Sunday, September 20, 2009

Adaptation for Sri Lankan communities

How Climate change will impact livelihood?

Hemantha Withanage
Executive Director, Centre for Environmental Justice

Climate change is visible in most parts of Sri Lanka. Majority of the people be­lieve this climate change is un­favourable to living beings and livelihood. However, local climate changes in certain areas are bet­ter compared to 30 years ago. For example, Mahaweli water feeding areas in the dry zone gets more water, are more favourable to people and the environment.

However, local people cannot distinguish these local climate changes from the global climate change. On the other hand some impacts can be explained as the impacts of local environmental changes. For example some water related impacts have direct links to the destruction of forests in the local envi­ronment. These unfavourable conditions are varying from community to community.

Most nature dependent livelihoods such as farming, fishing, different types of labour in­cluding labour involved in Tea and Rubber industry, natural resources based sustainable livelihoods have negative impacts. There are unfavourabe conditions due to the spread of vector borne diseases and also quick weather change including heat. These communities have made very, very negligible contributions to the GHG emissions except the farmers en­gaged in slash and burn cultivation or animal husbandry. So they have nothing to mitigate.

However, a survey conducted by the CEJ shows that people, especially those engaged in nature based livelihoods, are somehow suf­fering from climate change. They need alter­native livelihoods and living conditions have to adapt to the new climatic conditions.

Adaptation is a need of changes for the sur­vival of the living beings in order to respond to the natural changes. This is part of the natural evolution too. However, sudden natu­ral changes due to climatic impacts are det­rimental to the other living beings. Many of these species might disappear from the earth before they adapt to the changing climate. As the human species, we have a better ability to adapt to the changing situations. Yet, human species also suffer from unexpected cyclones, floods, sea level rise, heat waves etc.

Building awareness among the civil society is an immediate requirement in Sri Lanka. Meantime those policy planners can learn from the local communities. As we were go­ing through the survey we found that the fol­lowing areas need adaptation.

The farmers have to adapt to the increased in­tensity of floods and the dry seasons. Change of the rain pattern has negatively affected farmers, especially those engaged in slash and burn cultivation. This may need moving the cultivation seasons or change of crops and cropping pattern. They will have to con­sider moving away from Chena cultivation to permanent cultivation. They may also need to find plant varieties that suit the changing rainfall pattern.
Adaptation to water conservation, rain water harvesting is also important.
People living in the low lying areas need to adapt to the increased level of flooding. Some affects are due to the lack of climate proof­ing of the old and newly built infrastructures. For example, Kukule Ganga dam has created increased flooding in the low lining areas in the downstream. Some people might have to move their houses to the high ground to avoid increased floods in the surroundings of those mega development projects. Coastal low lying areas face salt water intrusion which destroys the agricultural lands, traditional live­stock, grazing lands, and the water table.

Fisher folk face loss of coastal houses due to see level rise or due to heavy erosion by in­creased size of waves. They also have to face the loss of fish caused due to the destruction of mangrove forests, sea grass beds, acidifi­cation, coral degradation or other unknown reasons.

Some water intakes are vulnerable to sea water ingression. This affects water facilities including the Kaduwela water intake. As the ground water table is going down in certain areas, the water scarcity is becoming a major problem. People in general have to adapt themselves to the mosquito menace as it is increasing in the areas that were considered as more cold. The earth slides have increased in some wet areas due to high rainfall over an extended period. People living in slopes and earth slide prone areas need actions.

Some houses may need stronger construc­tion to adapt to the increased intensity of winds. Perhaps older structures are more vul­nerable. Certain locations might not be suit­able for house constructions anymore.

Lack of climate proofing in mega develop­ment projects makes people and environment vulnerable to the climate damage. Most of the infrastructure projects have not consid­ered climate change in designing and imple­mentation. While some adaptations are part of the learning curve of the local people who have specialized in their locations, some ad­aptations need proper authority but careful and cautious intervention. As many people engage in nature related livelihoods are los­ing jobs there is a need of creating green jobs in the future.

The result also shows that climate change is not only a business of the environmental agencies of the government. It needs to be a crosscutting issue for many other authorities including agriculture, water and irrigation, fisheries, meteorological, coastal, disaster mitigation and academics. The research team felt that even the provincial and local authori­ties have a role to play.

Local communities have lot to contribute to the climate plans. Keeping them out of cli­mate business will create unnecessary dam­age to life and livelihood as we have seen in some Asian countries in the recent past. Bringing them to the climate planning will allow them to understand and contribute to the mitigation and adaptation. Therefore, democratizing of climate plans and action should be done without further delay.

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