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Sri Lanka: Drought - 2016-2017

Sri Lanka
Disaster types

An estimated 520,000 people across eight provinces (Eastern, North Central, North Western, Northern, Sabaragamuwa, Uva, Central and Western) were affected by drought as of 13 October 2016. The Government has allocated US$140,000 and 159 water trucks to 22 districts. Some 60 schools have been closed due to water shortages, affecting 26,000 children. (OCHA, 17 Oct 2016)

As of 7 November, more than 450,000 people across 17 districts were affected by drought — a significant reduction compared with 800,000 affected people the week prior. (OCHA, 7 Nov 2016)

As of 17 January, an estimated 644,000 people across eight provinces were affected by drought and salt water intrusion over the previous four months. Batticaloa District in Eastern province was the worst affected with 302,000 people experiencing the effects of drought. The Government initiated water trucking in Batticaloa and took measures to import additional rice in the event the prolonged drought has a significant impact on food supplies. The President of Sri Lanka established a Task Force to coordinate the response. (OCHA, 23 Jan 2017)

Parts of the country received heavy rains in late January, causing floods in some areas. This will temporarily alleviate water shortages for human and animal use in some areas, but the damage done to the Maha crop is irreversible and there is continued concern for the subsequent Yala season due to the still very low water levels in reservoirs (73 major reservoirs stand at only 28% of their capacity). Based on historical trends, the combined production of staple crops foreseen from the two 2017 harvests is expected to result in the worst rice production levels in the last 10 years. (WFP, 31 Jan 2017)

Even if rainfall is received in the early months of the year, Sri Lanka’s agricultural sector is unlikely to make a full recovery in 2017. With much of the poor households concentrated in rural areas and dependent on agriculture for access to income, and local production representing the bulk of food sources in the country, livelihood opportunities and food insecurity are only likely to worsen among the most vulnerable. (ACAPS, 23 Feb 2017)

As of 3 March, an estimated 1.2 million people were affected by prolonged drought in 16 districts across Sri Lanka’s nine provinces. Kalutara District (Western Province) had the most people affected due to salinisation of the water supply. WASH, food security and nutrition, agricultural livelihoods and cash-for-work programmes have been identified as priority response activities. (OCHA, 6 Mar 2017)

As of 19 March, more than one million people were affected by prolonged drought in 17 out of 25 districts of Sri Lanka. According to a joint household assessment, an estimated 900,000 people were identified as being in urgent need of food assistance, with 25,000 people severely food insecure. Food, water and sanitation, health and agriculture were urgent priority needs. (OCHA, 20 Mar 2017)

As of 5 April, 900,000 drought-affected people were classed as severely food insecure. An estimated 80,000 needed immediate support to mitigate the impact of the drought and 25,000 required urgent humanitarian assistance. The loss of two consecutive harvests due to poor rainfall has impacted food security and resilience. As a consequence of the poor Maha harvest, seeds for the Yala season are “seriously compromised.” This, coupled with water shortages, could exacerbate the situation if the Yala harvest is severely impacted as expected. (OCHA, 10 Apr 2017)

As of 21 April, a joint in-country drought response plan is currently being developed by the Humanitarian Country Team in consultation with the Ministry of Disaster Management. NGO consortium partners are supporting local authorities in providing water, sanitation and hygiene services and unconditional cash grants. In March, US$3 million from the UN Central Emergency Response Fund was allocated to provide life-saving assistance. (OCHA, 24 Apr 2017)

As of 22 June, prolonged drought conditions, which have persisted since mid-2016, continue to impact more than 849,752 people in 11 districts in North, East, Northcentral, Northwestern and Uva provinces, according to Sri Lanka's Disaster Management Centre. Authorities are distributing water through water trucks to drought-affected families in some areas only. UNICEF has initiated tube well rehabilitation near the affected communities. (UNICEF, 22 Jun 2017)

As of 20 August, more than 1.2 million people across 19 out of 25 districts remain affected by drought. Northern, North-Central and Eastern Provinces are reporting low levels of water for agricultural, drinking and household use. The failure of two harvests in 2017 has raised concerns for the food security and livelihoods of affected communities. The Government of Sri Lanka is distributing drinking water and is planning to provide relief packs. (OCHA, 21 Aug 2017)

Despite the southwest monsoon in late May 2017, which triggered flooding and landslides in the country’s southwest provinces, country-wide drought conditions are ongoing, with the total affected population reaching more than two million people in early September. However, the figures reported by the Disaster Management Centre have now been reduced due to brief inter-monsoonal rains experienced in mid-September across various districts. These rains are unlikely to significantly alleviate the ongoing drought conditions that are predicted to continue in the coming weeks. As of 19 September, 1,927,069 people were estimated to be affected by the drought across 17 districts, according to the Disaster Management Centre. (UN RC, 19 Sep 2017)

According to the government officials, the island had weathered the worst of the drought, and rains expected in late October would bring more relief. As of 5 October, recent rains have dropped the overall number of people affected by drought from 2.2 million a month ago to 1.7 million. (Thomson Reuters Foundation, 05 Oct 2017)