Understanding Provincial-Level Climate Vulnerabilities in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is vulnerable to the short- and long-term impacts of climate change that affect the country’s food systems, economy, and human lives and wellbeing. While climate change impacts are felt across many sectors, the agriculture and water sectors in particular are severely affected due to its high level of dependency on climate variables, especially the rainfall and temperature. Therefore, agricultural activities in each province in the country face a unique set of challenges based on characteristics of its agro ecological zones.

SLYCAN Trust continues to organize discussions and workshops at the local and national level in Sri Lanka to facilitate knowledge-sharing and capacity-building on climate change, vulnerabilities, risk management, resilience, Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA) and sustainable livelihoods, With the support of key experts, SLYCAN Trust recently concluded a successful series of tri-lingual capacity-building sessions on understanding climate vulnerabilities and risks on the provincial level. The workshop series brought together stakeholders from all nine provinces of Sri Lanka in three groups:



To share the learning and knowledge received during these sessions, we have compiled comprehensive video presentations delivered by our senior technical expert Dr. Ranjith Punyawardena, Chairman of the National Steering Committee on Climate Change Adaptation, Ministry of Environment and one of the country’s leading experts on climate risk, adaptation and agriculture.


1. Western Province


The Western Province is Sri Lanka’s most populous province and divided into three administrative districts: Colombo, Gampaha, and Kalutara. All three districts receive rains in the first inter-monsoon, southeast monsoon, and second inter-monsoon season, causing flood threats (both riverine and flash floods) in low-lying areas.


Colombo District consists of four agro-ecological regions where drought is not considered a common problem, but excessive rainfall and floods pose various threats to agricultural activities in Colombo District. The rains are often experienced untimely, especially during usual dry months (February to mid-March), affecting flowering in tree fruit crops such as rambutan, mangosteen and avocado grown in these areas.


Gampaha District comprises five agro-ecological regions belonging to the Intermediate and Wet zone that are characterised by flat terrain known for its fruit crop production. Intense rains in certain months of the year, especially in April during the first inter-monsoon and from May to mid-July during South West Monsoon, have adverse impacts on the fruit yield and may block drainage or result in flash floods. This affects paddy cultivations in the flood plains of meandering rivers in the province.


Kalutara District consists of five agro-ecological regions and is often affected by heavy rainfall. Low-lying areas in Kalutara are also affected by floods from overflowing of the Kalu Ganga, especially during South West Monsoon season and when the Bay of Bengal becomes vibrant due to formation of “Weather Systems” (usually from October to early January).


2. North-Western Province


Sri Lanka’s North-Western Province is separated into two administrative districts, Kurunegala and Puttalam.


Kurunegala District consists of nine agro-ecological regions belonging to the Dry and Intermediate zone as well as a negligible portion of the Wet zone. Drought is a common feature, especially in the northern parts of Kurunegala, affecting rainfed coconut cultivation which is predominant in the area. Rainfed agriculture in this area also includes paddy cultivation which is severely affected by drought and weakened rainfall. In terms of floods, either side of Ma Oya is considered as flood prone areas of the district.


Puttalam District with its six agro-ecological regions is highly vulnerable to climate change impacts. This district is not only affected by incidents of drought but also by increased salinity levels, especially due to capillary rise of salt rich groundwater caused by high atmospheric temperatures. High salinity levels affect paddy cultivation as well as condiments, mango, and cashew crops cultivated in these areas.


3. Southern Province


The Southern Province is Sri Lanka’s third most populous province and divided into three administrative districts: Matara, Galle and Hambantota.

Matara District consists of eight agro-ecological regions of which five come under Wet zones where tea cultivation is common. Certain areas in this district are also known for their coconut cultivation as well as cinnamon and palm oil crops. The major climate vulnerability experienced in most parts is heavy rainfall which causes landslides and floods. However, Intermediate zones close to Hambantota are affected by droughts with adverse impacts on paddy and coconut cultivation.

Galle District, which comes entirely under the Wet zone, is divided into three agro-ecological zones. Based on physical features, these regions are divided under the Western lowlands, the Southern Coastal belt and the highlands in the interior or North-East parts of the district. The regions receive high rainfall during the south west monsoon and are therefore prone to floods and storms. The district also faces threats from sea level rise which could inundate a considerable portion of the land area in the coastal belt. 



Hambantota District comprises five agro-ecological regions which are characterised by shallow soil with very high rainfall anomalies. Being the driest region of the country (DL5 agro-ecological region), drought is a common feature even during the Maha season in most parts of the district due to erratic rainfall.


Recording of Session 1: Western, North-Western, and Southern Province


In summary, the major climate threat experienced in most parts of the Western Province of Sri Lanka is excessive rainfall during south west monsoon season and stormy season of the year, leading to frequent flooding incidents. While drought is not an issue in the Western Province, many regions in the North-Western and Southern Provinces except Galle District are faced with challenges related to the lack of rainfall and drought which can severely affect both annual and perennial crop cultivation. The coastal regions in the Southern Province also face the threat of sea level rise which could inundate a significant area of land in the coastal belt.


Please find the complete recording below:


4. Central Province


Sri Lanka’s second largest province is the Central Province in the highland interior of the island. It consists of three administrative districts: Kandy, Matale and Nuwara Eliya. 


Kandy District has a diverse environment with seventeen agro-ecological regions belonging to all three major climatic zones - namely, Wet and Intermediate zones, and comparatively a small portion of Dry zone, with a significant land area of sloped terrain. Due to these characteristics, soil erosion is accelerated during heavy rains that prevail in most seasons, adversely affecting animal feed, vegetable cultivation, perennial crop cultivation like tea and Kandyan Home Gardens, an ancient and sustainable agroforestry system in the country. In the Intermediate zone in the Kandy District, rainfed cultivation is limited to the Maha season, which is now being affected by increasing incidents of drought. This is also feared to exacerbate the existing human-elephant conflict.


Matale District consists of nine agro-ecological regions belonging to the Wet, Intermediate, and Dry zones with extensive agricultural areas of paddy and other field crops. While many cultivation areas are rainfed, there is also irrigated cultivation in this district. Since drought is considered an issue in the Dry and Intermediate zones, it is difficult to maintain cultivation without a supplementary system, although certain Dry zone areas have higher climate resilience due to the diversion of the Mahaweli river for irrigated agriculture. However, without rains and the Mahaweli system in its full capacity, agricultural activities in these areas are suspended. 


Nuwara Eliya District consists of 15 agro-ecological regions belonging to the Wet and Intermediate zones. The western slopes of the central highland are in the Wet zone while the eastern part belongs to the Intermediate zone. Climatologically, the district’s western side is known for successful tea plantations and exotic vegetable cultivation with a wetter climate than the eastern side which is limited to vegetable cultivation, including potato cultivation in Welimada area. Heavy rains accelerate soil erosion in this district due to steep sloping without much attention on soil conservation measures. Heavy   rains also result in post-harvest losses in both areas - while also causing fungal and bacterial crop diseases, leading to heavy application of fungicides that affects crop yield, quality and environment. 


5. Uva Province


Uva Province is divided into two administrative districts: Badulla and Monaragala.


Badulla District is an agricultural district known for tea and various other vegetable cultivations and consists of 15 agro-ecological regions. Agro-ecological areas in the upper region are dominated by tea plantations and vegetable cultivation while those in the lower region focus more on paddy cultivation. Incidents of droughts are becoming more frequent and severe in most parts of Badulla District, threatening the agricultural cycle.  


Monaragala District is Sri Lanka’s second largest district and divided into ten agro-ecological regions. Except for the northern part, Monaragala District is located below 150 m altitude in lowlands or hills where there is little rainfall from the northeast monsoon. Cultivation in Monaragala District is supported by five rivers and a few irrigation tanks. Many areas are drought-prone during the dry season, and water shortage is evident in most parts with frequent drought induced human-animal conflicts.



6. Sabaragamuwa Province


The Sabaragamuwa Province comprises two administrative districts: Ratnapura and Kegalle.


Ratnapura District, consisting of 13 agro-ecological regions across all three climatic zones, experiences significant rainfall year-round, except in the areas located in Dry and Intermediate zones with a high level of precipitation in the driest months. Cultivation in these regions dominates tea, rubber, rice and fruits. While drought is not an issue for cultivation in wetter part, the district is increasingly experiencing extreme and erratic rainfalls, resulting in many flood and drought prone areas.


Kegalle District, which lies between the central highlands and western southern plains, is separated into seven agro-ecological regions. The district is dominated by rubber cultivation and also known for its cultivation of export agricultural crops such as coffee, cocoa, pepper, clove, and nutmeg. All agro-ecological areas experience significant rainfall throughout the year. The dry season is very short and does not affect the cultivation cycle in these areas. However, extreme and erratic rainfall patterns disturb harvesting activities like rubber tapping.



Recording of Session 2: Central, Uva, and Sabaragamuwa Province


In summary, Sabaragamuwa Province relies more on rainfed cultivation of perennial plantation crops while some parts of the Central Province and most parts of Uva Province utilize irrigation canals. Incidents of erratic and extreme rainfall pose challenges to the agricultural cycle in most parts of the Central and Sabaragamuwa Provinces, whereas many parts of Uva Province experience incidents of more frequent and intense drought.


Please find the complete recording here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WpA0m1twKPc


7. Northern Province


Sri Lanka’s Northern Province is separated into five administrative districts: Jaffna, Vavuniya, Kilinochchi, Mannar, and Mullaitivu, altogether known as “Vanni”. 


Jaffna District consists of two agro-ecological regions characterised by deep soils and a low amount of rainfall. These areas receive rain only for three months of the year from October to December. However, the lift irrigation system is used in these areas by extracting groundwater in limestone aquifers. Intensive cultivation of condiments and tobacco is carried out throughout the year in these areas. Apart from the lack of rains, this region also experiences adverse impacts of sea water intrusion in coastal regions which affects both agriculture and drinking water supply. Cool nighttime temperatures in Jaffna are known as favourable for a sizeable extent of potato cultivation. However, nighttime temperature rise is affecting such cultivations and it is likely to aggravate in the future.


Vavuniya District consists of three agro-ecological regions, two of which are affected by low rainfall and drought conditions. The third region has built some resilience due to irrigated agriculture supported by its minor and major tanks, even though they are, at present, not fed by the Mahaweli system.


Kilinochchi District spans two agro-ecological regions where intensive agriculture is carried out throughout the year, extracting a high rate of groundwater. The majority of paddy lands in Kilinochchi are under the Iranamadu tank, a major irrigation system which is not fed by any rivers, but only through the runoff from its own catchment. If the Maha season rains come on time, Iranamadu tank has the capacity to irrigate its entire command area and store water for the next minor Yala season.


Mannar District comprises three agro-ecological regions with fertile soil (Grumusol soils) rich in montmorillonite clay minerals. This district was once called “the granary of country” with an average yield of ten tons of paddy per hectare grown in Grumusol soils. Drought has now become very common and rising day- and nighttime temperatures are affecting agricultural yields. Even during heavy rains, the region is not considered flood-prone due to its terrain and its proximity to the river mouth.



Mullaitivu District has four agro-ecological regions which are often subject to floods, droughts, and seawater intrusion. Seawater intrusion increases salinity levels in surface, ground, and soil. The rise in salinity levels in lagoons affects marine fish breeding grounds and habitats, resulting in reduced quantity and quality of catch and adverse impacts on fisheries livelihoods.


8. Eastern Province


The Eastern Province of Sri Lanka consists of three administrative districts that stretch along most of the country’s eastern seaboard: Trincomalee, Batticaloa, and Ampara.


Trincomalee District has four agro-ecological regions that experience drought conditions in most parts of the year. The area also suffers from the adverse impacts of temperature rise and occasional floods. Even though there is no evidence of seawater intrusion, temperature rise is expected to result in salinity development in lowland soils.


Batticaloa District comprises two agro-ecological regions where agriculture depends solely on the Maha season. Due to the lack of rains, the area depends on irrigated agriculture mostly for condiments, where lift irrigation is a common practice on sandy regosol soils in the coastal belt. The area is characterised by light textured soil (Non-Calcic Brown soils) and sand dunes along the coastal belt. Climate variables and anthropogenic activities have put severe stress on groundwater where groundwater depletion is evident. The area also experiences frequent floods during October to January.



Ampara District has six agro-ecological regions with most agricultural lands being irrigated during both Yala and Maha seasons through Senanayaka Samudra, the largest reservoir in the country. However, in recent times, cultivation during the Yala season is sometimes not practical due to the lack of rains in catchment areas of this major reservoir. The impacts of climate change are significantly felt in Ampara even under irrigation due to the lack of rains in catchment areas of feeding rivers, especially Gal Oya. Apart from the above-mentioned major reservoir, there are also several medium tanks to absorb water in the event of excessive rains without causing floods.


9. North-Central Province


The North-Central Province of Sri Lanka hosts some of the major agricultural regions in the country that date over 2,000 years. The province is divided into two administrative districts: Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa which were known as Rajarata and Thamankaduwa respectively, in ancient times.


Anuradhapura District consists of six agro-ecological regions where climate change is strongly felt through rainfall variations. The district is known for its tank-based irrigated agriculture systems, especially with minor rainfed tanks at village levels that render agriculture heavily dependent on seasonal rainfall. Since April is the only rainy month in the Yala season, rainfed cultivation is not possible during Yala season. However, as the capacity of some of the major tanks in these areas is augmented with the diversion of the Mahaweli river, irrigated agriculture under major tanks has built resilience to climate change. During the mid-May, due to pre-monsoon disturbances in the Bay of Bengal, either side of the major rivers can be subjected to flooding, which has become more intense and frequent due to climate change in recent times. Farmers in these areas also continue unique traditional land sharing practices known as “Bethma” during droughts to make maximum use of available water. 



Polonnaruwa District has six agro-ecological regions where rainfed agriculture is not a common practice due to the absence of rains in the Yala season. Many areas receive rains only during the Maha season and therefore often limit cultivation to one season. However, there are areas with major tanks like Minneriya, Giritale, Kaudulla and Parakrama Samudraya, and some medium tanks which are fed by the Mahaweli system, enhancing the resilience of paddy cultivation to climate variations. Unlike Anuradhapura, there are no minor tanks in Polonnaruwa district. Dairy cows are concentrated in the floodplains of the Mahaweli river where livestock is affected by the lack of rainfall.


Recording of Session 3: Northern, Eastern, and North-Central Province


In summary, most regions in the Northern, Eastern, and North-Central Provinces rely on irrigated agriculture due to the lack of annual rainfall, except in certain parts of the North-Central Province where rainfed agriculture is still a possibility. In the Northern Province and certain regions in the Eastern Province, lift irrigation is considered a common practice whereas the North-Central Province and some parts of the Eastern Province heavily depend on irrigation tanks for agriculture. Coastal regions in the Northern and Eastern Provinces also face a set of challenges triggered by seawater intrusion and temperature rise.


Please find the complete recording here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sxRFpkYkodc 


Way Forward


By compiling a summary of knowledge shared by our experts, SLYCAN Trust aims to highlight climate vulnerabilities experienced across all nine provinces of Sri Lanka and build capacities on climate risk, risk management, adaptation, and livelihood resilience.


SLYCAN Trust also conducts research to understand existing climate and disaster risks that affect numerous sectors in the country. Based on our research findings, we compile recommendations with the support of our experts and carry out various interventions to scale up climate action. The key focus is given to agriculture, forestry and biodiversity that are very much interlinked with climate change. Positive interventions to ensure sustainable practices in these sectors help align with the targets set by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and various other international and national processes. It is therefore necessary to create awareness and direct policy interventions and action towards building resilience of those sectors to climate change impacts, especially in the COVID-19 recovery process to ensure a just and fair transition to more greener and sustainable systems.  


With that in mind, at SLYCAN Trust, we wish to organize further consultations and workshops on these topics in the future through inclusive and participatory approaches to ensure that no one is left behind in the work we do. 


To learn more on this topic, please access the YouTube links given below. 


Workshop on Integrating Climate-related Policies, Plans and Processes - WP, SP, NWP


Workshop on Integrating Climate-related Policies, Plans and Processes - CP, UP, SG


Workshop on Integrating Climate-related Policies, Plans and Processes - NP, EP, NCP

 


Author

SLYCAN Trust

SLYCAN Trust is a non-profit think tank. It has been a registered legal entity in the form of a trust since 2016, and a guarantee limited company since 2019. The entities focus on the thematic areas of climate change, adaptation and resilience, sustainable development, environmental conservation and restoration, social justice, and animal welfare. SLYCAN Trust’s activities include legal and policy research, education and awareness creation, capacity building and training, and implementation of ground level action. SLYCAN Trust aims to facilitate and contribute to multi-stakeholder driven, inclusive and participatory actions for a sustainable and resilient future for all.

SLYCAN Trust

SLYCAN Trust is a non-profit think tank. It has been a registered legal entity in the form of a trust since 2016, and a guarantee limited company since 2019. The entities focus on the thematic areas of climate change, adaptation and resilience, sustainable development, environmental conservation and restoration, social justice, and animal welfare. SLYCAN Trust’s activities include legal and policy research, education and awareness creation, capacity building and training, and implementation of ground level action. SLYCAN Trust aims to facilitate and contribute to multi-stakeholder driven, inclusive and participatory actions for a sustainable and resilient future for all.

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