Floods in the past two months following a long drought have left Sri Lanka’s Northern and Eastern provinces reeling, with tens of thousands of people displaced, thousands of houses damaged or destroyed, and stretches of agricultural land devastated.
Rain beginning on 16 December has affected at least 350,000 people, displaced 31,000, killed 39 and left seven missing, according to the nation’s Disaster Management Centre (DMC). Storms have thus far damaged 12,000 houses and destroyed another 4,100 in the country’s North Western, Northern, Eastern and Uva (in the southeast) provinces.
“The worst-hit are Batticaloa [Eastern Province] and Puttalam districts [North Western Province]. The rains are still prevalent and we might see the damage rising,” DMC assistant director Lal Kumara told IRIN on 28 December.
The same regions were hit by Cyclone Nisha in early November, which affected around 200,000 people and displaced close to 20,000, who have since returned home. Kumara said in Nisha’s aftermath, nine people were reported killed, over 300 houses destroyed and another 4,700 damaged.
Officials say the two storms may have had a sizable impact on the country’s agriculture.
In North Eastern’s Polonnaruwa District, which accounts for up to 20 percent of the country’s annual paddy rice output, officials with the regional office of the Department of Agriculture said some 10 percent of the district’s 34,000 hectares of cultivated paddy land are flooded.
“It is very difficult to predict the losses right now. The waters have not receded and there is still more rain predicted,” I.W.A. Ibullgodda, the office’s assistant director, told IRIN on 28 December.
The rains come on top of a 10-month drought starting in February that hit Northern, North Central and Eastern provinces the hardest, according to preliminary government assessments.
A mid-year crop forecast by the Socioeconomic and Planning Centre of the Department of Agriculture released in August anticipated an agriculture losses of some 23 percent (1.5 million tons) of the country’s rice crop.
Dry weather had shrunk cultivated paddy land by 20 percent by August compared to the same period in 2011.
In some districts where the drought was most severe (Polonnaruwa and Mannar), officials forecast even higher paddy losses. Ibullgodda told IRIN that even before the two recent floods, officials forecast up to 40 percent of paddy losses in Polonnaruwa District, based on surveys with farmers. A final assessment is expected by March 2013.
Crop insurance scheme
The longer-than-average drought led the government to set up the first national crop insurance scheme worth one million US dollars through the 2013 budget presented on 8 November. The scheme plans to assist at least 100,000 farmers in the event of another devastating drought. The dry season typically lasts from mid-December to mid-April (between the country’s two monsoons).
“In the last few seasons we have seen how important it is now to plan crop cycles according to rains or drought. We are seeing evidence that suggests the traditional crop cycles that depend on the two monsoons may have to be changed,” said L. Rupasena, an additional director of the governmental Hector Kobbekaduwa Agrarian Research Institute, pointing to the need for improved weather forecasting.
The region’s bouts of volatile weather have thrown into question the country’s two annual planting cycles from September-March, beginning with the northeast monsoon, and again from May-August.
The International Federation of Red Cross Societies (IFRC) launched an appeal in early November to assist those affected by drought.
For flood relief, the government has set aside grants of some US$730 per house destroyed and $385 per damaged house.