Drought sits firm
By Sarah Hannan
Many areas of the island experienced gusty winds that gathered a speed of up to 80 kmph, damaging over 1,300 houses around the island and affecting over 5,000 people.Yet the dry spell continues to affect over 650,000 persons in 18 districts.
Among the areas that sustained most damages, the Matale District reported damages to 25 houses while in the Dambulla District, at least 30 houses were damaged with two children being injured. Kalpitiya reported damages to 10 houses and five shop spaces, and the entire roof of a school building too had been damaged by the winds. Colombo and its suburbs reported damages to 10 houses in Narahenpita and four houses in Mattegoda.
The Disaster Management Centre (DMC) as of 9 am yesterday officially recorded that 5,814 people from four districts were affected by strong winds and rain, with 20 houses being fully destroyed, 1,361 houses partially damaged, and 74 commercial spaces reporting damages.Critical infrasturcture damages were reported from nine structres that provided electrical supply to areas.
With the increased speed of the wind, branches had fallen on power lines causing power outages in Dehiwala, Malabe, Homagama, Kosgama, Puttalam, Nikaweratiya, and Dambulla. Ministry of Power and Renewable Energy Spokesman and Director of Development Sulakshana Jayawardena stated that the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) had taken immediate action to restore power to the areas following the incident. Meanwhile, scattered showers of up to 100 mm too were experienced in several areas of the country.
However, the dry spell still seems prevalent across the country with the total number of affected districts now standing at 18, with 659,496 people facing drinking water scarcity. The number of affected persons rose to 28,103 in the Sabaragamuwa Province, 62,148 in the North Western Province, 225,039 in the Northern Province, 73,489 in the Central Province, 9,316 in the Southern Province, 40,734 in the North Central Province, 163,091 in the Eastern Province, and 57,576 in the Uva Province.
Reports emerged that dairy farmers in the Polonnaruwa, Kilinochchi, and Mullaitivu Districts lost milk cows and cattle due to the prevailing drought in the area.
“With the cattle not having suitable grazing grounds, they wander further away from the farms and get lost. As the drought intensifies, people dig holes in the reservoirs to obtain water, and sometimes, the cattle fall into these ditches as they go about grazing and get injured,” Polonnaruwa District Disaster Management Assistant Director S.K. Nanayakkara said.
Meanwhile, inland fishermen from the East reported that they are unable to continue with their fishing activities as the aquatic culture too has been destroyed due to the ongoing dry spell.
“There are only a very few areas with water. During the night, animals gather to drink water while during the day, domestic animals go towards these water sources to take a dip and quench their thirst. Sometimes, when we come towards these watering holes, we see wild animals stuck in the mud getting eaten by other predators. They come to quench their thirst and they get trapped in the mud, eventually becoming food for another animal,” Hassan from Ampara informed.
Considering the gravity of the situation, during last week’s parliamentary session, Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) MP Anura Kumara Dissanayake proposed that the farmer families affected by the ongoing drought should be compensated immediately and that apart from providing them dry rations, the Government should also provide financial aid until the next cultivating season begins. The Finance Minister agreed to allocate budgets after assessing the requirements.
Six crops insured
While many farmers lament over the ongoing crop cycle not being successful due to the prevailing weather, saying that they should be compensated for their impending losses, the Agriculture and Agrarian Insurance Board was of the view that damages would only be assessed after this season ended.
Speaking to The Sunday Morning, Agriculture and Agrarian Insurance Board Director General Panduka Weerasinghe informed: “The Yala season is still ongoing and will end in September. As a practice, we compensate farmers when there is a natural disaster – if it affects their crops and hinders them from harvesting their yield at the end of the season.”
Further elaborating on the insurance coverage provided for farmers, he stated that crops such as rice, maize, soya, big onions, potatoes, and chillies are covered under the government insurance scheme.
“We can pay compensation to farmers if they report crop damages due to floods, drought, or elephant attacks, and they are not required to pay a premium to be entitled for claims. Under this scheme, a farmer will receive a sum of up to Rs. 40,000 for each acre damaged. For paddy land, we can compensate for a maximum area of two hectares and up to one hectare for the rest of the crops. If any farmland owner has fields beyond that, they can pay an annual fee and obtain an insurance policy with us.”
Since the present season has not come to an end yet, the Agriculture and Agrarian Insurance Board was unable to assess the total claims that they have to pay. However, the board informed that they received information that farmers in the Ampara District would be gravely affected by the drought, but with the area receiving rain from time to time, the crops would not be as affected as forecasted.
“Some areas facing the drought might not report a total damage in crops at the end of the season, as there are about two more months for this season to end. According to the present weather conditions, there is a possibility that these areas too would receive some rain and the farmers would be able to save their crops from wilting,” Weerasinghe confirmed.
However, Weerasinghe also stated that crops in 12 acres in the Kurunegala District seemed to have wilted due to the prevailing drought and the Department of Agrarian Development Director of the area informed him that even if the area receives rain from now onwards, the crops cannot be saved.
“We will be able to assess the total damage caused by the drought for the Yala season only by October after the farmers have harvested their yields. The damages are assessed in two parts – one is through the cropping index forecast and the other through satellite imagery obtained through drone footage,” Weerasinghe added.