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Worst harvest in 40 years as drought affects 1.2 million, Sri Lanka


Sri Lanka is enduring its worst drought in decades and worst harvest in 40 years, affecting more than 1.2 million people. Of them, over 600 000 are children.

Sri Lanka's government said over 1.2 million people have been affected by drought which began last November and continues despite some occasional rainfall. 

Drought conditions now exist in all but two of the country’s 25 provinces. Rice paddy cultivation from the harvest just ended was down 63% compared to the average, making it the worst major harvest in over 40 years, Save the Children charity reports. 

"The biggest harvest of the year has just finished and it’s been a massive failure for most farmers living in areas crippled by the drought," said Chris McIvor, Save the Children Country Director in Sri Lanka. "Widespread food and water shortages across the country have been visible, and it could get worse if the next harvest in Yala season due in August is also below the norm. Thousands of water tanks are running low or drying out with some water stores becoming contaminated because they’ve been stagnant for too long."

The drought is also compounding Sri Lanka’s long struggle with malnutrition, which affects nearly a third of children and a quarter of women, McIvor warned. "The nation’s food supply has taken a huge hit, which in turn has caused prices to rise. As a result, many of the poorest families are struggling to feed their children, often choosing to eat fewer and smaller meals, and cut down on nutritious foods like meat and vegetables," he said.

The drought is also hampering Sri Lanka’s electricity generation, which is largely provided through hydropower. The government recently said that the country’s current hydropower production stands at just a third of what is required.

An unpublished survey conducted by government agencies and relief organizations in February 2017 found that over one-third of the drought-affected households had seen their income drop by half since September and 60% of the households surveyed were in debt, the WFP office in Sri Lanka confirmed to the Thomson Reuters Foundation. The survey findings are expected to be formally released later this month.

The Western and Northern Provinces have been worst hit, with over 400 000 people struggling with drought in each province.

According to WFP assessments, the island needs 2.3 million metric tons of rice for annual consumption but the overall 2017 rice harvest is projected to yield just 1.44 million metric tons.

The government has already taken steps to increase rice imports to stave off shortages, Disaster Management Minister Anura Priyadarshana Yapa said. "We have a shortfall in the rice harvest. We have been taking action to prevent any shortfalls and will allow for tax-free rice imports until the harvest recovers," he said.

Featured image: Colombo, Sri Lanka. Credit: Dronepic (CC/Flickr)



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