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Cablegate: Sri Lanka Drought Disaster Declaration

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 04 COLOMBO 001438

SIPDIS

AIDAC

FOR AID/DCHA/OFDA MICHAEL MARX AND ROB THAYER,
AID/DCHA/FFP, ANE/SA AND STATE/SA
BRUSSELS FOR USEC
ROME PLEASE PASS FODAG
KATHMANDU FOR OFDA WILLIAM BERGER
BANGKOK FOR OFDA TOM DOLAN
GENEVA FOR UNOCHA AND IFRC NANCE KYLOH

E.O.12958: N/A
TAGS: ECONOMICS
SUBJECT: SRI LANKA DROUGHT DISASTER DECLARATION

SUMMARY:

1. AS A RESULT OF PROLONGED DROUGHT CONDITIONS IN SRI
LANKA, THE U.S.CHARG?D'AFFAIRS DECLARES THAT A DISASTER
DOES EXIST AND IS BEYOND THE CAPACITY OF THE HOST
GOVERNMENT TO RESPOND, THAT THE GOVERNMENT OF SRI LANKA
WILL ACCEPT USG ASSISTANCE AND THAT IT IS IN THE INTEREST
OF THE USG TO PROVIDE SUCH ASSISTANCE. AT THE REQUEST OF
THE EMBASSY AND USAID MISSION, THE USAID/OFDA REGIONAL
ADVISOR FOR SOUTH ASIA, WILLIAM BERGER, JOINED
USAID/COLOMBO STAFF FOR A THREE-DAY ASSESSMENT TRIP TO THE
MOST AFFECTED DISTRICTS OF ANURADHAPURA, PUTTALAM, AND
KURUNEGALA. THE FOOD SITUATION IS CURRENTLY MANAGEABLE,
BUT BEARS WATCHING. THERE WILL BE A NEED TO REASSESS THE
SITUATION PERIODICALLY, AS DONOR APPEALS MAY NOT BE MET,
STRAINING GOVERNMENT OF SRI LANKA (GSL) RELIEF RESOURCES.
THE DROUGHT HAS BEEN SAID TO BE LESS THAN A FULL-SCALE
DISASTER, BUT THERE ARE POCKETS OF EXTREME VULNERABILITY
THAT ARE SOMETIMES HIDDEN AND REQUIRE CAREFUL TARGETING.
THE OFDA REGIONAL ADVISOR RECOMMENDS USE OF INITIAL
DISASTER-DECLARATION AUTHORITY RESOURCES AND AN ADDITIONAL
AMOUNT OF 50 THOUSAND DOLLARS FROM OFDA TO SUPPORT
EMERGENCY DRINKING WATER SUPPLY EFFORTS. ADDITIONAL
RESOURCES FOR PURCHASE OF SEEDS MAY BE REQUESTED UPON
FURTHER MISSION ASSESSMENT AND DISCUSSION WITH OFDA
REPRESENTATIVES. NOTE: THIS DROUGHT HIGHLIGHTS THE
GROWING SCARCITY OF WATER AND THE NEED FOR IMPROVED
PLANNING AND MANAGEMENT OF SURFACE AND GROUND WATER
RESOURCES, DROUGHT PREPAREDNESS AND DISASTER MANAGEMENT IN
SOUTH ASIA. END SUMMARY.

GENERAL SITUATION:

2. A SIGNIFICANT REDUCTION IN PRECIPITATION IN SRI LANKA
OVER THE PAST FEW YEARS HAS RESULTED IN DROUGHT CONDITIONS
OVER MUCH OF THE COUNTRY. IN SEVERAL DISTRICTS'
RESERVOIRS, THE MAJOR SOURCE OF SURFACE WATER, ARE ALL BUT
DRIED UP. FALLING WATER TABLES HAVE MADE TUBE WELLS
INOPERABLE AND LEFT THE RURAL POPULATION DEPENDANT ON THE
GOVERNMENT TANKER DISTRIBUTION SYSTEM FOR DRINKING WATER.
SUSTAINED RAINFALL OVER THE COMING MONTHS WILL BE
NECESSARY TO RESTORE HYDROELECTRIC AND IRRIGATION
RESERVOIRS TO NORMAL CONDITIONS.

3. FOR A SMALL COUNTRY, SRI LANKA HAS CONSIDERABLE
VARIABILITY IN RAINFALL, BOTH TEMPORALLY AND SPATIALLY.
THE DROUGHT IMPACTS ARE UNEVEN AS WELL, WITH THE MOST
SEVERE IMPACTS FELT BY FARMERS RELYING ON RAIN-FED
AGRICULTURE IN THE DRY REGIONS OF THE COUNTRY.

4. THE GOVERNMENT OF SRI LANKA'S (GSL) DEPARTMENT OF
SOCIAL SERVICES ESTIMATES THAT OVER 700,000 FAMILIES
COMPRISING 3.5 MILLION PEOPLE IN 16 DISTRICTS HAVE BEEN
AFFECTED BY THE DROUGHT. WHILE KNOWLEDGEABLE INFORMANTS
SAY THESE STATISTICS ARE SOMEWHAT INFLATED, ALL AGREE THAT
A SIGNIFICANT PORTION OF THE RURAL POOR IN THE DRY AREAS
ARE IN NEED OF IMMEDIATE ASSISTANCE. WORLD FOOD PROGRAM
(WFP) REPORTS ANURADHAPURA, PUTTALAM, AND KURUNEGALA TO BE
THE MOST SERIOUSLY AFFECTED DISTRICTS WITH MANY FARMERS
HAVING LOST TWO TO THREE SEASONS OF CROPS.

5. FROM AUGUST 19-25 THE OFDA REGIONAL ADVISOR FOR SOUTH
ASIA, WILLIAM BERGER, TRAVELED TO SRI LANKA TO ASSESS THE
SITUATION AND PROVIDE RECOMMENDATIONS TO OFDA AND THE
COLOMBO MISSION ON POSSIBLE RESPONSES. A TEAM CONSISTING
OF THE REGIONAL ADVISOR; BENJAMIN KAUFFELD, HEALTH AND
HUMANITARIAN ASSISTANCE PROGRAM MANAGER, USAID/SRI LANKA;
AND ANOJA JAYASURIYA, HUMANITARIAN ASSISTANCE PROGRAM
ASSISTANT ALSO OF USAID/SRI LANKA, TRAVELED TO
ANURADHAPURA, PUTTALAM, AND KURUNEGALA DISTRICTS WHERE
THEY INTERVIEWED LOCAL FARMERS IMPACTED BY THE DROUGHT,
GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS, NGOS AND INGO'S WORKING IN THE AREA.
RETURNING TO COLOMBO THE TEAM MET WITH DISASTER RESPONDERS
INCLUDING CARE, SAVE THE CHILDREN, IFRC AND THE SRI LANKA
RED CROSS. THE TEAM ALSO ACCOMPANIED AMERICAN CHARGE D'
AFFAIRS, JAMES ENTWISTLE, TO A DONOR APPEAL MEETING HELD
BY THE MINISTRY OF RELIEF, REHABILITATION AND
RECONCILIATION.

6. THE GENERAL CONSENSUS OF THESE INTERVIEWS AND MEETINGS
WAS THAT DRINKING WATER SUPPLY IS THE KEY IMMEDIATE
CONCERN AND THAT ADDITIONAL WATER BOWSERS (TANKER TRUCKS
AND TRAILERS) AND STATIONARY TANKS WOULD GREATLY
FACILITATE THE DISTRIBUTION OF DRINKING WATER. GIVEN THE
MAGNITUDE OF THE WATER DISTRIBUTION REQUIRED, THE
GOVERNMENT WILL NEED SIGNIFICANT ASSISTANCE FROM THE NGO
COMMUNITY FOR LOGISTICS, DISTRIBUTION AND TARGETING OF THE
MOST VULNERABLE GROUPS.

7. FOOD NEEDS ARE BEING MET AT PRESENT THROUGH A
GOVERNMENT FOOD SCHEME THAT DISTRIBUTES A PACKET OF RICE,
LENTILS, OIL AND SUGAR VALUED AT ABOUT USD 15 PER FAMILY
PER MONTH FOR THE MOST AFFECTED COMMUNITIES. THE SCHEME
WILL OPERATE FOR THREE MONTHS, AT WHICH TIME THE
GOVERNMENT EXPECTS THE LATE MONSOON RAINS. THERE APPEARS,
SO FAR, TO BE NO CONTINGENCY PLANNING ON THE PART OF THE
GOVERNMENT ON HOW THEY WILL RESPOND IF LATE MONSOON RAINS
ARE INADEQUATE OR FAIL COMPLETELY. THERE MAY BE A PROBLEM
WITH SUPPLY OF SEEDS AND FARMERS' ABILITY TO PURCHASE
THEM. COPING MECHANISMS OF SOME FAMILIES HAVE BEEN NEARLY
EXHAUSTED, WHILE OTHERS HAVE ADEQUATE SUPPORT FROM NON-
FARM INCOME, THUS A FOCUS ON TARGETING AID TO THE MOST
VULNERABLE IS REQUIRED. WHILE MOST FARMERS INTERVIEWED
HAVE HAD TO BORROW FROM LOCAL MONEYLENDERS, THEY EXPRESSED
CONFIDENCE THAT IF THE RAINS COME, THEY WILL STILL BE ABLE
TO GET SEEDS ON CREDIT. THIS DEMONSTRATES ONCE AGAIN THAT
WHILE INFORMAL SOURCES OF BORROWING CAN SOMETIMES BE
EXPLOITATIVE, THE SYSTEM STILL REMAINS A CRITICAL COPING
STRATEGY FOR THE RURAL POOR.

8. WHILE THIS ASSESSMENT FOCUSES PRIMARILY ON THE SHORT-
TERM DISASTER SITUATION, IT MUST BE NOTED THAT MANY
ORGANIZATIONS, INCLUDING IFRC, LOCAL GOVERNMENT AND NGOS
REPEATED THAT LONG-TERM SOLUTIONS ARE NEEDED TO ADDRESS
WATER SCARCITY AND FOOD SECURITY ISSUES IN SRI LANKA.

FOOD AND AGRICULTURE:

9. RAIN-FED AGRICULTURAL PRODUCTION HAS BEEN NEARLY
ELIMINATED FOR MORE THAN A YEAR IN SOME AREAS. MOST
TRADITIONAL IRRIGATION RESERVOIRS, KNOWN LOCALLY AS TANKS,
ARE COMPLETELY DRY IN THE THREE MOST AFFECTED DISTRICTS.
LARGER IRRIGATION SCHEMES HAVE BEEN AFFECTED AS WELL WITH
PADDY PRODUCTION. FAO ESTIMATES THAT AGRICULTURAL
PRODUCTION COMPARED TO LAST YEAR IS DOWN BY 77 PERCENT IN
KURUNEGALA, 37 PERCENT IN ANARADHAPURA, AND 63 PERCENT IN
PUTTALAM DISTRICTS. FOOD IS AVAILABLE IN LOCAL MARKETS
WITH MOST SOURCES REPORTING MOSTLY STABLE PRICES WITH SOME
INCREASES IN RURAL AREAS. OVERALL, FOOD PRODUCTION IN THE
COUNTRY APPEARS ADEQUATE TO MEET THE DEMAND.

10. FAMILIES WITH SUFFICIENT OFF-FARM INCOME ARE FOOD
SECURE. SOME FAMILIES RECEIVE REMITTANCES FROM FAMILY
MEMBERS IN THE MILITARY OR WORKING ABROAD. OFFICIAL
FIGURES PUT THE CONTRIBUTION OF OVERSEAS REMITTANCES AT
1.2 BILLION DOLLARS BUT THIS FIGURE COULD BE HIGHER DUE TO
INFORMAL SYSTEMS FOR RECEIVING REMITTANCE MONEY. FOR
SUBSISTENCE FARMERS LACKING REMITTANCES, THE FOOD SECURITY
PROBLEM IS HEIGHTENED BY LOST INCOME OPPORTUNITIES IN THE
AGRICULTURAL SECTOR. RURAL FAMILIES DEPENDANT ON
REMITTANCE INCOME FROM FAMILY MEMBERS INVOLVED IN THE
GARMENT TRADE ARE LIKELY TO LOSE THAT INCOME WITH THE
PHASE-OUT OF THE MULTI-FIBER AGREEMENT.

11. WFP AND FAO HAVE IDENTIFIED THE NEED FOR SEEDS,
SUPPORTING AGRICULTURAL MATERIALS AND INPUTS, AND A
MECHANISM TO ENGAGE FARMERS TO WORK IN THEIR FIELDS
WITHOUT SEEKING OUTSIDE EMPLOYMENT FOR THE NEXT GROWING
SEASON. THERE IS SOME UNCERTAINTY AS TO THE SUPPLY OF
SEEDS WITHIN THE COUNTRY AND EXTERNAL ASSISTANCE FOR SEED
PROVISION MAY BE REQUIRED.

HEALTH:

12. IN GENERAL, THE HEALTH SITUATION APPEARS TO BE UNDER
CONTROL BUT LOW NUTRITION INTAKE AND DECREASING WATER
AVAILABILITY COULD LEAD TO PROBLEMS. LOCAL HEALTH
CAPACITY APPEARS SUFFICIENT TO ADDRESS POSSIBLE DROUGHT-
RELATED DISEASE OUTBREAKS SO LONG AS PROVISION OF CLEAN
DRINKING WATER IS MAINTAINED.

13. THERE WERE NO VISIBLE SIGNS OF DROUGHT-INDUCED
MALNUTRITION, BUT A GENERAL PERCEPTION THAT NUTRITIONAL
INTAKE HAS SUFFERED AMONG THE MOST VULNERABLE. SOME RURAL
FARMERS INTERVIEWED SAID THAT THEIR FAMILIES ARE NOW
EATING ONLY TWO MEALS A DAY.


CAPABILITY AND CAPACITY:

14. SRI LANKA IS NOT PRONE TO DROUGHT OR DISASTERS.
HOWEVER, INCREASED DEFORESTATION AND POPULATION
ENCROACHMENT OVER THE YEARS HAS TENDED TO EXACERBATE THE
CONSEQUENCES OF NATURAL CALAMITIES WHEN THEY DO OCCUR.
HEAVY RAINFALL IN THE SOUTHWESTERN PART OF THE ISLAND
CAUSED LANDSLIDES AND FLOODING THAT DISLOCATED THOUSANDS
LAST YEAR. OVERALL, EDUCATIONAL AND INCOME LEVELS OF THE
POPULATION ARE HIGH RELATIVE TO OTHER COUNTRIES IN THE
REGION BUT ARE CONCENTRATED IN THE MAJOR URBAN AREAS.
THIS INCLUDES CONSIDERABLE EXPERTISE IN AGRICULTURAL
DEVELOPMENT AND WATER MANAGEMENT BUT DOES NOT EXTEND TO
OPERABLE PLANS FOR DISASTER PREPAREDNESS AND MITIGATION
BECAUSE OF THE SHORTAGE OF HUMAN SKILLS AND MATERIAL
RESOURCES AND A HIGHLY CENTRALIZED FORM OF ADMINISTRATION
AND DECISION MAKING. RESPONSES AND LEVELS OF ASSISTANCE
ARE CONSEQUENTLY COMPROMISED AND WHILE SMALL INCIDENCES
MAY SEEM MAGNIFIED OUT OF PROPORTION, LONGER LASTING
MEASURES TO IMPROVED DISASTER MANAGEMENT CAPABILITY ARE
NOT UNDERTAKEN. ADMINISTRATIVE ENTANGLEMENTS ASIDE, SRI
LANKA WOULD BE BETTER POISED TO RESPOND TO THE CURRENT
DISASTER WERE IT NOT FOR THE ECONOMIC BURDEN INCURRED BY
TWENTY YEARS OF CONFLICT. DESPITE THE TENUOUS CEASE FIRE
AGREEMENT SIGNED IN EARLY 2002 AND THE SIGNIFICANT
ADVANCES IN REINVIGORATING THE ECONOMY ACHIEVED BY
PREVIOUS OPEN-MARKET ORIENTED REFORM-MINDED GOVERNMENT,
SRI LANKA'S ECONOMY HAS NOT FULLY RECOVERED GROWING AT
ONLY 5 PERCENT LAST YEAR. THE PROTRACTED PEACE TALKS AND
THE ADDITIONAL EXPENSE REPRESENTED BY THE PRESENT
ADMINISTRATION'S COMMITMENT TO ITS SOCIAL COMPACT WITH THE
ELECTORATE HAS STRETCHED AVAILABLE RESOURCES AND THREATENS
TO PUSH THE GSL FURTHER INTO DEBT.

15. STILL, THE GOVERNMENT IS ABLE TO PROVIDE SOME
ASSISTANCE AND HAS DONE SO, ALTHOUGH IT WELCOMES EXTERNAL
SUPPORT FOR THIS EFFORT. ONE DIFFICULTY THE GOVERNMENT
FACES IS AN INABILITY TO TARGET THE MOST VULNERABLE IN THE
POPULATION, GREATLY INCREASING THE SIZE OF THE REQUIRED
RELIEF EFFORT.

HYDRO-METEOROLOGY

16. THERE SEEMS TO HAVE BEEN AN OVERALL REDUCTION IN
PRECIPITATION OVER MUCH OF THE COUNTRY FOR THE PAST FIVE
YEARS. IT IS UNCERTAIN AS TO WHETHER THIS IS A TEMPORARY
PHENOMENON OR AN INDICATION OF MORE PERMANENT CHANGE.
PRECIPITATION IN SRI LANKA HAS A HIGH SPATIAL AND TEMPORAL
VARIABILITY AND COASTAL GAUGES ARE NOT AN ACCURATE
REPRESENTATION OF RAINFALL IN THE UPPER DRAINAGE BASIN
WHERE MOST DRY-ZONE FARMERS LIVE. PROPER RAINFALL TIMING
IS ESSENTIAL FOR RAIN-FED AGRICULTURE NEEDS AND ANNUAL
RAINFALL IS NOT AN ACCURATE INDICATOR.

17. IN ADDITION TO CHANGES IN PRECIPITATION IN THE DRY
AREAS, POPULATION SHIFTS AND DISPLACEMENT DUE TO THE
CONFLICT HAVE TAKEN PLACE OVER THE PAST TEN YEARS WITH NEW
SETTLERS BROUGHT IN TO FARM IN NEWLY ESTABLISHED
IRRIGATION SCHEMES. THESE IRRIGATION SCHEMES HAVE FAILED
TO PROVIDE ADEQUATE WATER FOR RESETTLED POPULATIONS DUE TO
LACK OF RAIN IN THE BASIN, COUPLED BY AGRICULTURISTS IN
THE UPPER BASIN AREA EXTRACTING MORE GROUND WATER, WHICH
WOULD NORMALLY FLOW TO THE IRRIGATION SCHEME. THE BASIN'S
HYDROLOGY, IRRIGATION SYSTEMS AND AGRICULTURE PRACTICES
NEED TO BE BETTER UNDERSTOOD AND MANAGED TO PREVENT
PROBLEMS OF WATER SCARCITY IN THE FUTURE.

18. STILL, EVEN AT MINIMAL LEVELS, SRI LANKA IS WATER RICH
COMPARED TO MANY COUNTRIES IN SOUTH ASIA. WHILE AVAILABLE
WATER MAY BE AT TIMES INSUFFICIENT FOR TRADITIONAL
AGRICULTURAL PRACTICES, EVEN SMALL INTERVENTIONS LIKE
ROOFTOP RAINWATER HARVESTING INCREASED INFILTRATION
BYRESIDUE AND SURFACE MANAGEMENT WOULD BE HELPFUL TO
PRECLUDE A DRINKING WATER CRISIS.


RECOMMENDATIONS:

19. AS WITH ANY DISASTER SITUATION, CONDITIONS MAY CHANGE
AND REQUIRE REASSESSMENT. OFDA AND THE MISSION WILL
CONTINUE TO MONITOR THE SITUATION CLOSELY IN THE LEAD-UP
TO THE MONSOON RECESSION. THE OFDA REGIONAL ADVISOR
RECOMMENDS THAT A DISASTER DECLARATION BE MADE AND THAT
$50,000 UNDER THE CHIEF OF MISSION'S AUTHORITY, ALONG WITH
AN ADDITIONAL SUM OF $50,000 FROM OFDA, BE GRANTED TO THE
SRI LANKAN RED CROSS TO SUPPORT EMERGENCY PROVISION OF
DRINKING WATER IN THE DROUGHT AFFECTED DISTRICTS OF SRI
LANKA

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES FOR PURCHASE OF SEEDS MAY BE
REQUESTED UPON FURTHER MISSION ASSESSMENT AND DISCUSSION
WITH OFDA REPRESENTATIVES.

20. IF LATE MONSOON RAINS FAIL IN SRI LANKA, MISSION MAY
REQUIRE SUPPORT FROM OFDA FOR ADDITIONAL INTERVENTIONS.

21. IN ADDITION, OFDA SHOULD CONSIDER, IN ITS 2005
MITIGATION PORTFOLIO FOR SOUTH ASIA, SUPPORT TO SRI LANKA
FOR DROUGHT MITIGATION EFFORTS SIMILAR TO WATER RETENTION
AND WATER THRIFT PROGRAMS THAT OFDA HAS SUPPORTED IN THE
DROUGHT-PRONE AREAS OF INDIA.
ENTWISTLE

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