, particularly the Central, Northern, and Southern Provinces.

According to the situational report released by the Disaster Management Centre, the total number of individuals affected by the droughts stands at 467,328 people as at 10 April.

The Northern Province is the most affected by the drought with 24,207 families and 84,656 individuals being affected.

Meanwhile, Central Province Governor Maithri Gunaratne stated that the situation in the Central Province remained severe but has fortunately not reached an uncontrollable limit as yet.

“The public in Nuwara Eliya and Kandy don’t have sufficient water. We had to renovate an old well that was in the area, and we are currently trying to mitigate the situation. It is most unfortunate than the most amount of water supplied and distributed throughout the county comes from the Central Province. These rivers and clearing up due to the drought, and this could lead to disaster. But we remain hopeful that it won’t escalate to that extent,” he said.

He further noted that the situation had heightened to the extent to which they are forced to seek relief from the Government.

“We have deployed water bowsers to provide drinking water,” Gunaratne said.

“Teldeniya, Dambulla, Gampola, and especially villages surrounding mountains have been greatly affected in the Central Province,” he explained.

The number of people affected in the Central Province includes 11,856 families and 43,233 individuals.

The last time Sri Lanka faced a drought was in September last year where 16 districts were severely affected with over 700,000 individuals hit.

Southern Province Governor Rajith Keerthi Tennakoon said that the most affected places in the South were Tissamaharama,

Angunukolapelassa, Lunugamvehera, Ambalantota, Sooriyawewa, and Tangalle.

“We are still in a controllable situation and are currently supplying water to the affected areas. Matara has a natural capacity to handle drought and is equipped with the Nilwala River,” he said, adding: “There is enough water flowing through rivers and lakes. The issue remains with distribution.”

“I personally visited Yala last week to inspect the situation along with the Wildlife Department and the relevant officials. We already have a fully-automated solar power water supply from the Menik River, which is now part of the Yala Sanctuary,” Tennakoon stated.

He also confirmed that the situation could take a turn for the worse, and that he had instructed the relevant government authorities at the district level to look into the matter.

He also confirmed that the situation in the Southern Province had not reached the point of crisis and remained hopeful that it won’t escalate further. He said he was confident that the current state could be controlled, unlike previous times.

More than 35 water bowsers were employed in the Southern Province, mainly in the area surrounding Hambantota.

“Areas such as Tissamaharama permanently face the issue of water shortage, and the distribution of water is always done through water bowsers. For other measures, we have employed provincial health service officials to ensure the quality of the water currently supplied to the civilians,” he said.

The total number of families affected due to natural disasters currently remains at 121,182 and the total number of civilians affected remains at 467,328.