The worst drought in four decades hits Sri Lanka hard

Sri Lanka has just experienced its worst drought for more than forty years. Reservoir levels fell to around 33% of capacity and many tanks dried up or are at low levels. Agriculture, particularly rice padi production has been decimated. One estimate suggested that by November 2016 only 35% of the  nation’s rice padi had been cultivated and that over 1.2 million people have been directly affected by food shortages and loss of income. H.E.P. production was also affected and led to power cuts being imposed during the latter part of the year.

This was the picture for southern India and Sri lanka as of May this year:

source: IWMI

You can find this map for yourself on the IWMI site (they are based in Colombo) and also on the Relief Web site; When it is amplified you will see that a large area of Sri lanka and Tamil Nadu are speckled brown (severe or extreme drought). This was a situation that had been developing for some time but it has come to a head in 2017.

Droughts can be categorised in a number of ways;

  1. When rainfall is well below normal/average levels
  2. When soil moisture content falls well below normal levels
  3. Where lack of rainfall leads to significant decline in agricultural production
  4. Where there is insufficient water to sustain the population

So what we now understand is that rainfall levels fell way short of normal; i.e. there was a rainfall deficit which affected pretty much everywhere apart from the south west of the island, as this map re-printed from Global Risk Insights shows:

 

With the exception of the North West around Puttalam it is the DRY zone which has been affected most. This is the zone which tends to rely on the North-East monsoon for its rainfall. So that means November / December. For the rest of the year high temperatures prevail. High temperatures lead to high evapo-transpiration rates (water loss from the soil and plants) and the soil dries out, storage tanks and reservoirs shrink.

source roar media network

So long as the monsoon rains return in November then all is well and the cycle continues supporting padi production, animal grazing and so on. However, what if the rains are much less than usual? Then soil moisture isn’t replenished and farmers run out of water. That is drought on 3 levels!

What is happening to rainfall?

So what happened to the monsoon in 2015/6/7 especially the North-East Monsoon? Without rainfall data for 2016/7, we can only speculate but anecdotally at least all the evidence points to a failure in the 2016 North East monsoon especially in the Dry Zone. This is borne out by the pattern of rainfall deficit shown on the  rainfall data map where there is a high rainfall deficit pretty much everywhere, South-West excluded.

Possibly this is part of a long term trend. Looking at rainfall data  for the period 2000- 2015 there is a suggestion that in the dry zone rainfall may be declining:

  1. The amount of rain falling between January and August is declining; for example: Batticaloa; Since 2009 7 out of the 9 years have experienced below the average rainfall  for that period. The figures for Jaffna do not show the same trend BUT rainfall in that period only averages 371mm (2000-2015) anyway and given the high evaporation rates that is effectively a very dry season.
  2. For Jaffna and the North the NEM was lower than average 2005/6/7 and then again 2013/4

(Even then the paradox is that whilst rainfall levels may have not dropped that much in some areas the view of senior meteorologists is that  the rains are coming in more intense bursts, that is shorter periods of more intense rain with longer hotter periods between them (attributed to a general rise in temperatures across the South Asia region giving rise to  enhanced convective activity or storm clouds) So the significance of this is that the more intense the rainfall the more of it will run away(surface run-off) rather than soaking into the ground and recharging water tables.)

Causes

The other information we have to factor in is that 2015/6 were both strong El Nino years. El Nino is associated with suppressed convective uplift (the sort that stops rain clouds forming)  2016 also saw the Indian Ocean Dipole in negative phase so the Eastern Indian Ocean was warmer than normal which brought heavy rains to Western Australia but suppressed rainfall over southern India and Sri Lanka.

 

So the dark brown areas are areas of negative rainfall anomaly; i.e. much less raeinfall that normal. You may just be able to make out a big smear of brown across southern India and Sri Lanka. It means that rainfall was well down on the average for June and August.

The El Nino has weakened and is now in neutral as is the IOD but clearly the climate system has taken time to revert. What we won’yt know for a few months yet it how the October/November inter-monsoon period is going to react or what will happen to the North east Monsoon.

Impacts

a.  As of 20 August, more than 1.2 million people across 19 out of 25 districts remained affected by drought. Northern, North-Central and Eastern Provinces were 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. (relief web).

b.  Reservoirs  fell to dangerously low levels, many at only 30% of normal levels

c.  Plus increasing numbers of people are not getting either enough food or the income to buy food. The country’s rice harvest is likely to be down about 17 percent from the 4 million tons recorded in 2013, which would make it the lowest in six years. (IRIN). This has led to Sri Lanka having to import rice

d. There is a definite geographical pattern to the impact of this drought. It is the (mainly) poorer and more vulnerable communities of the North and East, still weakened by the effects of the Civil War,  who are suffering most as this graphic taken from a local newspaper indicates;

What this drought has shown above all is that water insecurity has become a major issue for Sri Lanka.

Feeling the impacts
  1. Agriculture; without going into too much detail agriculture in Sri Lanka is not well advanced. 40% of cropland is down to irrigated rice production much of it at subsistence level and is characterised by:
  • low levels of mechanization
  • predominantly rain fed
  • a significant % is at subsistence level
  • costs are high and profitability is low
  • land holdings are small
  • there is too much reliance on traditional practices that determine the type of seed, water levels and harvesting patterns. Harvesting patterns based on scientific research are taking time to gain acceptance.
  • water conservation is not high on the list of priorities

Plus there is not enough water transfer capacity to mover water from the wetter mountain zones into the dry zone to irrigate crops and support the population.

All of which makes Sri Lanka vulnerable to climate shocks such as the current drought.

2.  Hydro Electric Power generation

During normal years when reservoirs are at capacity Sri Lanka can generate around 50% of its needs from HEP. Currently the country is supplying just 34% of its power supply from HEP meaning an increasing reliance on imported fossil fuels which pollute the environments and impact on an already delicate balance of payments situation for the country.

Plus there are other factors which impact on water demand to take into account:

  • The population is now much higher than in the 1970s greatly increasing demand for water.
  • Sri Lanka’s per capita water usage has picked up sharply over the past decades with rising living standards.
  • Piped water, bathrooms with showers and flush toilets, industrialization, tourism, vehicle usage have all driven up water use.
Water Security: Practical Solutions

All the indications are that climatic hazard events will become more, not less frequent in the coming decades. So, what to do?

  1.  The commonsense answer ( but not the most practicable in all probability) is to use less water. That could include:
  • changing charging policies for water use; water tariffs are generally thought to be too low so this means that effectively raising the cost of water to the domestic consumer is needed to curb inefficient use and wastage. However, in Sri Lanka where significant numbers of people are already close to the poverty line (however that may be drawn) such a move will hit the poor hardest
  • having a more effective metering system in place particularly where crop irrigation is concerned to ensure a more efficient use of irrigation water
  • exert greater control over use of water by industrial companies and in the tourist sector

2. Conserve water

  • develop efficient water recycling facilities; for example Colombo does not have a proper waste water treatment plant resulting in partially treated water discharged to the ocean. (source Water Sector of Sri Lanka report 2014). This is a crazy situation. Greater Colombo is bound to be a major water user with a high water demand. Why is the waste water simply flushed away when it could be recycled as it is in many other countries
  • industrial pollution of water resources needs to be dealt with; inland waters in urban areas are polluted heavily with domestic sewage and industrial effluents It seems that in many cases domestic waste finds its way directly into rivers; people often use rivers as a latrine and all sorts of waste is dumped in surface streams rendering them unusable as these two images  found in the Sunday Times show.

So here you can see untreated effluent running into the Kelani River from a local canal

and here is a fairly typical scene in a watercourse by a low income settlement

In rural areas with agricultural runoff pollutes rivers and streams. In urban over-crowded cities, there is biological contamination of ground water.  Except for pipe-borne water supply, irrigation and hydro-power schemes, in general water resources in Sri Lanka are managed very poorly. Regulations are available to control most water related problems but enforcement of these regulations is lacking.

… and this is the point. Water is becoming an increasingly scarce resource. There is a real need to conserve existing supplies and re-cycle water effectively.

3.  Develop exiting inter – basin water transfer schemes. In other words mover water by pipeline and channel transfers from the wetter areas to the dry zone. The Mahaweli River basin project initiated in the 1970’s  was intended to take water from the mountains to the dry zone; and it does. But is that enough? Question rather than answer and obviously any addition to existing arrangements would be expensive. The question is; does the government even consider whether adding to existing water transfer schemes is worth investigating?

4. Innovative methods; harvesting rain water. I found this extract printed in the Daily Mirror 2016;

Water that falls on a roof of 1,000 sq m in Colombo (average rainfall is 2,000 mm) during a period of one year would be around 2,000 cubic meters (i.e 2 million litres or app. 400,000 gallons). The actual cost of this amount of water would be around Rs. 90,000. The rainwater that falls on the roofs of extensive buildings such as hospitals, schools, housing complexes etc. could be collected in tanks in the premises itself. Water thus collected could be used for numerous domestic purposes. Currently we use chlorinated water suitable for drinking to wash cars, water plants, clean toilets etc. Using rainwater for these activities would reduce water bills, save purified water, which could be used for drinking purposes. Once the collection system is installed there is no additional cost involved except on pumping of collected water to the main water supply system. (Dr CS Weerearatna Daily Mirror October 2016)

source pinterest

This is one simple idea which involves collecting rainfall from roofs and storing it in large tanks either fully or partially underground. The only costs involved are the installation costs plus the cost of pumping the water from the tank. Is this being promoted by the government? It doesn’t seem to be. But these are simple low-tech solutions, so it is surprising that so little is being done.

This article began by charting the development of the latest drought to hit Sri Lanka. Monsoons will fail from time to time, that is a given. Although we understand more now about why droughts  occur  we are powerless to stop them happening. All of which means that when they do occur it is important to have strategies in place to help people cope; to reduce their vulnerability to drought. Sri Lanka is not alone , in facing the dilemma of what to do and how to do it. Water security is an issue throughout South Asia. What this drought has done is bring into sharp focus the need to be planning now for the next drought or Sri Lanka will simply have to go through this crisis all over again.

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Colombo Floods 2016

The South West Monsoon  hit Sri Lanka hard in 2016. The heavy rains have resulted in landslides in Kegalle and flooding in Colombo  for example, which have displaced more than 300,000 across the island with at least 58 left dead and a further 130 missing. 
Now in 2017 the monsoon season has been accompanied by large scale flooding and mudslides which have left 202 dead and 600,000 people displaced. The areas around Rathnapura and Kalutara have been badly affected but, Matara in the south of the island has also suffered serious flooding. In all the floods and landslides have destroyed 1,735 houses and damaged 9,432 while 146 schools were also damaged –
Predictably, for some it all turns out to be the government’s fault; but it isn’t.

Climate change in South Asia is a reality and one of the outcomes is that rainfall will become less predictable and the frequency of extreme rainfall events is set to increase. Sri Lanka needs to brace itself for more events like this, and do you know what? In the short run there isn’t much anyone can do about it.

The 2016 flood; what happened?

May is statistically the start of the South West Monsoon in Sri Lanka and brings rain to the South and West of the country.

As any A level geographer will tell you  (putting it simply);  the South West monsoon season is the result of a seasonal reversal in wind direction, from North East ( off the landmass) to South West (off the ocean)

This year the Indian sub-continent ( and also Sri Lanka) has been suffering big time from heatwaves which have seen the temperatures soar above 40 deg C. for weeks on end. High land temperatures vis-a-vis the ocean, create an air pressure imbalance; lower air pressure over the land higher over the ocean, an creates an airflow from the Indian Ocean on to the land masses of Sri Lanka and India. The bigger the difference in temperature and air pressure between the two the stronger the inflow of air towards the continent. Warm wet air rising over the landmass = rain.

Figure3

typical SWM situation; credit: one data.edu

But this year the monsoon has arrived with a vengeance

Why the heavy rain?

So we already have a set up whereby the winds are coming from the South-West.. from the warm ocean surface. However, you have to factor in a low pressure system that formed in the Indian Ocean to the East of the island and developed into a tropical storm which has moved northwards towards India. As it developed it set up a strong inflow of “wet” air coming off the Indian Ocean and the Island land mass forced that wet air upwards, leading to torrential rain. So this is just a sketch to give the reader an idea of what is going on, where the winds are coming from.

IMG_0833

 

image_1463542469-f07ac6cb02

satellite image of the depression

so the depression is the white blob of cloud north of Sri Lanka.It is now moving North -East. What you have to imagine is that the air flow is inward/upward and anti-clockwise reaching way back into the western Indian Ocean; those thicker cloud elements suggest more rain to come!

A note on depressions for the uninitiated

a low pressure system or depression creates an inflow of air in a broadly anti-clockwise spiral. Warm air heated from below rises.. the warmer the air the faster and higher it rises. As it rises it cools, condenses and produces cloud and rain.

4857328

here we are interested in the diagram on the right; credit the britishgeographer

The Indian Ocean this time of year is warm in any case; but I read that the surface ocean temperature may be around 31deg C. which is way above where it should be, and that is only likely to make things worse.

Nb; This isn’t a local effect however as some seem to think, but related to global circulation patterns

So in this case very warm moist air spirals upwards. As air condenses to form water droplets it releases heat back into the rising air.. it fuels more uplift.. clouds reach up higher into the atmosphere resulting in the formation of cumulus clouds stretching high up towards the tropopause. As a rule of thumb the stronger the uplift the lower the air pressure and with it the stronger the inflow of surface winds at the base of the depression.

The net result; torrential rainfall, strong winds and violent thunderstorms.

Flooding in Colombo

According to some, the construction of the large lakes such as the Diyawanna lakes and the improvements to the canals and drainage systems was supposed to mean that Colombo would not suffer any more from floods like the 2011 flood. Maybe this was wishful thinking, however.

Colombo district will always be vulnerable to flash flooding because:

  • large areas are low lying; no more than 5 metres above sea
  • the land gradient is slight so water has nowhere to drain away
  • large areas are urbanised which reduces infiltration, and exacerbates surface flow
  • Rivers like the Kelani river flow off the west flanks of the central highlands which have been receiving high levels of precipitation. That flood water is eventually going to end up on the lowland. Colombo sits on the natural flood plain of the Kelani Ganga and the river does periodically what rivers do.. it floods especially when it is choked with sediment washing done from the central uplands.

srilanka-map

  • on top of this heavy rainfall and intense thunderstorms are common occurrences in the Colombo district

This does seem to be an extreme event, however. Over 300mm of rain fell right across the catshment, both in the upper and lower reaches ( as much as could be expected in a month)  Intense rainfall on to an urban surface had nowhere to go.

The Kelani Hydrograph

a hydrograph plots the way rivers react to an intense rainfall event. I found this one which is taken from the 2005 flood. What you can see is that the river reacts quite quickly to rainfall events.. less than 24 hours it seems:

kelani hydrograph

Points to note:

    • very steep rising limb
    • short time lag from peak rainfall to peak discharge
    • high volume of peak flow
    • gentle falling limb; flow is still high3 days later

If you study the Kelani valley in the hills where it rises you can see why it will flood downstream

Dhammika Heenpalla creative commons

credit: Dhammika Heenpalla

  • the valley is steep sided which would accelerate rainfall into the channel as surface flow and throughflow
  • the slopes are long and locally rainfall is high so a large amount of rainfall will end up in the channel very quickly
  • there is no flood plain for flood water to spread over
  • so all the floodwater is penned up in the valley unable to escape; instead thundering down to the lowland plains to the west.
Impact

It’s too early to assess the damage caused by the landslides and flooding across the island. What we do know is that over 200 families are missing  with 58 pronounced dead following landslides in the central uplands that engulfed 3 villages.

Across the island upwards of 300,000 people have been rendered temporarily homeless. The cost in terms of damage to property will become clearer as time passes. In the meantime a huge relief operation is swinging into place with the Sri Lankan armed forces at the forefront of rescue and relief efforts.

Who will be shouldering the cost?

  • More than likely the lower middle and low income groups whose homes have been engulfed or inundated.
  • In Colombo, those living in unofficial shelters next to the Kelani river, those in the low lying suburbs around Colombo;

and it is just worth thinking about what it means for a family to see their home flooded, their possessions ruined; and in the main these are families who cannot easily bear the cost of putting there home back together

Imi's housec3a63a24f545cd193e22afeebf0a38bb

My friend Imi’s house; this is the reality of flooding: putting her mother’s house back together will take way more money than they have; life is set to be difficult for sometime to come and what you need to do is multiply that by 300,000 to get an idea of what this means for a small island like Sri Lanka

We might “study” this as a hazard event BUT let’s also remember that this is very much a human tragedy.

For some stark video footage check out http://www.sundaytimes.lk  the online page and scroll down the front page to the video links.

Last thought

As with the UK a couple of years ago, when we get an extreme weather event it is almost “de rigeur” to blame the authorities for not anticipating the event and protecting against it. It seems it always has to be someone’s fault. The same appears to be happening in Sri Lanka. I saw a Sunday Times.lk  opinion piece asking; ‘why is this happening again?” Well unfortunately that is nature for you. What did people expect? That the government could simply tell the rain to go away?

Point is that we live in an increasingly hazardous world which we do not control and cannot always predict. If we choose to live in areas which can become vulnerable to hazards such as flooding and landslides we need to accept that when these extreme events occur we are at risk. That doesn’t mean that efforts should not be made to moderate the impact of these events

Given that the outcome of climate change may well mean an increase in extreme weather events (among other things) a question that might be asked is what is being done to moderate the impacts of future events

  • The meteorological department based in Colombo is already on the case; a great deal of research is already underway on a range of issue related to weather and climate and is well worth checking out: try this out: http://www.meteo.gov.lk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=47&Itemid=200&lang=en
  • But the met office need access to much more powerful computing power and technology if the aim is to improve the forecasts
  • So knowledge is the first step but then it comes down to what the government intend to do with that knowledge. The danger could be that in the rush for economic development planning for an increasingly hazardous environment may not be a high priority.. that would be a mistake.

So what might need to be done.

  1. Seems to me  understanding where the flood water comes from is a starting point. Does the Kelani River need for its banks to be raised higher?
  2. Is there a need for engineering solutions to control/impound water in the central highlands in the event of high rainfall as for instance the Los Angeles river in southern California so that Western Province is less at risk?
  3. Can anything be done to increase the flow of floodwater from drains and canals to the sea?
  4. In the highlands is it time to re-forest the slopes of the hills to stabilise them and reduce the landslide hazard? Should geological surveys be undertaken to identify and map areas of high vulnerability
  5. Should people be moved away from dangerous locations?

All basic stuff isn’t it but that’s where the thinking needs to go; its an old saying but prevention is much better than a cure and in the long run less expensive.

The point is that this type of extreme event will happen again and again; all the predictions point in that direction. What the government needs to do now is put in place a coherent disaster management plan, with a senior minister at the helm to co-ordinate rescue and recovery and possibly to take control away from ineffective and self seeking officials and politicians who have shown that they are not up to the task.

In the follow on article i will be looking at  the relief effort, the declaration of flood areas as high security zones  and what can be done to help mitigate against future floods.

Just published; have a look also at this from CEPA

http://groundviews.org/2016/05/19/sri-lanka-floods-2016-avoiding-the-mistakes-of-2004/?platform=hootsuite

 

 

Saving mangrove forests; Sri Lanka takes a lead role

 

“It is the responsibility and the necessity of all…to be united to protect the mangrove ecosystem.” – President Sirisena

How refreshing it is to see that Sri Lanka is leading the world in the conservation of its mangrove forests.

Two N.G.O.’s Seacology and Sudeesa (formerly known as Small Fishers Federation of Lanka) alongside the government of Sri Lanka have just announced a US$ 3.4 million project set to run until 2020 aimed at

  • protecting all 8,815 ha of Sri Lanka’s existing mangrove forests.
  • replanting an additional 9,600 acres (3,885 ha) in areas where mangroves have been cut down.
  • establishing three mangrove nurseries to promote replanting efforts.
Where are the mangrove forests?

mangrove-4-638

There are three main areas of mangrove forest:

  1. The west coast; between Kalpitiya and Colombo
  2. The South coast especially between Kalutara and Galle
  3. The East coast from Batticaloa all the way along towards Jaffna
Threats

74% of mangrove forests have been lost in Sri Lanka since the 19th century.  30 years ago there were over 40,000 ha. of mangrove, now there are just 8000…most of it  been destroyed due to commercial exploitation and firewood use.as well as the impacts of the war that raged from 1983 to 2009.  It seems that most of the damage is in the past and was due to:

  1. prawn farming
  2. collateral damage from the civil war
  3. poor communities particularly along the East coast relied on mangrove  forest as a source of firewood

Today those threats remain plus:

  • clearance for tourist developments and hotel complexes

bulldozing.mangroves

  • coastal urban development more generally
  • pollution from agricultural chemicals
Why protect the mangroves?

Mangroves are trees and shrubs that grow in brackish and saline water along tropical and sub- tropical shorelines. Mangroves’ stilted roots are anchored in underwater sediment and extend above the surface.

Mangroves

They are biologically rich ecosystems  and are hauntingly beautiful but their value goes way beyond the aesthetic.

Mangroves are very productive ecosystems  (on a par with tropical rain forest) with an economic value globally estimated to be more than US$ 186 million annually (according to the World Wildlife Fund. Why?

  • Fisheries: Mangrove forests are not only home to a large variety of fish, crab, shrimp, and mollusc species, which form an essential source of food for thousands of coastal communities around the world. They are also nurseries for many fish species, including coral reef fish.  This makes mangrove forests vitally important to  commercial fisheries as well.
  • Timber and plant products: Mangrove wood is resistant to rot and insects, making it extremely valuable. Many coastal  communities rely on this wood for construction material as well as for fuel. These communities also collect medicinal plants from mangrove ecosystems and use mangrove leaves as animal fodder. Recently, the forests have also been commercially harvested for pulp, wood chip, and charcoal production.
  • Coastal protection: The dense root systems of mangrove forests trap sediments flowing down rivers and off the land. This helps stabilizes the coastline and prevents erosion from waves and storms. In areas where mangroves have been cleared, coastal damage from hurricanes and typhoons is much more severe. When the 2004 Tsunami hit Sri Lanka the mangroves played an important role in slowing down the waves and giving people time to escape to safer ground. By filtering out sediments, the forests also protect coral reefs and seagrass meadows from being smothered in sediment.
  • Tourism: The huge diversity of species is becoming increasingly attractive to tourists who are looking for more than just sun sea and sand based holidays
  • Carbon Sink: It is now estimated that the mangrove forests play an important role in absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere (carbon sequestration) . This is not just because of the large biomass of the forests. The forests are very efficient and transferring carbon to the soil.

“the .. implication of this is that the long term sequestration of carbon by 1kmsq of mangrove is equivalent to that occurring in 50kmsq of tropical forest”

Dr Emily Pidgeon: Conservation International

So if countries are serious about limiting carbon emissions the last thing they should be thinking of is removing their mangrove forests.

Sri Lanka leads the way

The Sri Lanka Mangrove Conservation project is being run by California based NGO Seacology alongside SUDEESA (formerly known as Small Fishers Federation of Lanka) and the government of Sri Lanka.

The $3.4million project aims to:

  • Protect all 21,782 acres (8,815 ha) of Sri Lanka’s existing mangrove forests.
  • Replant an additional 9,600 acres (3,885 ha) in areas where mangroves have been cut down.
  • Establish three mangrove nurseries to promote replanting efforts.

sri-lanka-wetland-plants

The way it works is that if a village agrees to create or enforce a forest or marine reserve, Seacology will fund a key community need, such as a school or health clinic.

Putting women in charge is at the heart of the scheme. They will protect mangroves by ensuring no one in their communities, or from outside, cuts down the trees. If persuasion does not work they will be able to alert the authorities who are providing legislative support.

“We have discovered that if you want a project to succeed, have the women of the community run it,” said Anuradha Wickramasinghe, chairman of the Sri Lankan NGO Sudeesa. “Other conservation organisations have found the same thing.”

Where local communities agree to participate, the project will provide alternative job training and microloans to 15,000 poor women and their families, who live in 1,500 small communities adjacent to this nation’s mangrove forests.  In exchange for receiving these microloans to start up small businesses, all 1,500 communities will be responsible for protecting an average of 21 acres of mangrove forest. A first-of-its kind mangrove museum to educate the public about the importance of preserving this resource will also be constructed as part of this project.

Dual benefits

It is significant that the focus will be on women and the belief is that empowering women within the communities living close to the mangrove forests will have a major impact in raising living standards.

Sri Lanka’s emerging tourist industry can also benefit. Mangroves offer a new wildlife alternative for tourists; maybe to take some of the pressure off the heavily visited (over visited) national parks such as Yala

For too long mangroves have been seen simply as a wasteland to be cut down or removed to make way for commercial development but there is emerging a new more enlightened view and with it the hope that Sri Lanka’s existing mangrove forest can be protected and enhanced for future generations.

references and links:

local community involvement

https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/gallery/2016/jul/26/mangroves-and-incomes-flourish-as-sri-lankas-women-promote-conservation-in-pictures

https://www.seacology.org/project/sri-lanka-mangrove-conservation-project/

Welcome to Geo Sri Lanka: case studies for A level geographers

Hi, my name is Phil Brighty. The title for the blog Geosrilanka comes from the fact that I lived and worked in Colombo  for nearly 7 years, and came to really love the country and its people. You will find case studies focussed on geographical  issues in a developing country: Sri Lanka. Up until recently South Asia has been a neglected are for study; however, it is a rich area for study geographically and,  just as importantly, offers new material for students. As a teacher I was always on the lookout  to get away from the same old examples everyone uses…which is why I set up this blog. I hope you find the case studies useful.

List of articles; click on this link to see the full range of  articles

Dengue in Sri Lanka:  Dengue fever in Sri Lanka is reaching epidemic proportions: check out the latest Dengue update.

Apart from Geosrilanka I write mainly for for GeoFactsheets.. However, I have also published in The Geographical Review, and Geofile Online.

Before that I was Head of Geography at The Sixth Form College Colchester and then was based at Colombo International School as HOD and Head of Secondary School. In the past I have been an A level examiner for OCR, AQA and also an examiner for IB diploma geography.

 Fieldwork in Sri Lanka;

Sri Lanka is a great place to undertake fieldwork for A level geography..most places are accessible and value for money; plus for students it can be the trip of a lifetime because with careful planning they get to experience what regular tourists never can:

If you are interested click on the live link above to find out more..

Feedback; would love to have some

What would be interesting to know is how people are using the case studies..are students being referred to the site? are teachers using them in class or as research and prep for lessons?

The blogs are very much summaries of often large numbers of links, websites etc. If anyone wants to know more, wants help with resources, especially with Sri Lanka in mind, then I would be happy to respond.

There is an opportunity to comment so do send comments in and I will put them up.

Stop Press: Just added

Making sense of the Sri Lankan monsoon

Dengue Update; dengue cases could top 150,000 this year!

Colombo Garbage Dump Collapse

The Indian Ocean Monsoon part 1: is the monsoon becoming less predictable?

Plus 2 articles have been updated

Dengue Update

Challenges ahead for the Sri Lankan Garment Industry

more… 

Next Up: 

The Monsoon, Drought and Global Warming in Sri Lanka; prospects and problems

 

Dengue Update: Is Sri Lanka winning the war?

Worrying trends

Until recently  the number of reported dengue cases in Sri Lanka has been increasing at an alarming rate; this chart only goes up to 2013. The upward trend is steep especially when you add in the 2014 figure: 47502!

graph1

Of those cases by far the majority were reported in Western Province (the most densely populated region of Sri Lanka).

For those living in Colombo the growth of Dengue has been particularly worrying. In 2010 there were just under 6,000 cases reported in Colombo. That rose to 10,000 in 2012 and, worryingly, 14,700 in 2014; that is 30% of all cases reported on the island.

For an up to date count of cases check out Dengue Count

Getting better?

However, this year the trend has been reversed; in 2015 there were 29777 reported cases. The number of cases in Colombo is down below 10,000; again good news although the city still accounts  for over 30%  of all cases.

So what went wrong in the past?

Reading back over some references I came across an article in the Sunday Times which probably sums up the problems of the past. These are just some of the points the journalists made

  1. There is no coordination among all relevant authorities on this issue of national importance and only ad hoc programmes are carried out whenever there is a crisis, was the view expressed by many including the public.
  2. Assistant Secretary of Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA) Dr. Upul Gunasekara said in the report that the Dengue Control Act, though brought in with good intentions was not practical. “There seems to be an administrative failure,” he said, adding that authorities such as the Ministries of Local Government, Environment and Education should be part of the group. “MOHs and PHIs can educate the public, but the local bodies must clear the garbage, the environment authorities must find solutions to the rubbish issue and the education authorities must chip in and instruct schools on a routine basis about cleanliness.

I remember when I researched  an article on Dengue for Geographical Review in 2012 it seemed to me that dengue controls were not being enforced; newspapers routinely reported that landowners, schools, commercial premises and households either ignored advice or flouted the law. I was told of operatives in Kotte who were selling off the insecticides to the highest bidder or charging exorbitant amounts to spray neighbourhoods. Routine fogging was noticeable by its absence

and what may be going right now?

But maybe things have turned around?  One years’ figures prove very little but if the downward trend is maintained much credit will be due to the Epidemiology Unit of the Ministry of Health, and the Centre for Dengue Research.

There is a lot of work ongoing which is aimed at dealing with dengue. There are two strands to this work;

  • dealing with the mosquito and its breeding grounds
  • trying to find a way to immunise the population; a dengue jab if you like

The use of insecticides and routine fogging are commonplace but on their own they cannot control the mosquito; to do that as everyone knows you need to remove the breeding grounds and there has been a lot of public information put out there;

top5breedingsports

Getting people engaged is the key; what excites me is that G.I.S. mapping is now being used on an extensive basis to build a detailed picture of dengue: where cases occur, how many cases and so on. in Sri Lanka (other countries as well)

It goes like this;

  1. first map the location of all newly reported cases of Dengue using GIS technology
  2. Identify hotspots of dengue from the maps
  3. make site visits to the hotspot areas and try to identify where the main mosquito breeding areas are
  4. take steps to destroy the breeding areas; enforce where necessary the law in relation to dengue control

I first came across this idea in a paper written in 2008. You can find details here. Researchers visited Kadugannawa near Kandy where dengue was endemic. They used GIS and GPS technology to locate and map dengue hotspots, create risk maps and to  use various vector control methods on the mosquito population. As a result the incidence of dengue fever reduced.

Now it seems the Centre for Dengue Research has taken this further: they are carrying out two related projects:

  1. Geospatial mapping of dengue transmission in the Colombo district
  2. Defining environmental factors that affect dengue transmission

and they have come up with a set of maps which show for the first time where the dengue hotspots are; check this out.

 

img-gis1

using these maps the group have been able to produce a “hotspot” map see below

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you can see how the hotspots which have been identified are the same for each time period; that in turn means that the can produce a kind of risk map for Colombo

 img-gis4

Armed with that information the authorities can focus on the key problem areas and to control the breeding sites of the mosquito.

Like I said; information is the key!

Mo buzz; using the power of social media

and check out this: using the power of social media The Colombo Municipal Council’s Public Health Department along with Sri Lanka Telecom Mobitel, the Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU) and the University of Colombo, School of Computing (UCSC) launched the ‘Mo-Buzz Dengue’ App. So now anyone can use the Android-based Mo-Buzz Dengue application to send a complaint about mosquito breeding sites to the CMC  by taking and sending a picture of the breeding site using the app, which automatically transmits the location of the complaint to the CMC, who can then deal with the problem.

if you haven’t already you should check out MO Buzz at http://www.mo-buzz.org/srilanka/

Getting people engaged in the fight mobilising the power of social media, coming down hard on those who ignore or flout the law, getting the information out there to the people so they can take the steps they need to control the mosquito.. that is what it is really all about.

It is too early to say whether the Sri Lankan authorities are getting the upper hand but the signs are promising. The authorities are taking the issue of dengue seriously now, and although dengue fever is unlikely to be eradicated any more than influenza will disappear from the UK, there is some hope that it is being brought under control.

Footnote: I spoke to a senior epidemiologist at the Centre for Dengue Research recently. She cautioned not to read too much into one year’s data. Often a bad year is followed by a year when the number of reported cases falls. This year (2016) so far there have been just over 9700 cases reported a little less than last year but.. in Colombo the numbers are 300 higher than 2015, and locally the authorities warn of a new epidemic, so maybe the disease is fighting back. It seems we will need to wait to see how 2016 pans out before we can start thinking about any real progress in the fight to contain dengue.

See also the latest article.. Dengue Count; Sri Lanka

In the meantime check out Newsfirst : http://newsfirst.lk/english/2016/01/dengue-outbreak-in-colombo-health-ministry-warns-public/125976

 

Sri Lanka Tourism: Paradise Lost?

Tourism hot spot? Maybe not

A quick search though google shows up that, right now Sri Lanka was not in the hottest destinations lists anywhere for 2014. Yet wasn’t Sri Lanka the big new thing a few years ago? So what has happened and should the Sri Lankan tourist industry be worried?

Facts and Figures

  • Tourist arrivals to Sri Lanka are on the up; more than 1.5 million in 2014 and growth is predicted to continue through the decade.
  • Overall tourism contributes around $800 billion to the economy, or about 9% of GDP.
  • It is reckoned that more than 700,000 jobs are linked directly or indirectly to the tourist sector.
  • The majority of visits (84%) are leisure based; only 16%  of tourism is business tourism
  •  India supplies the largest number of tourists at 134,000 in 2014 (January to July)
  • about 25% of tourists are come from Western Europe, North America and Australasia
  • Tourists from Eastern Europe and China for the fastest growing group of tourists

Rethink Due?

Speaking at a tourism conference in Singapore David Keen CEO of “QUO” a marketing organisation embedded in the global tourism industry said:

“Sri Lanka tourism should completely rethink its tourism branding strategy to leverage its culture, in order to entice the new age traveller who seeks uniqueness in diversity,” 

Now, leaving aside the marketing speak  he has a point. (see Daily Mirror June 2nd: http://www.dailymirror.lk) His argument, is that Sri Lanka may well be going down the wrong path in terms of its overall tourism strategy.

Paradise lost?

The previous regime took the view that:

“It is important that the country moves away from the low cost tourism and focuses on high end tourism. A product that is appealing to the high spenders”

But has it done that? What that seems to have led to in reality however, is the growth of mass tourism aimed at the younger age group; mainly Europeans, which to my eyes doesn’t look dissimilar to any where else in the world. Already, arguably Hikkaduwa and Unawatuna have become seaside resorts not too dissimilar to Spain or Majorca, as the photo above shows:

and now Mirissa is following the same path

At the same time there have been hotel developments on the East Coast for example at Pasikuda, along the South Coast isolated beach resorts like Ranna 212 and now major developments planned for Kalpitiya around Dutch Bay see http://www.sltda.lk/kalpitiya; all of which cater for a limited section of the tourist market and one which is highly volatile.

Reading down the list of proposals for this latter development makes for depressing reading; it is a full works version of everything that is probably unsustainable in the longer run: high end hotels, golf course, water park, high speed boat safaris, theme parks etc. True it will make money for the property developers and in the short run for the major hotel chains who will build there but at what cost to the environment and local communities in the longer term?

You may want to have a look at the report from NAFSO http://www.nafso-online.org/2011/03/tourism-project-in-kalpitiya-islands.html

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credit; Sri Lankan Tourist Development Board

Mass Tourism Cycle

History shows that mass tourism has a limited shelf life in any one location. The Butler diagram is found in most text books and still applies today, and will I suspect apply to Sri Lanka if the strategy remains to focus on seaside / hotel tourism for the masses. What has happened all around the Mediterranean and in parts of South East Asia will happen in parts of Sri Lanka

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The Butler Model

Mass tourism based on the 2 week stay by the sea in an hotel expands to begin with but as the numbers increase the environment becomes increasingly damaged, the beaches fill up, become increasingly noisy and polluted, more and more hotels are built and the location loses its attraction.

For those who know Sri Lanka well,  just try to remember what Unawatuna used to look like and look at it now..a noisy crowded mess; and this used to be one of the world’s top ten beaches.

And now Mirissa which was arguably more idyllic than Unawatuna has seen a rapid growth in hotels, guest houses and beachfront cafes; I counted close to 20 on a recent visit.

The beach area shows the same congestion as Unawatuna

IMG_0710

author’s photograph

The Mass Tourist

In the early days places like Unawatuna and Mirissa were largely unknown to all but a few pioneers.

  1. These pioneers had very little impact and simply used the existing facilities.Their impact overall was quite low you suspect; these visitors were educated, culturally quite aware; yes they came for the sea and the beach but to hang out, snorkel, surf; that kind of thing
  2. As the word spread improvers arrived; independent travellers. They brought with them spending power and a demand for improved facilities.. hot water showers, better food, and service, a/c in the rooms and eventually the capability of booking online. Savvy guest house owners put web sites together and got themselves on the net; this was probably the state of play around 2006/7 although the 2004 tsunami had slowed things down on the coast. However, the island was getting a place on the tourist map.These visitors were also interested in the culture of the country. They would have visited the hill country the cultural triangle (ancient archaeological sites in the centre of the country).
  3. Recently the mass tourists have arrived; they only seem to be after sun, sea, sand and booze.Their demands are few their collective spending power, however, is large. But, that is all they bring. They seem to have no real interest in moving outside of their immediate environs. The local economy away from the beach gets very little of their custom. The characteristics of this group on observation seem to be:
  • predominantly 20-35 age group
  • mainly “western/european + some chinese
  • limited ambitions re travel and exploration
  • stay on or close to the beach most of the time; sunbathe swim and sleep
  • select their tours (if they take them) from beachfront
  • very little interaction with locals except to haggle over prices in shops
  • culturally unaware; some might say illiterate
  • inappropriate (possibly) dress; especially females; thongs, topless sunbathing;

So what you have is invasion and succession at work. As the improvers arrive the pioneers move off to find somewhere unspoiled. As the mass tourists arrive so the improvers are put off. In Spain the resorts slid down market in time and my concern is that the same will happen here.

The tourists aren’t the whole problem, but mass tourism is. Tourists come because they have been sold a vision of idyllic tropical beaches. What they get is a little different. What they do perhaps unknowingly is they impose their culture and their demands on the tourist destination and the industry feeds those demands in order to maximise short term profit.

Increasingly driven by the entrance of package tour companies the numbers will grow and with it the global spread of western night club culture. Already Unawatuna and Mirissa have a major night time noise problem from the beach bars pumping out maximum decibel dance music, a problem that no-one seems to be able to control. The high numbers mean that the bars and cafes can’t keep up; service is slow and poor; and in Mirissa there have been reports of friction between local people and tourists including harassment of women.

So what happens is that this kind of mass tourism destroys the very thing that the tourists come to enjoy. Sri Lanka becomes a land like every other; David Lee was right on that score.

When that happens, eventually tourist numbers start to decline; The tourists come once but don’t return because the vision they were sold doesn’t exist. They simply look for somewhere else to go. The tourism industry willingly obliges and the cycle starts all over again in a new location. You are left with half empty hotels, underused infrastructure and people out of a job.

And where is Sri Lanka right now? it is arguably somewhere around stage 3/4 on the Butler model

It isn’t just that this type of tourism is doomed to be unsustainable. This kind of tourism imposes its values and behaviour on the host community, and it exploits the host economy. You can bet that a large percentage of the investment in hotels will be made by foreign companies. Most of the profit will leak out of the Sri Lankan economy, many of the top jobs in these hotels will not be filled by local people, they will get the menial lowly paid jobs instead. There is no guarantee that food will be sourced locally either.

Alternative strategies

Where David Keen has it right is in suggesting that Sri Lanka should be looking at promoting an alternative strategy for tourism; an alternative experience. He argues for a strategy which promotes the people and culture of Sri Lanka rather than the climate and the beaches. ( which they can find anywhere in South and South East Asia).

He also suggests that Sri Lanka should recognise a new type of traveller; he calls them the “new age” travellers and that future strategies should be developed to attract this emerging group.

Now I am not sure what he means by “new age” but what I understand that to be is a tourist that doesn’t buy a package tour , is not especially interested in staying in an over the odds expensive hotel, who plans the holiday themselves and wants to experience the country and its culture, not hide out in some artificial enclave.

Not one type of tourist but many

Investing in tourism is like investing on the stock market in a way. Most wise investors spread risk by having a broad portfolio of stocks and shares rather than being dependant upon one thing. The same could be said of Sri Lanka’s tourist potential.

So far as Sri Lanka is concerned, there isn’t one type of tourist but many; sport (cricket), outdoor activities (rafting, hiking, surfing), wildlife, birds, culture, health (ayurvedic resorts for example) sea fishing, hiking, educational, business and conferences; and yes the traditional sunseekers.

So there should be a range of strategies aimed at encouraging as diverse a client base as possible. In that way you spread the risk.

Sri Lanka is an incredibly beautiful and diverse country and Sri Lankan people are wonderful hosts. The country has a rich history and cultural heritage, an amazing variety of wildlife, and great food. Above all it can offer a wide range of experiences and it is this diversity which should be promoted.

Around one in four tourists comes from Western Europe the USA and Australasia. They include a sizeable number of what David Keen terms the “new age travellers”, the people who are looking for this diversity of experience. These are the people Sri Lanka could be targeting. They are probably the future of tourism in the country.

However, cutting back on mass tourism comes at a short term cost. During the current phase of development there is a lot of money to be made by those in a position to exploit a tourism boom at all levels from the property developer to the guy who owns a beach shack. They want to make as much money as they can while they can. Cutting back on mass tourism and promoting a wider range of experience will not go down well with them.

So a choice is going to have to be made; short term loss for long term gain or the other way around?

There is nothing wrong with retaining some of the traditional tourist trade. Long term, however,  the country needs to move away from its reliance on mass tourism, because, like it or not, the boom will be short lived. More support and promotion could be given to guest houses as an alternative to the impersonal nature of the larger hotels. Smaller travel and tour companies like the Ecoteam for example or Little Adventures should be encouraged to develop.

More also needs to be done to safeguard the environment and place more controls on the kind of development that has ruined Unawatuna and will ruin Mirissa, so that people will still want to visit Sri Lanka 20 years from now.

This is perhaps where the government and the private sector could work together to promote a different view of tourism and to offer a more diverse range of experience.

In its 2010 strategy document the Sri Lanka Tourist Development Board included the following:

“Tourism products will be diversified with special emphasis on eco-tourism. Adventure tours (safaris, jungle tours, mountain trekking) will be provided…tapping the tourism potential of the natural topography and the ecological values of the country. Community based tourism and tourist villages are also to be promoted to increase value change in tourism based activities linking with rural economy, harvesting seasons, wild life, farming practices, art, culture and religions.”

How much of any of this has happened so far?